CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR ON DECOLONIZATION CONCLUDES, OFFERS
39 RECOMMENDATIONS TO ‘COMMITTEE OF 24’ ON DECOLONIZATION
Catalytic Role for Committee Envisaged
in Search for Specific Solutions for Remaining Territories
(Reissued as received from a UN Information Officer.)
THE VALLEY, ANGUILLA, 22 May -– The regional seminar today recommended that the Committee of 24 on Decolonization should hold discussions with the United Kingdom, in consultation with the representatives of the Non-Self-Governing Territories concerned, on which ones in the region could be “de-listed” in the near future.
De-listing refers to removing the remaining 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories from the United Nations list. As the Secretary-General said in a message read out at the opening of the seminar on 20 May, decolonization was truly a United Nations success story. More than 80 nations whose people were formerly under colonial rule had joined the Organization as sovereign independent States since it was founded in 1945.
According to the report of the seminar, the regional nature of the seminars, alternating between the Caribbean and the Pacific, was a crucial element in their success. Participants also welcomed the innovative format of the 2003 seminar, as it had allowed for focused and detailed discussion on the particular conditions in the British Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories and Bermuda, and facilitated the formulation of specific steps to advance self-determination there.
In accordance with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned, and in conformity with the United Nations Charter, the seminar recommended that the Committee of 24 should play a catalytic role in the search for a specific solution for each of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories.
The seminar welcomed the statement by the United Kingdom representative that his Government would agree to visiting missions by the Committee to its territories, following invitations issued by the territorial authorities. It recommended that the Committee undertake such missions in the coming year, in order to further discuss the question of self-determination with the representatives of the administering Power and the peoples of the territories.
It also welcomed assurances that his Government would not object to the Committee working with the peoples of the territories to facilitate public awareness campaigns, aimed at fostering an understanding of the options available to them for self-determination, included in the relevant United Nations resolutions.
Also within the year, the seminar recommended that the Committee have studies conducted on the implications of all the self-determination options for those territories, and welcomed the possibility of assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and appropriate regional institutions.
The seminar further recommended that the Committee of 24 integrate, to the extent possible, the series of recommendations into its relevant resolutions on decolonization, as those were important expressions of the will of the people of the territories.
(The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples, as it is formally known, would meet in a resumed substantive session in June, when it would consider the report of the regional seminar).
A resolution, introduced by the representative of Cuba on an expression of appreciation to the Government and people of Anguilla, would also be forwarded to the Special Committee.
The Chief Minister of Anguilla, Osbourne B. Fleming, said that the Committee had enlightened Anguillians about its mission. “We can all now agree on the way forward”, he said. Assistance with funding the cost of the Educational and Consultative Process was critical, and he looked forward to the support of the administering Power, the UNDP and the resources of the Committee to take that forward. Several issues discussed over the last few days had brought clarity to many. Hopefully, participants would spread the message fairly. He thanked the Committee of 24 for giving Anguilla the opportunity to host such an historic conference, which, he was confident, would make a difference in the future discussions on all the islands in the region.
In closing remarks, Special Committee Chairman Earl Stephen Huntley (Saint Lucia) said that when the format and structure of the seminar was conceived, the idea was to utilize it to embark on a new path that would expedite the march towards the exercise of the right of self-determination of the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories of the region. It was no longer time for confrontation; it was time for engagement and dialogue on how to end that “colonial situation” with the political actors who were the only ones who could initiate the steps to decolonize.
He said that expectations had been high, but it was impossible to know how that new dynamic of cooperation and coordination between and among the principle actors at the same conference table would turn out. He regarded the deliberations over the three days as “an enormous success”. The goals that were set –- to inform and to be informed, to devise practical steps to advance the decolonization process –- were not only met, but they were significantly exceeded. Everyone would leave the table much more enlightened and invigorated, and challenged to succeed at the task at hand.
There was much to be learned from a sustained involvement in the work of the United Nations in decolonization, including the in-depth examination of the experience of other territories or former territories, which had gone through the process, he said. In Anguilla, an important step had been taken to engage the people of the territories through their elected representatives, and directly with some of their people. It was a step that the Special Committee did not take lightly; it was its solemn intention to build on that experience, armed with a new sense of vigour to move forward together, consistent with the “Anguilla Consensus”, which had been achieved this week.
Earlier today, observers addressed the seminar on the “Malvinas question”, and Anguillians requested of the United Kingdom to strengthen its obligations as the administering Power, in order to enable Anguillians to determine an agenda and timeframe for independence. A discussion among participants followed.
Statements by Observers
Asserting that the “Malvinas question” had been reduced to “annual rhetoric”, Observer Alejandro J. Betts, speaking in his personal capacity on “an act of colonial usurpation: the controversy related to the Question of the Malvinas Islands”, said that the dispute was between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the sovereignty of “Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands”. The British military occupation of the islands was illegal and had always been repudiated by Argentina. But, since the 1970s, the United Kingdom had not seriously indicated its “political willingness” to enter into sovereignty negotiations.
He said that, if the Committee had any reservations about possible negligence on Argentina’s part with respect to the interests of the islands’ inhabitants, it should be recalled that the Argentine Government had always made clear its wish to fully respect that community’s interests through safeguards, which took into account lifestyle and traditions. Argentina had shown her sincerity to comply with its obligations in that regard. The constitutional amendments of 1994 stated that the recovery of the territories and the full exercise of the sovereignty over “Malvinas” was a “permanent and unrenounceable objective of the Argentine people”.
