DIFFERING VIEWS ON FUTURE OF GIBRALTAR ARE HEARD BY ASSEMBLY’S DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE

8 October 2003
GA/SPD/261

DIFFERING VIEWS ON FUTURE OF GIBRALTAR ARE HEARD BY ASSEMBLY’S DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE

08/10/2003
Press Release
GA/SPD/261


Fifty-eighth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

4th Meeting (PM)


DIFFERING VIEWS ON FUTURE OF GIBRALTAR ARE HEARD


BY ASSEMBLY’S DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE


Chief Minister Says Self-Determination, Not Sovereignty,

Is Issue; Debate Continues on Non-Self-Governing Territories


The situation of Gibraltar represented a bilateral “territorial horse-trade” between the United Kingdom and Spain in violation of the political rights of the people of Gibraltar, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon, as it heard from representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories and petitioners.


Calling the annual decision on the question of Gibraltar an injustice to the people of that Territory, the Chief Minister called on the Committee to change its approach on the matter in order to advance the quest of self-determination of the people of Gibraltar.  Indeed, the decision appeared to treat the Gibraltar question as if it were a territorial sovereignty dispute between the United Kingdom (administering Power) and Spain (territorial claimant), rather than an issue of decolonization.  While, for Spain, it was a matter of territorial sovereignty, for Gibraltar, the issue was one of decolonization.


The Leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar agreed that the Committee’s annual decision on a negotiated solution to the question implied a sovereignty transfer to Spain.  A referendum held in Gibraltar last year, which rejected the concept of shared sovereignty by a majority of 99 to one, was the clearest evidence that Gibraltarians wished to control their own future.  Spain should “come to its senses” and demonstrate the democratic credentials it claimed to have, he added.


Spain’s representative noted that, in accordance with the decision adopted last year on the question of Gibraltar, his Government had maintained dialogue with the United Kingdom in an effort to find a solution.  Regarding the possibility of a visit by the Special Committee on Decolonization to the Territory, he expressed his country’s opposition to such a visit on the basis that the question of Gibraltar was a sovereignty dispute.  He also described the 2002 referendum as having no legal validity or effect.


On the question of Western Sahara, petitioners before the Committee urged the parties to support the peace plan for self-determination of the Saharawi of the people of Western Sahara, developed by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, James A. Baker III.   A representative of Oxfam Solidarity and of the Task Force of the European Coordination for the Support of the Saharawi People said that the Saharawi refugees living in the camps near Tinduf in Algeria faced very difficult living conditions and warned of the possibility of a humanitarian disaster.


A representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) noted that the Front had made humanitarian gestures with a view to creating a climate of détente by releasing several hundred Moroccan prisoners of war.  Yet, the whereabouts of hundreds of Saharawi civilians and military captured by Morocco remained unknown and the Saharawi people suffered daily from the consequences of a brutal occupation.  The POLISARIO Front, he added, had been a serious partner in the United Nations effort for the definitive decolonization of Western Sahara.  But while it had fulfilled its commitments, the referendum on the status of Western Sahara remained a mirage.


Also speaking this afternoon were representatives of Bahrain and Pakistan.


There were also statements from Daniel Feetham, Leader of the Labour Party of Gibraltar; Sophia Ann Harris, Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce; Antonio López Ortiz, State Federation of Institutions in Solidarity with the Saharawi People; Felipe Briones Vibes, International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, and Miguel Mayol I Raynal, Member of the European Parliament Intergroup “Peace for the Saharawi People”.


The United Kingdom spoke in right of reply.


The Committee will meet again Friday, 10 October, at 3 p.m. to continue its work.


Background


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its general debate on decolonization issues.  It was also expected to hear from a number of petitioners and representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  [For background information, see Press Release GA/SPD/259 of 6 October 2003.]


Statements


FAISAL AL-ZAYANI (Bahrain) said he had been impressed by the effective role the United Nations had played in ending colonialism and foreign domination.  Together with colonized countries, the Organization had worked towards the elimination of colonial hegemony.  Many General Assembly resolutions supported the rights of colonialized peoples to self-determination, as did the Millennium Declaration, in which heads of State and government had committed themselves to support the achievement of equality for the Non-Self Governing Territories.


