DECOLONIZATION TRUE UNITED NATIONS SUCCESS STORY, CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR TOLD AT OPENING SESSION

23 May 2007
GA/COL/3155

DECOLONIZATION TRUE UNITED NATIONS SUCCESS STORY, CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR TOLD AT OPENING SESSION

23 May 2007
General Assembly
GA/COL/3155
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DECOLONIZATION TRUE UNITED NATIONS SUCCESS STORY, CARIBBEAN

 

REGIONAL SEMINAR TOLD AT OPENING SESSION

 

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

SAINT GEORGE’S, Grenada, 22 May -- Decolonization could truly be considered a United Nations success story, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told participants at the Caribbean Regional Seminar on the implementation of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

In a message read out by Freda Mackay, Chief, Decolonization Unit, United Nations Department of Political Affairs, Mr. Ban said that achieving self-government for the peoples of the world had been one of the cardinal goals of the United Nations since its inception.  Under the Organization’s auspices, nearly 750 million people had benefited from the exercise of the right to self-determination.  The annual Regional Seminars were organized to provide a forum for the 2 million people living in the 16 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories to air their views about the unique problems they faced.

Cooperation between the administering Powers, the Territories and the United Nations was essential for there to be progress in discharging the mandate of the Committee, he added.  The fact that Tokelau, in an important act of self-determination, would hold a second referendum on the option of self-government in free association with New Zealand was an example of what could be achieved when there was constructive political will, he said.

Conducted within the framework of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010), the Caribbean Regional Seminar, which takes place from 22 to 24 May in Saint George’s, Grenada, will focus on practical steps to advance the decolonization process in the Caribbean and elsewhere, and provide the Special Committee on Decolonization with conclusions and recommendations on the next steps in the decolonization process.

Elvin Nimrod, Foreign Minister of Grenada, welcoming participants to his “beautiful island of spice”, said the Caribbean viewed the decolonization of its remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories as “unfinished business” of the United Nations.  Since the inception of the Organization, the international community had come a long way.  At the start of the decolonization process, almost one third of the world’s population lived in Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Now, only 16 Territories had that status.

Grenada had celebrated 33 years of independence, but still faced many challenges, among them the reconstruction after the devastating hurricanes three years ago.  However, “maturing as a State” had been “very rewarding”, he said, adding that he looked forward to the day when all nations of the world could enjoy that right and that status.  Grenada remained committed to the right to self-determination of all people, as it was cognizant of the difference between dependent and independent.  The former kept one within a frame of directives and rules that held a large element of detachment, while the latter fostered self-reliance and freedom to chart a social, cultural and -- to a lesser extent -- economic course.

Noting the view of some that the current Non-Self-Governing Territories were merely micro-States too small to be independent, and that the United Nations no longer had a role to play, he said it was critical to reaffirm that the principle of self-determination was as relevant today as it had been yesterday, regardless the size of the Territory.  “On the issue of contemporary decolonization, the international community can and must do better.”

Addressing the role of the Special Committee in facilitating the decolonization of the Non-Self-Governing Territories within the framework of the Second International Decade, the Chairperson of the Seminar, Margaret Hughes Ferrari ( Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), said that the Committee’s one essential task was the “de-listing” of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  With only two and a half years left in the Second International Decade, it was essential to focus the next steps in decolonization on tangible results for all concerned.

There was some good news to report, she continued.  It was hoped that Tokelau could be “de-listed” after its second referendum to be held in November.  In the Caribbean, positive developments were expected by the end of the Decade in the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, and possibly Anguilla and Cayman Islands -- administered by the United Kingdom -- as well as the United States Virgin Islands and American Samoa, as internal constitutional review exercises were ongoing or recently concluded.  Those exercises basically appeared to lean towards endorsing the current relationship between those Territories and their administering Powers. 

It was important “to recognize an act of self-determination when we see one”, she continued.  Instead of automatically discounting the “status quo” situation in its entirety, possibilities could be considered among the array of legitimate “transitions to self-determination”, provided that the people of the Territory had had the opportunity to make a fully informed choice.  Clearly, the recently concluded “modernization” and “study” exercises in a number of Territories fell short of an internationally acceptable change of, or verdict on, the Territory’s status.  She suggested some elements for a results-oriented strategy for the Special Committee regarding contacts with the administering Powers, establishing “focal points” and sending visiting missions.

She said that the current situation in a few Non-Self-Governing Territories stood to benefit from a creative approach, “if only the international community, spearheaded by the Special Committee on Decolonization, can muster the required political will”.  “No action” could no longer be the preferred option for the international community.  The way forward for the Special Committee entailed “vigilant cooperation” with the administering Powers, proactive efforts that could lead to the early identification of the proposed focal points and a carefully designed initiative at the upcoming General Assembly.