He said the Argentine people were firmly convinced of the justice of its title over the islands. Until that colonial situation was reversed and the territory was returned to its legitimate owner, that claim was, and always would be, a permanent objective of all Argentines. The islanders were fervent defenders of their motto, “Desire the right”. It was just, reasonable and correct for Argentina to recover her legitimate sovereignty over her island territory.
Observer Phyllis Fleming-Banks, on behalf of Civil Society in Anguilla, said the seminar was timely in that it was coming on the eve of the thirty-sixth anniversary of Anguilla’s effort to forge its own destiny as a singular territory. Some 18 years had passed, however, since the Committee had had any direct “on shore” contact with the people of Anguilla to determine how they were faring on the road to self-determination. Presently, Anguilla was engaged in an initiative for constitutional and electoral reform. She reported on developments in Anguilla since the Committee’s last visit in 1984.
Expressing extreme disappointment that the Committee had departed from its tradition of formally inviting civil society participation, she said that Anguillians were anxious for discourse with the Committee. It was with a renewed sense of “self-determination fever” that she welcomed current initiatives by the Committee. Particularly encouraging was the promise of information dissemination, public education programmes, and visiting missions. She urged the United Nations to allow access for the people of the territories to its training and employment opportunities. It must also facilitate their will to speak “with their own voices” at United Nations forums.
Anguilla’s analysis of the developmental experience of former Caribbean colonies had led it to conclude that they were ill prepared to undertake the responsibilities of sovereign States. Their discernible lack of preparation for political independence had empowered Anguillians to demand a strengthening of the obligations on the part of the United Kingdom Government, which would enable them to determine an agenda and timeframe for independence. Hopefully, in that Second Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, Anguilla and the United Kingdom would evolve a “drastically different” relationship between the governors and the governed.
Following those statements, the representative of Antigua and Barbuda, a Special Committee member, expressed concern about what the Committee was really doing about the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) question and Gibraltar. Related questions should be taken up in the General Assembly or Security Council. Obviously, the Committee seemed to serve as an outlet for the populations of the territories, as it enabled them to express their individual positions in the knowledge that there was a way forward.
The leader of the Opposition in Anguilla said that most professionals in the island, especially the lawyers, had felt that the powers conferred by the administering Powers upon the Governor, Deputy Governor and Attorney General had been abused. It was crucial to be clear about the options, apart from independence. Anguilla also needed to be assured that it was not barred from those other options. To that end, he appealed to the Committee of 24 to support and assist it in revising its constitution, in order to allow it to exercise the right of self-determination. He appreciated the presence at the seminar of the administering Power.
The representative of Argentina reminded participants that the Special Committee had been entrusted by the General Assembly to deal with the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). He reiterated that decolonization was not synonymous with self-determination. Territories should be decolonized in accordance with the special features of their situations.
United Kingdom’s representative stressed that it was up to the peoples themselves to decide the way forward. He was disappointed that the constitutional exercise was causing such “eruptions”. Regarding the issuance of passports, the peoples of the Overseas British Territories could either apply for a British passport or hold a dual one. Certainly, British Overseas Territories passports would be renewed. Regarding a point made about orders for cancellation, he believed that had only been used against the wishes of the governments of the territories perhaps twice in the past 13 years. On one occasion, it was for the decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults, in fulfilment of his Government’s obligations under a United Nations convention.
He said he had been rather surprised to hear, especially in Anguilla, about a progressive increase in the powers of governors. He agreed that that actually went against the principle of self-determination. The message throughout the constitutional reform process had been that the territories wanted to see a diminution in governors’ powers. The perception in London was that those powers had been gradually reduced. Clearly, there was a difference of perception.
The Chief Minister of Montserrat emphasized that the administering Powers had a responsibility to prepare those territories whose ambition was to “go it on their own”. The British had not properly prepared the already independent countries to really “stand on their own feet”. The administering Power had a responsibility to look at the way of life, the economy, the social system, and so forth, and they had to be careful when imposing laws. For example, he believed in capital punishment. Also more attention needed to be paid now to Montserrat, which was building from “ground zero” following the volcano.
The representative of Bolivia, another Special Committee member, suggested that the Committee needed to be more realistic in its approach, or five years from now, it might be sitting around the same table, facing the same issues. He recommended that both the territories, through their authorities, and the administering Powers start taking the necessary measures. That included the evolution of the constitutions, but because of that “colliding” system, there were limitations.
Now, he continued, locally elected representatives better understood their options. What was important now was for the people and authorities, with the cooperation of the administering Power and the United Nations system, to start preparing and educating themselves on the ways and means to exercise their right of self-determination. A timetable must be established for a referendum, which would be binding and take place under the auspices of the administering Power and the Organization.
The representative of Indonesia, also a Special Committee member, said that the idea behind the Committee’s creation had been that decolonization was wrong. If the spirit to rid the world of colonization still prevailed, then it must be possible to find a solution. Nevertheless, the Chairman’s wish not to have another International Decade might not be realized.
The Chief Minister of Anguilla expressed appreciation for the seminar, which had opened the doors. He was confident now that the Committee would help Anguilla in its quest for self-determination.
Also participating in the discussion were the Chief Minister of the Cayman Islands, the Education Minister of the Cayman Islands, the Chief Minister of Turks and Caicos Islands, and the representative of Côte d’Ivoire. The experts also spoke.
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