CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR ON DECOLONIZATION CLOSES WITH CALL FOR FULFILMENT OF 'SACRED RIGHT' TO SELF-DETERMINATION

29 May 2001
GA/COL/3049

CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR ON DECOLONIZATION CLOSES WITH CALL FOR FULFILMENT OF 'SACRED RIGHT' TO SELF-DETERMINATION

29/05/2001
Press ReleaseGA/COL/3049

CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR ON DECOLONIZATION CLOSES WITH CALL FOR FULFILMENT

OF 'SACRED RIGHT' TO SELF-DETERMINATION

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

HAVANA, Cuba, 25 May -- The people of this small planet should not only fight for decolonization:  they should also fight to prevent a recolonization that threatened to take hold of the people of the third world, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba told the Caribbean Regional Seminar to review the political, economic and social conditions in the small island Non-Self-Governing Territories this afternoon as it concluded to a standing ovation.  The seminar was organized by the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples -- also known as the Special Committee of 24 -- and took place from 23 to 25 May in Havana, Cuba.

Peoples of the southern hemisphere were being recolonized as problems of debt, unequal trade terms, contagious diseases and lack of drinking water worsened, Abelardo Moreno Fernandez said.  He also noted with alarm a growing lack of respect for the principles of international law, such as those of sovereignty and self-determination.

One of the themes reflected in the conclusions and recommendations of the seminar was the obstacle posed to self-determination by military bases of the administering Powers in colonial territories.  The case of Vieques, Puerto Rico, said Mr. Moreno Fernandez, was a clear example of the obstacles the Committee had encountered for decades.  He urged that the issue of Vieques receive appropriate consideration within the framework of the Special Committee.  Two other colonial cases were important as well:  Guam and Western Sahara.

His Government believed that the Special Committee’s regional seminars (yearly events alternating between the Caribbean and Pacific region) were important not only as a necessary supplement to the work of the Committee, but also as a vehicle for informing international opinion on everything that remained to be done in order to attain decolonization, and on the important role the United Nations had played in the pursuit of that goal since adoption of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) in 1960.  The seminars were also an important part of efforts aimed at informing the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories of their legitimate rights.

One point of concern was the resistance on the part of the colonial powers to accept visiting missions to the territories.  The cooperation of administering Powers was reduced to a minimum level.  The seminar had recognized the importance of that cooperation, and of the Special Committee’s visiting missions to Non-Self-Governing Territories.  The fact that administering Powers were present at the seminar was an example of a gradually changing situation, he said.

In his closing remarks, the Chairman of the Special Committee, Julian R. Hunte, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Saint Lucia, said it was clear that the issue of decolonization had become more complex than at the beginning of the First International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, requiring creative and innovative solutions.  But the issue had also become better defined as it related to political development and self-determination as expressed by the people of the territories. 

At the beginning of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, a serious review had to be made of the work of the seminar and how it impacted on the committees of the United Nations.  Most urgent in that exercise was the need for the administering Powers to reflect on a number of things that had been said and on views expressed by the Non-Self-Governing Territories.  They should also seriously think about becoming more involved in the work of the Special Committee.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the business of decolonization was not something to be relegated to the backwaters, said Mr. Hunte.  It was an up-front business and dealt with real people.  “To be free no matter how small they are, that is what the Committee is about", he said.  The best way to move forward was to participate.  He noted that the current seminar had had the largest attendance ever.

If the discussions had provided the necessary intellectual stimulus, he said, the inspiration for future work had come from the extraordinary visit participants had with Cuba’s President Fidel Castro.

By acclamation, the participants adopted a resolution expressing their profound gratitude to the Government and people of Cuba for providing the Special Committee with the necessary facilities for its seminar, for the outstanding contribution they had made to the success of the seminar and, in particular, for the very generous and kind hospitality and the warm and cordial reception accorded to the participants and observers throughout their stay in Cuba, in particular by its President Fidel Castro.

Before taking action, participants in the seminar considered its report -- including conclusions and recommendations -- to the Special Committee for further review by the Committee at United Nations Headquarters in New York.  The Chief Minister of Gibraltar disassociated himself from the conclusions and observations pertaining to Gibraltar.  He said the Committee had accepted all the suggestions made by the Member States Spain and Argentina, and none by the Territories’ representatives.