In the ensuing discussion on the decolonization process in the Caribbean region, the representative from Montserrat, Claude Hogan, said it appeared that the status quo would be extended, despite the expressed wishes of the Montserrat Government.  He drew attention to the fact that one of the acts of self-determination, namely self-determination in free association with the former colonial Power, was not accepted by the United Kingdom.  The British idea of “partnership for progress and prosperity” had provided for the Governor’s veto power in several areas, which was the opposite of progress in self-determination.  Because of natural disasters, including continuing volcanic eruptions, the island was in a position of powerlessness (as one participant put it, “beggars can’t be choosers”), but there were human rights elements to self-determination that were inalienable, whether people were beggars or not.

Lana Hoyoung, a non-governmental organization representative from Anguilla, said that, although the reference to beggars was crude, it had an element of truth.  On her island, through the influx of Filipinos and Indians, the population had risen from 6,000 to 15,000.  Under the eye of the administering Power, the human rights of those people were violated.  Modernization of the relationship could only happen if the people were educated about the process of decolonization.  That had not been the case in Anguilla.

Howard Fergus, expert from Montserrat, made a presentation about lessons learned in decolonizing efforts in the Caribbean region.  The push for “constitutional modernization” in the United Kingdom overseas Territories had been triggered by the 1999 White Paper “Partnerships for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories”, he said.  Out of the “flurry of constitutional activities”, lessons learned about process, achievements and perceptions of achievement could be categorized under the subheadings of education, the role of the Special Committee, the role of experts, consultation and negotiation.

He said that, before people could be properly consulted, they must be knowledgeable on the subject of consultations.  Citizens needed to have a grasp of Constitutions in general so that they could see theirs in a comparative context.  The role of the Special Committee was juxtaposed with discussions on education because the Committee fulfilled important educative functions.  One lesson learned was that of the availability of the Special Committee to enlighten on a continuing basis.  The Committee had also served to internationalize the national constitutional advancement efforts.  The Special Committee’s indirect intervention in those reform processes highlighted a role for experts on Constitutions and decolonization.

By stipulating that the Territories pursue wide consultation, the United Kingdom had abandoned the policy of diktat in constitutional change, he said.  While consultations might not necessarily assume the form of scientific survey, they must be comprehensive enough to ensure that the proposals were owned by the people.  Governments should not be allowed to dominate the consultations.  Negotiations were critical and should involve multiple interests, including civil society.

All of the British overseas Territories in the Caribbean had achieved or would achieve significant constitutional changes, he added.  What the developments lacked was coherence.  Territories were grouping towards internal self-government with Bermuda in mind, but Bermuda itself seemed ready to discard the Bermuda model.  After all the constitutional modernizing activities, none of the British Territories in the Caribbean was ready for delisting; they were still colonies by whatever designation.  A second round of modernization would be needed.  Independence must not be allowed to become a holy grail.

One of the speakers in the discussion, Alden McLaughlin of the Cayman Islands, stressed that the only true independence was economic independence.  Although the Cayman Islands had the least advanced Constitution of the Territories, it had the most successful economy in the region.  Because economic success had been equated with the constitutional link with the United Kingdom, there was little support for dissociation or independence.  Other speakers, however, warned that one should look beyond the current situation and consider what would happen when the United Kingdom would become fully integrated in the European Union.  They stressed that modernization and decolonization was not the same.

Part of this morning’s discussion focused on the question of Gibraltar.  That Territory’s Deputy Prime Minister, Joe Holliday, said the people of Gibraltar had approved a new Constitution, recognized by the Government of the United Kingdom, which gave practical self-government to the Territory with some residual powers for the United Kingdom.  That was the relationship with the United Kingdom that the Territory’s people wanted, and it was not a colonial relationship.  The United Kingdom had recognized the acceptance of the Constitution after a referendum as an act of self-determination.  He announced that the United Nations should not further concern itself with the decolonization of Gibraltar and that all that remained was de-listing, a matter purely for the United Nations itself.

The representative of Spain, however, said the text of the Constitution had been submitted to the people of Gibraltar in non-legal consultations and that the process had not taken place within the framework of the United Nations.  The so-called self-government was limited, and article 10 of the 1730 Treaty of Utrecht gave Spain the right of sovereignty over Gibraltar.  Sovereignty matters were of a bilateral nature between Spain and the United Kingdom.

Several speakers regretted that the Seminar was used by some States to further their own agenda regarding sovereignty disputes.  It was pointed out that the phrase in one of the recommendations from last year’s Seminar -- “in the process of decolonization, where there are no disputes over sovereignty, there was no alternative to the principle of self-determination, which is also a fundamental human right” -- did not reflect the opinion of Seminar participants, but solely of Spain and Argentina.  They should not be allowed to “hijack” the Seminar.

In other business today, Luc Okio ( Congo) and Sofia Borges (Timor-Leste) were appointed as Vice-Chairpersons, and Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz ( Cuba) as Rapporteur of the Seminar and Chairman of the drafting group for the Seminar’s conclusions and recommendations.  The Seminar also adopted its agenda and programme of work.

The remaining 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories 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 27 members of the Special Committee, traditionally known as the Special Committee of 24, are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Chile, China, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Dominica, 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, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, United Republic of Tanzania and Venezuela.

The Seminar will continue tomorrow, 23 May, at 10 a.m.

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