WORLD COMMUNITY’S INACTION TOWARDS ISRAEL ‘TANTAMOUNT TO CONDONING ITS ILLEGAL ACTIONS’, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD AS IT CONCLUDES DEBATE ON ISRAELI PRACTICES
WORLD COMMUNITY’S INACTION TOWARDS ISRAEL ‘TANTAMOUNT TO CONDONING ITS ILLEGAL ACTIONS’, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD AS IT CONCLUDES DEBATE ON ISRAELI PRACTICES
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-second General Assembly
23rd Meeting (AM)
WORLD COMMUNITY’S INACTION TOWARDS ISRAEL ‘TANTAMOUNT TO CONDONING ITS ILLEGAL
ACTIONS’, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD AS IT CONCLUDES DEBATE ON ISRAELI PRACTICES
Committee Approves Draft on Pacific Island of Tokelau, Tentative
Work Programme for Sixty-Third Session; Will Consider Pending Texts Tuesday
Concluding its discussion on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinians and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, speakers in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today urged the Security Council to consider sanctions against Israel to halt the illegal expansion of its territory and its attempts to control the region’s natural resources.
The international community’s inaction in the face of Israel’s behaviour was tantamount to condoning its illegal actions, said the Malaysian representative, whose country was one of three nations serving on the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. As such, he would advocate that the Security Council consider sanctions against Israel, as had several others today.
He also said the Israeli occupation had been a test of the international community’s commitment to upholding international human rights standards, but added that it was unclear what signal was being sent to the developing world when even major Western Powers turned a blind eye to Israel’s human rights violations.
Agreeing that the world community had failed to adequately address the Palestinian issue, Iran’s representative said the Security Council’s indifference and inaction had diminished that body’s credibility and relevance in terms of the Palestinian issue. For that reason, it was imperative that the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices continue to disseminate its reports.
He said although Israel had prevented the Special Committee from visiting the Occupied Territories since 1968, its reports nevertheless showed the depth of inhumane practices of the Israeli regime against a defenceless people. Its most recent one had rightly depicted the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a “suffocated, open-air prison”, containing, not criminals, but innocent people. Not only was an entire nation being punished daily, but an entire population had been deprived of its basic human rights for decades.
Algeria’s representative said the “ethnic cleansing” undertaken by Israel to “de-Palestinize” East Jerusalem should be added to the list of illegal practices. Pointing to the Israeli rejection of the opinion of the International Court of Justice on the separation wall’s construction, he stressed that it did not seem to be enough for the Israeli Government to take the Palestinian lands, but it was using its court system to further reduce the size of the future Palestinian State. Also, its construction of so many settlements was contrary to the road map, under which Israel was obliged to dismantle all settlements built since March 2001.
As many other speakers had pointed out, such acts went against the Fourth Geneva Convention, which dealt with the protection of civilians during times of war or occupation. The same convention also barred any form of collective punishment, which Bahrain’s delegate said was being practiced by Israel against inhabitants of the Gaza Strip when it shut down crossing points amid declarations of the territory as a “hostile entity”.
The representatives of Libya, Bangladesh, Kuwait, Yemen, South Africa, New Zealand and Venezuela also spoke during the general debate on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of Arabs in the Occupied Territories.
In the latter half of its session, the Committee approved a draft text relating to the Pacific island of Tokelau, one of 16 territories marked by the United Nations for decolonization. By that text, the General Assembly would request the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization -- whose reports are considered every year by the Fourth Committee -- to continue to examine the question of Tokelau at its sixty-third session, thereby retaining it on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
The representative of Cuba, who introduced the text in her capacity as Acting Chairperson of the Special Committee on Decolonization, said the Fourth Committee had intentionally deferred action on the draft text until after Tokelau had held its second referendum on self-government. That referendum took place from 20 to 24 October.
