DECOLONIZATION PROCESS MUST BE SEEN THROUGH TO END, SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL IN STATEMENT OPENING CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR

23 May 2001
GA/COL/3044

DECOLONIZATION PROCESS MUST BE SEEN THROUGH TO END, SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL IN STATEMENT OPENING CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR

23/05/2001
Press ReleaseGA/COL/3044

DECOLONIZATION PROCESS MUST BE SEEN THROUGH TO END, SAYS SECRETARY-

GENERAL IN STATEMENT OPENING CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR

(Received from an Information Officer.)

HAVANA, Cuba, 23 May -- Decolonization was clearly one of the great success stories of the last half-century, and that process must be seen through to its end, the Secretary-General said in a message to the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples –- known as the Special Committee of 24 -- on the occasion of the opening of the Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization.

He said since the adoption of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples in 1960, more than 80 million people had attained independence, but there were still 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remaining.  The Special Committee of 24 organized seminars like the current one to give the more than two million people who lived in those Territories the chance to make their views known on the unique problems they faced.

The information gathered in those seminars, he continued, had helped to raise awareness in the international community about those problems.  As a result, the General Assembly had proclaimed the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.  The regional seminar would provide a unique opportunity to recommit to the goal of assuring that all peoples could exercise their right of self-determination.

(The Secretary-General’s message was read by his representative, Maria Maldonado, Chief Decolonization Unit, Department of Political Affairs.)

Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, President of the National Assembly of Cuba, said the First Decade on the Eradication of Colonialism had just been completed, but unfortunately, that decade would not remain in history as the decade in which that phenomenon had been eradicated.  In the future, it might be called the Decade in which poverty had spread and deepened.  The ratio of people living under the poverty line was the same as at the beginning of he 20th century.

The decade would not be remembered as the advance of the elimination of inequality, but as a regression in democracy.  In 1994, a secret document had been drafted:  the Multilateral Investment Agreement, without any participation of the

peoples it would affect in the Latin American and Caribbean region.  It was an attempt to strengthen the dominance of certain interests, negotiated in secret, by the same people who expressed support for democracy.  Cuba had made part of the text known yesterday, he said.

The idea to turn all of Latin America and the Caribbean into appendices of the American economy was not new, he continued.  Submitting Latin America to North American capital began a century ago in Puerto Rico.  It was the beginning of a people losing their natural rights.  The coming decade was therefore of particular importance.  It had to be one of a struggle of peoples to prevent the movement that ignored the basic rights of people.  He underscored that the Latin American and Caribbean people in their struggle could take the people of Puerto Rico as an example.  A century of military and political domination had failed to crush a people’s identity and culture.

The Committee’s Chairman, Julian Robert Hunte, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Saint Lucia, said the beginning of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was an opportunity to review the implementation of the United Nations mandate in decolonization.  But it was not for the Special Committee alone to carry the torch.  The one lesson from the first Decade was that the wider United Nations system had not been forthcoming in assisting the territories in their development.  Vastly increased coordination within the system was required to meet the challenge.  The administering Powers also had statutory responsibilities for decolonization.

The Special Committee regarded this regional seminar as a critical first step in the second International Decade, as it proceeded to devise international strategies in a concerted effort to ensure that the sacred right to self-determination –- “this basic human right” –- was realized in all of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories.  “Nothing short of this goal should be acceptable,” he said.

The Special Committee of 24 adopted, without a vote, the provisional agenda and programme of work of the Seminar.  It appointed the representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, Côte d’Ivoire and Indonesia as officers of the Seminar, and Fayssal Mekdad (Syria) as Rapporteur of the Seminar as well as Chairman of the Drafting Group.  Participants in the Drafting Group were: Antigua and Barbuda, Chile, China, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iran, Saint Lucia, Syria and Venezuela.

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda read a message by Harri Holkeri, President of the General Assembly.  The Rapporteur of the Seminar, Fayssal Mekdad (Syria) briefed the seminar on the Committee’s dialogue with administering Powers.

The representative of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also spoke, as did experts from Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, Cuba and Anguilla.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Felipe Perez Roque, was also present during the opening session.

Opening Statements

RICARDO ALARCON DE QUESADA, President of the National Assembly of Cuba, welcoming the participants of the Seminar, said Cuba had been an active participant in the work of the Special Committee since its establishment and had endeavoured to ensure that the Committee would fulfil its mandate.

