UN DECOLONIZATION WORK ‘REMAINS UNFINISHED’, SAYS DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL AS DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE OPENS 2006 SESSION

23 February 2006
GA/COL/3128

UN DECOLONIZATION WORK ‘REMAINS UNFINISHED’, SAYS DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL AS DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE OPENS 2006 SESSION

23 February 2006
General Assembly
GA/COL/3128
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Special Committee on

Decolonization

1st Meeting (AM)

UN DECOLONIZATION WORK ‘REMAINS UNFINISHED’, SAYS DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL

AS DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE OPENS 2006 SESSION

While more than 80 million people around the world had exercised their right of self-determination under United Nations auspices, with 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories still to decide their future, the United Nations work for decolonization “remains unfinished”, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette told the Special Committee on Decolonization this morning, as it opened its 2006 session.

Pointing to last week’s historic referendum in the Pacific territory of Tokelau, she said the Committee was meeting at an opportune time.  To understand that decolonization remained a work in progress, one needed simply to look at recent events in that Territory.  While the referendum, which the United Nations concluded fairly reflected the will of the Tokelau people, had not resulted in the two-third majority necessary for any change in the territory’s status, the referendum exercise had highlighted the continuing need for all people of all Non-Self-Governing Territories to be allowed the right of self-determination.

Tokelau’s referendum was especially welcome, she added, because of the constructive spirit with which New Zealand’s Government and the people of Tokelau had approached the subject.  Indeed, she hoped that the example of Tokelau would guide other administering Powers and their governed territories on the way forward, and appealed to all administering Powers to work with the Committee to ensure that the views of the peoples of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories were finally heard.

The Chairman of the Special Committee, Julian R. Hunte (Saint Lucia), taking the floor after being re-elected to that position, said the challenges of addressing the situation in the remaining territories remained formidable –- but not insurmountable.  For several decades, the Territories had made it abundantly clear, that the legitimization of “contemporary colonialism” should not be countenanced.  In contemporary terms, it was important to reiterate that the genesis of the decolonization mandate remained within the international responsibilities contained in the United Nations Charter, subsequent General Assembly resolutions, and, most recently, the 2005 World Summit Outcome.

The implementation of longstanding, and increasingly definitive, resolutions on decolonization would bring the era of colonialism to its logical conclusion, in a century where even the most benevolent forms of colonialism should already have been systematically dismantled, he added.  In fact, the attainment of equal rights and justice, and the ability of a people to determine their own future and govern themselves, were goals more easily achieved today, than during the earlier period, when those issues were seen through an ideological prism.  There was nothing ideological about contemporary colonialism.  While decolonization remained very much a political process, requiring the political will of all stakeholders for its achievement, decolonization was also a development process.

Briefing the Committee on the referendum in Tokelau, the representative of Papua New Guinea noted that the turnout for the referendum, which took place between 11 and 15 February, had been 95 per cent, with 60 per cent voting in favour of free association.  That percentage was insufficient to meet the required threshold of a two-third majority.  While not meeting the required majority had left the 60 per cent majority deeply disappointed, the vote was seen as one step in a process towards self-determination, and the Tokelau Council for Ongoing Government had requested that New Zealand leave the referendum package on the table, for possible future consideration.

New Zealand’s representative added that the objective of self-government had long had the unanimous support of Tokelau’s political leadership.  A change of status for Tokelau should not be ruled out for all time.  The referendum should be regarded as “an” act, rather than “the” act, of self-determination.  It should be noted, she added, that Tokelau had not voted to remain a dependent territory of New Zealand.  Rather, it had opted to make no change, at the present time, to the status quo.  Her country would continue to cooperate closely with the Special Committee on the question of Tokelau.

Also elected this morning was Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz ( Cuba) as Committee Vice-Chairman, and Milad Atieh ( Syria) as Committee Rapporteur.  The election of a second Vice-Chairman from the African Group was postponed to a latter date.

In other business today, the Special Committee adopted its organization of work, contained in document A/AC.109/2006/L.2.

The Committee also decided to accept the offer by the Government of Timor-Leste, to host the 2006 Pacific Regional Seminar from 23 to 25 May, and authorized the Chairman to hold consultations on preparations for the Seminar.  The Special Committee also agreed to dispatch a Special Mission to the Turks and Caicos Islands from 2 to 9 April.