The delegate from Papua New Guinea, who represented the Special Committee on Decolonization in Tokelau during the referendum, told the Committee that around 64 per cent of Tokelauans had voted in favour of self-government, which was just short of the required two-thirds majority to achieve that status. For now, the General Fono -- Tokelau’s representative body -- would undertake a period of reflection before deciding on future action, and to consider how to address the concerns of the approximately 35 per cent of Tokelauans that had voted “no”.
New Zealand’s representative, whose country was Tokelau’s administering Power, noted that successive New Zealand Governments had long considered that the people of Tokelau should decide both the direction and the pace of their political development. Her country respected the fact that voters there had signalled again -- albeit by the narrowest of margins -- that they did not desire such a change at present.
In other business, the Committee approved the tentative programme of work for its sixty-third session next year, with Portugal’s representative expressing the European Union’s commitment to improving the Committee’s working methods, including through interactive debates and consideration of the scope of the agenda, specifically whether to change or streamline it.
The Fourth Committee will meet again on Tuesday, 20 November, at a time to be determined, to take up all pending draft resolutions under its agenda items.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to conclude its debate on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of Arabs in Occupied Territories. Reports before the Committee on that issue were summarized in Press Release GA/SPD/389 of 12 November.
The Committee was also expected to take action on a draft resolution on the question of Tokelau (document A/C.4/62/L.7), and -- as part of the agenda item on the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly -- to consider the approximate dates on which to schedule its agenda items for the next session.
Statements on Israeli Practices Affecting Human Rights of Arabs in
AHMED H. M. GEBREEL ( Libya) noted that the Israeli occupiers had regularly failed to cooperate with various international bodies, such as the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices. It persisted in violating Palestinian human rights by committing extrajudicial assassinations, arrests, building a separation wall, imposing a siege on Palestinian people, destroying homes and bulldozing their lands. Furthermore, the so-called withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was in fact not a withdrawal, but a plan for redeployment.
He said that the Israeli representative had shown disdain for the Special Committee’s work, and had accused the Special Committee of bias. Yet, what was reflected in its report was not untrue. The fact of the matter was that the occupying Power resorted to the same tactic each time an international body produced reports on its actions, such as when the International Court of Justice issued its advisory opinion on the wall; when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) demanded a stop to the excavations at Al-Haram Al-Sharif (Temple Mount); and after the Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict called on the occupier to take responsibility for the suffering of Palestinian children living under occupation.
Current Israeli efforts to conduct excavations at Temple Mount were part of a scheme to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to build a temple on its ruins, he said. He cautioned against such an action, saying that it might threaten international peace and security. After all, the second intifadah had been sparked by a mere visit by Ariel Sharon to the yard of the mosque. Expansion of settlement activities in the Syrian Golan Heights was part of an attempt to change the nature of the Syrian Golan Heights. He encouraged the Security Council to examine imposing sanctions on Israel if it continued to ignore its obligations under international law.
SALAHUDDIN NOMAN CHOWDHURY ( Bangladesh) said that the report of the Special Committee illustrated Israel’s “wanton disregard” for international laws in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Syrian Golan. In the last four decades of the illegal occupation by Israeli forces, the fundamental rights of the people of Palestine to self-determination and a sovereign State had remained unrealized. Bangladesh was deeply concerned over the continued sufferings of the Palestinian people, which were further compounded by the systematic settlement by the Israeli administration dislodging them from their homes. The international community remained a powerless witness to the active Israeli colonization and the ongoing violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people.
He said that the blockade of the Gaza Strip was another example of Israeli violation of international, humanitarian law and had brought the economy to the verge of irreversible collapse. Bangladesh believed the Israeli policy of reducing the fuel and electricity supply to Gaza would trigger a further humanitarian crisis. Elsewhere, the situation in the Occupied Territories had further deteriorated over the last year in the face of relentless violence, destruction, torture, killing, curfew, closures, systematic violation of human rights and legal norms by the Israeli forces.
