Special Committee on
3rd Meeting (AM)
decolonization committee approves resolutions on information dissemination,
transmission of reports on territories, visiting missions
Hears Reports from Information, Political Affairs Departments
Continuing its 2004 session this morning, the Special Committee on Decolonization adopted three texts addressing the issues of dissemination of information on decolonization, information from Non-Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73 e of the United Nations Charter and the question of sending visiting missions to Territories.
Under Article 73 e, Member States, which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of Territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government, undertake to transmit regularly to the Secretary-General information relating to economic, social and educational conditions in the Territories for which they are respectively responsible.
Following reports by representatives of the Departments of Public Information and Political Affairs on the dissemination of information related to decolonization, the Special Committee approved the activities undertaken in that regard. Adopting, without a vote, a resolution on the matter, it stressed the importance of continued efforts to ensure the widest possible dissemination of information related to the work of the Special Committee, with particular emphasis on the options of self-determination available for the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
Also by the text, the two Departments were requested to take into account the suggestions of the Special Committee to continue their efforts to take measures through all the media available, including publications, radio and television, as well as the Internet. They were also asked to give publicity to the work of the United Nations in the field of decolonization through continued collection, preparation and dissemination of basic material on the issue of self-determination of the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories and search for full cooperation of the administering Powers. Also addressed by the draft was the need to maintain a working relationship with appropriate regional and intergovernmental organizations and to encourage the involvement of non-governmental organizations.
Briefing the Committee on the work of the Department of Public Information (DPI), Thérèse Gastaut, Director of the Strategic Communications Division, highlighted the Department’s activities to build awareness of the Organization’s work in the field of decolonization. Having undergone a broad-based restructuring, the Department had disseminated information on decolonization issues through various media, including radio, print and the Internet. The United
Nations Web site –- one of the best sites in the world –- had expanded, with the News Centre having received some 2.1 billion hits in 2003 alone. The decolonization Web site, which appeared in three official languages, had also been expanded, and plans were moving forward to make the site available in the other official languages.
Representing the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), Anna Theofilopoulou, Acting Chief of the Decolonization Unit, noted that the Department had continued, in cooperation with the DPI, to disseminate information about decolonization in order to encourage steps towards self-determination in the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories. Earlier this year, the Decolonization Unit had also assumed responsibility for maintaining its own Web site on decolonization, which could go a long way to fill the information gap in an easily accessible way. The DPA would do its utmost to meet new challenges for information dissemination, while making the best possible use of the scarce resources available.
In other action, the Special Committee requested the administering Powers concerned to transmit or continue to transmit to the Secretary-General the information prescribed in Article 73 e of the Charter, as well as the fullest possible information on political and constitutional development in the Territories concerned, within a maximum period of six months following the expiration of the administrative year in those Territories.
By the third text adopted today, the Special Committee, conscious that United Nations visiting missions provide an effective means of assessing the situation in Non-Self-Governing Territories, stressed the need to periodically dispatch such missions in order to facilitate full, speedy and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. It also called for cooperation on behalf of the administering Powers, in particular by receiving visiting missions in the Territories, and requested them to consider new approaches in the work of the Committee.
Also this morning, the Committee heard a petition by the representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) on the question of Western Sahara. Ahmed Boukhari said that, despite the appeals of the Secretary-General and the Security Council, Morocco, having refused the peace plan for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, also known as the “Baker Plan II”, continued to reject peace. Morocco had demonstrated once again that it had not acted in good faith, as it had let the United Nations believe for several years that it had agreed to a referendum. In the meantime, humanitarian agencies were denied access to the suffering Saharawi people, for whom human rights violations, torture and involuntary imprisonment continued to be daily fare.
During the organizational part of its meeting, the Special Committee also adopted its agenda and decided to take up requests for hearing on the questions of Western Sahara and Gibraltar.
Statements were also made today by the representatives of Cuba, Côte d’Ivoire and Saint Lucia.
The Special Committee, formally known as the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples, will begin its consideration of the question of Gibraltar and hear an address from the Government of the United States Virgin Islands at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 8 June.
The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples met this morning to begin its 2004 session.
Created by the General Assembly resolution 1645 of 1961, the Special Committee examines and makes recommendations on the application of the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and makes suggestions and recommendations on the progress and extent of the implementation of the Declaration.