The Special Committee was established by the General Assembly in 1961, to examine application of the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, by which Member States proclaimed the need to bring colonialism to a speedy end, and to make recommendations on its implementation.  In 1963, the Assembly approved a list of 64 Territories to which the Declaration applied.  Now, just 16 such Territories remain, with France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States as administering Powers.

The 16 Territories remaining on the list are: Western Sahara, American Samoa, Guam, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Tokelau, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Gibraltar, Montserrat, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Cuba, Syria, Timor Leste, Iran, Congo and Dominica.

The Special Committee on Decolonization will meet again at a date to be announced.

Background

The Special Committee on Decolonization, formally known as 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 open its 2006 substantive session.

Statements

Opening the meeting, Deputy Secretary-General LOUISE FRÉCHETTE noted that, over the years, more than 80 million people around the world had exercised their right of self-determination under United Nations auspices.  While that was a record the United Nations could be proud of, with 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories still to decide their future, the United Nations work for decolonization remained unfinished.  The Special Committee’s work to promote the ideals of self-determination, enshrined in the 1960 Declaration on Decolonization, formed the core of the Organization’s work in that field. 

The Committee met at an opportune time, she said.  To understand that decolonization remained a work in progress, one needed simply to look at recent events in the Pacific territory of Tokelau.  Last week, Tokelau had held a referendum on a measure granting it self-government in free association with its administering Power, New Zealand.  While the referendum, which the United Nations concluded fairly reflected the will of the Tokelau people, had not resulted in the two-third majority necessary for any change in the territory’s status, the referendum exercise had highlighted the continuing need for all people of all Non-Self-Governing Territories to be allowed the right of self-determination.

Continuing, she said the Secretary-General had already commended the combined efforts of New Zealand’s Government and the Special Committee in making the referendum possible.  The Secretary-General believed that it was important for the people of Tokelau to have had the opportunity to exercise their wishes, and he had expressed the hope that the Government of New Zealand and the people of Tokelau maintain a constructive dialogue on the issue of self-government. 

Tokelau’s referendum was especially welcome, she added, because of the constructive spirit with which New Zealand’s Government and the people of Tokelau had approached the subject.  Indeed, she hoped that the example of Tokelau would guide other administering Powers and their governed territories on the way forward.  She appealed, once again, to all administering Powers to work with the Committee, to ensure that the views of the peoples of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories were finally heard.

In that context, she noted with satisfaction that the Committee, through its recent mission to Bermuda and its upcoming visit to Turks and Caicos Islands, continued to actively inform the inhabitants of the Territories of their options for self-determination.  She was especially pleased that the Government of Timor-Leste had offered to host the upcoming Pacific Regional Seminar.  It was only in 2002 that Timor-Leste had taken its place as a full-fledged member of the international community.  The Committee had been instrumental in voicing the aspirations of the Timorese people, and it was doubly gratifying that the new nation should now serve as a forum for discussion on self-determination.

JULIAN R. HUNTE (Saint Lucia), Special Committee Chairman, noted that, when he had first assumed the chairmanship of the Special Committee in 2001 at the beginning of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, it had been clear that the issue of decolonization had grown increasingly complex, requiring new and innovative solutions to meet the self-determination aspirations of the people of the remaining Territories.  That year, it had been emphasized, throughout the Committee’s consideration of decolonization issues, that increased vigilance was necessary in reviewing and assessing the intricacies of the present dependency arrangements, and in assisting the Territories in their quest for full self-government and absolute political equality for their people. 

For several decades now, it had been made abundantly clear, by many from the Territories, that the legitimization of “contemporary colonialism” should not be countenanced, he said.  Indeed, that perspective was reflected in the recommendations of every regional seminar, dating to the 1985 session in Havana.  Thus, in contemporary terms, it was important to reiterate that the genesis of the decolonization mandate remained within the international responsibilities contained in Articles 1, 55 and 73 of the United Nations Charter, and in subsequent General Assembly resolutions, most recently in the 2005 World Summit Outcome, which spoke to the relevancy of self-determination.  Indeed, the various human rights instruments on civil and political rights, and on economic and cultural rights, emphasized that self-determination was an integral component of democratic governance and human rights.  There was no doubt, therefore, as to the contemporary nature of the Committee’s work.

