WESTERN SAHARA SETTLEMENT, POLITICAL EQUALITY FOR REMAINING TERRITORIES AMONG ISSUES ADDRESSED, AS FOURTH COMMITTEE’S DEBATE CONTINUES

9 October 2001
GA/SPD/212

WESTERN SAHARA SETTLEMENT, POLITICAL EQUALITY FOR REMAINING TERRITORIES AMONG ISSUES ADDRESSED, AS FOURTH COMMITTEE’S DEBATE CONTINUES

09/10/2001
Press ReleaseGA/SPD/212

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

4th Meeting (AM)

WESTERN SAHARA SETTLEMENT, POLITICAL EQUALITY FOR REMAINING TERRITORIES

AMONG ISSUES ADDRESSED, AS FOURTH COMMITTEE’S DEBATE CONTINUES

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate this morning, with speakers addressing the Western Sahara settlement question, in particular, as well as general approaches to full political equality for the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories.

On Western Sahara, the representative of Morocco told the Committee that the draft framework agreement proposed by James Baker III, Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, provided the means to reconcile the Morocco's sovereignty prerogatives with the right of the Territory's people to manage their own affairs through democratically-elected institutions.  The Settlement Plan, on the other hand, had been shown to be inapplicable, as it had been impossible for the parties to agree on a list of voters for a self-determination referendum, he added.

Algeria's representative, referring to the draft framework agreement, said that the United Nations Secretariat had decided, without any mandate from Member States, to initiate a parallel track in a vain search for a political solution, which was in reality a programmed integration of Western Sahara into the territory of the occupying Power.  The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente POLISARIO) had consequently rejected that so-called solution and Algeria had no choice but to express its total disagreement with the proposal.  The Settlement Plan remained the only framework to which both parties had agreed and which enjoyed the support of the entire international community.

Concerning other Territories, the representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the urge to legitimize current dependency arrangements must be resisted in the face of new governance proposals being applied -- often unilaterally -- to many of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.  General Assembly resolution 1541 (XV) defined three legitimate political status options based on the fundamental principle of full and absolute political equality:  independence; free association; and integration with full political rights.  There should be no faltering of the international commitment to those principles for the sake of mere expediency she added.

Papua New Guinea's representative said there could be no “one-size-fits-all” programme of work for all remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories.  He looked forward to continued close cooperation with New Zealand in finalizing the work programme for Tokelau and hoped that the other administering Powers would be as cooperative in finding constructive and transparent approaches to solutions for each Territory.  There was need for faster progress in the development of those approaches, he said.

Singapore's representative noted that some Territories were held back by the fear that their small size and lack of economic resources would not make their independence feasible, while the perceived failure of some neighbouring independent States deterred the progress of others.  Singapore, as a country whose people were its only resource, fully appreciated the complexities faced by small and poorly endowed territories and believed that human resource development was vital for economic and social progress, he said.

Other speakers this morning were the representatives of China, Iran, Madagascar, Nigeria, Namibia, Fiji, Angola, Mozambique, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Egypt Burkina Faso and Senegal. 

The representatives of Algeria and Morocco made statements of clarification.  Indonesia's representative spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

When the Fourth Committee meets again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 10 October, it will hear petitioners and representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Committee Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met today to continue its general debate on decolonization items.  [For background, see press release GA/SPD/211 of 8 October 2001.]

Statements

SHEN GUOFANG (China) said that, despite the successes of United Nations decolonization efforts, they had yet to be completed.  It was the lofty duty of all Member States to help the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and totally eradicate colonialism.  That goal required the joint effort of the United Nations, the people of the Territories and the administering Powers, from whom more effective cooperation was needed.

He said the transmission of information under Article 73 e, the dissemination of information on decolonization, regional seminars and visiting missions were an effective means of making known the will of the people of the Territories.  He hoped the administering Powers would cooperate more fully in those endeavors.  Since most of the Territories were small, with fragile development environments, the administering Powers must effect balanced social and economic development in those Territories, while protecting their natural and human resources.  China would, as always, participate actively in such efforts to allow people to exercise their right to self-determination.

ABDALLAH BAALI (Algeria) said that, despite universal awareness of the necessity to annihilate the last bastions of foreign occupation, the Saharawi people were still fighting to exercise their right to self-determination.  The United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) had never worked so intensively and closely as they had for the last Non-Self Governing Territory in Africa.  As a result of their joint efforts, a Settlement Plan, agreed upon 10 years ago by the Kingdom of Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente POLISARIO) had shown the way to a settlement of the Western Sahara question.

