SPECIAL COMMITTEE HEARS FROM REPRESENTATIVES OF GIBRALTAR, WESTERN SAHARA

6 June 2002
GA/COL/3064

SPECIAL COMMITTEE HEARS FROM REPRESENTATIVES OF GIBRALTAR, WESTERN SAHARA

06/06/2002
Press ReleaseGA/COL/3064

Special Committee on

Decolonization

4th Meeting (AM)

SPECIAL COMMITTEE HEARS FROM REPRESENTATIVES OF GIBRALTAR, WESTERN SAHARA

Right to Self-Determination of Peoples of Both Territories Stressed

The Special Committee on Decolonization must be bolder and do more to ensure the right to self-determination of the peoples of Gibraltar and Western Sahara, it was told this morning by representatives of those Territories.

Gibraltar, said its Chief Minister, Peter Richard Caruana, had the same inalienable right to self-determination that the United Nations Charter bestowed on all colonial peoples.  Spain, on the other hand, argued that Gibraltar had no such right and maintained that the decolonization of Gibraltar must be brought about by the application of the principle of territorial integrity.  If the Special Committee was not willing to declare unambiguously in favour of Gibraltar’s right to self-determination, it should at least help it in having the question adjudicated by the International Court of Justice.

The Government of Gibraltar, he noted, was not participating in ongoing negotiations between the United Kingdom and Spain because both Governments expected Gibraltar to take part in a manner that left them free to reach political agreements against the wishes of the Territory.  Political agreements, he stressed, should not be reached unless they were agreed to by all three participants, including Gibraltar.

The Committee, added Joseph John Bossano, Office of the Leader of the Gibraltar Opposition, had a duty to support the aspirations of the peoples of Gibraltar and not to permit the national interests of two Member States to take precedence over the inalienable human rights of the Gibraltarians.  The United Nations had the obligation to ensure that the only acceptable formula for decolonizing all of the remaining territories was the formula chosen by the peoples of those territories themselves.

Reiterating that Gibraltar was a territorial dispute, Spain’s representative stated that the shared objective of her Government and that of the United Kingdom was to bring about a future in which Gibraltar enjoyed greater self-government and normal coexistence with its surrounding area.  Hopefully, they would soon arrive at a global agreement that would endow Gibraltar with the necessary conditions for a stable and prosperous future.

4th Meeting (AM)

On Western Sahara, developments since the last meeting of the Special Committee reflected an intention to abandon the settlement plan, said Ahmed Boukhari, on behalf of Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO).  Three of the four options presented by the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy amounted to as much.  The settlement plan was the only arrangement accepted by the parties and should not be seen as another option.  To abandon that plan simply because one party decided not to honour its commitment was not a convincing enough reason to seek another option. 

The United Nations, he said, had before it a simple decolonization problem with a clear solution.  If the Organization did not undertake efforts to reassert its damaged credibility on the issue, it might become a part of the problem, rather than a crucial aspect of the solution.  The Special Committee must today revive its interest and renew its concern for Western Sahara.

Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Grenada, Iraq, Antigua and Barbuda and Cuba.

Puerto Rico will be the subject of the next meeting of the Committee –- formally known as the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples –- to be held at 10 a.m. on Monday, 10 June.

Background

The Special Committee on Decolonization met this morning to take up the questions of Gibraltar and Western Sahara.  It had before it working papers prepared by the Secretariat as well as requests for hearing. 

According to the working paper on Gibraltar (document A/AC.109/2002/11), in July 2001, the United Kingdom and Spain jointly announced that they were giving “a fresh impetus” to discussions between them to resolve all their differences.  During the period under review, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar has made numerous statements on the status of the Territory and its position with respect to the ongoing talks between Spain and the United Kingdom.  The people and the Government of Gibraltar did not turn their backs on dialogue with Spain.  However, it had to be a dialogue in which Gibraltar could reasonably be expected to participate with safety and respect for its own position.  It could not be a bilateral dialogue between the United Kingdom and Spain, in which Gibraltar’s presence and participation were relegated to some secondary or supporting role. 

The working paper on Western Sahara (document A/AC.109/2002/10) states that in providing an assessment of progress and problems since the appointment of his Personal Envoy, the Secretary-General pointed out that the parties had not been willing to fully cooperate with the United Nations either to implement the settlement plan or to try to negotiate a political solution that would bring about an early, durable and agreed resolution of their dispute over Western Sahara.  The Secretary-General indicated that the situation regarding the future of the peace process was rather bleak.  He and his Envoy believed that there were four options for consideration by the Security Council. 