Bangladesh strongly condemned the constant and regular military incursions, targeted assassinations and indiscriminate detentions of the Palestinians by Israeli authorities, he said. It was deeply concerned at the continued illegal construction of the separation wall and the associated restrictions on the movement of the Palestinian population. Not only had the wall restricted access to basic life necessities, it was also destroying the social fabric of the Palestinian people by causing widespread displacements. The Occupied Territory was increasingly being fragmented into small parts, which would affect the viability of a Palestine State. Thus, Bangladesh called for the immediate dismantling of the wall and withdrawal of all restrictions on the movement of Palestinian civilians. He expressed total solidarity with the Palestinian people and total and unwavering support for their legitimate and inalienable right to a sovereign independent State, with Jerusalem as its capital.
MONA BEHBEHANI ( Kuwait) said the report currently before the Committee, along with others from past years, showed that Israeli coercive practices were continuing. The repressive acts of the Israeli occupying forces were regrettable, especially their shooting of unarmed civilians, seizing of land and continued siege of Palestinian towns, among other acts. In addition, the Israeli authorities continued to build the separation wall and to expand illegal settlements on Palestinian land, in full view of the world, as if without a care.
She said her country supported the Palestinian people’s rights to return, and to have a State with Jerusalem as its capital. Towards that goal, she expressed support for the Special Committee and the continuation of its work. In addition, Kuwait stood by the Special Committee’s recommendations, including the need to safeguard respect for international law. Israel must be held accountable for the excessive use of force; destruction of land, homes and civil infrastructure, and the expansion of settlements; and its practice of arbitrary arrests and detention of prisoners without due process.
The international community must cooperate with the Special Committee by expending all necessary measures to hold Israel accountable for its actions, she said. Israel should honour its pledges to meet the requirements of the road map and relevant United Nations resolutions, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative and the principle of “land for peace”.
MOHAMED SOFIANE BERRAH ( Algeria) said that, for 40 years, Israel had used its war machine to take the lands of the Palestinian people. Since the Special Committee had been established, it had striven to objectively keep the world up to date on the lives of the Palestinian people. That was in contrast to the “soothing saccharine” speeches made by the Israeli representatives. During that time, Israel had disdainfully refused to work with the Special Committee. It was important for his country that the mandate of the Special Committee be implemented and maintained until the occupation was over.
He said that the efforts of the United States President for the upcoming peace conference had engendered new hope, in contrast to the Israeli actions of building its apartheid wall. That action was intended to change the demographics of the population in the Occupied Territory, and deny the human rights and curtail the freedom of movement of the Palestinian people. Noting the growing despair of the population in the Territory, he stressed that the situation was getting worse every day. The Palestinian people were being “ghettoized” as a result of the decision of the Israeli Government to declare the Gaza Strip an “enemy entity” and to cut off the flow of people and goods, including food, to Gaza. There was no justification for that humanitarian crisis, and he could not help but wonder at the repressive polices towards the Gazan population that only increased despair.
The “ethnic cleansing” that Israel had undertaken in order to “de-Palestinize” East Jerusalem should also be added to the list of those illegal practices, he added, noting that the Special Committee’s report had showed the illegality of those practices. Pointing to the Israeli rejection of the opinion of the International Court of Justice on the separation wall’s construction, he stressed that it did not seem to be enough for the Israeli Government to take the Palestinian lands, but it was using its court system to further reduce the size of the future Palestinian State. It was obvious that through those illegal practices of colonization, Israel was trying to expand its territory and its control of the region’s natural resources. Also, its construction of so many settlements was contrary to the road map, which obliged Israel to dismantle all settlements built since March 2001. Moreover, nearly 40 per cent of the West Bank was now inaccessible, due to the Israeli construction of roads and settlements there.
He said that the suffering of the Palestinian people was a dual tragedy of expulsion and exile, on the one hand, and oppression and occupation on the other. There were many actors on the international scene that preferred timid rather than bold action, but those actors were only increasing tension. In contrast, his delegation sought real dialogue. Implementing the principle of “land for peace”, the road map and the Arab Peace Initiative would bring a just and lasting peace and a settlement of the conflict.