The decade 2001 to 2010 had been declared the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, he continued.  The first Decade had not achieved its declared objective, namely the creation of a colonialism-free world.  Although the first Decade had not achieved its objective, it represented a link in the chain of efforts by the United Nations towards decolonization.  Numerous examples of success had provided a perfect model for collective action.  Colonialism represented the subjugation of a people to a foreign yoke and a violation of the United Nations Charter.  Bahrain looked forward to the fulfilment of the objectives of the Second Decade.


AIZAZ AHMAD CHAUDHRY (Pakistan) said that despite the successes of the United Nations on decolonization, more delicate and deliberate work remained ahead on behalf of the remaining 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories.  The decolonization agenda, was not limited to the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories, but was also about ensuring that all peoples under colonial administration or foreign occupation were allowed to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination.  Even after independence, colonialism had left a bitter legacy of conflict and violence in two regions of the world.  For over half a century the peoples of Kashmir and Palestine had endured foreign military occupation and been denied the right to self-determination.  The Fourth Committee’s work, and the decolonization agenda of the United Nations, would remain incomplete without the resolution of those two issues.


He said there had lately been attempts to convolute the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and to present the case of the Kashmiris in a negative light.  One party to the conflict continued to violate international law by refusing to implement Security Council resolutions and to violate the human rights of the Kashmiris.  Kashmir deserved a just and lasting solution as it was the key to peace and security in South Asia.  Pakistan had consistently offered a sustained and meaningful dialogue to resolve the Kashmir dispute.  During the General Assembly debate earlier this month, President Pervez Musharraf had offered a joint ceasefire along the Line of Control, and Pakistan was also willing to work on further reciprocal measures of restraint and confidence building.  It was now up to the other side to reciprocate if it was really interested in regional peace.


ROMAN OYARZUN (Spain) recalled that the General Assembly’s fifty-seventh session had adopted a decision on Gibraltar, which urged the Governments of Spain and the United Kingdom to find a solution to the question of that territory in keeping with relevant Assembly resolutions.  Over the last year, contacts had continued between the respective Governments.  At the last session of the Special Committee on Decolonization, Gibraltar’s Deputy Chief Minister had requested a visiting mission.


In Gibraltar, he said, a signature-gathering campaign had been undertaken to support the dispatch of a visiting mission, the main objective of which would be to secure support for Gibraltar’s arguments vis-à-vis the principle of territorial integrity.  Gibraltar would hope to attain acknowledgement of the 2002 ballot, which had no legal validity or effect.  For the Special Committee to dispatch a visiting mission, it was necessary to have the approval not only of the administering Power but also of the other party to the dispute.  Spain opposed the dispatch of a visiting mission to Gibraltar.  The Special Committee had not considered sending a mission since it did not interfere where there was a sovereignty dispute.  Spain hoped that practice would continue to be respected.


P.R. CARUANA, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said that the territory’s people had addressed the Fourth Committee and the Special Committee on Decolonization annually since 1992 but so far their arguments and pleas have not succeeded in debunking, modifying or even obtaining clarification of the annual consensus resolution.  The General Assembly’s consensus was not based on the merits of the case or the rights of the people of Gibraltar, but rather on letting the United Kingdom and Spain “get on with it” in whatever way they had agreed amongst themselves.  That approach was an injustice against the Gibraltarians because it recognized no proper status for them in the talks that it urged and because it failed to recognize the overriding relevance of their inalienable right to self-determination.  Indeed, the resolution appeared to treat the Gibraltar question as if it were a territorial sovereignty dispute between the United Kingdom and Spain, rather than an issue of decolonization.


For Gibraltar, he said, the issue was one of decolonization while, for Spain, it was a matter of territorial sovereignty.  Spain, therefore, thought that it had a stake in Gibraltar’s decolonization process, which was a monumental confusion of wholly different matters.  Spain should be free to continue to claim sovereignty of Gibraltar after decolonization, but should not be able to prevent that decolonization process from taking place by applying the principle of self-determination.  General Assembly resolution 2625 made it abundantly clear that the principle of territorial integrity applied only to prevent secessions from a State of any of its existing territory and did not apply to decolonization situations where the territory was a colony and not a United Nations Member State.