The Committee’s history had not been easy and the Committee had not always had the necessary cooperation to fulfil a mission to which the international community attached great significance.  The First Decade on the Eradication of Colonialism had just been completed, but unfortunately, that decade would not remain in history as the decade in which that phenomenon had been eradicated.  In the future, it might be called the Decade in which pandemics reappeared and spread with devastating force.  It had been a decade in which poverty had spread and deepened.  The ratio of people living under the poverty line was the same as at the beginning of he 20th century.

The decade would not be remembered as the advance of the elimination of inequality, but as a regression in the dream of attaining democracy.  In 1994, a secret document had been drafted:  the Multilateral Investment Agreement, without any participation of the peoples it would affect in the Latin American and Caribbean hemisphere.  It was an attempt to strengthen the dominance of certain interests, negotiated in secret, by the same people who expressed support for democracy.  Instead of opening channels for capital flows, an attempt was made to limit capital flows.

That document had not been accepted during the meeting in Quebec last month because of the opposition of some South American States.  The document still remained secret and continued to be negotiated by the same people who proclaim to bring about the process of democracy.  Cuba had made part of the text known yesterday, he said.

The idea to turn all of Latin America and the Caribbean into appendices of the American economy was one to which Jose Marti had alerted the hemisphere during the last decade of the 19th century.  He had understood that the strategic factor for preventing the advance of that new empire lay in the struggle of the people of Cuba and Puerto Rico.  Submitting Latin America to North American capital began a century ago in Puerto Rico.  It was the beginning of a people losing their natural rights.

Latin America and the Caribbean would be “Puertoricaned”, he continued.  The coming decade was therefore of particular importance.  It had to be one of a struggle of peoples to prevent the movement that ignored the basic rights of people.  The reason for the seminar in the Americas was that a struggle was required to defeat the American plan to transform all of Latin America and the Caribbean into lands with the same institutions as those imposed on Puerto Rico by the governing Power.  He underscored that the Latin American and Caribbean people could avoid that plan and could take the people of Puerto Rico as an example.  A century of military and political domination had failed to crush a people’s identity and culture.

He said the Puerto Ricans still spoke Spanish and defended their culture and values, rejecting the arrogance of the empire which had destroyed the territory and population of the island of Vieques.  The Latin American and Caribbean peoples had sufficient moral force and a capacity to unite in resistance.  In that manner, any attempts at annexation would be prevented.  He said this decade would begin in a context in which the struggle for independence of Puerto Rico became even more significant than it had been.

He hoped the Committee would leave Havana with renewed commitment to the fulfilment of its noble task.

In a statement read by MARIA MALDONADO, Chief, Decolonization Unit of the Department of Political Affairs, Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN said the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly in 1960, strongly affirmed the right of self-determination.  Since its adoption, more than 80 million people had attained independence, but there were still 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remaining.  The Special Committee of 24 organized seminars like this one to give the more than two million people who lived in those territories the chance to make their views known on the unique problems they faced.

The information gathered in those seminars, he continued, had helped to raise awareness in the international community about those problems.  As a result, the General Assembly had proclaimed the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.  The regional seminar would provide a unique opportunity to recommit to the goal of assuring that all peoples could exercise their right of self-determination.

Decolonization was clearly one of the great success stories of the last half-century, and that process must be seen through to its end, he said.

In a message read by PATRICK ALBERT LEWIS, Antigua and Barbuda, HARRI HOLKERI (Finland), President of the General Assembly, said the beginning of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was a time to renew the commitment of the world community to support the aspirations of the peoples of the remaining Territories for the full implementation of resolution 1514 XV and the Declaration.  The Caribbean Regional Seminar should be a unique opportunity to learn more about the current situation in the Non-Self-Governing Territories, particularly those in the Caribbean region, and to listen to the views of their inhabitants.

On this commemorative occasion, one could look back with satisfaction at the achievements of the United Nations in the area of decolonization, but more importantly, he said, one look ahead at the concerted work that must be carried out to achieve a world free of colonialism.  Those tasks would require the cooperation of the administering Powers with the Special Committee.  There was also much that could be done to assist the Territories by the specialized agencies and United Nations programmes.