FAISAL AL ZAYANI ( Bahrain) noted that the Fourth Committee had continued to discuss the report of the Special Committee for four decades. Despite the fact that it could not enter the area, the Special Committee had been able to collect accurate information on the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Territory, which had worsened considerably over the last reporting period, owing to an even more strongly entrenched Israeli military occupation. He noted that the Special Rapporteur on the issue had petitioned for another advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the illegality of that long-term occupation.
He said that of particular concern to Bahrain was the irreversible breakdown of the economies of the Occupied Territories, whether in Palestine or the Syrian Golan. Israel’s unlawful acts towards the people in the lands it occupied had been spoken against in numerous international documents, including, but not limited to, Security Council resolutions. Such resolutions had called on the Israeli occupying Power to behave within the bounds of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Also, when the occupying Power had closed the crossing points in the Gaza Strip and declared it a hostile entity, it had led the World Bank to predict an irreversible economic breakdown there. Such practices constituted a form of collective punishment, which was also banned by the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The permit scheme associated with the separation wall also went against international laws barring annexation of lands, he said. The occupying Power’s extension of the wall by an additional 200 kilometres since the International Court of Justice passed its advisory opinion was worrying, since it indicated that the Israelis wanted Jerusalem to itself. The occupiers had also linked occupied Syrian villages to its own markets, making its economy dependent on Israeli companies and destroying that region’s unique character. The Israeli occupation must end if the Arabs were to safeguard their rights, including the right of Palestinians to a State, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Hopefully, the upcoming international peace conference would bring about a just and comprehensive peace in the area.
HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran), noting that the Special Committee had been prevented by the Israeli regime from visiting the Occupied Territories since 1968, said that the Committee’s findings nevertheless were indicative of the depth of inhumane practices of the Israeli regime against the defenceless people, particularly the elderly, women and children there. The report rightly depicted the situation in the Occupied Territory as a “suffocated, open-air prison” created by the occupying Power. In that prison, however, there were no criminals -– only innocent peoples, including women and children; not only was an entire nation being punished daily, but an entire population had been deprived of its basic human rights for decades. It was regrettable that that situation was “again worse than ever”.
He said that the illegal construction of the separation wall and its associated regime had continued to violate a whole range of human rights of the Palestinian population. The humanitarian impact of the wall and confiscation of the Palestinians’ natural resources and their most fertile agricultural lands, among other such acts was severe. The completion of the separation wall would result in 10 per cent of the West Bank being annexed to Israel and the enclosure of more than 50,000 Palestinians. The Special Committee’s report had also found that “because of obstacles and lack of access to quality roads, donkeys were once again being used to deliver mail” in the Occupied Territory; the separation wall eroded family life, destroyed the Palestinian social fabric and caused the displacement of thousands of civilians.
The international community had failed to address the Palestinian issue adequately and satisfactorily, he said. The Security Council had not been honouring its immense responsibility to address the plight of the Palestinian people. Such indifference and inaction had diminished the Council’s credibility and relevance in terms of the Palestinian issue. He said the dissemination of the Special Committee’s report was imperative, and he urged the academic, diplomatic and research circles to use their goodwill and influence to publicize the current serious human rights and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Occupied Syrian Golan. Also, because the situation of working journalists had never improved in the Occupied Territories, he requested the United Nations Secretary-General to seek ways and means to assist the media in their reporting.
Iran believed that a settlement of the Palestinian issue was indispensable for achieving comprehensive and lasting peace and stability in the Middle East. Peace would only be possible through the full restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people including the return of all refuges to their homeland and the establishment of a Palestinian State, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital. His delegation condemned the inhumane actions by the occupying Power, including State terrorism, targeted assassinations, extrajudicial killing, collective punishment, property confiscation and destruction, mass arrests and arbitrary detention, humiliating and cruel treatment of the Palestinians and other Arabs detained in Israeli jails.