He reiterated Gibraltar’s rejection of the Anglo-Spanish negotiations based on the principle of shared sovereignty, saying it would perpetuate colonialism and replace one colonial master with two.  The people of Gibraltar also rejected the transfer of any part of the sovereignty of their homeland to Spain.  On 7 November 2002, in a referendum held in Gibraltar, 99 per cent of the electorate had voted “no” to shared sovereignty.  Therefore, there was no political or democratic legitimacy to any continuation of negotiations between the United Kingdom and Spain.  The situation of Gibraltar represented a bilateral territorial horse-trade between the Untied Kingdom and Spain in violation of the political rights of the people of Gibraltar.  That situation was not in the spirit of the United Nations Charter.  It was wholly unacceptable and the current approach would never prosper until it was abandoned in favour of a twenty-first century approach, based on respect for the right of the people of Gibraltar to decide their own future.


JOE BOSSANO, Leader of the Opposition of Gibraltar, recalled that in July 2001, the Government of the United Kingdom had announced the relaunch of negotiations with Spain and in July 2002, the Foreign Secretary had told Parliament that the framework of an agreement involving the sharing of sovereignty had been achieved.  Three questions remained, however:  the position of the British military presence in the colony; the duration of the proposed co-sovereignty regime; and the need for the approval of the people before the agreement could be put into effect.  Last year, Gibraltar’s people, by a margin of 99 to one, had rejected the principle of sovereignty-sharing, clearly removing any legitimacy from continued negotiations on the issue.


In 1967, he said, the people of Gibraltar had massively rejected Spain’s sovereignty proposals in a referendum convened by the colonial Power.  The Committee had been persuaded to reject the results of that referendum by accepting Spain’s argument that it was a “put-up job” by the United Kingdom to perpetuate its colonial rule.  With Gibraltar having been on its agenda for 40 years, the Committee had failed to stand up both to the United Kingdom and Spain.  Its failure had enabled Spain to argue that the only way to decolonize Gibraltar was to restore Spain’s territorial integrity, or to restore Spanish rule over the Territory.


The Committee’s annual decisions on a negotiated solution to the decolonization question implied a sovereignty transfer to Spain, he said.  Last year’s referendum was the clearest evidence that Gibraltarians were a real people, determined to have control of their own future.  Spain should come to its senses and demonstrate the democratic credentials it claimed to have.  The people of Gibraltar would not be bought or bullied into giving up their sacred right to self-determination and they would succeed in their quest for self-determination.


DANIEL FEETHAM, Leader of the Gibraltar Labour Party, expressed solidarity with the Chief Minister’s petition for the Special Committee to visit the Territory, saying that although he advocated integration with the United Kingdom, support for the principle of self-determination was the common bond that united every Gibraltarian and political party.  Despite the clear terms of the United Nations Charter, related General Assembly resolutions and the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice, the Committee had ignored the calls of successive governments of Gibraltar to recognize the right of the people to determine their own future.  It had also ignored requests to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice, as well as many invitations to visit Gibraltar.  Year after year, the Committee had repeated virtually the same sterile consensus resolution.


He said the front line in the struggle to eradicate colonialism was found in territories such as Gibraltar, where the political rights of the people to decolonize were resisted by the administering Power or by a third country that claimed that territory for its own.  The Committee’s consensus resolution had the effect of perpetuating colonialism in Gibraltar.  Consensus resolutions encouraged the United Kingdom to pay lip service to the right of Gibraltarians to self-determination and, unless the United Kingdom agreed to refer the issue to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion, it would always remain the ultimate arbiter of whether an exercise of the right to self-determination was allowed by its treaty obligations.  The people of Gibraltar would never accept that the sovereignty of their country could be shared between two colonial Powers.  Instead of being decolonized, Gibraltar would have come under two colonial Powers, whereas in the 2002 referendum, Gibraltarians had rejected by 99 per cent any agreement by the United Kingdom and Spain to share sovereignty.


SOPHIA-ANN HARRIS, Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, said that last year, the strength of the Cayman Islands’ financial industry had prompted one of the ambassadors of the Committee to remark that the islands did not sound as if they were colonies.  Coupled with the strength of its tourism industry, the Cayman Islands had, indeed, one of the highest standards of living in the world.


