|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Secretary-General, in Message to Caribbean Regional Seminar, Galvanizes Efforts
for Successful Third International Decade to Eradicate Colonialism
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES, 31 May — In a message to participants of the Caribbean regional seminar on decolonization, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encouraged the Special Committee on Decolonization to work towards an action-oriented dialogue at all levels with the Non-Self Governing Territories and administering Powers alike, as he launched the work of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2011-2020).
The three-day seminar, held under the theme of “Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism: goals and expected accomplishments”, convened in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, is the principle forum for the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to share their concerns with the United Nations Special Committee on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Elected representatives, civil society, non-governmental organizations and experts also typically take the floor to convey their views on the way forward for the decolonization process. For background on the seminar, see Press Release GA/COL/3218 of 26 May 2011.
For Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, host of the seminar, the need to complete the decolonization exercise was fresh, relevant and urgent, said that country’s Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, in opening remarks. “There is no nation so small that its people forfeit the right to make a sovereign determination as to their own destiny and their relationship with colonial Powers,” he declared.
The Special Committee had considerable work to do, he said, as 7 of the 16 Territories were in the Caribbean region. Further afield, there were competing interests in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, Gibraltar and Western Sahara. Cautioning that work not lapse into “endless repetitions of tired positions” or “boilerplate language” on decolonization, he challenged the Special Committee to be bold in crafting tailored solutions for all peoples still living under some form of colonial rule.
Broadly agreeing, Francisco Carrión-Mena (Ecuador), Chair of the Special Committee on Decolonization, said fresh ideas were needed to carry out the United Nations mandate. Outlining priorities for the Third Decade, he said the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands stood out as cases of self-government that could be examined by the Special Committee, with a view to exploring steps that would lead to the decolonization of those Territories. Along with Bermuda and American Samoa, those situations reflected a “unique reality”, whose relevance to future international status could not be underestimated, he said.
Around mid-Decade, the constitutional convention exercise in the United States Virgin Islands, the reflection period in Tokelau and the negotiated Nouméa Accord process in New Caledonia were also expected to offer opportunities for “realistic” decolonization action, he said. In such work, it was clear that any decolonization action required the participation of the Non-Self-Governing Territories and their peoples. “This has become more essential than ever,” he said, urging that discussions be free-flowing and frank and not held to the often sclerotic standards of formal intergovernmental meetings. “Let us work together in that spirit,” he added.
* A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).
Prime Minister GONSALVES recalled that a distinguished son of the Caribbean civilization, the late singer Bob Marley, had said: “every man got a right to decide his own destiny”. That truth was embraced by the United Nations Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. The question of the fundamental human rights of 2 million people scattered across 16 Territories was at the core of the week’s meeting. While the heyday of naked colonialism was thankfully behind us, sadly, the practice had yet to recede completely into historical memory.
Indeed, the Declaration was now 50 years old, but the rights of those 2 million people to decide their own destiny was still being denied, he said. The United Nations had solemnly proclaimed the “necessity of bringing to a speedy and unconditional end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations”. Against that standard, the collective failure to wipe out the remaining pockets of colonialism was a blot on the common resolve and on the individual States that maintained that practice.
For his country, whose 110,000 people had achieved independence a mere 31 years ago, the need to complete the decolonization exercise was fresh, relevant and urgent, he said. “There is no nation so small that its people forfeit the right to make a sovereign determination as to their own destiny and their relationship with colonial powers”, he declared.
In the Caribbean, the Special Committee had considerable work to do, he said, noting that 7 of the 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories were in that region: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands. All except the United States Virgin Islands were either members or associate members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which had expressed concern with the United Kingdom’s decision to suspend the Constitution in the Turks and Caicos, postpone elections and impose direct rule there.
He expressed hope that those issues would be swiftly and fairly addressed in the interests of the people of those islands, recalling the Declaration’s provision that the “inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence”. The right of Puerto Ricans to freely determine their governance structure and ties with the United States should be viewed through the same prism.