The Chairman of the Drafting Group and Rapporteur of the Special Committee, the representative of Syria, said each participant had its own interests and ideas and he respected them all.  More than 95 per cent of those ideas had been reflected in the report.  He urged participants to calm their passions and accept that there were some realities beyond which the Committee could not go.

The representative of the United Kingdom noted that a sentence she had requested, asking for full consultation with administering Powers about actions taken by the Committee, had not been included in the reports conclusions and recommendations.  Inclusion of that line would enhance cooperation, she said.

She also recommended that the paragraphs pertaining to Puerto Rico be deleted from those conclusions and recommendations since, so far as she was aware, the matter was outside the purview of the United Nations, because the territory was not on the Committee’s list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The report of the seminar will be published as an official United Nations document.

Juan Mari Bras, expert from Puerto Rico, Judith Bourne, United Nations Association of the Virgin Islands, Leland Bettis, Guam Commission on Decolonization, Fred Phillips, expert from Antigua and Barbuda, and Carlyle Corbin, United States Virgin Islands, participated in the debate about conclusions and recommendations as well, as did the representatives of Chile and Cuba.

The Special Committee of 24 will meet again in New York in June.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The report contained 53 conclusions and recommendation.  Some of them are:

In the current stage of global development, there is still a need for identifying and implementing innovative practical and pragmatic approaches in the search for a specific solution to each of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories, in accordance with the freely expressed wishes of the populations concerned and in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations, General Assembly resolutions 1514 (XV) and 1541 (XV), and other relevant resolutions and decisions of the United Nations.

The participants affirmed the need for the Special Committee to embark actively on a public awareness campaign aimed at getting the peoples in the Territories to gain an understanding of the options on self-determination included in the relevant United Nations resolutions on decolonization.

Subject to approval by the Economic and Social Council, Non-Self-Governing Territories should be given access to relevant United Nations programmes in the economic and social sphere, including those emanating from the plans of action of United Nations world conferences, in furtherance of capacity-building and consistent with necessary preparation for the attainment of a full measure of internal self-government.

The participants emphasized the desirability of holding future seminars in the Non-Self-Governing Territories, with a view to educating the respective peoples in those Territories regarding the aims and objectives of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.  Furthermore, they emphasized that such seminars would reflect in more precise ways the feelings and aspirations of the peoples of those Territories.  The administering Powers were called upon to facilitate the holding of future seminars in the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

All efforts should be made by Member States, when presenting draft resolutions on decolonization to the General Assembly, to take into account the views, as appropriate, of the people of the Territories concerned.

The informal negotiations between the Special Committee and the administering Powers to create a work programme on a case-by-case basis for the decolonization of the Non-Self-Governing Territories should be expedited with the active involvement of the representatives of the Territories, and other interested parties, where appropriate.

The participants noted that the participation of representatives of the Non-Self-Governing Territories in which there was no dispute of sovereignty in the development of the work programmes for individual Territories should be ensured.  They also pointed out that any work programme should include an information and education campaign for the peoples of the said Territories, visiting missions of the Special Committee to ascertain the situation in these Territories first-hand, and a consultation process acceptable to the peoples in these Territories, leading to the exercise of their right to self-determination in accordance with United Nations resolutions.

The Special Committee should continue to encourage the ongoing negotiations between the Governments of the United Kingdom and Spain within the Brussels process, aimed at achieving a solution to the question of Gibraltar in accordance with the relevant resolutions and decisions of the United Nations.

The participants are aware that Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, has been used for over 50 years by the United States Navy to carry out military manoeuvres, thus limiting access by the civilian population to a space occupying scarcely a quarter of the island, and having an impact on the health of the population, the environment and the economic and social development of the territory.

The participants 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, incarceration, and harassment of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators, respect fundamental human rights, such as the right to health and economic development, and decontaminate impact areas.

The participants welcomed the presence as an observer at the seminar, for the first time, of the representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  They also welcomed the statement of the representative of the United Kingdom regarding its intention to continue to engage with the Special Committee, with a view to enhancing cooperation.

