SPEAKERS CELEBRATE TIMOR-LESTE’S INDEPENDENCE, CALL FOR PROGRESS ON REMAINING TERRITORIES, AS FOURTH COMMITTEE BEGINS DECOLONIZATION DEBATE

30 September 2002
GA/SPD/234

SPEAKERS CELEBRATE TIMOR-LESTE’S INDEPENDENCE, CALL FOR PROGRESS ON REMAINING TERRITORIES, AS FOURTH COMMITTEE BEGINS DECOLONIZATION DEBATE

30/09/2002
Press ReleaseGA/SPD/234

Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Fourth Committee

2nd Meeting (PM)

SPEAKERS CELEBRATE TIMOR-LESTE’S INDEPENDENCE, CALL FOR PROGRESS ON REMAINING

TERRITORIES, AS FOURTH COMMITTEE BEGINS DECOLONIZATION DEBATE

The independence of Timor-Leste in the opening year of the Second Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was celebrated by speakers in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon, as that body began its general debate on decolonization issues.

To complete the goals of the decade, however, representatives also stressed the need for progress in the 16 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories on the Committee’s list.  The representative of South Africa said it was time for resolute action on those situations.  It must be ensured that the Second Decade hastened the complete elimination of colonialism in its forms and manifestations, with the vestiges of domination giving way to the wishes of the peoples concerned.

The representative of the Russian Federation advocated a threefold approach to achieve those objectives:  a focus on actual results, including the preparation of work programmes for individual territories; a non-confrontational, pragmatic approach to dealing with such issues; and improved dialogue between the Special Committee on Decolonization and the administering Powers.

Cuba’s representative said that, despite the joy over the independence of Timor-Leste, over the past few years successes in the area of decolonization had been scarce.  He was deeply concerned over the constant manipulation of criteria, such as territorial extension, low population, remoteness or sustainability in distorting the universality of the inalienable right of peoples to self-determination.  He commended the successful visit of the Special Committee to Tokelau this year and acknowledged the cooperative relationship that the administering Power, New Zealand, had with the Committee.  He requested that country to convey its experiences to other administering Powers, who rejected such cooperation

The questions of Western Sahara and the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) were also highlighted by speakers this afternoon as among those situations requiring urgent resolution.  Regarding Western Sahara, Nigeria reaffirmed its support for the United Nations-sponsored referendum process.  He said the Settlement Plan, which formed the basis for Nigeria's participation in the process, was the only guarantee of the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.  On the question of the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the representative of Brazil, on behalf of the Southern Common Market

(MERCOSUR), expressed the hope that the good bilateral relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina would lead to the resumption of negotiations on the issues at stake.

Graham Maitland (South Africa), Committee Chairman, opened this afternoon’s proceedings.  Fayssal Mekdad (Syria), Rapporteur of the Special Committee on Decolonization, introduced that body's report and outlined its work during the 2002 session.  In addition, Earl Stephen Huntley (Saint Lucia), Acting Chairman of the Special Committee on Decolonization, briefed members on other aspects of that Committee’s work. 

Also speaking this afternoon were the representatives of Tunisia, Zambia, Costa Rica (on behalf of the Rio Group), Iran and Madagascar.  The representative of the United Kingdom made a statement in exercise of the right of reply.

When the Fourth Committee meets again at 3 p.m. Tuesday, 1 October, it will continue its general debate on decolonization issues.

Background

As the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) began its general debate on decolonization issues this afternoon, it had before it the report of the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (document A/57/23, Parts I to III), covering that body's 2002 session.

According to Part I of the report, the General Assembly, in 2000, declared the period 2001-2010 the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism and called on Member States to redouble their efforts to implement the Plan of Action for the Second Decade.  At meetings in February, March and June, the Special Committee considered the question of the Second Decade and the results of the Pacific Regional Seminar to review the political, economic and social conditions in the small island Non-Self-Governing Territories, which it held in Nadi, Fiji, from 14 to 16 May.  That Seminar adopted a number of conclusions and recommendations, including on eradicating colonialism, the right to self-determination and developments in Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Seminar participants also welcomed the accession of East Timor to independence on 20 May and expressed the hope that the “momentous event” would further strengthen the resolve of the international community to ensure implementation of the Decolonization Declaration.  The full text of the report of the Pacific Regional Seminar is attached as an Annex to Part I.

The Special Committee indicates that in 2003 it will continue to intensify its dialogue and cooperation with the administering Powers to further the cause of decolonization of specific Territories as agreed in 2000 and 2001.  It will exercise flexibility in working jointly with the administering Power and the representatives of the Territories in developing work programmes for American Samoa, Pitcairn and Tokelau.  The Special Committee will keep the situation in the Territories under review, examining the impact of developments concerning each Territory on their political advancement.