He also urged immediate implementation of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and of General Assembly resolution ES-10/15 of July 2004, both on the separation wall and he called for an urgent meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention. The policy of confiscating the Palestinian lands and the expansion of settlements should be immediately stopped, and freedom of movement of Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territory should be restored. Iran fully supported the United Nations Register of Damage Caused by the construction of the wall, established by the General Assembly.
HAMIDON ALI ( Malaysia) said that the Special Committee confirmed the fact that the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Occupied Syrian Golan had deteriorated, owing to the policies and practices of the occupying Power, Israel. The Special Committee’s work was not guided by an agenda to harm Israel, and indeed, by barring its visit to the Occupied Territories, Israel was not only depriving that body from discharging its mandate, but was depriving itself of the right to provide an Israeli perspective on the issue.
He went on to say that it was a “shame” to trivialize the Special Committee report, since the Fourth Committee’s consideration of that report allowed the Untied Nations the chance to highlight the many cases of infringement of Palestinian human rights for the public and the media, which were absent in the West especially. Since the international community had failed the Palestinians in seeking an amicable solution to the occupation, its consideration of the Special Committee’s report was the least the international community could do.
In order to realize the dream of an independent and sovereign Palestinian State, living side by side in peace and security with Israel, Israel must cease its human rights violations and illegal practices, as stipulated by the Fourth Geneva Convention, he said. In addition, it must uphold its responsibilities under article 33 of the Convention pertaining to the prohibition on collective punishment of an occupied people. For its part, the international community’s inaction in the face of Israel’s behaviour was tantamount to condoning its illegal actions. Malaysia would advocate that the Security Council consider sanctions against Israel, as recommended by the Special Committee.
He said that Israel was harming its standing in the international community with its wilful participation and engagement in the violations of human rights of the population in the Occupied Territories. The occupation itself was a gross violation of human rights and a test of the level of commitment of the international community in upholding and promoting international human rights standards. So far, it had not been a success; it was unclear what signal was being sent from the major Western Powers to the developing world, as they turned a blind eye to human rights violations by an occupation regime for the last four decades. Furthermore, failure to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have negative reverberations around the world, particularly in pitting the Muslim world against the West. He favoured extended mandates for both the Special Committee and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
NAJEEB ALI MOHAMED AL-JABOWBI ( Yemen) said that Israel had insisted on rejecting several resolutions regarding its occupation of the Palestinian lands, instead, it had continued to deny the human rights of the Palestinian population. It had also carried out excavation and construction activities in the vicinity of the Al-Quds mosques, jeopardizing the mosque’s very structure. It had also continued to build the separation wall, which would transform the Palestinian lands into separate entities, and to take large expanses of Palestinian territory to build many settlements and roads and checkpoints, all of which had exacerbated the suffering of the Palestinian population. Further, it had sought to restrict the movement and access of Palestinian people, in contradiction to the Geneva Convention.
He said that the Israeli financial siege of the Occupied Territory had culminated in a humanitarian crisis, which had led to a general deterioration of human rights. That situation had affected the Palestinian Authority’s ability to develop security in the Territory. The labelling of the Gaza Strip as an enemy entity had also negatively affected the situation. Despite several resolutions that considered the Israeli decision to annex the Occupied Syrian Golan as illegal, the occupying Power still imposed its sovereignty on that Territory.
His Government condemned all those Israeli practices, and it supported the right of the Palestinian people to establish a territorially connected State, he said, also voicing support for the return of the Occupied Syrian Golan.
ZAHEER LAHER ( South Africa) said the volatile situation and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza raised concerns, as did the building of an additional 200 kilometres of the separation wall since the International Court of Justice delivered its opinion on that structure. Also worrisome was the illegal imprisonment and arbitrary detention of Palestinians, where thousands of political prisoners were subjected to inhumane treatment in Israeli jails. The suggestion by the Special Rapporteur that the Secretary-General withdraw the United Nations from the Quartet seemed to illustrate the growing frustration at the deteriorating human rights situation and failure of the United Nations to address it.