She added that, in this context, it was “interesting” that these Islands should find themselves addressing the issue of self-determination.


The visit of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization to the Islands in May 2003 had led to the mammoth, yet monumentally important, task of educating the people of the Islands on the issue of self-determination.  She said it was during that visit that they first heard of the United Kingdom’s international obligation to the United Nations and were advised of the full meaning of the right to self-determination.


She said the failure on the part of the United Kingdom to advise the people of the right to self-determination had caused many in the Cayman Islands to question the validity of the resulting draft constitution prepared by the United Kingdom for the Islands.


There was little doubt that relations between the United Kingdom and the Cayman Islands had become strained, she said.  As a result, the importance of the role of the United Nations Special Committee to assist the electorate of the Cayman Islands to choose the form of constitution they desired could not be overemphasized.


She said the people of the Cayman Islands must be given the opportunity to fully examine and educate themselves on self-determination to ensure that they were not cheated of their right to determine their own future.


She added that there was much in common between the Overseas Territories and that the United Nations might consider establishing a general working party between them.


Noting that the Special Committee had acknowledged its slow progress in achieving its objective, she said that the people of the Cayman Islands believed that self-determination was an idea whose time had come.  Therefore, the Islands embraced the United Nations’ efforts to dissuade the United Kingdom from its old colonial philosophy in exchange for a more acceptable concept of partnership.


The Cayman Islands, she said, encouraged the United Kingdom to work with it to facilitate proper education on self-determination and required a referendum to conclusively determine that any change to the constitution was in keeping with the will of the people of the Islands.


MOULOUD SAID, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front), said that with the Security Council’s 1991 approval of a Settlement Plan, the prospects of a peaceful solution to the Western Sahara conflict had been promising.  Those hopes, however, had later been frustrated and years of arduous work by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), as well as enormous financial resources, had proven worthless.  The Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, James A. Baker III, had continued their mediation efforts, however, culminating in the presentation of the “Peace plan for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara” in 2003.  The plan established a transition period of five years, at the end of which the United Nations would hold a self-determination referendum to allow the Saharawi people to freely chose their destiny.


The POLISARIO Front had responded to the Council’s call by accepting the peace plan, he said.  However, its implementation had not been able to start due to Morocco’s refusal to accept it.  Morocco, as it had done with the Settlement Plan, had refused to cooperate with the United Nations and had continued to maintain the untenable position of opposing all solutions to the conflict that were based on the principle of self-determination.  The POLISARIO Front had been a serious partner in the United Nations effort for the definitive decolonization of Western Sahara.  But, while it had fulfilled its commitments, the referendum continued to be a mirage.


The POLISARIO Front had made humanitarian gestures with a view to creating a climate of détente by releasing several hundred Moroccan prisoners of war, he continued.  Yet, the whereabouts of hundreds of Saharawi civilians and military captured by Morocco remained unknown.  The Saharawi people suffered daily from the consequences of a brutal occupation and their country had been partitioned by a wall a thousand times more sinister than the Berlin wall.  The United Nations had not been able to organize the planned referendum in 1992 due to Moroccan obstruction.  Calling on the Organization to resume the decolonization of Western Sahara and bring it to its conclusion, he said the options on the table were quite clear:  the implementation of the 1991 Settlement Plan or the 2003 peace plan, the only arrangements backed by the Security Council.


ANTONIO LÓPEZ ORTIZ, Secretary of the Spanish National Federation of Institutions Working in Solidarity with the Saharawi People (FEDISSAH), said his Federation carried out important humanitarian work with the Saharawi people and supported the peace plan approved by the United Nations as a suitable framework for the holding of a referendum on the self-determination of the Saharawi people.


He said the Saharawi people had been prevented from exercising their right to self-determination when the Government of Spain facilitated the illegal occupation of the territory by Morocco in 1975.  The 15-year armed conflict between the POLISARIO Front and the Kingdom of Morocco had not solved the problem, quite the contrary.


Convinced that a lasting solution to the conflict could only be reached through dialogue and negotiations, the Security Council had passed resolutions 658 and 690 calling for a referendum on self-determination that had been accepted by the Kingdom of Morocco and the POLISARIO Front.