The report goes on to say that the Special Committee will continue to pay special attention to the specific problems of the small island Territories, which constitute the overwhelming majority of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories.  In addition to general problems facing developing countries, small island Territories suffer handicaps arising from the interplay of size; remoteness; vulnerability of natural disasters; fragile ecosystems; highly limited internal markets; lack of natural resources; weak indigenous technological capacity; obtaining freshwater supplies; heavy dependence on imports and a small number of commodities; depletion of non-renewable resources; migration; shortage of administrative personnel; and heavy financial burdens.

The report states that the Special Committee will continue to recommend measures to facilitate a sustained and balanced growth of the fragile economies of small island Territories and increased assistance in the development of all sectors of their economies, with particular emphasis on diversification.  The focus should remain on such issues as environmental problems; the impact of hurricanes, volcanoes and other natural disasters; finding ways to fight drug trafficking, money-laundering and other illegal and criminal activities; and the illegal exploitation of the marine resources.

The Special Committee suggests that the Assembly, at its fifty-seventh session, take into account its various recommendations and endorse its proposals.  The Special Committee also recommends that the Assembly renew its appeal to the administering Powers to take all necessary steps for the implementation of the Declaration and relevant United Nations resolutions in accordance with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples of the Territories concerned.

Part II of the report outlines the Special Committee's consideration of specific issues and actions taken on related draft resolutions during its 2002 session, which began on 12 February, including those on information from Non-Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73 e of the United Nations Charter; implementation of the decolonization Declaration by the specialized agencies and associated international institutions; economic and other activities affecting the interests of the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories; specific territories; and its decision on military activities and arrangements by colonial Powers in territories under their administration.  At its tenth meeting on

26 June, the Special Committee adopted a consolidated resolution on 11 small Non-Self-Governing Territories.  The Special Committee also accepted an invitation to dispatch a visiting mission to Tokelau in August 2002.

On 6 June, the report says, the Special Committee took up the question of Gibraltar and heard statements by that Territory's Chief Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the representative of Spain.

An addendum to Part II (document A/57/23 (Part II)/Add.1) notes that the Special Committee, in its resumed 2002 session, considered the findings of the United Nations mission to Tokelau, which took place from 14 to 24 August 2002.  The Special Committee approved the draft report of the United Nations mission to Tokelau and authorized its Rapporteur to submit amendments to the draft resolution on the question of Tokelau contained in chapter XIII of document A/57/23

(Part III).

Part III of the report contains draft resolutions and a decision recommended by the Special Committee to the General Assembly.

The Committee also had before it the Secretary-General's report on information from Non-Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73 e of the United Nations Charter (document A/57/74).

[Under Article 73 e, Member States with responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained self-government accept to transmit regularly to the Secretary-General information on the socio-economic and educational conditions in those territories other than Trusteeship territories falling under Chapters XII and XIII.]

Annexed to the report is a table showing the dates on which information was transmitted from 2000 to 2002.  The transmitted information includes information concerning geography, history and population, socio-economic and educational conditions.  Information on Territories administered by New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States also include constitutional and political developments.

The Secretary-General states that the Secretariat has continued to use the information transmitted to prepare working papers for the Special Committee, which takes the information into account in formulating its decisions on the Territories.

Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on offers by Member States of study and training facilities for inhabitants of Non-Self-Governing Territories (document A/57/90/Add.1), which covers the period from June 2001 to June 2002.

The section on offers and awards, includes an 11 April 2002 note verbale from the Permanent Mission of Argentina, informing the Secretary-General:  "The Malvinas Islands were registered by the United Kingdom as a Non-Self-Governing Territory.  This is a consequence of the illegal British occupation of Argentine territory that took place in 1833."

"Be that as it may, because the islands form part of Argentina's national territory, its inhabitants -- like the rest of the Argentine population -- enjoy the benefits of the National Scholarship Programme offered by the Ministry of Education of the Argentine Republic."

The report lists 54 Member States that have made scholarships available in past years, and in the current period offers from Chile, Cuba, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

The Committee also had before it the Secretary-General's report on implementation of the decolonization Declaration by the specialized agencies and the international institutions associated with the United Nations (document A/57/73).  It contains a list of the agencies and institutions that were invited to submit information on their efforts to implement the relevant United Nations resolutions.  Summaries of the replies received from those bodies are contained in document E/2002/61.

