ACTING WITHOUT VOTE, SPECIAL DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE APPROVES TEXT ON PUERTO RICO

12 July 2000
GA/COL/3036

ACTING WITHOUT VOTE, SPECIAL DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE APPROVES TEXT ON PUERTO RICO

12 July 2000

Press ReleaseGA/COL/3036

ACTING WITHOUT VOTE, SPECIAL DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE APPROVES TEXT ON PUERTO RICO

20000712

Also Approves Texts on New Caledonia and Tokelau

Acting without a vote, the Special Committee on Decolonization approved a draft resolution on the question of Puerto Rico this afternoon, the first time in 28 years that it had achieved consensus on that issue. It also took action on two other texts relating to Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Following the conclusion of its hearing of petitioners on the question of Puerto Rico, the Special Committee took action on a text by which the General Assembly would encourage the United States Government to order a halt to its armed forces' military drills and manoeuvres on the inhabited island of Vieques, return the occupied land to the Puerto Rican people, halt the persecution, arrests and harassment of peaceful demonstrators, respect their fundamental rights, and decontaminate the impact area.

Also by the text, the Assembly would welcome the release of 11 Puerto Rican prisoners and express its hope that the President of the United States would release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons on cases related to the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico. By further terms, the Assembly would reaffirm the international community's hope that the United States Government would assume the responsibility of expediting a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.

Again acting without a vote, the Special Committee approved, as orally amended, a text on the question of New Caledonia by which the General Assembly would invite all the parties involved to continue promoting a framework for the Territory's peaceful progress towards an act of self-determination which would safeguard the rights of all New Caledonians according to the letter and spirit of the Noumea Accord.

By other terms, the Assembly would acknowledge the close links between New Caledonia and the peoples of the South Pacific and the positive actions being taken by the French and territorial authorities to facilitate the further development of those links, including the development of closer relations with the members of the South Pacific Forum. By other terms, the Assembly would welcome measures to strengthen and diversify the New Caledonian economy.

Decolonization Committee - 1a - Press Release GA/COL/3036 11th Meeting (PM) 12 July 2000

In a separate action, the Special Committee approved, also without a vote, a text on the question of Tokelau, by which the Assembly would note the special challenge inherent in the situation of Tokelau, among the smallest of the small Territories, and how a Territory's exercise of its inalienable right to self- determination may be brought closer by the meeting of that challenge in innovative ways. The Assembly would acknowledge, by other terms, that New Zealand had committed substantial additional funding to Tokelau's Modern House project in 2000/2001.

The representative of Cuba introduced the draft on Puerto Rico.

Fayssal Mekdad, Rapporteur of the Special Committee introduced his report on the Special Committee's decision of 11 August 1998 concerning Puerto Rico.

The representative of Papua New Guinea, speaking also on behalf of his co- sponsor, the representative of Fiji, introduced the texts on New Caledonia and Tokelau.

Before the Special Committee concluded its hearing of petitioners on the question of Puerto Rico, it heard petitions by representatives of United Statehooders Organization of New York Inc., American Association of Jurists, Socialist Workers Party, Center for Constitutional Rights, Working Group on Puerto Rico, Comite Puerto Rico en la ONU, Nord-Sud XXI, Comite Pro Rescate y Desarollo de Vieques and Estadidad 2000 Puerto Rico.

The Special Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 17 July, to begin its consideration of economic and other activities affecting the interests of peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories; military activities and arrangements by colonial Powers in Territories under their administration; and the report of the Pacific Regional Seminar.

Committee Work Programme

The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples met this afternoon to continue hearing petitioners on the question of Puerto Rico.

It was also expected to take action on three draft resolutions. By the terms of the first, on the Special Committee decision of 6 July concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2000/L.11), sponsored by Cuba, the General Assembly would reaffirm the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence in conformity with Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the applicability of the fundamental principles of that resolution to the question of Puerto Rico.

The Assembly would reaffirm, by other terms, its hope, and that of the international community, that the Government of the United states will assume the responsibility of expediting a process that will allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.

By other terms, the Assembly would reiterate that the Puerto Rican people constitute a Latin American and Caribbean nation that has its own and unequivocal national identity. Further, it would note with satisfaction that, during the past year, progress has been achieved towards the implementation of a mechanism ensuring the full participation of representatives of all viewpoints prevailing in Puerto Rico, such as the proposals to convene a sovereign constituent conference of the people of Puerto Rico.