Further afield were many vexing issues before the Special Committee, he said, citing competing interests in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Gibraltar and Western Sahara. Members shared the “psychic scar” of colonialism and were well aware that the practice had evolved into an equally insidious form of economic political domination that respected neither sovereignty nor territorial integrity.
Concluding, he said the Declaration did not require a generous reading to see its continued applicability to the emerging forms of neo-colonialism, even vis-à-vis States that were, strictly speaking, independent, nor to the millions of people whose plight, for political reasons, was ignored by the international community; he hoped that, at the start of the Third Decade, today’s meeting would acknowledge that it had a pivotal role to play in the struggle to eradicate colonialism.
LAURA VACCARI, Chief of the Decolonization Unit in the United Nations Department of Political Affairs, delivering the message on behalf of the Secretary-General, recalled that the international community had recently marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration and had completed the Second International Decade. While Timor-Leste had gained independence during that period, 16 Territories had yet to be decolonized, and Mr. Ban looked forward to working together to accelerate the decolonization process, where possible.
In a keynote address, Special Committee Chair, Mr. CARRIÓN-MENA said the seminar — the first held during the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism — would address the Special Committee’s communication and cooperation with administering Powers; the participation of Non-Self-Governing Territories; and the status of self-government and the Territories’ socio-economic development. Discussions also would focus on how to advance implementation of the Declaration. “In today’s world, fresh ideas are needed to carry out the United Nations mandate”, based on lessons learned and along the lines of pragmatic expected accomplishments, he declared.
The independence of East Timor as Timor-Leste was the one actual achievement of the Second International Decade, he noted, and while progress had been made on, among other things, the question of Tokelau towards a fully negotiated decolonization outcome, the decolonization of 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained incomplete. Its conclusion required the concerted efforts of all stakeholders in the Third International Decade.
Crucial among such efforts were those of the administering Powers and the Special Committee, he said, and work to strengthen communication and cooperation must be focused in order to bear fruit. The tenets of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) remained as vivid as ever. Recalling that recent internal constitutional or status reviews in the United Kingdom- and United States-administered Territories largely had endorsed the relationship between the Territory and the administering Power, he said the Special Committee — and on its recommendation, the General Assembly — had solid reason to believe that the people concerned were on a path to attaining a full measure of self-government.
Citing Assembly resolution 567 (VI) (1952), he said that “[in] this day and age, for a Territory where there is no dispute over sovereignty, there is no doubt that the opinion of the population will guide the way towards successful decolonization action”. The Special Committee could explore with all concerned the practical assessment modalities in order to ascertain the peoples’ will in a given Territory. In the Third Decade, it would be important to define the Special Committee’s information strategy.
Last but not least, he said, a fresh approach was needed to address the developmental and socio-economic challenges faced by Non-Self-Governing Territories, most of which were small islands. As the size, population, location and natural resource base should in no way delay decolonization action, it would be useful to examine the historical record of how such factors had helped or hindered the decolonization process. A focused discussion was needed on how to make progress with small island Territories and on whether that progress could be linked to further action to address their self-governance status.
In sum, the decolonization process must be accelerated if tangible progress was to be made in the Third Decade, he said. Based on results of the seminar, the Special Committee would continue its dialogue with France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States, and explore how best to build on the various internal constitutional and political status processes in the Territories to advance their de-listing.
Turning to the topic of goals and expected accomplishments in the Pacific and other regions, ELESI KERISIANO KALOLO, Minister of Education, Economic Development and Natural Resources and Environment of Tokelau, recalled that during the Second International Decade, Tokelau had carried out two referendums, for which the Government of New Zealand had provided full support. Tokelau remained on the decolonization list and was very conscious of its right to self-determination. “We value that right and aspire to revisit this with the intention to exercise it again at some point in the future,” he explained.
While Tokelau had a substantial degree of autonomy in managing its affairs, that was not the same as “being ourselves”, he said, adding that the aspirations for self-determination remained and a future status in free association with New Zealand was still the preferred option, as decided by Tokelau’s Parliament. For the time being, however, those considerations took second place to the pressing infrastructure and development needs.