The Committee meets annually to discuss the developments in Non-Self-Governing Territories, hears statements from appointed and elected representatives of the Territories and petitioners, dispatches visiting missions to the Territories, and organizes seminars on the political, social, economic and education situation in the Territories. It formulates proposals and carries out actions approved by the Assembly in the context of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010).
The Committee also makes recommendations concerning the dissemination of information to mobilize public opinion in support of the decolonization process and examines the assistance provided to the people of the Territories by the specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system.
The 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories covered by the Committee are: American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands/Malvinas, Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands, and Western Sahara.
The Committee’s membership was expanded from 17 to 24 in 1962 and its size has varied since. Its current members are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Chile, China, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, Fiji, Grenada, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Mali, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sierra Leone, Syria, Tunisia, United Republic of Tanzania and Venezuela.
The bureau of the Committee consists of Chairman Robert Guba Aisi (Papua New Guinea); Vice-Chairmen, Luc Joseph Okio (Congo) and Orlando Requeijo Gual (Cuba); and Rapporteur, Fayssal Mekdad (Syria).
THÉRÈSE GASTAUT, Director of the Strategic Communications Division, Department of Public Information (DPI), introduced the Secretary-General’s report on dissemination of information on decolonization during the period from June 2003 to May 2004. She said the DPI was pleased to be working in close cooperation with the Special Committee in the pursuit of common objectives. Thanks to the reorientation and restructuring of DPI, the Organization had been able to move closer to achieving a key goal of the Secretary-General’s reform proposal -- enhancing the provision of public information to the peoples of the world.
One priority was to revitalize public confidence in the Organization by brining the United Nations closer to the world’s people, she said. The implementation of the reform proposals had culminated in a broad-based restructuring of DPI, which had been guided by the Committee on Information. The Department had undergone a transformation. It had redefined its mission statement and had developed a new strategic approach. The Department had acquired the necessary tools to deliver on the challenges set by the Secretary-General, and it was committed to delivering effective and targeted information programmes.
The present report was prepared in response to the General Assembly mandate and covered DPI’s activities in the field of decolonization from June 2003 to March 2004. The DPI’s work consisted of coverage of General Assembly debate on decolonization and the work of the Special Committee of 24, building partnerships with civil society through the network of United Nations information centres and strengthening the use of the Internet for the widest dissemination of information. Special attention was devoted to the Special Committee’s opening meeting on 11 February, in particular the Secretary-General’s statement, which was widely disseminated.
The Department continued to publicize the Organization’s work in the decolonization field with the issuance of 36 press releases on the relevant meetings of the General Assembly, she said. Press releases were also distributed electronically. The topic of decolonization was regularly featured in the Department’s guided tour in New York, Geneva and Vienna, and the map featured in the decolonization exhibit on the tour route at Headquarters had been updated during the reporting period.
In the past year, the Department had responded to the media on decolonization issues, she said. The DPI’s Radio Section continued to cover various decolonization issues in both official and non-official languages. An integral part of the DPI’s outreach efforts was the United Nations Chronicle, which was part of the Department’s educational activities. An article on the United Nations role in Western Sahara, for example, detailed the Organization’s actions for years in that Territory.
The United Nations Web site was one of the best sites in the world, she continued, and the News Centre had expanded over the past few years. In 2003, it had received some 2.1 billion hits. The News Centre continued to cover, in all the official languages, action taking place in the decolonization field. The Department’s Web site Section, working in close cooperation with DPI’s Palestine, Decolonization and Human Rights Section, as well as the Decolonization Unit in the Department of Political Affairs, had updated the decolonization site, adding more than 100 documents, press releases and reports. Both Departments were planning to expand the site in other official languages.
The DPI had also strengthened its cooperation with civil society, she said. The fifty-sixth annual non-governmental organization conference in September 2003 had featured a panel discussion entitled “From oppression to empowerment”, which had explained the decolonization process and its impact on current events. Today, more than ever before, it was essential to build public support for the work of the United Nations. The network of the United Nations Information Centres (UNICs) continued to promote the Organization’s work in the area of decolonization. As part of its ongoing efforts to highlight United Nations priorities, the Department would continue to promote awareness of the United Nations’ work in the area of decolonization and within the context of the Second Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.
