SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION ADOPTS RESOLUTION URGING UNITED STATES TO HALT MILITARY DRILLS ON VIEQUES ISLAND, PUERTO RICO

21 June 2001
GA/COL/3053

SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION ADOPTS RESOLUTION URGING UNITED STATES TO HALT MILITARY DRILLS ON VIEQUES ISLAND, PUERTO RICO

21/06/2001
Press ReleaseGA/COL/3053

Special Committee on

Decolonization

6th Meeting (PM)

SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION ADOPTS RESOLUTION URGING UNITED STATES

TO HALT MILITARY DRILLS ON VIEQUES ISLAND, PUERTO RICO

As it concluded its consideration of Puerto Rico, the Special Committee on Decolonization this afternoon called on the United States to expedite a process allowing the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. 

Adopting the draft resolution on Puerto Rico, without a vote, the Committee also urged the United States to immediately halt its military drills and manoeuvres on Vieques; return the occupied land to the people of Puerto Rico; halt the persecution, incarcerations, arrests and harassment of peaceful demonstrators; immediately release all persons incarcerated in that connection; respect fundamental rights; and decontaminate the impact areas. 

Further, the Committee requested the President of the United States to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in the United States prisons on cases related to the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico.

Also this afternoon, as part of its consideration of the question of Western Sahara, the Committee heard from the representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO).  He stated that the decolonization of Western Sahara had been pending since the 1960s.  It continued to be a case which tested the credibility of the United Nations and the serious commitment of Member States.

He said that it was Morocco and one or two States which wanted to make Western Sahara the exception rather than the general rule of decolonization.  The Committee should send a mission to the region to rescue the issue from danger and steer it away from the narrow interests of countries like France and Morocco.  The decolonization of Western Sahara was incumbent on the General Assembly and the Committee.  The implicit action of those two bodies was necessary to urge the Council into action.

Cuba's representative reaffirmed the inalienable right of all people to self-determination and independence and hoped that the settlement plan for Western Sahara would finally be applied, corresponding to the terms accepted by both Morocco and POLISARIO in August 1998.  The holding of that referendum in transparent conditions would be the only viable option to guarantee the rights of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination.  He urged that no more fictional obstacles be placed in their path.

Also speaking on the question of Puerto Rico this afternoon were the representatives of Pro Libertad; the Working Group on Puerto Rico; Center for Constitutional Rights; Congreso Nacional Hostosiano; Women for Peace and Justice for Vieques; Primavida; Cultural Literary Association Hispanic American, Inc.; and Puertorriqueños Unidos en Accion. 

Statements were also made by the representatives of Chile, Papua New Guinea, Iraq, Venezuela and Iran.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 28 June. 

Background

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 considering the question of Puerto Rico.  It was also expected to consider the question of Western Sahara. 

For details on the report prepared by the Committee’s Rapporteur, Fayssal Mekdad (Syria) on the Committee’s decision of 12 July 2000 concerning Puerto Rico (A/AC.109/2001/L.3) and the draft resolution on Puerto Rico (A/AC.109/2001/L.7), see Press Release GA/COL/3052 issued this morning. 

On the question of Western Sahara, the working paper (A/AC.109/2001/12) details the Secretary-General’s good offices with regards to the Territory.  It also summarizes consideration of the Territory by the Security Council and the General Assembly, including relevant texts adopted by them.

EDWIN PAGÁN, Prolibertad Faltanó Freedom Campaign, told the Committee that when it began its next programme of action during the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010), the question of Puerto Rico must be a critical and defining component at the forefront of the strategic plan.  “It is our firm belief that if the United States were to dissolve its colonial control over the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, it would cause a domino effect among the other administering Powers to follow suit and dissolve their own colonial relationships over the 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories”, he said.

Last July, he continued, when the Committee made groundbreaking history and a unified cry against colonialism, many were extremely hopeful that they would see the end of a dreaded sickness.  Yet despite the clear and resolute language in two historic documents, the United States had still not acted upon any of the recommendations set forth from that session.  If anything, it had doubled its efforts to demonstrate that it was in total control of the 4 million citizens of Puerto Rico –- 4 million individuals who by birthright also happened to be citizens of the United States.  “Yet even though we have the ability to travel back and forth between the Puerto Rico and the United States mainland without a passport, we are still very much a colonized people”, he stressed.