Indeed, Tokelau’s infrastructure was inadequate to enhance the vision to which it aspired, he said, noting that economic pressures had impacted New Zealand’s fiscal policies and, therefore, delivery of services to the Territory. The building of classrooms, better island health-care facilities and a transport package had been on the agenda for quite some time and were now very urgent.
Tokelau’s National Strategic Plan (2011-2015) provided the blueprint for development, highlighting the Territory’s vulnerability, given its size and geography, he said. Over the next five years, the focus would be on developing a viable transportation arrangement, building schools and a new hospital, improving human resource capacity and strengthening governance.
In other areas, Tokelau was grateful for the support from other organizations, particularly the United Nations, he said, expressing hope to work more closely with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). He also pressed the Special Committee to “be more active” in supporting the Territories in accessing resources from international organizations for key development issues. “Political status does not make Tokelau any less vulnerable to the impact that climate change has on our survival,” he stressed, underscoring its commitment to the question of climate change. Tokelau was working towards an energy policy that would allow its small atolls to operate entirely on renewable energy, and it continued to seek funds for that important venture to come to fruition.
When the Seminar took up goals and expected accomplishments in the Caribbean region, JULIAN FRASER, representative of the British Virgin Islands, noting that the Territory maintained a good working relationship with the United Kingdom, its administering Power, said independence was not regularly discussed, as the arguments in its favour had lost their appeal. Thus, the issue had never been brought to the people by referendum. The United Kingdom maintained that it would assist any of its Overseas Territories in obtaining independence once that was the expressed wish of the people, a position that was neither spoken nor implied, since the United Kingdom’s actions tended to foster the status quo, with a case in point being the granting of full citizenship to its Overseas Territories citizens, and hence, European Union citizenship.
In February, he said, he had attended the annual Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) Association Ministerial Conference and European Union Overseas Countries and Territories Forum, where a joint position paper had been adopted that set out a framework for a new partnership between the Union and the Association. Among other things, it called on the Union to consider that its partnerships be based on the principles of solidarity and mutual interest over the long term. The Union also should recognize that the biodiversity of the Association’s members was an asset, and that, because those areas faced environmental challenges, technical assistance was needed to boost global competitiveness.
Since the 2007 entry into force of a new Constitution in the British Virgin Islands, it had become apparent that there was scope for further review and a need for constitutional adjustments, he said. In 2009, a day before the convening of the Eleventh Overseas Territories Consultative Council, a forum had been held in London to review the 1999 “white paper”. In 2010, the Territory had welcomed the position of the new United Kingdom Government that the framework governing the relationship with Overseas Territories should be reviewed.
Towards that goal, the 1999 white paper was now under review, he said, with details of the new “green paper” to be issued shortly. The Territory continued to view fiscal sustainability and stability as ways to secure the future of the people of the Virgin Islands, and thus, was committed to coordinating its efforts to ensure the viability and resiliency of its economy.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, participants asked Mr. Fraser about the changes he wished to see in the Constitution. It was often said that United Kingdom Overseas Territories had not gained as many benefits as the French and Dutch Territories. What more could be done to maximize the relationship with the European Union and was there an expectation that the relationship with the new United Kingdom Government would be different than in the past? Other questions centred on whether a committee had been set up to examine independence and about whether the Territory should be de-listed.
Cuba’s representative noted that full association with the administering Power was an option and asked which option would be most suitable for the British Virgin Islands.
Responding, Mr. FRASER said functions such as the control of public services were still vested in the Crown and that the British Virgin Islands faced difficulties under that arrangement. The police were overseen by the Governor. Those were minor adjustments that could be made to move closer to goals of the Special Committee. As for the relationship with the European Union, he said the British Virgin Islands exercised greater autonomy than the French Territories and received no financial aid from the United Kingdom Government. “I don’t know if we want to trade positions,” he added.
He said he had noticed immediately a changed attitude towards Overseas Territories under the new United Kingdom Administration, citing its position that “there shall be partners of equality”. The British Virgin Islands had welcomed a new Governor and “the difference was between night and day”, he said, voicing hope that would lead to resolving concrete issues.