He said that throughout the years, the Settlement Plan had encountered various obstacles.  Those obstacles had slowed the momentum of the peace process, but had never called into question the validity of the Settlement Plan or the possibility of successfully implementing it.  The Identification Commission had identified 86,000 voters who would participate in the self-determination referendum.  Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO had agreed on a Protocol by which the Commission would consider only those applications for appeal that contained new elements.

But, a few months later, more than 130,000 appeals were logged in a few weeks, leading to the paralysis of the Commission, he said.  The General Assembly and the Security Council had insisted on the continuous implementation of the Settlement Plan.  Unfortunately, the Secretariat had chosen to give a dark picture of the situation with the aim of demonstrating the impossibility of implementing the Settlement Plan and justifying its abandonment.

Moreover, he said, the Secretariat had decided, without any mandate from Member States, to initiate a parallel track in a vain search for a political solution based on a so-called autonomy, which was in reality a programmed integration of the Territory into the territory of the occupying Power.  The Frente POLISARIO had consequently rejected that so-called solution.

Algeria had no choice but to express its total disagreement with the integration proposal, he said.  Now that it was widely established that the     so-called draft framework agreement could not under any circumstances be considered as a basis for a just and lasting solution, the Settlement Plan remained the only framework agreed to by the two parties and enjoying the support of the entire international community.

MEHDI MOLLA HOSSEINI (Iran), recognizing the United Nation’s proud role in decolonization in the past, said that the Organization should now intensify its efforts by implementing specific, innovative, and pragmatic approaches for each of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories, based on the freely expressed wishes of the populations and in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.  No particular characteristic of any of those Territories should prevent their populations from exercising their inalienable right to self-determination.  The decolonization process must be completed through cooperation by the administering Powers with the Special Committee, along with case-by-case programmes of work.

Periodic missions to the Territories, he said, should be insisted upon, for assessment and for ascertaining the aspirations of people.  More information must be submitted in that regard, and concern should continue to be expressed over military activities in the Territories.  At the same time, the international community should unify its efforts to assist the peoples of the Territories in their progress toward self-determination.  Iran was determined to continue to fulfil its responsibilities in that regard, and looked forward to the concerted work to be carried out in meeting the objectives of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

FOO SHYANG PIAU (Singapore) said that even while the United Nations redoubled its efforts, it was necessary to look closely at the unique situations of the Non-Self-Governing Territories in order to address their needs more effectively at the international level.  The report of the Havana regional seminar pointed out that some Territories were held back by the fear that their small size and lack of economic resources would not make their independence feasible.  Also noted was the perceived failure of some neighbouring States that had embarked on independence.

Expressing empathy with those concerns, he said Singapore, too, had been a colony and fully appreciated the complexities and dilemmas faced by small and poorly endowed territories.  Singapore urged the United Nations to remain engaged in all phases of the decolonization process to ensure sustainable results that would truly be in the interests of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

He said that although the dotcom bubble had burst over the last year or so, the massive changes brought about by the information technology revolution were here to stay.  The new technologies allowed dispersed communities to come together in new virtual communities, facilitating the exchange of information, the formulation of strategies and the nurturing of their identities.  Territories at different stages of self-determination could use the network to share insights and experiences.

However, he said, one must temper one's expectations of the benefits of technology with the reality that many Non-Self-Governing Territories lacked even the basic infrastructure required to access the Internet.  The Singapore Government was keen to share its own experiences in information technology with other developing countries.  As a country whose people were its only resource, Singapore believed that human resource development was vital for economic and social progress.

JEAN DELACROIX BAKONIARIVO (Madagascar) said that the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was an opportunity for the international community to reaffirm its commitment to swiftly and unconditionally bring an end to colonialism in all its forms and manifestations, by a full application of resolution 1514 (XV) of the General Assembly.  It was an opportunity, as well, to reaffirm a commitment to basic human rights.  The struggle for independence was a struggle for human rights.

In that respect, he supported resolution 2001/1 adopted in April 2001 by the Human Rights Commission on the question of Western Sahara, which reaffirmed the need to organize a fair referendum of self-determination for the people of that Territory, by the United Nations in cooperation with the (OAU).  That plan was in conformity with agreements made by the parties and basic principles of the United Nations.  The East Timor referendum of 1999 was an historical moment for international law and of the right of people to choose their future.  He hoped that experience would guide future efforts.  He also hoped that recommendations adopted at the Caribbean Regional Seminar held in Havana would be adopted by the General Assembly.

CHARLES AZUBIKE ONONYE (Nigeria) said that while commending the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, Nigeria called on the international community, especially the various administering Powers, to speed up the process leading to the attainment of independence for the remaining 17 Territories still under colonial administration.