He said that during the commencement speech at the Caribbean Regional Seminar in Havana, Cuba, it was stated that the beginning of the Second International Decade was an opportunity to review the implementation of the United Nations mandate on decolonization.  It was also observed that the Special Committee alone could not carry the torch.  “Today I say to you that the valiant efforts of the people of Vieques and here in the mainland, through ongoing acts of civil disobedience and sacrifice, are concrete proof of our commitment to pushing the issue of colonialism to the forefront of the international community”, he said.  “We join with you as an equal partner in this endeavour and ask that you challenge those nations and administering Powers that have not been forthcoming in assisting their territories and who have statutory responsibility for decolonization."

JAIME A. MEDINA, Coordinator of the Working Group on Puerto Rico, said that he had, in recent years, appeared before the Committee urging it to recognize that Puerto Rico had the right to self-determination and independence.  The United States had maintained a colonial regime in his country with no regard for international law.  The current state of political subordination in which the people of Puerto Rico lived was unacceptable.  Despite the fact that the death penalty had been abolished in Puerto Rico, the United States federal courts had maintained that it was applicable in Puerto Rico.  Also, the United States was allowed to loot water from Puerto Rican rivers without paying a cent. 

Today, the fact that the United States Navy was continuing its criminal bombing of Vieques could not be overlooked, he continued.  The recent statement by President Bush announcing the Navy's withdrawal by 2003 was unacceptable.  "The Navy had to go now."  The response of the Navy to the pleas of the people had been abusive and repressive.  That was why so many activists were now in prisons.  He demanded the immediate withdrawal of United States political and military structures from Puerto Rico and urged the Committee to once again to present the case of Puerto Rico to the General Assembly.

ELLIOT MONTEVERDE-TORRES, Center for Constitutional Rights, said the task of the Committee remained the same as it when it was first established in 1945 by the United Nations Charter –- the complete and immediate liquidation of colonialism in the world.  Despite the presumed fact that the “ideal of a world without domination of one people by another” had ceased a long time ago to be controversial, the United Nations, in 2001, still found itself examining and debating the case of Puerto Rico.  It should shock the conscience of the Committee and the international community that today “we are again compelled to carry to completion the measures envisaged in the Charter in order to make it possible for the people of Puerto Rico to fully exercise their right to self-determination”, he said.

He said it was only logical then to ponder with anxiety, frustration and with legitimate anger about a future when such an abominable travesty of justice would finally cease to occur.  That was why it was imperative for this organ of international prestige to exert its moral influence and, for its General Assembly to accord its due respect to Puerto Rico in a manner that was both substantive and conclusive.  Anything short of that and which could directly or indirectly prolong the agony of 103 years of United States colonialism in Puerto Rico was simply inadmissible and a threat to world peace and security

He said that just as the United States this year was censured and sanctioned for its human rights record and excluded from the Human Rights Commission, the Assembly must show its independence and in a similar fashion denounce and condemn that country for violating the sacred principles of the Charter.  Puerto Rico was a case of international dimensions and not an issue of United States domestic policy.  It was the duty of the United Nations to show the world that no double standard existed, and that concerning the Territory, both legal and moral obligations were complementary.  He thus challenged the United Nations to take stock of the past and confront the future with boldness.  He also respectfully challenged the Organization to show the people of Puerto Rico and the international community that it was not lost in a state of arbitrariness and subordination to the private interests of any one power.

HECTOR L. PESQUERA, on behalf of Congreso Nacional Hostosiano, said Puerto Rico was a country in struggle against colonialism.  The United States Navy had been extracting 7 million gallons of water a day from a river in Puerto Rico without paying a single cent to the people of Puerto Rico.  In the meantime, the residents of that part of Puerto Rico lacked water.  At this very moment, there were dozens of people in civil disobedience in the Territory listening to the ordinance flying over their heads.  The Navy knew they were there but continued to bomb anyway. 

Today, more than ever before, Puerto Rico needed the intervention of the United Nations to stop the injustice, he said.  It was up to the international community to accelerate the decolonization process.  Puerto Rico was fighting to defend its natural resources and its right to self-determination.  He wanted the case of Puerto Rico included as a separate item in the agenda of the forthcoming General Assembly.  Also, the United States should respect the laws established by Puerto Rico, especially regarding protection of natural resources.  In addition, amnesty should be granted to all Puerto Ricans jailed for defending Puerto Rico's freedom.  Further, he demand the immediate and permanent cessation of all military exercises in Vieques and the clean-up of contaminated areas as well as the return of all land to the people of Puerto Rico.