On other matters, he said a committee had been established to examine independence. It had published a report, which he had heard did not favour the Territory’s independence. In the coming days, he wished to hear from the Special Committee about why, in the push to eradicate colonialism, enticements to maintain the status quo were now more attractive than independence, which had been favoured in the 1960s.
In the British Virgin Islands, the Governor was not seen in the Cabinet or heard making statements, he said, and over the last year, the United Kingdom seemed to be more interested in the Territory’s finances. In truth, all revenue in the Treasury had been generated in the Territory. The United Kingdom was responsible for external affairs and security. “It is not true to say we are self-governing,” but rather, limited self-governing, he explained.
As for its governance options, he said that when it came time to negotiate the Constitution, the British Virgin Islands had been told by the United Kingdom that the Bermuda model was an “aberration” and could not be considered as a way forward. The Territory also had been told that the concept of an associated State had been used as precursor to independence, which was also off the table. There was no real desire to move forward on the issue. He did not know if the next round of constitutional negotiations would yield developments.
PETER CLEGG, expert, United Kingdom, presented a paper on the decolonization prospects for the Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories of the United Kingdom, recalling that the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos Islands all had adopted new Constitutions that awarded greater autonomy, while Bermuda also had agreed to amend its Constitution. The possibilities for change in the Third Decade seemed more limited, however, with the key question being to what extent further constitutional reform could be undertaken and greater autonomy awarded, given that the Territories did not want independence and that the United Kingdom did not accept the free association or integration options.
To make progress, three issues must be addressed, he said, noting that changes should be made to the Territories’ Constitutions that would advance self-government, including ending the Governors’ role in chairing the local Cabinet or Executive Council of Ministers, and reducing his “special responsibilities”. Local reforms also could be carried out to improve governance systems, including by establishing regular Cabinet meetings and widening the electoral franchise beyond the existing “belonger” status. As for the United Kingdom, administrative structures could be improved to ensure personnel continuity at the ministerial and civil service levels.
While it was unlikely that independence would be achieved in the coming period, further devolution of power was possible, he said. The United Kingdom and other interested parties — including the United Nations — must act in concert and in good faith. To increase trust, a United Nations-Territory-administering Power project could be organized to enhance public education about the constitutional relationships, both within and across the Territories. Other actions could include public polling/consultations in the Territories to determine support for decolonization, and greater involvement from United Nations agencies to share best practices in such areas as good governance and economic development.
HOWARD FERGUS, expert, Montserrat, presented a paper on the limitations and possibilities for modernizing a British colonial constitution, recalling that it had been almost a decade since the Montserrat Constitutional Commission hadreported and that implementation was still “adrift”. The Cayman Islands had received its new document in 2009, while Anguilla’s document remained inconclusive. Given the global impatience for democracy, the temper and tempo of negotiations were unacceptably slow.
If constitutional modernization meant anything, it denoted greater self-government and democratization, he said, and to attain it, the “democratic deficit” between the Governor’s power and that of the peoples’ elected representatives must be dramatically reduced. A number of valuable innovations that augured well for the future were contained in the new Constitutions, including complaint commissioners, independent electoral commissions and advisory committees. Other changes concerned nomenclature, which gave Constitutions a “more modern ring”, but they were not of the scope or depth to justify the term “modernization”.
He expressed hope that appetites had been whetted for change that was rooted in an overarching vision of social advancement. The Special Committee had an educational and advocacy role to play, to be discharged with civil society. “The quest now was for radical constitutional change”, he said, urging that action be taken vis-à-vis the Governor’s power; political education in local institutions; support of regional organizations; amendments to ensure maximum protection from arbitrary power; and free association.
WIL PINEAU, Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, recalled that in 2003 Caymanians had generally been unaware of the three United Nations options for their self-determination and corresponding international obligations of the administering Power. Today, Caymanians continued to deal with an administering Power that asserted unilateral and total authority, and there was a need for more active involvement by the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories in the constitutional consultation process.