The Seminar reiterated the importance of the conclusions and recommendations adopted at the previous regional seminars held in Vanuatu (1990) and Barbados (1990), Grenada (1992), Papua New Guinea (1993 and 1996), Trinidad and Tobago (1995), Antigua and Barbuda (1997), Fiji (1998), Saint Lucia (1999) and the Marshall Islands (2000).

Highlights

The seminar had the highest attendance (124 participants) of all regional seminars over the last decade: 15 member States from the Special Committee of

24; 24 other Member States of the United Nations, including the administering Powers France and United Kingdom; representatives of seven Non-Self-Governing Territories; nine experts; 14 Non-governmental organizations, one intergovernmental organization; eight observers; and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The seminar, the first in the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010) and hosted by the Government of Cuba, commemorated the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Colonial Territories Fighting for Freedom and Human Rights.

Participants at the seminar heard about the devastating effects of maintaining military bases and holding military manoeuvres in Non-Self-Governing Territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam, the necessity for dialogue between the Special Committee and administering Powers, the need for assistance by the United Nations specialized agencies to Non-Self-Governing Territories, and the importance of the Committee’s visiting missions to those Territories.  The need for providing objective information to the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories on their rights was stressed.

During the seminar, spirited discussions took place over issues such as those of Gibraltar, the Western Sahara and Puerto Rico.  Representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Caribbean reported on the situation in their territories.  Those views were elaborated on or contradicted by experts from those territories.

In his opening statement, the Committee’s Chairman, Julian Robert Hunte, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Saint Lucia, said 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.”

The Secretary-General, in a statement read on his behalf, said decolonization was clearly one of the great success stories of the last half-century, and that process must be seen through to its end.  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 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.

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, the Decade would not go down 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 Decade would not be remembered as the advance of the elimination of inequality, but as a regression in democracy. Submitting Latin America to North American capital began a century ago in Puerto Rico.  The coming Decade had to be one of a struggle of peoples to prevent a movement that ignored their basic rights.

During the seminar's substantive sessions, representatives of American Samoa pleaded to have that territory taken off the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, as it was an “integral part of the United States”.  A representative of Montserrat said the people of his territory were not pleased with their

colonial condition and the activities of the administering Power, the United Kingdom.  The people of Montserrat would not accept a “manufactured integration” and did not wish to remain a colony of the United Kingdom.

Matters of international law and the principle of territorial integrity versus the one of the right to self-determination -- both contained in General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) -- were addressed during statements on Gibraltar and the Malvinas/Falkland Islands.

A representative of the United States Virgin Islands addressed the modalities of United Nations agencies to render assistance to small island Non-Self-Governing Territories, and called for observer status of representatives of small island Non-Self-Governing Territories in world conferences and special Assembly sessions of the United Nations. 

An expert from Anguilla announced that during the seminar, experts from several non-independent countries had come together to form the International Expert Group on Self-Determination to stimulate and encourage the flow of information relating to self-determination among non-independent countries, to provide expert commentary and analysis, and to provide a forum for the presentation, articulation and discussion of views of experts covering non-independent countries, including Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Most participants regarded the nationally televised reception hosted by Cuba’s President Fidel Castro in the Palacio Nacional on May 24 as the most memorable occasion of the seminar.

The Non-Self-Governing Territories are:  Western Sahara in Africa; American Samoa (United States), Guam (United States), New Caledonia (France), Pitcairn (United Kingdom), and Tokelau (New Zealand) in Asia and the Pacific; Anguilla (United Kingdom), Bermuda (United Kingdom), British Virgin Islands (United Kingdom), Cayman Islands (United Kingdom), Falkland Islands/Malvinas (United Kingdom), Gibraltar (United Kingdom), Montserrat (United Kingdom), St. Helena (United Kingdom), Turks and Caicos Islands (United Kingdom), and United States Virgin Islands (United States) in the Atlantic.

Members of the Special Committee of 24 are:  Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Chile, China, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, Fiji, Grenada, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Mali, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Sierra Leone, Syria, Tunisia, United Republic of Tanzania, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.

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For information media. Not an official record.