ROSA ESCOBAR, Women for Peace and Justice for Vieques, Puerto Rico, said the civilian population of the municipality had been reduced to living between the storage areas in west and the military range on the other side of Vieques.  They had also been exposed to constant bombardment, excessive noise pollution and deterioration of hospitals and schools.  Females had also been sexually and socially abused.  Women in their homes, for example, had had to suffer naval officers banging on their doors and asking for “señoritas”.  Mothers and grandmothers had been raped in the absence of fathers and husbands who were forced to leave the island because they had been drafted into the army.

She said the health of residents had also been affected by the limited access to medical personnel.  Despite the high incidence of cancer, women had to travel great distances for mammograms and preventive gynecological treatment. Pregnant women were also unable receive pre-natal care during the first trimester of pregnancy.  The risk of a low weight baby was higher than in the rest of Puerto Rico.  Infant mortality was 40 per cent higher than the main island and Vieques in general had worse health statistics than the rest of Puerto Rico.

She demanded the immediate cessation of United States military exercises in the municipality, the return of land and its decontamination.

ANITA VELEZ MITCHELL, on behalf of Primavida, said that Vieques was a beautiful island, having one of the most expansive luminescent bays in the world, of which there were only six known to exist.  Vieques was the "sugar island" that fed Puerto Rico.  As a child in Vieques in 1928, she witnessed the first arrival of United States Marines on the island. 

The crisis of Vieques today was a humanitarian crisis, not a political one, she said.  Despite what anyone said, the once booming fishing industry of Vieques was now destroyed.  The water was undrinkable.  The rain of bullets and exploding bombs had crippled the island.  The sugar cane was ruined and the people of Vieques were living in fear for their lives.  As they were not the enemy, why should they be bombed, she asked.  Also, how could the United States ever have allowed the island to be rented out to other countries to test their bombs there as well?  After 60 years of such abuse, the people of Vieques were seeking a humanitarian end to the arrogance of the United States Government.  Puerto Rico and Vieques should be treated by the United States like the special adopted children that they were.

ERNESTO CORDERO, Cultural Literary Association Hispanic American, Inc. said that over 100 years ago the United States had liberated Puerto Rico from hundreds of years of Spanish domination.  Spain left behind a people in the depths of poverty greater than that seen in Cuba, Haiti or Jamaica.  There were no health services while people were illiterate, poor and hungry without public schools and universities.  The arrival of the United States brought progress, health, education and other major improvements.  Nationality and legal citizenship were granted for the first time.  Along with freedom and democracy came social security, public housing, rental subsidies and above all, the hope by all Puerto Ricans for a decent home.

He said there were those who did not appreciate or value their American citizenship and used it as cloak which could be put on and taken off without gratitude.  How many Puerto Ricans risked their lives and those of their families to float to the United States on a raft?  How many Puerto Ricans hid in dark trucks to smuggle themselves across the southwestern border of the United States? he asked.  He was proud to be able to wave both flags with respect and reverence. Yet, he felt hurt when his children and the children of others like him were called on to fight for the United States while they still did not have the right to elect the Commander-in-chief of the United States armed forces.

MANUEL RIVERA, Puertorriqueños Unidos en Accion, said that his organization was fighting for the rights of all Puerto Ricans.  He advocated the right to vote for all Puerto Ricans living in the United States in any plebiscite on the future of Puerto Rico.  The demands of the people of Puerto Rico against the United States Government represented fundamental issues of international law as well as moral issues.  The evidence presented revealed the 103 years of systematic violation of human rights of Puerto Ricans in the course of colonial domination of the United States over Puerto Rico.  The people of Puerto Rico had the same rights and freedoms as others, including the right to struggle for their liberation. 

The United States Government had never wanted to acknowledge their colonial control over Puerto Rico but sought to confuse public opinion about the situation of the territory, he continued.  It had used its influence to keep the case of Puerto Rico off the agenda of the international community.  The Committee had the responsibility to describe and clarify the oppressive reality in which Puerto Ricans lived.  The Committee must also launch a call to the Government of the United States to respect international legal standards.

The representative of Chile said his delegation would not take part in the decision to approve the draft since it had reservations about its scope.  This, however, should not prevent a decision from being taken by the Committee.  The events in Vieques had not escaped his country’s attention, and he was convinced that a solution must be found, but by the Puerto Rican and United States authorities.

The representative of Papua New Guinea said his delegation reserved its position on whether the Committee had standing to deal with the question of Puerto Rico.  His delegation also wished to stress its long-held position that the right to self-determination did not apply to people within the territory of a Member State.  Having noted the desire for a consensus within the Committee, however, his delegation reserved its position on the matters raised but would not participate in any action on the proposed resolution.

