DECOLONIZATION UNITED NATIONS SUCCESS STORY, BUT MONUMENTAL TASK INCOMPLETE, SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL AS PACIFIC SEMINAR ON ISSUE OPENS IN INDONESIA

14 May 2008
GA/COL/3172

DECOLONIZATION UNITED NATIONS SUCCESS STORY, BUT MONUMENTAL TASK INCOMPLETE, SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL AS PACIFIC SEMINAR ON ISSUE OPENS IN INDONESIA

14 May 2008
General Assembly
GA/COL/3172
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DECOLONIZATION UNITED NATIONS SUCCESS STORY, BUT MONUMENTAL TASK INCOMPLETE,

SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL AS PACIFIC SEMINAR ON ISSUE OPENS IN INDONESIA

BANDUNG, INDONESIA, 14 May -- Much work still needs to be done in order for the status of the world’s 16 remaining Non-Self Governing Territories to be resolved in a manner that meets the United Nations goal of self-determination for all peoples of the world.

That was one of the key messages at the opening today of the Pacific Regional Seminar on the Implementation of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, which coincided with the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Since 1945, more than 80 once-colonized territories have all exercised their right to self-determination.  The remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories are American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Tokelau, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the United States Virgin Islands and Western Sahara.

The three-day Regional Seminar is part of the work of the United Nations General Assembly’s Special Committee on the situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples -- better known as the Special Committee of 24 on Decolonization.  The Special Committee organizes annual seminars where representatives of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories and their administering Powers, non-governmental and regional organizations, and experts, can hold focused and frank discussions on the issues of decolonization and a lively exchange of views with members of the Special Committee and other Member States.

In addition, the Seminar’s deliberations will serve as a basis for a report containing conclusions and recommendations, which will be considered by the Special Committee at its forthcoming substantive session in June.  These proposals will then be submitted to the General Assembly.

At today’s opening, held in the same venue as the historic Asian-African Conference of 1955, the Chairman of the Special Committee, the Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the United Nations, Ambassador R. M. Marty Natalegawa, said that, while much progress had been made in decolonization, the Committee’s work was far from complete.

“It remains an unfinished business and much remains to be done,” Mr. Natalegawa said.  “The Special Committee continues to have to confront contemporary challenges in this changing context of international relations.”

That view was also voiced by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  In a message delivered on his behalf at the Seminar’s opening by Freda Mackay, Chief of the Decolonization Unit in the Department of Political Affairs, the Secretary-General said that decolonization had been one of the United Nations success stories, but the 16 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories highlighted the fact that the monumental task of decolonization was as yet incomplete.

“Colonization has no place in today’s world,” the Secretary-General said.  “I, therefore, urge all administering Powers to actively engage with the United Nations in discharging the UN mandate on decolonization.  And I encourage all parties to continue working together to complete the decolonization process in every one of the remaining 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories.”

Speaking at the Seminar’s opening, Imron Cotan, the Secretary-General of the Indonesian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs, said that pragmatic and innovative ways were needed to push the decolonization agenda forward -- especially as the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was swiftly approaching its scheduled completion in 2010.

Following the opening ceremony, at the Seminar’s first meeting -- on the role of the Special Committee -- Ambassador Natalegawa said the process of decolonization had to be accelerated if tangible progress was to be made in the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.  “We do not have much time left,” he said, while also acknowledging that decolonization was a delicate, and sometimes even emotional, issue for those involved.

Ambassador Natalegawa said that to achieve that task, each of the remaining decolonization cases needed to be approached with an open mind, so as to help move the process forward.  He noted that the current role of the Special Committee fell into three priority areas: (1) improving the cooperation of the administering Powers; (2) providing information to the peoples of the Territories about their status designated within the United Nations; and (3) identifying with all concerned practical ways to implement the United Nations decolonization mandate enshrined in the relevant General Assembly decisions.

“The Special Committee needs to aim for tangible results on a case-by-case basis for each of these three major priorities” for the remainder of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, Ambassador Natalegawa said.

On the priority area of improving the cooperation of the administering Powers, Ambassador Natalegawa reaffirmed the Special Committee’s commitment for genuine and constructive dialogue with all stakeholders, including the administering Powers.

“It is to be hoped that all administering Powers will follow suit and involve themselves actively in facilitating the process of decolonization in tandem with the international community, and genuinely help prepare Non-Self-Governing Territories to gain a new international status, free of the remaining stigma of colonialism,” the Ambassador said.  He added that one small, yet very much appreciated, indicator of progress was the “presence” of all the administering Powers at this year’s seminar, both through attendance from most of them, as well as a position letter from the United Kingdom, which signified that the channels of communication remained open.