As a first option the United Nations could, once again, resume trying to implement the settlement plan, but without requiring the concurrence of both parties before action could be taken.  As a second option, the Personal Envoy could undertake to revise the draft framework agreement, taking into account the concerns expressed by the parties and others having experience with such documents.  As a third option, the Security Council could ask the Envoy to explore with the parties one final time whether or not they would now be willing to discuss, under his auspices, directly or through proximity talks, a possible division of the Territory, with the understanding that nothing would be decided until everything was decided. 

As a fourth option, the Council could decided to terminate the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), thereby recognizing and acknowledging that after more than 11 years and the expenditure of sums of money approaching half a billion dollars, the United Nations was not going to solve the problem of Western Sahara without requiring that one or the other or both of the parties did something that they did not wish to agree to do. 

The Committee heard first from representatives of Gibraltar.

PETER RICHARD CARUANA, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, asked whether the Committee believed that Spain’s sovereignty claim took priority over and superseded any right to decolonization by self-determination.  Surely that could not be so, because if it were so, Gibraltar would not be a decolonization issue at all, nor be on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, since it would constitute a mere sovereignty dispute.  There was certainly no principle of resolution of sovereignty disputes by decolonization, since decolonization could only be achieved by self-determination. 

Gibraltar, he said, had the same inalienable right to self-determination that the United Nations Charter bestowed on all colonial peoples, and had repeatedly cited international law pronouncements to sustain that view.  Spain, on the other hand, argued that Gibraltar had no such right.  It maintained that it was the doctrine of the United Nations that the decolonization of Gibraltar must be brought about not by the principle of self-determination but by the application of the alleged principle of territorial integrity. 

If the Special Committee was not willing to declare unambiguously in favour of Gibraltar’s right to self-determination, it should at least help it in having the question adjudicated by the International Court of Justice, he said.  Once again, he called on the Committee to recommend to the Fourth Committee that it refer the question to the International Court for an advisory opinion, adding that it should urge the United Kingdom and Spain to agree to do the same. 

The people of Gibraltar did not believe that their future stability, prosperity or security required the Administering Power to do a sovereignty deal with the territorial claimant.  At the heart of the Anglo-Spanish Agreement was the concept of joint sovereignty.  As a concept, joint sovereignty was a contradiction in terms, not to mention the fact that the people of Gibraltar did not want joint sovereignty.  It was intrinsically colonial and had no precedent in the history of decolonization.  He explained that he was not taking part in those negotiations, because both Governments expected Gibraltar to take part in a manner that left them free to reach political agreements against the wishes of the Territory.

Political agreements, he stressed, should not be reached unless they were agreed to by all three participants, including the Government of Gibraltar.  All proposals should be put to the people of Gibraltar in referendum, and nothing rejected by the people should remain on the table thereafter.  At the Regional Seminar held in Fiji, his deputy had proposed the replacement of the reference to “United Kingdom and Spain” in the description of the process of dialogue by a reference to “interested parties”, which would obviously include Gibraltar.  He had also called for the inclusion of a statement to the effect that the outcome must be in accordance with the freely expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar.  While Spain had opposed that suggestion, he urged the Committee to adopt it.

LAMUEL A. STANISLAUS (Grenada) asked the Chief Minister to explain the “fourth option” with regard to decolonization.  When had that option arisen?  Also, when was the last time Gibraltar had been afforded the opportunity to hold a referendum?

Mr. CARUANA replied that the fourth option was provided for in the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States, which was annexed to General Assembly resolution

2625 (XXV) of October 1970.  It stated the three classical options and then went on to say “or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by its people”.  The people of Gibraltar had not had the opportunity for a referendum since 1967.  At that time, the options had been limited to remaining with the United Kingdom or integrating with Spain.  Spain was opposed to the holding of any referendum in Gibraltar, which would constitute an act of self-determination. 

MOHAMMED KARIM MAHMOUD (Iraq) reiterated his country’s support for the Brussels process between the United Kingdom and Spain, aimed at creating a solution to all pending issues regarding Gibraltar, in view of the fact that it was consistent with General Assembly resolutions.  He opposed any change in that context. 