Speaking on behalf of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), ANNA THEOFILOPOULOU, Acting Chief of the Decolonization Unit, said the Department had continued, in cooperation with DPI, to disseminate information about decolonization to encourage steps towards self-determination in the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories. In order to collect information on the Territories, the Department had continued to seek the cooperation of the administering Powers and to monitor the media and relevant Web sites. It also continued routinely to collect, prepare and provide information on decolonization issues to Member States, representatives from the Territories, schools, organizations and individuals.
Among the publications, she mentioned a new brochure entitled “The United Nations and Decolonization Questions and Answers”, which had been prepared by DPA’s Decolonization Unit in close cooperation with the DPI in response to the numerous queries regarding the Organization’s role in decolonization, the work of the Special Committee, the options available to the Territories concerning their future status and the assistance for which they were eligible. Earlier this year, the Decolonization Unit had also assumed responsibility for maintaining its own Web site on decolonization, which could go a long way to fill the information gap in an easily accessible way. The Web site was now being expanded and updated. Her Department also continued to provide updated information to DPI’s Public Inquiries Unit and Guided Tours Unit in response to specific questions about decolonization matters.
The DPA had also contributed to the updating of the decolonization maps on the path of guided tours and updated the chapter on decolonization in the publication Basic Facts about the United Nations, she continued. It had continued to expand its roster of individual experts, academics and organizations concerned with decolonization and the situation in the Territories, which -- as the recent decolonization seminar in Papua New Guinea had demonstrated –- was helpful in bringing participants to the regional seminars.
In conclusion, she said that in the context of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, last month’s seminar had affirmed the need for the Special Committee to actively embark on a public awareness campaign aimed at fostering an understanding among people of the Territories of the options for self-determination. All that would create new challenges for information dissemination, a job the DPA, in close cooperation with the DPI, would do its utmost to carry out, while making the best possible use of the scarce resources available.
ORLANDO REQUEIJO GUAL (Cuba) thanked the Secretary-General for the report presented to the Special Committee. The statements by the representatives of DPI and DPA had confirmed the crucial role that the United Nations played in the dissemination of information on decolonization. The use of various media, including the web page and broadcasts, had been demonstrated to be very important.
Controlled by their owners, major media sources did not provide many references to the real, tangible situation as far as decolonization was concerned, presenting colonialism as a phenomenon of the past, he said. It was important to continue to ensure information dissemination, providing a review of options and explanations of options, to make sure that peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories had information on the situation that was on the agenda of the United Nations.
While he appreciated the efforts to disseminate information on decolonization, he continued, the use of just three languages on the Web site was not sufficient. It was important to ensure that information appeared in all six official languages. The session of the Special Committee needed to be publicized. In particular, the United Nations radio needed to avail itself of the presence of members of the Committee and petitioners, who needed to receive appropriate coverage. If the Special Committee only relied on the mass media, the world would not know that there were still people waiting to exercise their right to self-determination and that Non-Self-Governing Territories still existed.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUÉ (Côte d’Ivoire) also expressed appreciation for the presentation on the work done by DPI and DPA. Indeed, one could see that the United Nations was doing its best to provide maximum information on the subjects of concern to the Special Committee. However, while the use of modern communication means, including the Internet, was important, he still had doubts regarding the use of that tool in Non-Self-Governing Territories, as not many people there had access to the Internet. He advocated the use of more traditional media for the Territories, where the radio continued to be the best means of dissemination of information. Thus, radio stations should have relevant information available to them in order to explain various options and choices peoples had as far as their political status was concerned.
The Chairman of the Special Committee, ROBERT GUBA AISI (Papua New Guinea) agreed that radio was still a good technology. However, it was also necessary to maintain pace with what was happening in the world. The need for modern technology should not be underestimated.
MICHELLE JOSEPH (Saint Lucia) said the issue of dissemination of information on decolonization was important, not only to the Committee but also to the peoples of the Territories themselves. For the Special Committee to understand the situation on the ground, it needed as much information and analysis as possible. The peoples in the Territories also needed information on their options and the political process.
While applauding the introduction of the decolonization Web site, she also emphasized the need to update the material on the Web site more frequently, and to include some analytical work, such as papers on the work of the regional seminars. Such information could provide the user with an in-depth perspective on the work going on in the different territories.