The Committee also had before it the Secretary-General's report on the question of Western Sahara (document A/57/206), which covers the period from

1 July 2001 to 30 June 2002.  He states that, based on an assessment by his Personal Envoy, James Baker III, the settlement plan could not be implemented in its current form in a way that would achieve an early, durable and agreed resolution of the dispute.  The report, thus, presents four options for consideration by the Security Council because of what he describes as the "bleak situation" of the peace process in Western Sahara.

As a first option, the United Nations could resume the implementation of the settlement plan starting with the appeals process, but without predicating action on the concurrence of both parties, the report states.  Under this "non-consensual approach", the United Nations would face the same obstacles it faced in the previous 10 years:  Morocco's disagreement with the settlement plan, the inability of the United Nations to hold a free and fair referendum accepted by both sides, and the absence of a mechanism to enforce the result of such a referendum.  If this option were chosen, the Identification Commission of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) would be reinforced, and the overall size of the operation increased.

As a second option, the report says the Personal Envoy could revise the draft framework agreement without seeking the concurrence of the parties involved, as had been done in the past.  The Personal Envoy would then present the draft document to the Security Council, which, in turn, would present it to the parties on a non-negotiable basis.  Should the Security Council agree to this option, MINURSO could be downsized further.

As a third option, the Security Council could also ask the Personal Envoy to explore with the parties one last time whether they would be willing to discuss a possible division of the Territory with the understanding that "nothing would be decided until everything had been decided".  If the parties did not agree with a plan for division by 1 November 2002, the Personal Envoy would be asked to show a proposal for division of the Territory to the parties and present same to the Council.  The Security Council would then present the proposal to the parties on a non-negotiable basis.  This option would give each party some -- but not all -- of what it wanted and would follow the precedent, but not necessarily the same territorial arrangements, as the 1976 agreement between Morocco and Mauritania.  If this option were chosen, MINURSO could be maintained at its current size or reduced even more.

As a fourth option, the report says the Council could decide to terminate MINURSO, thereby recognizing and acknowledging that after 11 years and an expenditure of nearly 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 parties did something they did not wish to do voluntarily.

Statements

GRAHAM MAITLAND (South Africa), Chairman of the Fourth Committee, introduced the deliberations on decolonization items, extending a warm welcome to the new Member State, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, which had been under consideration by the Committee for many years as the question of the Non-Self-Governing Territory of East Timor.  He then gave an overview of the history of the Special Committee on decolonization, known also as the Special Committee of 24, or the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria), introduced the Special Committee’s report on its work during the year 2002.  He said that the decolonization of East Timor last year made it a remarkable year for the Committee.  During the period under review, the Special Committee continued to work within the framework of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, which reiterated the actions that might be taken by the United Nations, the administering Powers, the specialized agencies and other organizations, in order to bring the end of colonialism closer.

EARL STEPHEN HUNTLEY (Saint Lucia), Chairman of the Special Committee on decolonization, said that despite the progress made since the adoption of the 1960 Decolonization Declaration, the decolonization process was, unfortunately, incomplete.  Just last Friday, Timor Leste had become the 191st Member State.  Two years into the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, however, 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained on the agenda.  During its 2002 session, the Special Committee had reviewed information provided by the administering Powers under Article 73 e of the Charter and heard from territorial representatives, petitioners and other officials.  In June, the Committee had adopted one decision and nine draft resolutions by consensus.  It had also adopted a unanimous resolution on Puerto Rico. 

He said that during the Pacific Regional Seminar held in Fiji in May, the Special Committee had informed participants about its work, particularly its desire to engage administering Powers in developing decolonization plans through work programmes for the individual territories.  The Special Committee had enjoyed the constructive cooperation of New Zealand.  France had attended sessions and representatives of the United Kingdom and the United States had also attended some of the Special Committee's meetings, albeit informally.  The Special Committee had considered the situation of Tokelau during the session, accepting an invitation by the Government of New Zealand and the people of Tokelau to travel to the Territory from 12 to 24 August.  Visiting missions were not vacations, but rather working visits to advance the decolonization process, he said.  He hoped that the example of cooperation would encourage greater involvement of the other administering Powers in the Special Committee's work. 

CHARLES AZUBIKE ONONYE (Nigeria) said the principle of self-determination as enshrined in the United Nations Charter remained the beacon of hope for peoples and territories under colonial rule.  Reaffirming Nigeria's support for the 1960 United Nations Decolonization Declaration, he urged immediate implementation of all General Assembly resolutions on decolonization and self-determination.  Granting independence to the Territories remained a major challenge for the international community.  The Organization must devise ways to ensure the timely attainment of that objective.  Nigeria, therefore, called on the administering Powers to be more sensitive to the legitimate aspirations of the peoples still under colonial rule.  Nigeria supported all measures to ensure that Non-Self-Governing Territories gained independence without delay. 