The challenges in addressing the situation in the remaining territories remained formidable -- but not insurmountable -- if the specific tasks requested by the Assembly were carried out, he said.  Accordingly, where there was an “information deficit” among the people in the Territories, programmes must be put in place to heighten their awareness of the available options of political equality, just as the resolutions had requested, for at least several decades.  Where economic and technical assistance was necessary in the development process of the Territories, the specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system must respond to the mandate to foster a sustainable economic development process in the Territories.  The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) ongoing assistance to the economic development of many small Territories, and to the constitutional development of several Territories, including Anguilla and most recently the Special Mission to Bermuda, was a model for other United Nations bodies to emulate.

Indeed, he said, it was the implementation of the longstanding and increasingly definitive resolutions on decolonization that would bring the era to its logical conclusion, in a century where even the most benevolent forms of colonialism should have been systematically dismantled before now.  In fact, the attainment of equal rights and justice, and the ability of a people to determine their own future and govern themselves, were goals more easily achieved today than during the earlier period, when those issues were seen through an ideological prism.  There was nothing ideological about contemporary colonialism.  While decolonization remained very much a political process requiring the political will of all stakeholders for its achievement, decolonization was also a development process.

In that connection, he said it was his intention to accelerate the informal dialogue with the administering Powers, with the aim of accelerating the long-sought work programmes for each Territory.  His consultations had already born fruit, with the ongoing cooperation between New Zealand and the Committee, with respect to Tokelau, and with the discussions with the United Kingdom in relation to the Special Mission to Bermuda in 2005 and the planned Special Mission to the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2006, as well as the landmark Caribbean Regional Seminar held in Anguilla in 2003.  Similar collaboration with other administering Powers would satisfy the longstanding requests by a number of Territories for a role for the United Nations in their self-determination process.

The Special Committee had come a long way in the era of United Nations reform, he said.  It had eliminated its subcommittees, depoliticized the language of its resolutions, and accepted significant decline in the level of expertise available to it.  The Special Committee would continue to further reform its work through the reduction of documentation, while making maximum use of the decolonization website, so as not to reduce the availability of information.  In his address to the Committee last year, he had stated that, in addressing the issues of decolonization in the twenty-first century, the price for maintaining the same systematic approach year after year was far greater than the price of modernizing that approach.  In the spirit of United Nations reform, he looked forward to working with the Committee, the Secretary-General, the Department of Political Affairs and the administering Powers in the furtherance of the implementation of the decolonization process.

ROBERT G. AISI ( Papua New Guinea), briefing the Committee on Tokelau, said he had represented the Special Committee during Tokelau’s referendum on self-government in free association with New Zealand.  In August 2005, Tokelau’s General Fono (the national representative body) had approved a draft Treaty of Free Association between Tokelau and New Zealand, as a basis for self-determination, and had appointed both a Translation Committee and a Referendum Commission.  The referendum had taken place between 11 and 15 February, in which 584 voters had turned out. 60 per cent voted in favour of free association.  However, that percentage was insufficient to meet the required threshold of a two-thirds majority.  Voter turnout had been 95 per cent.  The polling process had been universally praised.

He said that not meeting the required majority had left the 60 per cent majority deeply disappointed.  However, the vote was seen as one step in a process towards self-determination, and the Tokelau Council for Ongoing Government had requested that New Zealand leave the referendum package on the table, for possible future consideration.  The Council would now explore, with the three villages and the General Fono, the possibility of moving towards a further act of self-determination in the future.

Although the result could be seen as a disappointment, a better view could be that a better level of awareness of all the issues relating to self-determination had emerged.  The international community could be assured that the efforts put into the referendum process had not been a wasted opportunity, but one which could be built upon.

ROSEMARY BANKS ( New Zealand) said that her country and the United Nations had worked closely and well together to support Tokelau’s move towards greater self-reliance.  The Special Committee had sent five fact-finding and two special missions to Tokelau since 1976.  The partnership had worked well for the United Nations, Tokelau and New Zealand.  She was grateful that a United Nations team had been able to monitor the act of self-determination.  Although the requisite two-third majority threshold had not bee reached, comfort might be taken from the very high level of participation and the fact that 60 per cent of the voters had supported self-government in free association.  The referendum had been managed by Tokelau, with support from New Zealand’s Electoral Office, to the highest standards.