He said that Israel’s security was interwoven with that of its neighbours, and that it would never be safe if those relations continued to be characterized by hatred and violence. He called on Israel to withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders and to embrace the vision presented by the Arab Peace Initiative, which touched on the full integration of the State of Israel into the community of nations of the Middle East. It was imperative that the parties embark on negotiations on a final settlement as soon as possible. Recent meetings between President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were a positive development, and the possible international conference on Palestine raised hopes for the resumption of negotiations on final status issues.
The international community bore the responsibility of ensuring that any political progress on the question of Palestine should be coupled with a change for the better. Meanwhile, the United Nations could not afford to ignore the plight of the Palestinian people. South Africa believed that peace must include the establishment of an independent State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side with Israel, with both States enjoying secure and international recognized borders, as enshrined in past United Nations resolutions.
ALEX ROGERS ( New Zealand) said he shared the international community’s vision for a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian State, existing side by side in peace and security with the State of Israel. Current efforts to convene a meeting to re-launch an effective peace process were welcomed. However, developments that seemed to run counter to the drive for dialogue and a negotiated settlement raised concerns. For instance, all militant attacks on Israel were to be condemned unequivocally for having led to the deaths of Israeli citizens and threatened to derail the peace process.
He said that Israel had a right to defend itself, but its use of force in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had been excessive, at times, and had led to a high number of civilian deaths and injuries. Israel must act in a way that did not threaten the lives of innocent Palestinian civilians. Impeding the flow of basic goods to the Gaza Strip and cutting electricity and water was also concerning. While Israel’s exasperation at the ongoing rocket attacks was understandable, he agreed with the Secretary-General that punitive measures that harmed the well-being of an entire population were unacceptable. Such steps would only shore up resentment. By the same token, the demolition of Palestinian homes should stop, as should the movement restrictions in the West Bank.
New Zealand remained committed to providing personnel for the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai, the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization in Israel, Syria and Lebanon, and the United Nations Mine Action Service in Lebanon, he said, adding his hope that the upcoming Annapolis meeting would see substantive achievements towards the negotiation of a just, enduring and comprehensive peace settlement between the two parties.
AURA MAHUAMPI RODRIGUEZ DE ORTIZ (Venezuela), noting that the respect of law and peaceful coexistence of States, and the protection of human rights were necessary for international peace and security, expressed concern over Israel’s relocation of Palestinian people out of the Territory and the country’s establishment of settlements, in clear violation of international law and contrary to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.
She said that peace in the region would be established if the pertinent Security Council resolutions, the Arab Peace Initiative, the principle of land for peace and the road map were fully followed and respected. Venezuela supported the establishment of an independent Palestinian State. It rejected the use of force for defence by Israel; there could be no legitimate defence without proportion. Venezuela urged respect for the Fourth Geneva Convention and its additional protocols concerning the protection of the victims of armed conflict. It had provided support for joint agreements between the parties to find a peaceful and negotiated solution, and deemed it essential to realize the fulfilment of the full rights of the Palestinian people and the establishment of a Palestinian State.
Question of Tokelau
Having concluded its discussion on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of Arabs in the Occupied Territories, the Committee turned its attention to the draft resolution on the question of Tokelau.
Statement by the
ROBERT GUBA AISI (Papua New Guinea), who represented the Special Committee on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples during Tokelau’s second referendum on self-government from 20 to 24 October, recalled that, in August 2005, the national representative body, the General Fono, had approved the text of a draft treaty of free association between Tokelau and New Zealand as a basis for self-determination. In November 2005, it approved a new draft constitution, and the first referendum was held in February 2006.
At that time, he said, 60 per cent of Tokelauans voted yes to self-government in free association with New Zealand, narrowly missing a required two-thirds majority (66 per cent of valid votes). The 18-month period between that referendum and the next was used to conduct extensive consultations with Tokelauan communities abroad and to undertake meetings, workshops and radio programmes in Tokelau, as part of a civic education and public awareness campaign for the population, on the issue relating to the referendum process.
