Special Committee on
7th Meeting (AM)
DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE WELCOMES ‘SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENTS’ IN NEW CALEDONIA;
URGES ALL PARTIES TO MAINTAIN DIALOGUE
Committee Also Hears Petitioners
From United States Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Cayman Islands
Noting positive measures by the French authorities to promote New Caledonia’s political and socio-economic development, the Special Committee on Decolonization welcomed significant developments in that Territory, by the terms of a draft resolution it adopted this morning.
New Caledonia is one of 16 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories being considered by the Committee during its 2003 session. Created by General Assembly resolution 1645 of 1961, the Special Committee examines and makes recommendations on the applications of the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and makes suggestions on the progress and extent of its implementation.
According to the text adopted this morning, the Committee urged all parties involved to maintain dialogue “in a spirit of harmony” in the framework of the Noumea Accord, signed on 5 May 1998 by representatives of New Caledonia and the Government of France (the administering Power). It also noted relevant provisions of that Accord to take into account the Kanak identity in the political and social organization of New Caledonia.
Also according to the text, introduced by the representative of Papua New Guinea, the Committee invited all parties to promote a framework for the peaceful progress of the Territory towards an act of self-determination in which all options are open, and which would safeguard the rights of all New Caledonians according to the letter and spirit of the Noumea Accord, which is based on the principle that it is for the people of New Caledonia to choose how to control its destiny.
Noting the agreement between the signatories of the Noumea Accord that progress in the emancipation process should be brought to the attention of the United Nations, the Committee welcomed the fact that the administering Power invited to New Caledonia an information mission comprising representatives of countries in the Pacific region. It called upon the administering Power to transmit information regarding New Caledonia’s political and socio-economic situation to the Secretary-General.
The Special Committee, by further terms of the text, welcomed measures that have been taken to diversify the Territory’s economy and encouraged further measures in accordance with the spirit of the Matignon and Noumea Accords. It also welcomed the importance attached by the parties to those Accords to greater progress in housing, employment, training, education and health care in the Territory.
By other terms, the Special Committee noted positive initiatives to protect New Caledonia’s natural environment, notably the “Zoneco” operation designed to map and evaluate marine resources within New Caledonia’s economic zone. It decided to keep the process that was unfolding in New Caledonia as a result of the signing of the Noumea Accord under continuous review.
Also this morning the Special Committee took up the questions of the United States Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the Cayman Islands, during which several petitioners addressed the Committee.
At the beginning of this morning’s meeting, the Special Committee agreed to requests for hearings on the questions of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Anguilla and the Cayman Islands.
The Special Committee will meet again on Monday, 16 June at 10:00 a.m. to begin its consideration of the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).
United States Virgin Islands
Carlyle Corbin, representative for External Affairs, Office of the Governor, said the creation of political education in the territories was critical to their development process. For constitutional and political advancement to occur, the people of the Territories required sustained and unbiased information about their alternatives. From the comments made at the Anguilla Seminar, it appeared that information on decolonization had not reached its intended audience. In fact, he stated, many of those officials at the seminar were hearing about their political options, and the role of the United Nations in the decolonization process, for the very first time.
Inclusion of the Territories in the coverage of the United Nations Information Centres, as well as more frequent updating and expanded information on the Decolonization Web site, would assist the dissemination of information on decolonization, he added. In addition, assistance should be provided to the elected governments as they formulated their own educational process. Collaboration with the United Nations regional commissions would also be helpful. He also recommended that the Assembly simplify the name of the Committee to the “Special Committee on Decolonization”, saying that the shorter version, already widely used, would elicit a more responsive chord in the Territories themselves.
Phyllis Fleming-Banks, of the Anguilla National Trust, said the people of her island were encouraged by the Committee’s visit to Anguilla during the regional seminar. Much had occurred in Anguilla since 1984, when the Committee last visited the island. However, events over the last years had caused the people of Anguilla to question the United Kingdom’s commitment to its relationship. Contrary to the spirit of partnership, the United Kingdom had imposed legislation on the island in, among other areas, the financial sector.
Whatever name was given to the relationship between Anguilla and the United Kingdom, the essence of that relationship remained one of the unequal exercise of authority by the administering Power over the administered community –- that of a colonial Power. Priority must be given to human resource development and capacity-building. She rejected the suggestion that Anguillans should display the “best of being British”. She hoped that within the remaining years of the Second Decade to Eradicate Colonialism, Anguilla and the United Kingdom would invigorate their partnership, so that their relationship would be characterized by equity, transparency, accountability and trust.