Also by the text, the General Assembly would encourage the Government of the United States, in line with the need to guarantee to the Puerto Rican people their legitimate right to self-determination and the protection of their human rights, to order the halt of its armed forces' military drills and manoeuvres on Vieques Island, which is inhabited; return the occupied land to the people of Puerto Rico; halt the persecution, arrests and harassment of peaceful demonstrators; respect their fundamental rights, such as the right to health and economic development; and decontaminate the impact area.

Also by the text, the Assembly would welcome the release of 11 Puerto Rican prisoners and express its hope that the President of the United States will release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons on cases related to the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico.

By the second draft, on the question of New Caledonia (document A/AC.109/2000/L.7), the General Assembly would invite all the parties involved to continue promoting a framework for the peaceful progress of the Territory towards an act of self-determination in which all options are open, and which would safeguard the rights of all New Caledonians according to the letter and spirit of the Noumea Accord, which is based on the principle that it is for the populations of New Caledonia to choose how to control their destiny.

By other terms, the Assembly would acknowledge the contribution of the Melanesian Cultural Centre to the protection of the indigenous culture of New Caledonia. It would also acknowledge the close links between New Caledonia and the peoples of the South Pacific and the positive actions being taken by the French and territorial authorities to facilitate the further development of those links, including the development of closer relations with the countries members of the South Pacific Forum.

Also by the text, the Assembly would welcome measures taken to strengthen and diversify the New Caledonian economy in all fields, and encourage further such measures in accordance with the spirit of the Matignon and Noumea Accords. By other terms, the Assembly would also decide to continue the examination of the question of New Caledonia and to report to the General Assembly at its fifty-fifth session.

The draft is sponsored by Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

By a third text, on the question of Tokelau, the General Assembly would acknowledge the participation of the Ulu-o-Tokelau in the Pacific Regional Seminar held in Majuro, Marshall Islands, and his account of how Tokelau's Modern House project, in both its governance and its economic development dimensions, is seen by Tokelauans as the means to achieving its act of self-determination.

Also by the draft, the Assembly would welcome the statement of the Council of Faipule that in the 12 months from July 2000 there will be significant movement in implementing the project, in conjunction with New Zealand. Further, the Assembly would acknowledge that New Zealand has committed substantial additional funding to the project in 2000/2001, and its intention to collaborate with Tokelau in ways that can produce a significant momentum.

The General Assembly would also note that the constitution of a self- governing Tokelau would continue to develop as a part and as a consequence of the building of the Modern House, and that both have national and international importance for Tokelau.

Further by the text, the Assembly would note the special challenge inherent in the situation of Tokelau, among the smallest of the small Territories, and how a Territory's exercise of its inalienable right to self-determination may be brought closer, as in the case of Tokelau, by the meeting of that challenge in innovative ways.

That text was also sponsored by Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Statements

WILFREDO SANTIAGO-VALIENTE, United Statehooders Organization of New York, Inc., said that most resolutions which had been proposed on the question of Puerto Rico had been short-sighted and counter to the principle of self-determination, because they disregarded the statehood option.

One of the three main avenues for decolonization was full political integration -– statehood, he said. Puerto Ricans had been working towards statehood even before the island was acquired by the United States. There was no conflict between continued development of Puerto Rican culture and its incorporation as a State.

Given these facts, he asked the Special Committee to discuss the question with no preconceptions and without partiality. Only 3 per cent of the Puerto Rican people had voted in favour of independence. That was why ignoring the statehood option contradicted the principles of self-determination.

VENESSA RAMOS, American Association of Jurists, said that her organization was defending the right of the people of Puerto Rico to gain self-determination and independence. She denounced the use and abuse of Vieques for military exercises, and referred to local authorities as “imperial lackeys” for their complicity. She also pointed out that some ammunition used on Vieques contained depleted uranium, and she condemned the arrests that had occurred in the protests caused by the deaths of inhabitants due to the military bombings.

Those carrying out civil disobedience represented the entire range of Puerto Rican citizens, she said. She requested that the Special Committee draft resolution order the unconditional withdrawal of military forces from Vieques and the return of control to Puerto Rico. And she called on United States President William Clinton to release Puerto Rican political prisoners. She asked the Special Committee to assist Puerto Rico in achieving sovereignty through a process that included a constituent assembly.

JAMES HARRIS, on behalf of the Socialist Workers Party, said that as long as the United States rulers were able to maintain their colonial domination of Puerto Rico, labour in the United States would not be able to throw the source of exploitation off their backs either.