He said that during the October 2007 referendum, 697 people had turned out for the vote, where 5 ballots were rejected, 446 were in favour and 246 were against. That meant that 64.4 per cent of registered Tokelauan voters had pronounced themselves in favour of self-government in free association with New Zealand, but that was again short of meeting the required two-thirds majority.
The polling process, as reported in the media, reports of the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division and the New Zealand Electoral Commission, had been universally praised, he noted. Every step of the process had been professionally conducted. There was no question that the result reflected the freely expressed wishes of the people, and as such, it would be acceptable and respected by all Tokelauans, the United Nations and the New Zealand Government.
He assured Member States that efforts put into the referendum had not been wasted; rather, it had enhanced the level of awareness among the people of Tokelau on the issues relating to self-determination. The General Fono had indicated that the vote was a step in the process towards self-determination, but had decided that a period of reflection was needed before Tokelau decided on any possible future action. The challenges for Tokelau’s leadership now was to consider and address the concerns of the approximately 35 per cent of Tokelauans that had voted “no” on the referendum, so as to unite the small Tokelauan population in its future course of action.
KIRSTY GRAHAM (New Zealand) welcomed the agreement on the revised draft resolution on Tokelau, which reflected the fact that the recent referendum held in Tokelau from 20 to 24 October had not produced the two-thirds majority required for Tokelau to change its status as a dependent territory to self-governing in free association with its country. Noting that successive New Zealand Governments had long considered that the people of Tokelau should decide both the direction and the pace of their political development, she said her country respected the fact that voters there had signalled again -- albeit by the narrowest of margins -- that they did not desire such a change at present.
Noting that, in practice, Tokelau already exercised most of the responsibilities of a self-governing country, she said the delegation of all New Zealand’s administrative powers would remain in place. Moving forward, Tokelau could be assured of New Zealand’s ongoing friendship and support. New Zealand would continue its joint efforts with Tokelau to strengthen and improve public services. Essential infrastructure was already being upgraded and Tokelau would continue to ensure that each atoll was able to operate as a vibrant, forward-looking community.
She stressed that while Tokelau might wish to vote on its constitutional status again in the future, for now, those there and in the wider Tokelau family would want to reflect on the latest decision. As they did so, all those concerned with Tokelau should know that it retained New Zealand’s full support. Finally, she expressed New Zealand’s appreciation to the United Nations and the people of Tokelau for their ongoing support and assistance.
Action on draft resolution
RODRIGO MALMIERCA DIAZ (Cuba), Acting Chairperson of the Special Committee on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, introducing the proposed text on the question of Tokelau (document A/C.4/62/L.7), recalled that action on the draft had been deferred until after the referendum. The text currently before the Committee reflected developments arising from that decision.
The Fourth Committee then approved the draft resolution without a vote.
Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly
The Committee then took up agenda item 121 on the “Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly”. The Committee Chairman ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD ( Sudan) opened the floor to States wishing to make a general statement.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, ISABEL BOTELHO LEAL ( Portugal) expressed the Union’s strong support for efforts to strengthen the General Assembly’s authority, including a general focus on the effectiveness of its work, in line with the principles and objectives outlined in the resolution. Yet, the Union was disappointed with the progress made so far towards revitalization, despite good efforts by the last four presidents of the Assembly and their facilitators to advance the issue. It urged the Assembly to continue its efforts.
Expressing gratitude for the work of the previous Chairman of the Fourth Committee to improve the Committee’s work, she encouraged the current Chairman to follow that example. The European Union remained committed to playing a full part in the Committee’s discussions on revitalizing its work and improving its working methods, including useful initiatives like holding interactive debates, rationalizing the number of resolutions presented in the Committee and considering whether the scope of the Committee’s agenda could be changed or streamlined.
Action on the draft provisional guidelines
Following that statement, the Committee approved the “draft provisional guidelines: approximate dates for the consideration of items by the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) at its sixty-third session of the General Assembly”.
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