Against that backdrop, he suggested that regional seminars be convened only in Non-Self-Governing Territories with public access to all deliberations. The Special Committee might also work with civil society to provide governance education resources and implement actions called for in the plan of action adopted at the 2003 seminar. Among other things, it should find ways to develop governance and capacity building with or without cooperation by the administering Powers, and expand the Territories’ access to United Nations programmes and services.
CONRAD HOWELL, Turks and Caicos All-Party Commission of the Constitution and Electoral Reform,recalled that 28 years had lapsed since the last “sovereignty” joined the ranks in the Caribbean or Western Atlantic, and 13 years since a white paper had changed the status of the British Territories from “dependent” to “Overseas”, granting full British citizenship to the remaining peoples. Today, it was difficult to see how patriotic people, especially in Turks and Caicos and Anguilla, could long for anything but eradication of colonialism.
Evaluating the situation in Turks and Caicos, he said the interim Constitution had removed all sense of democracy, and the Governor wielded absolute authority. Last September, the United Kingdom had indefinitely suspended general elections, creating a situation where no representation of, for and by the people left room only for continued abuse. People from the United Kingdom had been brought in as “advisers”, many occupying positions that Islanders should have had. It was obvious there was little or no intent to listen to the voice of the indigenous people of Turks and Caicos.
The matter of governance should be left to the fullest democratic process to correct, he said, proposing that leaders within the Territories pursue for up to three years efforts to educate people about the advantages and disadvantages of self-determination. A constitutional commission should be created to examine the changing needs of society, as should a committee on foreign affairs and a paramilitary core of a size and remit of their choosing.
For its part, the United Kingdom should recognize the rights of its Territories to self-determination, work in tandem with them towards that inevitability and create jointly with the Territory and the United Nations a charter signed by the tripartite for that purpose, he said. In sum, the Constitution must demonstrate devolution of power concentrated in the elected officials. Often, Territories were taken for granted and asked to implement policies that did not apply to their settings. “One size does not fit all.”
WILMA E. REVERON COLLAZO, Colegiode Abogados de Puerto Rico, said the right to decolonization was borne out of peoples’ fundamental right to self-determination. The legality of the claim to territorial titles of the administering Powers could not be sustained under any principles decreed by the United Nations, and the fact that any people had to submit their constitution for approval by a foreign country contravened that right. For the third time, the report of the United States’ presidential task force on the question of Puerto Rico’s status reiterated that sovereignty lay with the United States’ Congress, and despite repeated denunciations about the United States’ refusal to act on Puerto Rico’s request for changes in the relationship, “we find no recourse to bring the United States Government into compliance”.
Moreover, it was unconscionable that the United Nations was still groping with such problems, she said. As such, she urged the Special Committee to declare null and void all colonial titles obtained through military occupation, apply legal precedent established in the case of Namibia to all Non-Self-Governing Territories, call on administering Powers to comply with paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the Declaration, and establish viable mechanisms for people to request review by the United Nations General Assembly of agreements acquired with the international community.
In the ensuing dialogue, participants drew parallels between the situations in the Caribbean and other Territories, notably vis-à-vis the “belonger” status in the exercise of the right of self-determination. How could citizens of the colonizing Power weigh in on decolonization when they themselves had not been colonized? it was asked. The United Kingdom, in particular, did not have the right to say that Territories could not opt for independence or free association. Another participant pointed out that, for its part, Turks and Caicos was prepared to explore its relationship with the rest of the world, including through independence, and must find a regional association in which it could benefit from being seen “as an equal”.
Sierra Leone’s delegate, responding to a proposal to convene seminars only in Non-Self-Governing Territories, said she feared that doing so would only decrease the participation of Special Committee members, as there was a lack of resources for them to travel from New York.
On that point, the delegate of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said decolonization “could not be done on the cheap”, an issue that must be confronted at the United Nations level. Also, it seemed that over the first two Decades, there had been deference to what was comfortable for the colonial Powers, and that the triangle involving the Territory, the administering Power and the United Nations had devolved into a bilateral relationship, whereby asymmetries were not being rectified. The Special Committee should have a stronger role in balancing those imbalances and ascertaining the true will of the people.
* *** *