He said efforts should be intensified to resolve the problem by organizing referendums in all the Non-Self-Governing Territories that would enable their inhabitants to determine their own political future.  With respect to Western Sahara, Nigeria called on the parties concerned to respect the various United Nations resolutions, particularly General Assembly resolution 55/141, and to ensure early organization of the self-determination referendum.

Nigeria welcomed the various measures undertaken by the United Nations to enhance the social and economic status of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said.  It also urged an increase in development assistance to those peoples.  While welcoming the dissemination of information on decolonization and offers of scholarships, Nigeria urged the administering Powers to do more for the Territories, so that their inhabitants could determine their own future.

MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia) said his country strongly supported the process of decolonization, as well as the Second Decade for its eradication, partially because of its own painful and protracted struggle for self-determination and independence.  In that regard, he expressed deep disappointment and concern over recent developments in the situation of Western Sahara, especially the recent proposal of the so-called framework agreement on the status of that Territory, which provided no possibility of its people exercising their right to self-determination.

The United Nations Settlement Plan, he said, remained the only framework accepted by both parties to the conflict and adopted by the Security Council.  As it includes a fair referendum on self-determination, it would help ensure a just and lasting solution to the conflict.  It should be implemented fully; Namibia would strongly object to any attempt to abandon it.  To those ends, he pledged support to the efforts of the Secretary-General and the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  He hoped the process in Western Sahara would follow the success in East Timor, allowing another people to achieve their freedom and independence.

DORNELLA M. SETH (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the Community continued to facilitate the participation of the Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories as part and parcel of the Caribbean region, irrespective of their level of political development.  For its efforts, The CARICOM States continued to affirm that the United Nations had a continual statutory role to play in the future development process of the Territories, the overwhelming number of which were small island developing countries.

She said that the successful decolonization of more than 80 territories since the Second World War spoke to the success of the global effort at ensuring that their peoples attained their rightful measure of self-government through an internationally-recognized process.  The Caribbean had benefited from that global commitment by achieving either independence, as with the 14 independent CARICOM States; free association, as with the two countries associated with the Netherlands; or integration with full political rights, as illustrated by the Overseas Departments of France in the region.

Those models of self-government had been successful largely because of unwavering adherence to the parameters for self-determination adopted by the General Assembly in resolution 1541 (XV), she said.  The resolution defined those three legitimate political status options based on the fundamental principle of full and absolute political equality.  There should be no faltering of the international commitment to those principles for the sake of mere expediency.

She stressed the necessity to resist the urge to legitimize the present dependency arrangements, which were unequal by any objective criteria, even given new proposals of governance being applied -- often unilaterally -- to many of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, especially those in the Caribbean.  There was, therefore, no basis for removing any of them from the United Nations list until they had achieved full political equality.

CARICOM had previously expressed its concern that major provisions of the action plan for the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism had not been addressed during the first international decade, she said.  Priority recommendations, such as the creation of political education programmes to heighten awareness of the peoples of the Territories, had never been initiated.  The information deficit on decolonization had been made worse by the lack of basic analyses for Member States on the constitutional, political and economic situation in the Territories.  Specific analyses to that effect had been mandated in the first plan of action, but never carried out, and they were critical to alleviating the information deficit.  The necessary expertise should be retained to conduct that critical work.

AMRAIYA NAIDU (Fiji) called for maintaining the momentum that the decolonization process had taken towards the end of the First International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.  He congratulated the administering Powers that had already reported on the progress of their action programmes on their respective Territories.  Some movement was taking place.  He realized that no one solution would fit all cases.  He urged all parties to push ahead and achieve the end of colonialism well before the end of the Second Decade. 

Fiji, he said, commended the peaceful and cooperative climate of progress for the Kanak people in New Caledonia, which had been achieved under the Matignon and Noumea Accords.  Kanak leadership had already been able to participate meaningfully in various regional initiatives. He was also confident on progress in Irian Jaya (West Papua), and he quoted a Forum Leader’s communiqué contained in United Nations document A/56/388, which expressed concern about violence and encouraged Indonesia to ensure that the voices of all parties of the province were heard. 

As most of the other remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories were also in the Pacific or Caribbean regions, he supported formalization and strengthening the work of the open-ended and informal working groups that were consulting with administering Powers and local peoples to develop individualized work programmes on a case-by-case basis.  The process in those Territories could thus be pursued in earnest.

JOSE PAULINO CUNHA DA SILVA (Angola) said that since the adoption of the Declaration on decolonization over 40 years ago, more than 50 countries had attained their independence, East Timor being the most recent one.  Angola commended the United Nations for its active role in East Timor's self-determination process, which had allowed the East Timorese people to choose independence by means of a popular referendum culminating in the democratic elections of 30 August 2001.