However, he said, 10 years had passed and the problem had still not been resolved.  Not even the appointment in 1997 of James Baker as the Personal Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for Western Sahara had so far managed to overcome the obstacles that the Moroccan side was permanently erecting to prevent the referendum from taking place.  Still, thanks to the painstaking efforts of Mr. Baker and the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) -- one of the essential prerequisites for the holding of the referendum -- a list of voters had been obtained.


He said that, to this day, the Kingdom of Morocco had no political desire to respect the United Nations agreements and international law.  Morocco, he added, would not accept a referendum unless it guaranteed Moroccan rule over the Sahara.


Calling the situation demoralizing, he said there was no free access to Western Sahara, that the Moroccan Government had applied an unjustifiable policy of veto, making the territory a ghetto, and that its sole objective was to create an atmosphere of fear and terror.


The United Nations, he said, was at a crossroads.  It could either adopt the necessary political and economic measures to persuade the Moroccan Government to comply with the peace plan, or it could accept its failure in this process and withdraw, which would result in a loss of confidence and credibility in its authority on the part of the international community.  The peace and security of North-East Africa was at stake.


He reaffirmed that the only stable and lasting solution was to allow the Saharawi people to exercise their right to self-determination through the holding of a referendum.


FELIPE BRIONES, International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, disputed a report of August 2003 by the Foundation “France Libertes” which referred to “death, torture and mutilation” of Moroccan prisoners.  Anyone who followed the subject of Western Sahara would be sceptical of the report, which was based exclusively on the testimony of Moroccan prisoners.  The report was a means to discredit the Saharawi cause and further drown the refugee people.


In June 2003, the Moroccan Court of El Aaiun had dissolved the non-governmental organization “Forum Truth and Justice, Section Sahara” dedicated to the defence of human rights in Western Sahara, he said.  Some days ago, 11 young Saharawi people managed to escape from Western Sahara, crossed the “Wall of Shame” and arrived at the Saharawi refugee camps, for they could not take the repression they were subjected to for participating in a peaceful demonstration for respect of human rights in Western Sahara.  How long could the situation be allowed to continue? he asked.


HILT TEUWEN, representative of Oxfam Solidarity and of the Task Force of the European Coordination for the Support of the Saharawi People, said that the Saharawi refugees living in the camps near Tinduf, Algeria, faced very difficult living conditions.


Two international players, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the European Union Humanitarian Office, were in charge of supplying basic aid, she said.  However, the WFP was now going to become the main provider of food, and a difficult period was to be expected at the beginning of 2004 due to a delay in the arrival of the supplies.


She said that after 28 years of exile, refugees could not stand it anymore and were living in an area where there was no way of producing food.  If the situation became worse, the Saharawi people would not be able to live in dignity.


She said that if the international community did not commit more effort to finding a just and lasting solution, the Saharawi people faced a humanitarian disaster.


MIGUEL MAYOI I RAYNAL, member of the European Parliament Intergroup “Peace for the Saharawi People” said there would be no peace in Western Sahara without justice, which was the exercise of the right to self-determination with the option of separation.  The Saharawi people had been waiting for that justice for some 40 years.  The resistance against Morocco’s invasion had been so strong that Morocco had been forced to sign a ceasefire, which took place in 1990.  The International Court of Justice had confirmed the right of the Saharawis to self-determination.  Since 1991, Morocco, supported by France, had managed to thwart the international community.  International law required the United Nations to force Morocco to hold a referendum.  He was sure the Committee would issue an opinion along those lines this year.


Statement in Exercise of Right of Reply


The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in the exercise of the right of reply in response to the statement by Spain on Gibraltar, said the long-standing position of the British Government on the matter was well known.  The United Kingdom would continue to stand by the commitment to the people of Gibraltar set out in the preamble to the 1969 Constitution of Gibraltar, which enshrined the principle of consent of the people of Gibraltar to any change in sovereignty.  The British Government shared Spain’s view that issues relating to Gibraltar could only be resolved through dialogue.  The United Kingdom’s aim was to build a better future for the people of Gibraltar.


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For information media. Not an official record.