Regarding Western Sahara, Nigeria reaffirmed its support for the United Nations-sponsored referendum process, he said.  The Settlement Plan, which formed the basis for Nigeria's participation in MINURSO process, was the only guarantee of the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.  He reiterated his support for Security Council resolution 1429 (2002) which supported the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy to find a political solution to the long-standing dispute.  He welcomed measures to enhance the socio-economic status of the Territories, as well as measures to disseminate information and award scholarships.

FADL NACERODIEN (South Africa) said that, through the Fourth Committee, the voices of freedom continued to be heard and self-determination was upheld as a Charter right.  In celebration of the success story of Timor-Leste, the international community should be inspired to act promptly and decisively in the interest of the peoples of Territories that do not yet enjoy freedom, dignity and self-determination.

In particular, he called for implementation of all United Nations resolutions that upheld the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and an end to their foreign occupation.  At the same time, he said it was high time for the self-determination referendum in Western Sahara to finally take place, in conformity with the Settlement Plan and agreement between the two parties.  He encouraged those parties to overcome any remaining difficulties, to allow the Saharawi people an opportunity to express their wishes in a free and fair process in the near future.

It was, he said, time for resolute action in those areas.  It must be insured that the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism hastened the complete elimination of colonialism in its forms and manifestations, with the vestiges of domination giving way to the wishes of the people.

KAIS KABTANI (Tunisia) welcomed the accomplishments of the United Nations under the terms of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) on the granting of independence to colonial peoples.  The accession of more than 100 countries to national sovereignty over the years was a significant achievement.  While progress had been made in the past decade, much remained to be done, and what had been accomplished must be reinforced by a spirit of consensus.

The Committee's cooperation with the Special Committee on decolonization must be strengthened so as to bring the decolonization process to a successful conclusion, he said.  Verifying the aspirations of the peoples of the Territories remained one of the Committee's most important tasks.  The Committee must promote awareness of the rights and options available to the peoples of the Territories.  The decolonization process needed new impetus.  He hoped the international community would redouble its efforts and demonstrate its commitment to resolving the challenges before the Committee.

MWELWA MUSAMBACHIME (Zambia) expressed regret that the success of the independence of East Timor was clouded by failures in Western Sahara.  The question of Western Sahara was still a decolonization issue, falling under General Assembly resolution 1514.  He remained convinced that the United Nations Settlement Plan was the only framework that would allow the Saharawi people to exercise their rights to self-determination and independence.

"The Saharawi people must be allowed to exercise their inalienable rights to self-determination", he said.  "They must be allowed to choose freely between independence and incorporation.  The right to choose given by the United Nations and the international community to the people of East Timor should be equally extended to the Saharawi people."

GENNADY M. GATILOV (Russian Federation) said the current General Assembly session was taking place during the Second International Decade for the Elimination of Colonialism.  One of the Fourth Committee's most important tasks was to contribute to the success of the Special Committee's work.  In that regard, he advocated a three-fold approach.  The main way to achieve success was to focus on actual results, including the preparation of work programmes for individual territories.  It was also necessary to consolidate a non-confrontational, pragmatic approach to dealing with decolonization issues.  The United Nations should not be used for verbal battles, but rather to find actual solutions to the remaining decolonization issues. 

The Committee should also improve dialogue between the Special Committee and the administering Powers, he said.  He looked forward to swift progress in that regard.  He added that the right of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to self-determination and independence was not possible without fully taking into account the objective realities of their political, social and economic development, along with the range of modalities for self-determination, based on the freedom of choice.  Political will was of paramount importance.  His Government would continue to participate in resolving the remaining decolonization issues.

ORLANDO REQUIJO GUAL(Cuba), expressing the joy of his delegation over the independence of Timor-Leste, said that, however, over the past few years successes in the area of decolonization had been otherwise scarce.  He was deeply concerned over the constant manipulation of criteria, such as territorial extension, low population, remoteness or sustainability in distorting the universality of the inalienable right of peoples to self-determination.  In addition, the serious efforts of Committee members were not sufficient when some administering Powers continued to refuse to keep serious and respectful relations with the Committee, to hinder it in various ways, or to launch misleading campaigns against its noble purposes.