PATRICK ALBERT LEWIS (Antigua and Barbuda) said that the Government of Gibraltar had invited the Special Committee to visit and had stated that it would be willing to pay for such a visit.  Did that offer still stand?  Also, would that offer be extended on an individual basis to members of the Committee if they so desired?

Mr. CARUANA said that Iraq’s statement was both a disappointment and a surprise.  Referring to the comments of Antigua and Barbuda, he said that the invitation still stood.  He was keen that the Committee should visit Gibraltar for the same reasons that the United Kingdom and Spain did not want the Committee to visit the Territory.  It would debunk the argument that the people of Gibraltar were not capable of determining their future.  The Government was willing to pay for such visits. 

JOSEPH JOHN BOSSANO, opposition leader of Gibraltar, said that the Committee would be failing in its duty if it permitted the re-launched Brussels negotiations to be used by the United Kingdom (the Administering Power) as a way of settling its differences with Spain (the territorial claimant).  Nor should the Brussels talks be allowed to perpetuate a colonial situation in which the United Kingdom shared its role as the Administering Power with Spain -- thus depriving Gibraltarians of all the rights to which they were entitled by the Charter and the Declarations on decolonization and human rights.

He said that if Spain had been able to argue for years that there was a United Nations doctrine that Gibraltarians had no such rights, it was only because it had suited both the United Kingdom's and Spain’s interest to remain silent.  The Committee had a duty to support the aspirations of the people of Gibraltar, and not to permit the national interests of the two Member States to take precedence over Gibraltarians' inalienable human rights.

Mr. Bossano told the Committee that Gibraltar's Parliament had now unanimously approved the text of a draft decolonization Constitution which provided for the exercise of self-determination.  The text would create a new status that fell between the parameters of “free association” and of the “fourth option” which he had identified in previous years.  The draft had been brought to the attention of the Secretary-General, he said.

The opposition's view was that it should be guided by the Committee as whether the text’s terms offered Gibraltarians enough self-government to meet the Committee's criteria for decolonization.  There was a choice:  Gibraltarians either exercised self-determination and continued to live alongside an unfriendly neighbour; or else they bought their neighbour’s friendship by sacrificing their self-determination.

He said that the United Nations had the obligation to ensure that the only acceptable formula for decolonizing all the remaining territories was the formula chosen by the peoples of those territories.

Dr. STANISLAUS (Grenada) said his delegation was impressed by the fact that the party in power and the opposition spoke with one voice on this matter.  He noted that Gibraltar seemed more opposed to the position of Spain than to that of the United Kingdom.  In that regard, he thought the Special Committee should attempt to integrate this new thinking into the process by encouraging the United Kingdom and Spain to take this reality into account.

Mr. LEWIS (Antigua and Barbuda) said he supported Gibraltar's position and was equally impressed that both its Government and the opposition tended to speak alike.  But he wondered if the Government and the opposition had truly been "speaking with one voice", and whether they had ever issued a joint declaration stating that position.

Mr. BOSSANO replied that they had indeed done that.  He explained that in framing the new draft constitution, a select committee comprising two members of the government and two from the opposition were invited to submit papers stating their positions.  It has been endorsed by every Member of Parliament, he said. 

He said the opposition had affirmed its belief that a good starting point was to forget for the moment what the colonial power wanted, and look instead at what the elected administration in Gibraltar wanted. 

ANA MARIA MENENDEZ (Spain) said that the Spanish-British negotiations had resumed, in compliance with repeated mandates issued by the United Nations.  That news gave hope of reaching a solution.  Her Government was resolved to negotiate a satisfactory arrangement offering a stable future for Gibraltar.  She recalled that the issue of Gibraltar was a territorial dispute between the United Kingdom and Spain, not an issue of self-determination.

Spain and the United Kingdom, she stated, through the joint communiqué adopted in Brussels in 1984, had begun embarking on a process to determine the future of Gibraltar.  Seventeen years later, in July 2001, they decided to resume those negotiations, known as the Brussels process.  In a press communiqué issued at the end of the ministerial-level Spanish-United Kingdom meeting in London in July 2001, both sides had emphasized their willingness to overcome all their difficulties over Gibraltar.  Despite many appeals, the Gibraltar side had declined invitations to the negotiations. 