While Angola recognized the progress made in decolonization, he said, colonialism had still not been eradicated.  It was imperative that the United Nations and the international community make greater efforts to help those peoples remaining under colonial rule to freely decide their political future and become a part of the concert of nations.

Regarding the question of Western Sahara, he urged the international community to continue supporting the Settlement Plan established by the United Nations.  Angola reaffirmed its support for the Houston agreements and believed that the most appropriate way to reach a peaceful settlement in the Western Sahara dispute was to enable the Saharawi people to exercise their right to self-determination through an internationally-monitored popular referendum.

CRISTIANO DOS SANTOS (Mozambique) said that despite the Special Committee’s progress in decolonization, the process needed to be completed, so that all peoples could realize the inalienable right to self-determination.  For that purpose, he called on all administering Powers to cooperate with the Special Committee.  The commitment of the international community for completing the process was shown by the declaration of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

He commended the Secretary-General, in cooperation with the OAU, on efforts to implement the Settlement Plan in Western Sahara, which, ten years after its approval, remained to be completed.  The international community must put the Plan back on track through a free and fair referendum.  It was time to direct MINURSO to complete the identification process for that referendum.  In that effort, he called on the cooperation of the two parties.  The people of Western Sahara must be given a genuine and meaningful chance to decide their own destiny.

SOMKHIT VANKHAM (Lao People's Democratic Republic), associating himself with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) statement, said that notwithstanding the concrete progress achieved to date, there was some concern and disappointment that the goal set out in the previous International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism had not been realized.  There were still 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories around the world that had yet to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and to choose their own destiny.

Regretfully, the future of those Territories remained uncertain, he said.  But, while it was unrealistic to hope for early fulfillment, it should always be remembered that the ultimate goal of a world free from colonialism had been firmly set out in General Assembly resolution 46/181.  There was no alternative to the principle of self-determination for all Non-Self-Governing Territories in accordance with Assembly resolutions 1514 (XV) and 1541 (XV) regardless of their size, geographical location, population or resources.

He said that the administering Powers, having special responsibility, should cooperate more closely with the United Nations and the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to create the conditions necessary for the exercise of their right to self-determination.  From that perspective, the Lao People's Democratic Republic fully supported the proclamation of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

PETER DONIGI (Papua New Guinea) associated his delegation with the introductory remarks about the Special Committee made by its rapporteur and acting Chairman.  In addition to their remarks, he noted that there could not be a “one-size-fits-all” programme of work for all remaining territories.  In that regard, he looked forward to continued close cooperation with New Zealand in finalizing the work programme on Tokelau.  He hoped that, in the future, the other administering Powers would be as cooperative as New Zealand in finding constructive and transparent approaches to the solutions for each Territory.  The development of those approaches needed to progress more quickly.

He looked forward to welcoming East Timor to the family of nations soon.  Concerning the terrorism directed against United States targets in September, he said that the attacks would have far-reaching consequences on economies, especially those of the small island Territories, who depended heavily on tourism and a few products and were extremely sensitive to higher transportation costs.  He, therefore, called for extraordinary efforts by administering Powers and international aid agencies to help those economies.  Reporting on the Territories should also include the impact of the recent terrorist attacks and remedial efforts.

WALID A. HAGGAG (Egypt) expressed his country's wish that the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism would move faster towards the final objective of a world free of colonialism, in which the aspirations of the Non-Self-Governing Territories were attained.  For more than a year now, world leaders had been seeking to consolidate the goals of the Millennium Summit in areas still under colonial administration.

He called on the administering Powers to be politically realistic in shouldering their responsibilities, so that the world could turn the page on colonialism.  Egypt commended New Zealand's cooperation with the Special Committee on decolonization and asked other administering Powers to do the same.  Flexibility and cooperation should be the rule rather than the exception.

The administering Powers, he said, should cooperate with visiting missions to the Non-Self-Governing Territories, so that the United Nations could be directly informed of the wishes of their peoples concerning the exercise of their right to self-determination.  The administering Powers should also respect the legitimate rights of the peoples, including their right to control their natural resources, and ensure that their political actions did not affect the rights of the peoples of the Territories.

He said that two years after the establishment of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), the world had seen the political will of the East Timorese.  Egypt commended the Indonesian Government.  Without that Government’s courageous decision to move ahead, the popular referendum would not have been possible.  He hoped that the United Nations would continue to play a role in East Timor after its independence.  The Organization should also continue to seek a just and comprehensive settlement to the dispute over Western Sahara.

