SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR TO ADVANCE DECOLONIZATION PROCESS IN 16 REMAINING TERRITORIES

20 May 2003
GA/COL/3078

SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR TO ADVANCE DECOLONIZATION PROCESS IN 16 REMAINING TERRITORIES

20/05/2003
Press ReleaseGA/COL/3078

SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR TO ADVANCE

DECOLONIZATION PROCESS IN 16 REMAINING TERRITORIES

Calls Decolonization Cardinal Goal,

True UN Success Story, as Three-Day Seminar Opens

(Received from a UN Information Officer)

THE VALLEY, ANGUILLA, 20 May -- Achieving self-government for the peoples of the world had been one of the cardinal goals of the United Nations since its inception, and decolonization could truly be considered a United Nations success story, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message this morning to the opening meeting of the Regional Seminar on Advancing the Decolonization Process in the Caribbean and Bermuda, the first such seminar to be held in a Non-Self-Governing Territory.  (For the complete text, see Press Release SG/SM/8712 of 20 May 2003.)

Urging participants to find the appropriate format and timing for the completion of decolonization in each of the remaining 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories, the Secretary-General noted that, under the Organization’s auspices, more than 80 million people had exercised their right of self-determination. 

He said that regional seminars provided a forum for 2 million people living in those territories to air their views about the unique problems they faced, and to promote direct communication between the Special Committee of 24 on Decolonization, representatives of the territories, and the administering Powers. 

The regional seminar seeks to evolve practical steps to advance the decolonization process in that region.  It is hosted by the Government of Anguilla, in agreement with the administering Power, the United Kingdom, and convened by the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples -- Committee of 24 on Decolonization. 

It is being conducted within the framework of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010).  At the end of the first decade in 2000, the Special Committee concluded that the seminars had been an effective forum for focused discussion on matters of concern to the Non-Self-Governing Territories and had afforded opportunities for representatives of the peoples of the territories to present their views and recommendations to the Special Committee. 

Welcoming participants, the Chairman of the Special Committee, Earl Stephen Huntley (Saint Lucia), said the seminar was an historic one because, for the first time, it was being held in a Non-Self-Governing Territory.  For some, that might seem minor, even strange, but in the context of the past adversarial nature that had characterized the relationship between the Special Committee and some administering Powers, it was not. 

Hopefully, members could add to that historic character of the seminar by adopting innovative and practical recommendations to advance the implementation of the mandate entrusted to the Committee, namely, to bring an end to colonization in the region. 

The Chief Minister of Anguilla, Osbourne Fleming, said that although a formal poll had yet to be taken of the views and aspirations of the people of Anguilla, he would be very surprised if a significant number of its citizens were not in favour of embracing the principle of self-determination.  The issue had never been a question of “if”, but rather of “how” and “when” the community would seek to embrace completely and constitutionally the principle of self-determination.  Huge practical issues faced ‘micro-States’ like Anguilla in preparing for constitutional advancement, however. 

Speaking in the ensuing discussion regarding the perspective of the administering Powers on the completion of the decolonization process in the Caribbean and Bermuda, Roy Osborne of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom, said it had not seemed right that, year after year, resolutions were adopted that had failed to reflect any significant progress.  Surely, despite the complexity of the process and the varying economic and political levels of maturity of the territories, it should be possible, to remove some from the list each year. 

In order to “de-list” one or two each year, the process should be made as straightforward as possible, and simple and pragmatic, rather than lengthy and expensive, he said.  Perhaps the time had come, in the Second International Decade, to look for imaginative, but straightforward ways to remove territories from the list and make sure the Committee was not still meeting here in 10 years to discuss decolonization.

Respondents from the territories included government representatives from Anguilla, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, and United States Virgin Islands.  All detailed the specific situations in their territories, focusing mainly on economic and social development, as well as constitutional and governance reviews and reforms.  Frank comments were made about the varying aspirations of their peoples and the specific role of the administering Powers in fostering their wishes and their rights.

In other business this morning, the Special Committee adopted its agenda and programme of work, and appointed officers.