The Chairman of the Special Committee, JULIAN ROBERT HUNTE, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Saint Lucia, said Cuba had been a consistent and long-standing supporter of the work of the United Nations in the field of decolonization.

The Week of Solidarity with Peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories would also be observed during this seminar, he said, to reiterate the international community’s determination to put an end to the anachronism of colonialism consistent with the principles of political equality, the objectives of the United Nations Charter, and the Organizations’ resolutions on decolonization.

It was recognized that the first International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism had not fostered the completion of full self-government for the people of the remaining, mostly small island, Non-Self-Governing Territories.  It was important, however, to emphasize that the process during the 1990s had been advanced through the convening of regional seminars which provided a venue for the exchange of information between the representatives of the Territories, NGOs, Member States, scholars and others, he said.

The cross-fertilization between Pacific and Caribbean representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories at those seminars was crucial to the success of those sessions, confirming that there was an “island ethos”.  The convening of those seminars in the respective regions was also critical to their success.  While hosting of a similar session in New York could be useful, it should not replace the regional venue of the seminars.  He called on those who advocated that shift of venue to instead facilitate the participation of the Territories in the regular sessions of the Special Committee in July.

Since the end of World War II many island jurisdictions had emerged from various forms of colonialism to attain political independence, integration with full political rights within the administering country or free association with another country with the maximum degree of autonomy -– three options recognized by Resolution 1541 XV of 1960.  There still remained, however, Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Caribbean and Pacific regions administered by developed countries in sometimes sophisticated models of colonial governance which were often projected -– and even perceived in the territories themselves -– as self-governing, irrespective of the objective reality.  He said the principles of full and absolute political equality must continue as the guiding standard in addressing the self-determination process of the small island territories, if the spectre of “colonies in perpetuity” was to be avoided.

The beginning of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was an opportunity to review the implementation of the United Nations mandate in decolonization, he said.  But it was not for the Special Committee alone to carry the torch.  The one lesson from the first Decade was that the wider United Nations system had not been forthcoming in assisting the territories in their development process, with exceptions such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the regional commissions.

Vastly increased coordination within the system was required to meet the challenge, he said.  The Special Committee was planning a joint meeting with the Economic and Social Council on methods to ensure that the wider United Nations system implemented its mandate in assisting the territories.  The administering Powers also had statutory responsibilities for decolonization.  It was his intention to accelerate the ongoing informal dialogue with those powers, but it was also time that their formal cooperation with the Committee was resumed.  The resumption of the tripartite dialogue between the Special Committee, the administering Powers and the representatives of the territories would further contribute to the success of the Committee’s work.

The Special Committee regarded this regional seminar as a critical first step in the second International Decade, as it proceeded to devise international strategies to ensure that the sacred right to self-determination -– “this basic human right” -– was realised in all of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories.  “Nothing short of this goal should be acceptable,” he said.

Appointment of Officers and Adoption of Programme of Work

Without a vote, the Special Committee of 24 adopted the provisional agenda of the Seminar.

The Special Committee then decided, without a vote, to appoint the representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, Côte d’Ivoire and Indonesia as officers of the Seminar, and Fayssal Mekdad (Syria) as Rapporteur of the Seminar as well as Chairman of the Drafting Group.  Participants in the Drafting Group would include all the members of the Special Committee attending the seminar:  Antigua and Barbuda, Chile, China, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iran, Saint Lucia, Syria and Venezuela.

Also without a vote, the Committee adopted the provisional programme of work.

Substantive Statements

The Rapporteur of the Seminar, Fayssal Mekdad (Syria), said the Special Committee had, since its previous seminar, continued to extend an invitation to the administering Powers to pursue a dialogue.  It had agreed to discuss with the administering Powers specific work programmes for the Territories on a case by case basis.  The first two Territories to be discussed would be American Samoa and Pitcairn.  The administering Powers were expected to submit to the Committee specific programmes of work.  Unfortunately, that had not happened yet.

The Committee had adopted the term “specific programme of work” to signify a structured discussion, where goals were outlined, activities that would take place were described and dates were spelled out in regard to one Territory, taking into account the unique characteristics of that Territory.

For the Special Committee, the choices as to the future status of a Non-Self-Governing Territory, in accordance with the Declaration and relevant resolutions, must take place within a framework that allowed the United Nations to satisfy itself or certify that a free act of self-determination had taken place.  In one case in recent history (East Timor), the United Nations had organized and conducted a popular consultation.