At their next meeting in November 2001, in Barcelona, the two Foreign Ministers had confirmed their joint objective of pursuing dialogue and announced their intention to achieve a comprehensive agreement by the summer of 2002.  The objective they shared was to bring about a future in which Gibraltar enjoyed greater self-government and normal coexistence with its surrounding area.  The main principle was to build a stable, secure and prosperous future for Gibraltar.  On February 2002, in London, the two Ministers noted that good progress had been achieved.  They also reaffirmed the broad set of undertakings agreed to at earlier meetings.  She trusted that they would soon arrive at a global agreement which would endow Gibraltar with the necessary conditions for a stable and prosperous future.

The Fiji Seminar had confirmed the United Nations doctrine concerning decolonization and Gibraltar, she added.  Spain unanimously opposed any change to established doctrine.  There had not been any consensus about changing the conclusions of the Fiji Seminar.  What was being discussed by Spain and the United Kingdom was fully compliant with the recommendations of the United Nations, and there was no reason to re-examine that doctrine.

The Committee then turned to the question of Western Sahara.

AHMED BOUKHARI, on behalf of Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), said that as a result of obstructionist manoeuvres by Morocco, the referendum had not been conducted.  Since February 2000, the reports of the Secretary-General had begun to convey a sudden pessimism which led to a gradual change of course in the direction of abandoning the settlement plan and replacing it with an option that would satisfy Morocco’s territorial ambitions.  In 2000, in Berlin, the two parties met with the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Mr. Baker.  At that meeting which Morocco stated that it would no longer cooperate with the settlement plan.  It had also declared that it was only prepared to accept a political solution that would give it sovereignty over Western Sahara.

The developments since the last meeting of the Special Committee reflected an intention to abandon the settlement plan, he noted.  Morocco had put forward a proposal for a referendum after five years, which would confirm its sovereignty. From the perspective of international legality, the framework agreement was invalid as it denied the Sahrawi people their right to self-determination.  It also destroyed a fundamental principle of the Charter, that of decolonization.  In addition, it had not been accepted by the two parties but only by Morocco.  To that extent, it was a unilateral proposal.  The Security Council had examined the framework agreement in June 2001 and April 2002, and on neither occasion did it endorse the proposal.  

It was obvious that the draft framework agreement reflected an attempt to divert the process of decolonization in Western Sahara, he said.  The Frente POLISARIO categorically reiterated its rejection of the draft.  Three of the four options presented by the Secretary-General and his Envoy amounted to abandonment of the settlement plan.  The settlement plan was the only arrangement accepted by the parties and should not be seen as just another option.  To abandon that plan simply because one party decided not to honour its commitment was not a convincing enough reason to seek another option.

The United Nations had before it a simple decolonization problem and a clear solution, he said.  The Sahrawi people would not relinquish their right to independence.  If the United Nations did not strive to reassert its damaged credibility on the issue, it might become a part of the problem rather than a crucial aspect of the solution.  The Special Committee must today revive its interest and renew its concern for Western Sahara.  Morocco, which was not even considered the Administering Power of the Territory, had maintained its illegal presence there, a situation that was intolerable and should not be allowed to continue even one more day. 

Mr. LEWIS (Antigua and Barbuda) wondered whether there were different sets of rules which applied to different territories.  In Western Sahara, the Sahrawi people were striving for their independence.  He could not see any reason why the Sahrawi people should be going through what they were going through.  Each time, there had been some reason why the referendum had not been carried out.  And now the situation had been further complicated with the proposal to allow people with only 12 months’ residence in the Territory to take part in the referendum.  What prevented Morocco from flooding the territory with people? he asked.

ORLANDO REQUEIJO GUAL (Cuba) said the situation in Western Sahara could not continue to be set aside.  It demanded a solution, namely the holding of a free and fair referendum held under the auspices of the United Nations.  In the referendum, the options were either integration or independence.  He wanted to know why the Sahrawi people had not been able to decide that for themselves.  Why were there so many obstacles and barriers to the holding of the referendum?  One of the parties had held up the process and had brought it to a standstill. 

He had noted a dangerous trend in the Security Council, particularly suggestions by Mr. Baker that proposals be imposed from above without consulting the Sahrawi people.  The Committee must be bolder and do something; it must not wait for the Council to decide the future of the Western Sahara.  He asked whether the invitation to visit the Territory was still valid.

Mr. BOUKHARI replied that the invitation issued at the Fiji Seminar was a reiteration of the invitation issued last year in the Committee.  A visit by the Special Committee would strengthen international interest in the issue and lend momentum to the process.  It would help ensure that the process was not diverted towards other avenues having nothing to do with decolonization.  

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For information media. Not an official record.