Question of Western Sahara
AHMED BOUKHARI, speaking on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front), noted that just a few weeks after the last regular session, the Secretary-General and his personal envoy, James Baker, had submitted to the Security Council the “peace plan for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”, which was also known as the Baker Plan II. It established a transitional period of five years before a referendum on the final status would be held. The options included the integration of Western Sahara to the occupying Power and independence. The Council had supported the peace plan. In its resolution on the matter, the Council had requested both parties to accept and implement the plan. Despite its deficiencies and points of dispute, the Frente POLISARIO had officially said that it was ready to implement the plan.
Morocco, however, had rejected the plan on the unacceptable basis that it should exclude the option of independence, he continued. After several months of delaying tactics, Morocco had communicated to the Secretary-General and Mr. Baker its definite rejection of the peace plan. The new challenge posed by the Moroccan regime to United Nations efforts in the past year joined its obstruction and rejection of the 1991 Settlement Plan. Morocco had demonstrated once again that it had not acted in good faith, as it had let the United Nations believe for several years that it had agreed to a referendum.
He said the International Court of Justice in its 16 October 1975 decision, as well as the legal opinion of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs in 2002 had denied Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over the Western Sahara, a fact which reduced its current presence to that of an illegal occupier of the territory. In the same vein, the Secretary-General and his personal envoy agreed that Morocco’s claim was unsustainable, as it avoided the implementation of fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter in settling a decolonization issue. Independence was one of the options in the Settlement Plan that Morocco had agreed to. In his next report on the matter, the Secretary-General had invited the occupying Power to stop ignoring peace. He had also stated that the peace plan was a well-balanced and fair approach to the long-standing dispute.
Despite the appeals from both the Secretary-General and the Security Council, Morocco continued to reject peace, he said. In his recent report of 2004, the Secretary-General had told the Council that Morocco had rejected the peace plan. The Secretary-General had agreed to give Morocco six more months to reconsider its position of non-cooperation. In the meantime, human rights violations, torture and the arbitrary imprisonment of Saharawis continued to be daily fare. Hundreds of Saharawis continued to be unaccounted for. Currently, 150 Saharawi soldiers and 600 civilians were unaccounted for since 1976. Humanitarian bodies had not been able to get any information on the fate of those individuals. Moroccan authorities had not permitted humanitarian bodies or independent media to investigate the situation in the occupied zones. Morocco continued to use the region’s natural resources, seeking to involve foreign oil companies in the exploitation of energy resources along the Saharan costs.
On 31 October 1975, Moroccan troops -- in violation of international legality –- had invaded and occupied his country, he said. While more than 30 years had passed, the determination of his people had not slackened. The Saharawi people continued to suffer from the flouting of United Nations resolutions and to be victims of a colonial siege. Allowing violation of international legality and fundamental human rights to continue did not strengthen confidence in the international system. The Special Committee had a responsibility, which it could not shirk. It had to follow up on the process of the last colonial case in Africa not from a neutral position in anticipation of political ebbs and flows but rather from a position of active involvement.
The Special Committee’s responsibility was to tell the colonial Power to comply with international legality, which could manifest itself in a just and free referendum for self-determination. The colonial Power could not try to create other ways and means to undermine the fundamental principle that had given birth to the Committee. He requested that a mission be sent to the territory and to the camps to assess the situation some 30 years after the 1975 report. The presence of a mission in the territory would send a clear message for the successful culmination of the decolonization process.
Mr. GUAL (Cuba) praised the quality of the working paper, which contained updated information on the situation in Western Sahara. He also took note of the POLISARIO’s proposal to have the Special Committee send a visiting mission to the area, which could directly assess the situation. The proposal was important, as 29 years ago such a mission had been sent, and its report had provided an important foundation for a series of activities in the context of the Special Committee. He also wanted to know if there was any programme of humanitarian assistance from the United Nations to alleviate the situation of Saharawi refugees.
Responding to that question, Mr. BOUKHARI said that, while there were programmes from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other agencies, including the World Food Programme (WFP), the question was not whether there was humanitarian assistance. Rather, the issue related to the political situation and the presence of illegal occupation. As for what the Saharawis were receiving now, the assistance was very meagre. They lived in a state of permanent emergency, and the Secretary-General, in one of his recent reports, had appealed for assistance. However, the humanitarian situation remained truly tragic. Members of the United Nations needed to remember those people and hasten to their assistance.
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