As to the level of awareness in Anguilla about the three options available, she said that the people of the island were discussing the three options informally. There was still no indication from the United Kingdom on whether it was open to discussing all three options. For the United Kingdom, there were only two options –- retaining the current status or independence. It was hoped that the Committee would engage in a dialogue with the United Kingdom, so the administering Power would broaden the options offered to Anguilla.
Sophia Ann Harris, of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, said although the Cayman Islands were classified as a Non-Self-Governing Overseas Territory, the inhabitants had been successfully governing themselves for many years. Since 1966, the Cayman Islands had emerged as an important offshore centre and was considered a premier offshore centre, was the fifth largest financial centre in the world. Its sophisticated infrastructure had enabled the Cayman Islands to remain on the cutting edge of leaders in the industry and enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world. Caymanians comprised only 53 per cent of the Cayman Islands’ population of some 40,000. The Cayman Islands had developed a plan to create itself out of nothing. Its people had indicated that it did not want independence. The stability and the legal system under the United Kingdom had done much to instill confidence in the minds of foreign investors.
For the first time, she said, the Cayman Islands was at a crossroads. The United Kingdom’s White Paper, Partnership for Progress and Prosperity, required its territories to amend legislation on key issues, including the regulation of financial services. The United Kingdom’s Government had indicated that certain changes must be affected. Caymanians had laboured for decades under the notion that they did not have the right to independence. It was important that the United Kingdom acknowledge the inalienable right to self-determination before the issue of self-government could be addressed. It was not inconceivable that the Cayman Islands should receive a Constitution in line with the will of its people. Caymanians did not want independence. The education of the people was of utmost importance as they had only been provided with limited information.
Asked what was being done to educate the people of the Cayman Islands about the three options available to them, Ms. Harris said the Chamber of Commerce had taken a leading role in educating the people about the three options. Caymanians were still unclear on the issue. For the first time, there had been talk of a “fourth option” -- whatever they were able to negotiate with the administering Power. The United Kingdom’s role would be of great importance if the education process were to succeed. As elections would take place next year, the various political parties had taken a keen interest in the role of the Special Committee. Until an arrangement was in place to disseminate accurate information, it was the Chambers’ role to ensure that accurate information was being disseminated.
As to who was eligible to participate in elections, she said some 11,000 people had the right to vote. In terms of the referendum, an enabling referendum law existed but had not yet been enacted. At the current stage, until the issue of education was addressed, it was impossible to discuss a referendum. While a referendum was necessary at the end of the process, the first step was education.
S. Alice Mae Coe, of Concerned Citizens of the Cayman Islands, said the Cayman Islands, which comprised Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, would always be three small dots nestled in the Caribbean Sea. The people of the Cayman Islands did not want independence, but wished to remain a British Overseas Territory with greater autonomy. For decades, Caymanians had thought there were only two choices –- outright independence or remaining a British colony. There had been an “epiphany”, however, and the people were insisting that the much-touted “White Paper” was not just a partnership in name, but a partnership in fact. Caymanians must be clear on the administering Power’s policy on constitutional advancement. For over 30 years, Caymanians were under the misconception that there were only two options. The United Kingdom should not deprive the Cayman Islands of being placed on a fair footing with Bermuda. Caymanians should be allowed to manage their affairs while remaining a British Overseas Territory.
Sandra T. Catron, of People for Referendum, said her organization’s major intention was to let the electorate decide on major proposed constitutional changes. Convinced that the referendum method was the most effective manner to determine the people’s wishes, her group had sought to have the Cayman Islands Government put a referendum in place. An initial request was rejected. Following that, People for Referendum had been able to collect 7,000 signatures in support of the referendum initiative. Her organization supported a people-initiated referendum embedded into the Cayman Islands constitution.
Asked if a poll had been conducted to determine people’s views on independence, Ms. Catron said the Chamber of Commerce had conducted an informal survey. Those who were more apt to accept independence realized that it would not happen in the immediate future. All relevant options had to be put to the people of the Cayman Islands in a referendum.
Addressing the issue of the so-called “fourth option”, Committee Chairman, Earl Stephen Huntley (Saint Lucia) said it was not much different than the option of free association. Within the free association option, the Territory could negotiate the degree of autonomy it wanted. The Secretariat had been asked to study the issue further.
[According to resolution 1541 (XV), adopted by the Assembly in 1960, the three options of self-government include free association with an independent State, integration into an independent State or independence.]
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