The urgency of the Special Committee’s mandate was as compelling today as it was in 1961, he said.  The Committee was determined to persevere in its efforts to seek a constructive dialogue with the administering Powers.  It would also continue to pursue close consultations with the President of the Economic and Social Council with a view to promoting international assistance to the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

CARLYNE CORBIN, representative of United States Virgin Islands, reviewed the implementation of the Plan of action of the First International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism and projections for the Second Decade.  He said the progress of the United Nations in the field of decolonization had been a great success, but the process was far from complete.  He stressed the importance of direct contacts between the United Nations and the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The decade had begun in the context of the end of the Cold War and ideological rivalries, he said.  A non-ideological perspective of the situation of the self-determination had not taken place.  There was a view that the people of the Territories had been satisfied with the status quo and were too small to be sustainable states.  A sobering assessment of the mandate of the Committee begged the question of the level of commitment of the international community to the process of self-determination. 

One successful part of the plan of action had been the conduct of the regional seminars.  Reviewing the history of those seminars he said one theme had emerged:  the importance of the participation of the United Nations in the final acts of self-determination.  The inalienable rights of the peoples of a Territory must be guaranteed by an independent broker.  The United Nations should be that broker.  The views of the seminars should not be put on the shelf, but rather be used as a blueprint for the future.

During the seminars, the issue of ownership and control of natural resources had also been addressed, and the role of the United Nations system in assisting Non-Self-Governing Territories in their social and economic development had been emphasized, he said.  The plan of action for the first decade should be the core for the plan of action for the Second Decade, and a third Decade should be avoided.

THEO GITTENS, representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), gave an overview of UNDP’s assistance to the Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Caribbean.  He said the assistance programmes emphasized national execution modality and relevant General Assembly resolutions defined their nature.  UNDP had been focusing its programmes of assistance at the regional and country levels and on advocacy of human development challenges efforts to reduce poverty.  It had also, on request of governments, rendered assistance on government practices providing assistance to the poor.  Assistance had also been rendered during natural disasters, and in areas of energy, environment and information technology, among other things.

The Caribbean component of UNDP plans for 2001-2005 would emphasize poverty reduction and HIV/AIDS.  He was anxious to continue close cooperation with the administering Powers in the Caribbean region. 

Describing the programmes in the Territories in detail, he said UNDP was proud of its assistance provided to the Non-Self-Governing Territories in the region and pledged to continue the efforts.  He noted, however, that its ability to do so had been diminished by reduced voluntary contributions.  He urged contributing countries to maintain a sustainable level of support to UNDP.

Sir FRED PHILLIPS, expert from Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on perspectives of free association in the former West Indies Associated States and implications for sustainable contemporary free association models, said the Caribbean area had boasted a Federation from 1958 to 1962 comprising ten territories.  After Jamaica became independent, that federation dissolved.  Six small territories were anxious to attain some further advance in constitutional status.  Montserrat remained a colony of Britain.

The United Kingdom devised the new status of Associated Statehood, taking a leaf out of the book of New Zealand.  Under the form of association, the Caribbean territories concerned were to have independence in all their internal affairs, while Her Majesty’s Government would assume responsibility for their defence and external affairs.

There was a question whether territories that still remained dependent genuinely felt that they would have economic stability if they moved toward Associated Statehood.  They looked at the other territories and saw economic difficulties they themselves did not have, and assumed that independence and poverty went hand in hand.  However, Singapore was an example to the contrary, he said.  The countries themselves must remember that it was their inalienable right to be independent.  If they became independent, hard times might lie ahead, but the United Nations had to be willing to assist if difficulties arose.

He said, quoting the representative of Trinidad and Tobago in 1964, that an administering power might not be willing or able to discharge the full measure of its responsibility.  That fact should not prevent a country otherwise fit and ready for independence from attaining it.  If the Organization could not compel an administering power to do its duty, then the organization must in fact take over that duty.  The Caribbean Islands could not be told that they were too small or too poor to join the family of nations.

If it was the intention of the Special Committee to continue to urge all dependent territories to seek self-government, the United Nations must be prepared to bring such newly independent countries economic succour if for any reason they found themselves unable to maintain viable economies in their new status.  It was not enough to tell such countries that the United Nations itself was in financial trouble and unable to meet its obligations.