The seminar will continue at 2:30 p.m. today to discuss constitutional modernization in the Caribbean, following presentations on that question by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). 

Summary of Statements

EARL STEPHEN HUNTLEY (Saint Lucia), Chairman of the Special Committee, welcomed participants to the seminars -- the third in a series of such seminars planned for the Second Decade.  This seminar was an historic one because, for the first time, it was being held in a Non-Self-Governing Territory.  For some, that might seem minor, even strange, but in the context of the past adversarial nature that had characterized the relationship between the Special Committee and some administering Powers, it was not. 

He said the seminar was historic, as it marked the first time the Committee would hear statements by so many elected leaders from the region on their ideas about the political and constitutional future of their territories and peoples.  He regretted that the other administering Power in the region, the United States, had not been persuaded to come.  It was hoped that the results of the deliberations would show the wisdom of following the same route as the United Kingdom, through its attendance here.  Hopefully, members could adopt innovative and practical recommendations to advance the implementation of the Committee’s mandate to bring an end to colonization in the region. 

OSBOURNE FLEMING, Chief Minister, Anguilla, welcoming the participants, said he trusted the event would signal a more pragmatic and imaginative approach to the issues of decolonization and a renewed commitment to seek practical solutions to the relevant problems in that continued quest for self-determination.  Although a formal poll had yet to be taken of the views and aspirations of the people of Anguilla, he would be very surprised if a significant number of its citizens were not in favour of embracing the principle of self-determination.  Next week, Anguilla would celebrate the thirty-sixth anniversary of its unilateral decision to build a new society.  That had been a loud and unmistakable expression of its desire to achieve self-determination.  

He said the issue had never been a question of “if”, but rather of “how” and “when” the community would seek to embrace completely and constitutionally the principle of self-determination.  “We have come a long way since 1967”, as evidenced by the growth in gross domestic product and the general standard of living, he said.  With that growth, institutions of governance had grown stronger and more mature.  Inevitably, at some future point, a bold step would need to be taken and further constitutional revolution would become necessary.  Nevertheless, huge practice issues faced ‘micro-States’ like Anguilla in preparing for constitutional advancement. 

Among the issues to be addressed were human resources development and the capacity of mini-States to maintain exports in the international sphere, as well as other disciplines relevant to maintaining local, regional, hemispheric, and global relations, he added.  Security was another enormous issue, as was the threat of pandemics like AIDS or SARS.  Globalization and the new international environment had given rise to a growing, complex network of international treaties and obligations.  Such developments, in the context of a changing world order, must be taken into account in the debate on decolonization and constitutional development.  Those should be addressed, not only in terms of their legal aspects, but also in terms of the political and economic aspects.

Anguilla needed to abide by the standards which the United Nations demanded of the United Kingdom, he said.  Those extended to a raft of treaties and bilateral agreements, which needed considerable human expertise to manage and verify, but Anguilla received no budgetary support from the United Kingdom to ensure that it complied with those obligations.  A community of 12,000 souls could not adequately fulfil those requirements, while struggling to maintain and develop basic infrastructure necessary for its development. 

He urged the United Kingdom and the United Nations, along with the territories themselves, to develop new and creative constitutional and administrative solutions to the issue of how decolonization was ultimately obtained and maintained.  For its part, the United Nations needed to more aggressively “think outside the box”.  It was not the thought of self-determination that concerned him, but the practicalities of its implementation. 

Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN said, in a message read out by Anna Theofilopoulou, Acting Chief, Decolonization Unit, Department of Political Affairs, that achieving self-government for the peoples of the world had been one of the cardinal goals of the United Nations since its inception, and decolonization could truly be considered a United Nations success story.  Under the Organization’s auspices, more than 80 million people had exercised their right of self-determination. 

He urged participants to find the appropriate format and timing for the completion of decolonization in each of the remaining 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Regional seminars such as this provided a forum for 2 million people living in those territories to air their views about the unique problems they faced, and to promote direct communication between the Special Committee of 24 on Decolonization, representatives of the territories, and the administering Powers. 