“Another path that we may be able to explore, hopefully in the near future, is to send a visiting mission to the Non-Self-Governing Territories,” Ambassador Natalegawa said.  To fulfil its mandate, the Special Committee dispatches visiting missions to Non-Self-Governing Territories so that the Committee members can see the conditions there for themselves -- an undertaking that requires the cooperation of the administering Powers.

On the priority area of providing information to the peoples of the Territories, Ambassador Natalegawa said that the Special Committee would continue its efforts to monitor developments on the ground and reach out to the Non-Self-Governing Territories, so as to keep their peoples informed about decolonization matters.  In relation to that, he said the Special Committee also needed to explore ways in which information on decolonization matters could be better exchanged between the administering Powers, territorial Governments and the United Nations.

On the remaining priority area of identifying with all concerned practical ways to implement the United Nations decolonization mandate, the Ambassador said the Special Committee needed to continue its efforts in pursuing an action-oriented approach in support of the Territories quest for self-governance.  He added that the Committee also needed to identify and reflect on positive developments in various Non-Self-Governing Territories that could help move the decolonization process forward.  Ambassador Natalegawa said that “this would necessitate a willingness to think outside the box, and perhaps even the ability to place the decolonization mandate in today’s context.”

He also highlighted the need for the decolonization discussions to extend beyond the political sphere into other areas of direct relevance to the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories -- such as their livelihood and development.  For example, the Special Committee’s Chairman said, many of the Territories were facing environmental, economic and social problems due to their geography.

“The Special Committee needs to identify ways and means through which it can play a supportive role for sustainable development in Non-Self-Governing Territories, hence enhancing their capacity for self-governance,” Ambassador Natalegawa said.

The Seminar then turned its attention to perspectives of the Special Committee, administering Powers and territorial Governments, as well as views of experts on priorities for the remainder of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

The first person to speak at that meeting was an expert, Anak Agung Banyu Perwita, professor of international relations at Parahyangan Catholic University, in Bandung.  He said that the main challenges of Non-Self-Governing Territories were economic and social developments, as well as the environment.

“Non-Self-Governing Territories have insufficient capability to gain economic and social independence, even after the political independence that is frequently cited as a reason to deter self-determination from former colonial Powers,” Mr. Pertiwa said.

The observer from Gibraltar, Joseph Bossano, commented on the lack of representatives of the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories at the Seminar, and on the need for an action-oriented approach in support of the Territories’ quest for self-governance.  “Dialogue is fantastic, but dialogue is not a substitute for action,” Mr. Bossano said.

Hope Alvarez Cristobal, of the non-governmental organization Fuetsan Famalao’an (“Strength of Women”) in Guam, spoke broadly about the decolonization process there in view of the United States military build-up faced by Guam, and made several recommendations about the way forward.

Kendrick Pickering, an expert from the British Virgin Islands, spoke of that Territory’s advances and setbacks in a recent constitutional review, while Tregenza A. Roach, from the University of the Virgin Islands, located in the Territory, spoke about that institution’s role in developing a local Constitution.  The pair’s interventions led to further questions from Crispin Gregoire, Dominica’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a member of the Special Committee, and a subsequent discussion on the process of negotiations on political options with their respective administering Powers.

The Chairman of the Special Committee, Ambassador Natalegawa, circulated a position paper submitted by the United Kingdom, dealing with that country’s relationship with its overseas Territories.  Among that paper’s many points, the United Kingdom stated that its relationship with those territories was a modern one based on partnership, shared values and the right of each Territory to determine if it wished to retain the link to the United Kingdom.  At the same time, the paper set out the United Kingdom’s position with regard to the options for political status.

The Seminar’s final meeting of the day focussed on the role of United Nations system in providing developmental assistance to Non-Self-Governing Territories.  The Chief of the United Nations Decolonization Unit spoke broadly about the assistance that various United Nations agencies and programmes -- ranging from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) -- offered to Non-Self-Governing Territories in the exercise of their right to self-determination and in improving their economic and social conditions.

Tony Angelo, an independent expert from New Zealand’s Victoria University in Wellington with extensive experience in Tokelau’s efforts at self-governance, gave first-hand examples of how the United Nations system had helped that remote Pacific Territory.  He praised UNDP’s long-running involvement in Tokelau’s development, noting the impact it had had on improving the lives of the people there.  However, he said, the process and paperwork involved in securing funds for development from the United Nations system could be a difficult challenge for a non-urban society.

“To access that money is in itself a daunting project -- truly, truly daunting, the length and the jargon,” Mr. Angelo said.  “But, overall, a great deal of help.”

Mr. Angelo proposed a simplified process for accessing available funds for Non-Self-Governing Territories, or even assistance for the Territories in completing the process and paperwork involved.

The second day of the Seminar is expected to further discuss Tokelau, Western Sahara and other Non-Self-Governing Territories, as well as recommendations on advancing the work of the Special Committee.

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