WALTON C. BROWN, expert from Bermuda, speaking on implications of the “British White Paper on Overseas Territories” on future and constitutional advancement of Bermuda and other British dependent territories, said the path to self-determination of British Caribbean territories had been suspended by a series of British actions.  They were left with another manifestation of the neo-colonialism, a version that could be labeled as new-millennium colonialism.

When the British government published its White Paper in March 1999, it was heralded as a progressive step forward.  British citizenship would be granted to all its subjects in the territories and relations would move forward as a partnership.  The British Government had made a submission to the Special Committee in October 1999, which was clearly concerned with the de-listing of British colonies from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, a long-term objective of the United Kingdom rooted in the expressed viewpoint that the United Kingdom colonies were the sole responsibility of the United Kingdom.  For that reason, Britain had declined to participate in any of the regional seminars.

He said one of the most significant consequences of the White Paper for the colonies was a reduction in powers traditionally enjoyed by the local governments.  Invoking the need to adhere to “international standards” in the conduct of suitable business practices and fiscal regulation, the British had asserted their authority in a manner that had not been visited upon the territories for well over a generation.  Most dramatically, it had been seen in the area of delivery of financial services.

The new relationship the British had with their colonies might be packaged differently, but it reflected no advancement in the relationship.  That might be what the territories wanted, but that was not known.  The next logical step would have been to determine a process by which those territories could render a decision on self-determination.  The entity responsible for that was the administering Power under the tenets of the UN Charter.  In the absence of that initiative there was a need to discern a way to get the administering power to carry out its obligations, or, through the Special Committee, seek out new methods to resolve that long standing issue, he said.

OLGA MIRANDA, expert from Cuba, addressed the use of military bases in the Non-Self-Governing Territories and the impact of military activities on the environment, economic development and health of the population.  She said the establishment of military bases opposed by colonies as a requirement for independence contradicted the principles of self-determination and sovereignty.

The countries of the Non-aligned Movement considered those military bases as occupation, which constituted a violation of the sovereignty of those countries. Cuba had been the first to pay the price of having a military base imposed for the price of freedom in Guantanamo in 1903.  It was an example of military bases imposed on non-colonial territories. 

There were now hundreds of foreign military bases which affected peace and national security.  They produced pollution and affected the sovereignty of states.  The military enclaves involved not only conventional weapons but also biological weapons and storage of nuclear weapons.  Elimination of those bases had been demanded in many fora.  They were a form of colonial domination and a threat to international peace and security.

PHYLLIS FLEMING-BANKS, expert from Anguilla, said that Anguilla, following a referendum in 1967 had thrown protocol aside and set out to establish itself as a self-governing, independent state.  The island was invaded in 1969 and after passing of the Anguilla Act in 1971 was administered by a British Commissioner. Anguilla, which had not experienced direct colonialism before, finally settled for colonial status to ensure its immediate goal: separation from St. Kitts.  That separation took more than thirteen years to become official.

Anguilla’s 1976 Constitution provided for a Commissioner, who was the Queen’s Representative, and Executive council and a Legislative Assembly.  The Commissioner had broad rights and could ignore the advice of the Executive Council.  Agitation by local officials had resulted in amendments to the Constitution.  The 1990 Constitution provided for a Governor having responsibility

for defence, external affairs, internal security, and public, judicial and legal services.  His executive powers gave him the right to assent or refuse to assent bills passed in the House of Assembly.

By publishing the White Paper, Britain had sought to make the world and the United Nations believe that it had completed its colonial responsibilities, something which would remove the Non-Self-Governing Territories from the scrutiny of the United Nations, she said.  However, there were no changes in the constitutional relationships between Britain and its colonies.  Reality had shown that a “high degree of autonomy” was very restricted and limited.  That was evident by an Order in Council to legalize homosexuality in Anguilla against the expressed wishes of the people.

Contrary to the British view of the new partnership, the signs were that the new millennium would see a tightening of the colonial grip on the territories instead of increasing the autonomy of the local peoples.  Britain was one of those administering Powers which had refused to cooperate with the work of the Special Committee she said.  The Committee must redouble its efforts and explore new and innovative ways to fulfill its obligations to the peoples of those Non-Self-Governing Territories.

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For information media. Not an official record.