Discussion

Mr. Huntley, Chairman, emphasized that the Special Committee was not here to persuade, to force, or otherwise influence the peoples of the territories into immediately changing their present arrangements, or to urge them into independence, which was a popular misconception.  The Committee was here to provide the peoples of the territories with information about all options open to them, and to assure the representatives of those territories that the Special Committee stood ready to assist them.  The Committee would also work with the administering Powers to fulfil their mandate to allow colonial peoples to exercise their right to self-determination. 

He noted that the first International Decade had not concluded with the self-determination of the remaining territories.  The second Decade was devoted to that aim.  He hoped there would not be a need for a third and fourth such decade, as colonialism had been on the agenda for too long.  For its part, the Special Committee must do more than inform, educate and adopt resolutions; it must advocate and push for further action.  That was the reason for the present seminar.  The case-by-case approach, which he had supported, had led to some small success, such as with Tokelau, but an action programme that included target dates for achieving the objectives must be put into place that would lead to the decolonization of the remaining 16 territories. 

ROY OSBORNE, Deputy Head of the Overseas Territories Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom, explained that his department was responsible for relations with 12 of his country’s 14 remaining overseas territories. 

He said that a visit to New York last July to attend the Committee’s deliberations on the Falklands question had left him wondering about the extent to which there was significant recognition by the Committee or participants around this table of the pace of social and economic development in the United Kingdom’s overseas territories.  It was also still not clear to him whether the debate fully recognized just how democratic and economically vibrant most of those territories were.  He had discussed his concerns with the Chairman in March, and also exchanged views on how the decolonization process might be advanced. 

The seminar being held here had been interpreted as signalling a change in his Government’s policy regarding formal cooperation with the Committee of 24.  Its broad policy had remained unchanged, but it was important that Committee members understood his country’s relationship with the overseas territories.  That relationship was evolutionary and had reflected developments in the wider world.  Hopefully, the Committee of 24 would take those changes into account in devising its work programme. 

Generally, the United Kingdom’s relationship with overseas territories was still based on the 1999 paper on a “partnership for progress and prosperity”, he said.  That partnership was based on four fundamental principles, with the first being self-determination.  His Government would continue existing relationships for as long as the territories wished, and where independence was an option and people chose it, the United Kingdom would give every help and encouragement.  There was “no hidden agenda or wish” to hold on to the territories that wanted to, or were able to, go their own way.  If some wished to maintain their constitutional link with the United Kingdom, that was “fine by us, too”.

The importance of the seminar was not only to hear the various views on decolonization, but also to spread the message about what that process actually involved, he stressed.  He had been surprised at the content yesterday of a front-page newspaper report in Anguilla.  That had not reflected reality, and had put the British Government’s decision to grant citizenship in the context of a “cunning” plan, involving a plan to integrate all territories into the United Kingdom.  The story had suggested that the Government of Anguilla had lost the power to govern.  It had also suggested that the Government register its intention to turn to the Committee of 24 for assistance, if the British Government tried to block moves towards independence.

He added that his Government was “fine” with those who did not wish to apply for citizenship.  He also stressed the importance of ensuring that people who had to decide the way forward for themselves should be well informed. 

Turning to the situation in Bermuda, with a population of 60,000 and a gross domestic product per capita twice that of the United Kingdom, he said that he was surprised, upon arrival in Bermuda last month for an environmental conference, that that territory was still on “the list” for decolonization.  That was a world leading financial centre, specializing in insurance.  Overall, Bermuda was a highly developed island and a thriving democracy, whose parliament first met in 1620.  Bermuda was “as close to independence as she could be without taking that final step”. 

Perhaps Bermuda was exceptional, but the Cayman Islands were not that far behind, as another leading global financial centre, he said.  In both territories, as with others, his office had been reviewing with their governments their constitutions, with a view to modernizing them.  That exercise had not been driven by London, but by the overseas territories’ governments, which had appointed local constitutional review bodies.  He had to decide where the line lay between fulfilling its “white paper commitment” to give the territories the greatest possible degree of autonomy, while still retaining the basic tools needed to meet his own responsibilities.