MICHEL KAFANDO (Burkina Faso) said that, lately, human rights had become nearly a credo and the self-determination of peoples could no longer be challenged.  With its successful history, the Special Committee was a resource that the United Nations could use to solve the remaining decolonization problems.  It was unacceptable that Non-Self-Governing Territories still existed. 

The Western Sahara conflict, he said, was one of the longest-standing in Africa, and had caused much tragic loss of life, separation of families, and  long-term imprisonment.  The United Nations had made a determined effort to bring the parties together over the years.  Good will existed and the parties had a duty to analyze all openings that would allow progress.  The draft framework agreement presented by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy should not be totally rejected.  The measure of autonomy it allowed the Sahawari people could be a good basis for discussion and did not rule out self-determination.  The Secretary- General must be supported in his efforts and encourage the parties to persevere in dialogue and compromise.

PAPA LOUIS FALL (Senegal) said that the question of Western Sahara was very important to Senegal.  The territory had age-old ties to Morocco that had continued to be strengthened over centuries.  Senegal supported Morocco's position on that question independently, objectively and dispassionately.

He welcomed and supported the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, who had injected political pragmatism and courage in the search for new ways to resolve the Western Sahara dispute.  The framework agreement proposed by Personal Envoy James Baker III, supported by the Secretary-General, was a good base for negotiations, which, if implemented, would overcome the obstacles confronting the Settlement Plan.

Senegal encouraged the parties to pursue negotiations in the spirit of the framework agreement, as an alternative means of reaching a definitive solution to the Western Sahara question.  It also exhorted the parties to give priority to the handling of humanitarian assistance, in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), without subjecting such assistance to political considerations or conditions.  Senegal hoped the parties would have sufficient political resolve to match up to the triple challenge of peace, cooperation and development.

MOHAMED BENNOUNA (Morocco) reiterated his country’s commitment to a just and lasting settlement of the dispute over Western Sahara, a dispute which had been artificially created when Morocco was legitimately recovering its southern provinces.  Morocco defended its territorial integrity in conformity with the principles of the United Nations, and had a great interest in stability and peace in the Maghreb region.  In that interest, the international community supported the framework of negotiations proposed by the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy in a report to the Security Council of 20 June 2001.

He said the draft framework agreement provided the means to conciliate the prerogatives of Morocco for sovereignty over its territory, along with the right of the peoples concerned to manage their own affairs through democratically-elected institutions.  For reasons mentioned in the aforementioned report of the Secretary-General, that framework agreement was inevitable.  The Settlement Plan, on the other hand, had been shown to be inapplicable.  It had been impossible for the parties to agree on the list of eligible voters.  The alternative could only be a compromise formula allowing representative local authority to exercise maximum power, within the framework of Moroccan sovereignty.

The framework agreement derives from the Security Council’s request for the parties to find a mutually acceptable political solution, he said.  Morocco’s goodwill in that effort had been recognized in the Secretary-General’s April report.  After Morocco’s agreement to the draft agreement, representatives of the Frente POLISARIO and Algeria discussed its provisions at the August meeting in Pinedale, Wyoming with the Personal Envoy and promised to provide further clarification.  He hoped that such clarification would be forthcoming.  He also urged the liberation, without delay, of 1,479 members of the Royal Armed forces still held, in accordance with United Nations requests and humanitarian law.  The political solution elaborated by the Personal Envoy could be the last chance to end the conflict.  He urged that the opportunity be seized.

Mr. BAALI (Algeria), referring to the statement by Morocco, said the Secretary-General's spokesman had issued a communiqué following the meeting in Wyoming, where both the Settlement Plan and the framework agreement had been discussed.  Algeria had reiterated its objections to the framework agreement, while the Frente POLISARIO had rejected it.  Mr. Baker had sought written clarifications of the objections and Algeria intended to provide them shortly.

Referring to the statements by Burkina Faso and Senegal, he said there was no point in drawing the Committee's attention to Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara, which did not in any way approve of the framework agreement.

Mr. BENNOUNA (Morocco) said a recent seminar in Barcelona on the framework agreement indicated that it might have raised some interest among academics.  The Security Council had encouraged negotiations on the basis of the framework or any other proposal, and any change in position could be presented to Mr. Baker.  The framework agreement constituted an effort to propose a political solution.

Right of Reply

DUPITO DARMA SIMAMORA (Indonesia), noting the mention by Fiji's representative to Irian Jaya, referred to  the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of Member States.  The Irian Jaya issue was an internal matter and had nothing to do with matters before the Fourth Committee.

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For information media. Not an official record.