He commended the successful visit of the Special Committee to Tokelau, after a dearth of such important missions in the past years.  He acknowledged the cooperative relationship that the administering Power, New Zealand, had with that Committee; and he requested that country to convey its experiences to other administering Powers, who rejected such cooperation and tried to impose unacceptable conditions for such visits to Territories under their control.  In those Territories, some Powers also continued to delay information they must deliver, conduct military exercises, dispose of toxic waste and plunder terrestrial and marine resources. 

In order to reverse those realities, he said, decolonization must remain a priority in the United Nations.  Regional seminars must continue and their results must be disseminated.  Scholarships and training for inhabitants of the Territories should be increased.  Cuba welcomed the adoption of a number of resolutions that recognized the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and independence and reaffirmed its strongest commitment to that cause.  He also expressed deep concern over lack of progress in Western Sahara and reaffirmed support for an impartial referendum in accordance with the Settlement Plan, the Houston accords and relevant resolutions of the United Nations.  He reiterated Cuba’s absolute support to the right of Argentina in the dispute over the Malvinas Islands, and urged the administering Power of Guam to cooperate with efforts to respect the inalienable rights and genuine interests of that Territory’s inhabitants.

LUIZ TUPY CALDAS DE MOURA (Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and associated States, said there had been 62 Territories on the original list of colonial territories.  Today there were 16.  He supported the plan of action for the Second International Decade.  Pursuant to that plan of action, he supported consultations among interested States to resolve colonial issues that had been clearly defined as such by the General Assembly.  The full cooperation of the administering Powers was essential.  Relevant information must be transmitted on the Territories under their administration in accordance with Article 73 e of the United Nations Charter. 

The independence of Timor-Leste was another success for decolonization, he continued.  Its transition to a modern State was due to the unconditional support of the international community and the maturity of its leaders.  The small island Territories accounted for most of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Special attention must be paid to their specific characteristics.  He also welcomed positive developments on the questions of Gibraltar, Tokelau and New Caledonia.

On the question of the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, he hoped that the good bilateral relations and cooperation agreements between the United Kingdom and Argentina would lead to the resumption of negotiations on the issues at stake.  

BRUNO STAGNO (Costa Rica), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the work of the Committee would be completed only when all the non-autonomous  Territories included on its list were decolonized in conformity with relevant United Nations resolutions.  The overriding goal of the process was not to erase the name of territories from the list, but to implement fully and without reservations the principles embodied in the United Nations Charter, the Declaration on Decolonization and other General Assembly resolutions.

He pointed out that the United Nations had noted that, in some particular cases, where there was an underlying sovereignty dispute, it could not be resolved through the principle of self-determination.  He, therefore, called on the Governments of Argentina and United Kingdom to resume their negotiations on the sovereignty dispute over the Islas Malvinas, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands.  Regarding the small insular territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific, he said the Rio Group supported the continuation of measures which promoted and sustained the balanced economic growth of those territories and ensured that their decolonization process reached a favourable conclusion.

On the question of Western Sahara, he underlined the validity of the Settlement Plan which, he said, had been accepted as the valid framework for a solution.  He noted that there were "major differences" in the options contained in the Secretary-General's report on the question of Western Sahara and urged all parties to continue working for a lasting solution.

MOHAMMAD HASSAN FADAIFARD (Iran) said the dissemination of adequate information on the rights to self-determination of Non-Self-Governing Territories was a significant step towards decolonization and that more information should be submitted to the United Nations under Article 73 e.  Peoples in those territories should be properly informed about their rights under the United Nations Charter and resolutions and the irreplaceable role of the United Nations in the decolonization process.

He also expressed support for visiting missions to Non-Self-Governing Territories.  He said such visits would enable the United Nations to assess the situation in the territories and initiate innovative approaches to fulfil its mandate.  He called on administering Powers to formally participate in the work of

the Special Committee.  Such cooperation would help to fulfil the decolonization mandate of the United Nations.

LYDIA RANDRIANARIVONY (Madagascar), welcoming Timor-Leste as a Member of the United Nations, said that the right to self-determination was a fundamental right of which no people should be deprived.  Significant progress had been made, but there were still peoples who had not achieved that end.  Towards it, she welcomed constructive dialogue with administering Powers.  She supported regional seminars and all initiatives that increased economic assistance to Non-Self-Governing Territories, especially to small island Territories, in view of their vulnerable situation.

The representative of the United Kingdom spoke in exercise of the right of reply to remarks made on the subject of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), by the representatives of Brazil, Costa Rica and Cuba.  She said that the position of the United Kingdom was well known and was last set out in detail in the General Debate of the General Assembly on 17 September 2002.

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For information media. Not an official record.