Puerto Ricans in the United States were subject to second class status and political repression, he said, with six independentistas remaining in prison. Puerto Rican youths had been used as cannon fodder for wars of plunder. Two months ago, a large force arrested those protesting the Navy use of Vieques, and then resumed war training there, shelling the island in defiance of the will of most Puerto Ricans. The battle to remove the Navy from Vieques had drawn attention to how Washington used Puerto Rico as a launching pad for military aggression worldwide.

For those reasons and others, he said, the condemnation by the Special Committee of Washington’s colonial rule of Puerto Rico would serve the interests of all those everywhere who fought for the right to self-determination and the future of humanity.

ELLIOT MONTEVERDE-TORRES, Center for Constitutional Rights, said President Clinton's call last January for a referendum had been illegal, because the demilitarization of Puerto Rico must be examined in conformity with international law, and deceitful because the referendum offered alternatives that could only benefit the perpetrator of the criminal violations in Vieques -- the United States Navy.

The United States Government had not responded to the massive peaceful anti- Navy demonstrations by surrendering its congressional control and withdrawing its armed forces from Vieques, he said. On the contrary, it had reinstated the bombing exercises and threatened to conduct other large-scale exercises in the near future. In addition, it had increased the severity of the penalties imposed on those who continued to peacefully protest the Navy's activities. He said that, in what was considered by many an insult to the Puerto Rican people of Puerto Rico, President Clinton had met on 28 June with the leaders of the major political parties to discuss Puerto Rico's status, but not Vieques. That had been perceived as a dishonourable attempt by the United States Government to mutilate the consensus among Puerto Ricans over the Vieques issue.

JAIME A. MEDINA, Working Group on Puerto Rico, said that the present colonial relationship was unsustainable. The historical arguments of the United States about the strategic importance of Vieques had crumbled because the island Vieques was being destroyed in the name of national security while, at the same time, the national security of Puerto Ricans was not being guaranteed.

United States colonial rule had unleashed a new wave of repression against those who opposed the administering Power's military presence in Puerto Rico, he said. Although 11 former political prisoners had been granted conditional freedom, six remained in prison. The people of Puerto Rico would be failing in their duty if they did not inform Puerto Ricans living in the United States about what was going on in their homeland.

WILMA REVERON, Comité Puerto Rico en la ONU, spoke of the widespread condemnation of the United States for evicting protesters from Vieques and resuming military training there. Many people had been imprisoned, and she found it ironic that those who had raped women in Vieques, polluted its land, and destroyed its lagoons, fisheries, flora and fauna were not only free, but also protected by the whole federal justice system of the United States. That meant that the justice system was in the service of the Navy. So the people of Puerto Rico had no legal recourse, except through the United Nations.

She pointed to the cancer rate of the Vieques population as perhaps the best dramatization of the situation of colonial peoples, whose right to life and health had been violated. The Vieques protests demonstrated the willingness of the Puerto Rican people to take action to change their status. They had joined together to say that not one more bomb should be loosed on the island and to demand that the Navy leave Vieques at once.

They had also expressed dissatisfaction with the current political arrangements, she said, and Puerto Rico needed the support of the Special Committee to identify mechanisms, such as the constituent assembly, which could further the self-determination process. She asked that this be a priority item on the Committee’s agenda.

COLETTE PEAN, Nord-Sud XXI, said that her organization supported the historical fight by the Puerto Rican people to exercise the right to self- determination as guaranteed in the United Nations Charter. As evidenced by poverty, they had been denied the right to development. The unconscionable occupation and bombing of the island of Vieques was, she added, an example of a colonizer imposing its will on a colonized people.

She said the new millennium should see a world free of colonies -- freed by the determination of the people colonized, without dictates or interference in their process of independence and freedom. Her organization wanted to add their voice in support of the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico, and all peoples, to self-determination. ALFREDO MARRERO, Comité Pro Rescate y Desarollo de Vieques, said Puerto Rico's colonial situation was most visible in Vieques. The island's situation demonstrated the most negative repercussions of United States colonialism. Many people had died in fights or as a result of bombs strewn all over the land. Vieques was contaminated with RDX, napalm, depleted uranium and other toxic materials in its water.

He said it had taken the United States Navy a long time to admit its use of depleted uranium. The Navy treated the population of Vieques like laboratory rats. The anti-Navy demonstrations had shown the unity of the Puerto Rican people and the consensus across all groups, ages and social strata.