He said that had not been an easy balance to strike.  He wondered whether the Committee was fully aware of the extent to which most United Kingdom overseas Territories already ran their own affairs.  As administering Power, the United Kingdom might be able to influence overseas governments to follow a particular line, but, in large measure, a final decision rested with the government of the territory concerned.  It had not seemed right that, year after year, resolutions were adopted that had failed to reflect any significant progress. 

The issues involved were very complex, he said.  But it should be possible to remove some territories from the list each year.  That way, at least, the Committee of 24 could show tangible evidence that the Secretary-General’s call for progress in that regard had been heard and heeded.  In order to “de-list” one or two each year, that process should be made as straightforward as possible, and simple and pragmatic, rather than lengthy and expensive.

Perhaps the time had come, in the Second International Decade, to look for imaginative, but straightforward ways to remove territories from the list and make sure the Committee was not still meeting here in 10 years to discuss decolonization, he added.

Response of Territories

Mr. Fleming, Chief Minister of Anguilla, said Anguilla was in the process of conducting a constitutional and electoral reform review.  As Anguilla entered the next phase of that review exercise, several key issues regarding existing status had to be seriously addressed if its relationship with the Government of the United Kingdom was to mature and achieve the level of democratic governance Anguilla was seeking.  The United Kingdom should not simply restate that Anguilla was free to take up the responsibilities of self-determination.  It was the expressed wish of the people of Anguilla to be prepared to devote serious financial and technical resources to train for the assumption of those responsibilities. 

In the spirit of partnership, he said, the United Kingdom needed to “take a fresh look” at the whole question of full autonomous government as a prelude to more extensive constitutional advancement.  The people of the territories must be fully prepared to meet the challenges and responsibilities of self-government.  Decolonization without preparation was not how any of them wished to proceed.  At the same time, his Government did not intend to lose the focus of past governments on Anguilla’s economic and social development.  It still had a considerable road to travel to feel confidence that the economic base was dynamic enough and diverse enough.  There was also a long way to go towards developing health and education services.

He expressed disappointment at the declining levels of assistance from the United Kingdom to the social sectors, particularly the health sector.  That made him question what exactly the British Government had meant when it said the territories were high on the list for aid.  He challenged the United Kingdom and the United Nations to “walk with us in our preparations to assume the essential responsibilities of governance”.  He invited the Special Committee to discuss ongoing reforms.  Both suggestions would expand and accelerate what appeared to be a new spirit of cooperation in finding practical solutions, including at the global level, to the decolonization issue.

W. MCKEEVA BUSH, Leader of Government Business and Minister of Tourism, Environment, Development and Commerce of Cayman Islands, said the Islands were now engaged in a process with the United Kingdom, which would hopefully lead to a greater degree of self-government.  The Caymans were composed of three small islands in the western Caribbean, with a total population of about 45,000, approximately one-half of which was indigenous.  The islands had been blessed with a very strong economy and continually strove to strengthen it.  For a long time, it had been entirely self-financing. 

He said the Islands’ colonial relationship with the United Kingdom dated back to the seventeenth century.  During most of the time, relations had been very good, but there had been some significant differences of opinion recently.  His Government had not considered that it had a mandate to request full independence, and that was not what he was here seeking.  It did have a mandate, however, to safeguard the best interests of all the people of the Cayman Islands.  After extensive consultations, he had requested that the United Kingdom amend the constitution so as to allow for greater self-governance in the Caymans, as provided for in the United Nations Charter. 

In that regard, he had sought nothing inconsistent with previous activities, nor had he envisaged departures by the United Kingdom from its obligations concerning the Cayman Islands, he explained.  In general, administering Powers that frustrated the efforts of territories towards greater self-government were not acting in the territories’ best interests.  In the case of the Caymans, there was no indication that the majority of the population desired full independence, but there was a clearly expressed desire for greater self-governance, and that had been fully outlined in consultations with the United Kingdom. 