The representative of Iraq said his delegation was committed to resolution 1514 (1960) and to the continued work of the Committee during the Second Decade. He expressed full support for the draft and hoped that it would be carried by consensus.  

The representative of Venezuela said he was aware of the responsibility the members of the Committee had and the historical commitment to the independence of the countries of Latin America.  He reiterated support for decolonization and the inalienable right of Puerto Ricans to exercise their self-determination.  It was hoped that the draft resolution would be adopted as it had been last year, without any voting. 

The representative of Iran said that draft contained the most important elements regarding Puerto Rico and covered the concerns of the people of Puerto Rico.  He supported the adoption of the text as prepared and introduced by Cuba.

The Committee adopted the draft resolution, as contained in A/AC.109/2001/L.7, without a vote.

Cuba's representative said that it was a historic moment.  The Committee had again adopted, without a vote, a resolution on Puerto Rico.  He thanked the Committee, especially those that had given their active support to the text.  It was the twentieth resolution adopted and it must be a useful instrument and not just a matter of formality.  It was a further instrument for the people of Puerto Rico to one day exercise self-determination and independence.

The Committee, he continued, was in favour of dialogue with the administering powers and was ready to work with them.  The resolution should also be a useful instrument for the administering Power, which was bound to acknowledge the debate on Puerto Rico and to allow the people of Puerto Rico to exercise their right to self-determination.  It also sent a clear message to the administering Power concerning Vieques.  He thanked the Puerto Rican patriots who had spoken today in the Committee.

Western Sahara

AHMED BOUKHARI, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) said the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) published in February, the results of the voter identification operation.  After that there was nothing left to be done but declare the beginning of the transition period, initiate the return of the Saharaui population living outside Western Sahara, exchange prisoners of war, free the political detainees held by Morocco since the beginning of its invasion and the end of October

2000 and hold the referendum.  Unfortunately, however, Morocco had lodged

130,000 appeals to challenge the voter list.

He considered such obstructive action as a pretext to destroy the proposed referendum and the peace plan.  The determination of the United Nations, which was the decisive factor, was beginning to stumble and was being trapped by a paralysis.  The question of Western Sahara was now turning towards other solutions that were contrary to the original plans.  Also, Morocco being allowed to reject the results of the voter identification process might lead it start believing that its attitude of non-cooperation was being respected.

He said that amid the pessimism about feasibility of the United Nations discharging its responsibility, the Security Council at the instigation of France, had begun to look for other solutions to the conflict in Western Sahara.  The weak point in all the negotiations to date was that Morocco did not want to continue its cooperation.  The prescribed new route was to find a political solution other than the Arrangement plan.

He said recent evidence showed that Morocco was attempting in the Security Council to give credit to a unilateral solution whose objective was to legitimise the military occupation of Western Sahara.  Nevertheless, anything other than the inalienable rights of Saharaui people to self-determination would be contrary to international law.

Integral to the new plan was a proposal for a population of Moroccan settlers to be installed in Western Sahara to replace the Saharaui people.  The starting and ending point was to integrate Western Sahara into Morocco, which went against international law and did not aim for a fair solution to the decolonization problems.  POLISARIO had to reject such a plan.

He said the decolonization of Western Sahara had been pending since the 1960s.  It continued to be a case where the credibility of the United Nations and the serious commitment of Member States were being subjected to a historical test. It was Morocco and one or two States which wanted to make Western Sahara the exception rather than the general rule of decolonization.  The Committee should send a mission to the region to rescue the issue from danger and steer it away from the narrow interests of countries like France and Morocco.  The decolonization of Western Sahara was incumbent on the General Assembly and the Committee.  The implicit action of those two bodies was necessary to urge the Council into action.

RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba) reaffirmed the inalienable right of all people to self-determination and independence as stated in the United Nations Charter and the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. He hoped that the settlement plan for Western Sahara would finally be applied, corresponding to the terms accepted by both Morocco and POLISARIO in August 1998.  He also reaffirmed that the holding of that referendum in transparent conditions would be the only viable option to guarantee the rights of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination.  He urged that no more fictional obstacle be placed in the path of the people of Western Sahara.

PETER DICKSON DONIGI (Papua New Guinea) also supported the call on both parties to cooperate fully with the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy in implementing the various phases of the settlement plan.  He requested the Chairman to include the question of Western Sahara in the agenda of the Committee's informal discussions.

For information media. Not an official record.