JOSE RIVERA, Estadidad 2000 Puerto Rico, said that as Puerto Rican citizens, the commonwealth's people did not have the right to participate in a presidential election in the United States. Nobody but Puerto Ricans themselves could change their colonial status. The Special Committee should withdraw its recognition of Puerto Rico so that Puerto Ricans could hold a referendum and decide their political status for themselves.

OLGA MARDACH MIGUEL, Women for Peace and Justice for Vieques, said she and her organization were working for the demilitarization of Vieques. She described the extensive military installations in the middle of which the inhabitants live, resulting in high rates of infant and cancer mortality. Women had been victims of abuse and rape at the hands of military personnel. Their men were forced by circumstances to leave and kept away by shame and fear. With little medical care and no hospital, women had to leave to give birth, thus making the population appear to be decreasing and bolstering the argument that they were not a large factor in the island’s future.

That situation was a blatant violation of basic human rights, she said. In addition, the militarization of Puerto Rico was an obstacle to the decolonization of Puerto Rico. She asked for recognition of the anti-colonial fighters who were fearlessly confronting the overwhelming power of the United States by entering military installations. She urged the Special Committee to demand the immediate demilitarization and decolonization of Puerto Rico.

Action on Texts before Committee

The Special Committee then took up the draft resolution on the Special Committee decision of 6 July 1999 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2000/L.11).

RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba), introducing the text, said the history of Cuba and that of Puerto Rico were very similar, both having suffered under the Spanish colonial yoke and both having endured military intervention by the United States. It was the Special Committee's unswerving duty to continue speaking out on the question of Puerto Rico until it achieved self-determination. Cuba hoped the draft would be approved without a vote.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria), Rapporteur of the Special Committee, then introduced his report on the Special Committee decision of 11 August 1998 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2000/L.3).

The representative of Iraq said the people of Puerto Rico had the inalienable right to self-determination and independence on the basis of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV). The United States had the essential responsibility for creating conditions to allow them to exercise that right. Based on that, Iraq supported the draft resolution.

The representative of Venezuela supported Cuba's proposal that the draft resolution be approved by consensus.

The Special Committee then approved the draft without a vote.

The representative of Chile, explaining his delegation's position, said his delegation had joined the consensus, but had reservations about part of the general content and some specific paragraphs. Other than the pro-independence position, there were other opinions with respect to Puerto Rico's political status which had significant support, namely, those of statehood and association with the United States.

The representative of Bolivia said that after 28 years the Special Committee had achieved consensus on a resolution affirming the right to self-determination of the Puerto Rican people. Hopefully, that would be the beginning of their path to dignity, to which they had every right. It was hoped that the colonial Power would agree to the cessation of Navy activities in Vieques in the name of justice, human rights and humanitarian law.

Mr. DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba) said the Puerto Rican men and women who had struggled all their lives for freedom were being arrested today for protesting against the bombing of Vieques. Those who came to the United Nations year after year to shed light on the situation in their country should be commended.

JIMMY OVIA (Papua New Guinea), introducing the draft resolution on the question of New Caledonia (document A/AC.109/2000/L.7), expressed the hope that it would be approved without a vote as in previous years.

The Special Committee then approved the text, as orally amended, without a vote.

Mr. OVIA (Papua New Guinea), introducing the text on the question of Tokelau (document A/AC.109/2000/L.10/Rev.1), commended the Government of New Zealand for its cooperation with the Special Committee.

He said that renegotiated paragraphs in the draft resolution reflected current developments in Tokelau. He hoped that text would be approved by consensus, as it had been last year.

The Special Committee then approved the text without a vote.

The representative of Syria highlighted and welcome the cooperation between France and New Zealand, the two countries entrusted with administering New Caledonia and Tokelau, respectively, as well as the parties concerned in the two Territories. At the same time, he welcomed the cooperation between the two administering Powers and the social forces in the Territories under their respective administrations.

The representative of Chile said that the cooperation shown by France and New Zealand must be commended, as must the efforts of Fiji and Papua New Guinea in co-sponsoring the resolutions on New Caledonia and Tokelau.

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda said that while New Zealand had long cooperated with the Special Committee, the cooperation shown by France, if replicated by other administering Powers, would greatly enhance the Special Committee's work.

The representative of Côte d'Ivoire commended the smooth manner in which the draft resolutions had been approved. All member delegations had agreed with the text on Puerto Rico this year.

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For information media. Not an official record.