She said the objective of self-government had long had the unanimous support of Tokelau’s political leadership.  It was Tokelau that had initiated the exercise in 2003.  Every decision on the referendum had been approved by unanimous vote of the Geenral Fono, and supported by all three Village Councils.  It followed some three decades of debate, and had been underpinned by an intensive programme of dialogue and consultation.

She said, immediately after last week’s referendum, Tokelau’s Council for Ongoing Government had decided to conduct a series of meetings with the three Village Councils and the General Fono, to decide on Tokelau’s future course of action.  They would be enquiring into the reasons for the voting patterns, and had asked the New Zealand Government to keep the current package on the table.  Their intention was to reengage in discussions with New Zealand and the United Nations after that period of reflection and discussion. 

A change of status for Tokelau should not be ruled out for all time.  The referendum should be regarded as “an” act, rather than “the” act of self-determination, she said.  It should be noted that Tokelau had not voted to remain a dependent territory of New Zealand.  Rather, it had opted to make no change, at the present time, to the status quo.  She assured the Committee that it was her country’s intention to continue cooperating closely with the Special Committee on the question of Tokelau.

RODRIGO MALMIERCA DIAZ ( Cuba), Committee Vice-Chairman, expressed gratitude for the confidence the Committee had placed in his delegation.  He also congratulated the representative of Papua New Guinea for his work during the Tokelau referendum held just a few days ago.  The outcome of the referendum should be seen as an important step forward towards ensuring the right of self-governance of the people of Tokelau.  Some 60 per cent of voters had expressed their support for an agreement of free association with New Zealand and not the end of the road.  The Tokelau item should be kept on the Committee’s agenda.  The cooperative attitude of New Zealand’s Government with the Committee was proof of what could be achieved when an administering Power was prepared to embark on a cooperative relationship with the Committee.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD ( Syria) said the reason today’s meeting would be his last was that he had been appointed as his country’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs.  He thanked the current Chairman and the former chairs, as well as all representatives and friends he had worked with in the Special Committee.  He assured the Committee that his Government would continue to support its work.

On the question of Tokelau, he said he was “thrilled” by the reports made today, despite the wish that the result would have been different.  “However, this is the will of the people, and we have to respect it.”  He said it was thrilling to see one territory exercise its right to self-determination.  This was not the end of the job.  An excellent package had been supported by 60 per cent of the population, and that package should remain on the table.  He was convinced that there would be another time when another attempt could be made to allow the population of Tokelau to express their wish.

Mr. HUNTE, speaking on behalf of the Committee, thanked Mr. Mekdad for the many years of work he had spent on the Special Committee, and congratulated him on his new appointment.

JOSÉ LUIS GUTERRES (Timor-Leste) congratulated the people of Tokelau for their strong participation in the referendum, as well as the Government of New Zealand for their continued commitment to work with the people of Tokelau.  He expressed his continued support to the people of Tokelau and his determination to closely follow the item.

HOSSEIN MALEKI ( Iran) noted that he had benefited greatly from the experience of Ambassador Mekdad of Syria, who had devoted himself to the Committee’s work.  He offered him best wishes for his future success.

LUC JOSEPH OKIO ( Congo) thanked the Government of Timor Leste for its interest in the Committee’s work and the warm welcome the Committee could expect at the Pacific Regional Seminar this year.

Mr. GUTERRES (Timor-Leste) thanked the Committee for its decision to hold the seminar in Timor-Leste.  His delegation would work to ensure a successful outcome.

Mr. MALEKI ( Iran) asked if the Committee planned to prioritize its work according to the Territories that were potentially close to self-determination.

Responding, Mr. HUNTE noted that, while the Territories were in various stages of preparation, it was not something that could be predicted.  He had, for example, planned to go to Tokelau in August.  Those plans had changed.  That was why he had emphasized the need for consultations.  Although there was some idea as to which Territories might wish to proceed to the next level, it was up to the people of the Territory to make that decision, in concurrence with the administering Power.  The example of Tokelau was perfect.  In the final analysis, self-determination rested with the people, not the Committee.

CRISPIN S. GREGOIRE ( Dominica) commended the Government of New Zealand and the Secretariat for the exemplary arrangements they had made for holding the referendum in Tokelau.  He congratulated the people of Tokelau for their determination to proceed towards self-government.  He also commended Timor-Leste for agreeing to hold the Pacific Regional Seminar.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.