He stressed that the administering Power had the duty to promote the economic development of its territories.  In the Cayman Islands, the reality was that its economy was being treated, at best, as a “pawn” in efforts by the European Union to strengthen its own financial services markets, and in efforts by the United Kingdom to protect its bond market.  The Cayman Islands had operated under a 225 year-old constitutional convention, which stated that the United Kingdom would not impose fiscal measures on it without the consent of its people.  Such policies threatened to set back the Cayman Islands by 225 years and undo its economic advances.  Hopefully, the United Kingdom, in recognition of its commitment under the United Nations Charter, would accept such actions as constitutionally and morally wrong. 

JOHN ALFRED OSBOURNE, Chief Minister, Montserrat, said that, in the last six years, many of Montserrat’s trained persons migrated, owing to insufficient resources to house the thousands of residents who had been relocated from areas affected by volcanic activity.  There were still more than 100 households occupying shelters.  Today, Montserrat recognized the need to attract its population back to its shores.  The primary objective in the island’s sustainable development plan was an increased population.  The challenge, therefore, was to find the necessary resources to provide jobs and housing, which would trigger the growth of an economically viable population. 

He said that, since most of the infrastructure for economic development had either been destroyed or was inaccessible, the people of Montserrat had been forced to occupy and redevelop the northern third of the island.  There was still no airport, but later this year, Montserrat hoped to commence construction of a new airstrip with funds provided by the British Government and the European Union.  Hopefully, that would be a catalyst for some economic development.  Nature had been very unkind to Montserrat.  He thanked the British Government for its assistance in balancing the island’s budget and providing some reconstruction financing.

While the governments in the overseas territories had continuously underscored their commitment to the objectives of good governance and transparency, Montserrat also expected that the British Government would recognize the need to ensure that its territories enjoyed a level playing field, especially in such areas as the financial services sector.  Hopefully, the deliberations at the seminar would generate a plan of action for taking forward the constitutional, political, social and economic advancement of the people of Montserrat. 

DEREK H. TAYLOR, Chief Minister, Turks & Caicos Islands, said the view had been clearly expressed that the political and constitutional advancement of the Islands had not kept pace with their economic development.  Last year, the first-ever local Commission had been established to review the constitution and make recommendations to modernize it.  The general consensus of the peoples of the Turks and Caicos Islands was to remain an overseas territory, with increased powers vested in their locally-elected body.  The Islands had matured economically, and it was time that they be allowed more of a say in their affairs.  There had been no calls for independence, bur there had been a call to move towards self-sufficiency.

He reviewed the present status of Government in the islands.  It was abundantly clear that, whereas the peoples of the islands were seeking more powers for the locally elected Government, they were not prepared to set an agenda towards independence.  There appeared to be a desire to pace its social, economic and political development, so that the islands could comfortably move towards greater powers in the governing of their own affairs.  That, in itself, could certainly be seen as a process of decolonization on a more gradual basis. 

CARLYLE CORBIN (United States Virgin Islands) said it was particularly propitious to be convening the seminar in Anguilla in that area of the northeastern Caribbean region, which had a myriad of governance models among the small island countries.  That part of the region contained perhaps the most diverse examples of political models found anywhere in such a small space.  What bound them together was the closeness of the people and the family ties that existed irrespective of level or nature of political development or affiliation.  Increasingly, all of those jurisdictions were examining political and constitutional review, reform and modernization.

He said it might be useful for the Special Committee to consider an activity that would provide information on how those models actually operated on the ground in the Caribbean, and in the Pacific, so that the territories could gain a better understanding of how those models actually functioned in the small island context in “real time”, rather than only rely on theoretical definitions of the options, however well formulated.  Constitutional and political advancement required informed judgments, which included defending the role of the United Nations in the islands’ development processes. 

He requested that the Secretary-General’s next report to the General Assembly on implementation of the decolonization resolutions be comprehensive, and include the reasons for the deficiencies in carrying out the various mandates over the last 12-year period, including the key provisions of the plan of action of the first, and now the second, International Decade.  If there was a lack of resources, “tell us so”, but then include the request for the necessary resources in the decolonization budget.

He also sought the further participation of the wider United Nations system in the development processes of the territories.  In the United States Virgin Islands, the 1993 referendum on political status options yielded inconclusive results, partly due to deficiencies in the public education programme, which were being addressed. 

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For information media. Not an official record.