|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-seventh General Assembly
5th Meeting (PM)
Special Committee on Decolonization ‘No Longer Relevant’ to Overseas Territories
of United Kingdom, Fourth Committee Told
Speaker Says Territories Achieved Large Measure of Self-Government, Deserved
To Be ‘De-Listed’ Long Ago; United Kingdom Will Ensure Security, Good Governance
With the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) wrestling today with ways to conclude the unfinished journey for 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories, it was told that the body tasked with completing the decolonization process — long championed as a United Nations success story — no longer had a relevant role with respect to the Overseas Territories of the United Kingdom.
Speaking of the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples, or the “Special Committee of 24” as it is known, the delegate from the United Kingdom said, however, that given that some Member States wished to retain the Committee and that some elected Territory representatives wished to present their positions directly to it, his Government would continue to support it and, he added, those Territories’ rights to determine their own futures.
The United Kingdom — the administering Power for 10 of the 16 Territories on the United Nations list — determined in a white paper published in June that its Territories had a large measure of self-government and that all of them should have been delisted long ago, said the speaker. Having reviewed the constitutional status of each Territory and taken into account their unique constitutions, the United Kingdom was convinced that its fundamental responsibility was to ensure the security and good governance of the Territories, he said.
Emphasizing the right of each Territory to determine whether or not to maintain the link with the United Kingdom, the representative declared that the relationship between the United Kingdom and its Overseas Territories was based on partnership and shared values. He affirmed his country’s commitment to assist in each Territory’s future development and continued security. For as long as they wanted to maintain the link, he said, the United Kingdom was committed to assist in each Territory’s future development and continued security.
In turn, he said, his Government expected Territory Governments to meet the same high standards in maintaining the rule of law, respect for human rights and integrity in public life, delivering efficient public services, and building strong and successful communities.
Progress was being made towards democratic governance in Turks and Caicos, he added. A new constitution had been drawn up with wide participation from the people of the Territory, and it would be brought into force soon. The Territory was making progress towards resuming democratic governance and elections would be held there next month, he said.
Other speakers raised their voices in support of the Special Committee of 24 as a critical component of the decolonization agenda, and denounced the great injustice of colonization. The denial of freedom and the right to self-determination could not be justified under any pretext or argument, said Nigeria’s delegate. A colony until 1960, Nigeria had consistently maintained a principled position of advocating for the freedom of all peoples under “alien” rule. Africa was almost free, he said, calling on all administering Powers to hasten the independence of the Territories under their control.
Echoing those emotions, the representative of Namibia said his country knew all too well what it was like to live under foreign domination and colonial subjugation. Namibia would keep faith with the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories who were still yearning to be free. The occupation of any territory by force was “morally wrong and politically unacceptable”, he said.
The representative of New Zealand announced that 50 years had elapsed since Samoa had achieved its full and sovereign independence from New Zealand. As the administering Power of Tokelau, New Zealand focused its efforts on providing the core requirements of those living in the three atolls. Recent successes included a renewable energy project, which would meet at least 90 per cent of Tokelau’s energy needs and serve as a model for other small islands seeking to break their dependence on imported fossil fuels.
Also today, the Committee heard from the remaining petitioners on the question of Western Sahara, many of whom expressed grave concerns about the mounting humanitarian crisis in the region. One speaker, from the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España, said that the Moroccan Army had provoked the displacement of 40,000 Saharan civilians and had used napalm, white phosphorous and fragmentation bombs against them as they fled. Their heinous crimes were evidence of a systematic and generalized plan to exterminate the Saharan people.
In counterpoint, a Saharan citizen today said that Moroccan society was open and inclusive to all walks of life. The Saharan people participated actively in the electoral processes, and by doing so, were sending a very clear message to the world. The great majority of the Saharan people were in support of the plan proposed by Morocco.
Other petitioners stressed that the solution needed to come from both sides of the conflict. Speaking for the World Action for Refugees, one speaker said, “The talking has to stop. Now is the time for action.” Algeria should allow the Saharan refugees on its soil to move around freely. Morocco should unconditionally receive those refugees that wished to return to their land and recreate their lives.
Also speaking during the general debate were the representatives of Uruguay, Zambia, United republic of Tanzania, Mexico, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Togo.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of the United Kingdom and Argentina.
The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Friday, 12 October, to continue its work.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met today to continue its consideration of all decolonization issues. It was expected to hear the remaining petitioners on the question of Western Sahara, and to continue its general debate. For background on those topics, please see Press Release GA/SPD/504 of 8 October.
Petitioners on Western Sahara
JOUDA EL OUALI stated that he was a Saharan citizen who closely followed the political developments in the south of Morocco. The region had very high levels of participation in all electoral processes. The Saharan people participated actively in the legislative process and electoral matters. Moroccan society was open and inclusive to all walks of life. The motherland accepted all individuals. The Saharan people were sending a very clear message to the world with their strong participation in Morocco’s political arena, and the great majority of the Saharan people supported Morocco’s proposal.
MOULAY SOUILKI BOUSAID, President de la Commune Rurale, Haouza, stated that the Polisario was responsible for the manipulation and mishandling of food and aid that came from international agencies to the Tindouf camp. Some of the aid was stolen instead of being delivered to those who needed it. The Algerian Red Cross took advantage of the situation, beginning with the arrival of the aid in the ports. The Polisario also exploited the situation by selling the aid on the black market and using the proceeds to buy arms. That was why the Polisario refused to open the camps for verification as to how many people lived in them. Without clear statistics, it was possible to manipulate humanitarian aid, and the speaker urged the Committee and the United Nations to intervene immediately.
JOSE MARIA GIL GARRE, a concerned citizen, stated that the international community should take the Moroccan proposal as a serious and stable one with the power to close this chapter of history that had caused so much suffering. The leader of the pseudo-army of the Polisario had recognized, before the press, that there were elements of Polisario that cooperated with criminal elements. Giving the Committee what he called a “journalistic scoop”, he said that, three days ago, contacts between elements of the Polisario and a terrorist organization in the north of Mali had been confirmed in the last 24 hours by his sources on the ground. That could be very dangerous for Central Africa. He concluded by asking whether it was the intention of the international community to create a failed State in the region.
AHMED KHAR, President de l’Assocation Alouahda Pour la Defense du Droit de sequesters Au retour a la Mere-Patrie, said that he had been a prisoner for several years in Tindouf in Algeria. After his release, he had returned to Morocco and tried to serve the interests of those who were “in hell in Tindouf”. He was here to ask the international community not to tolerate those crimes and to save those citizens. More than 73 years had elapsed since the camps were created, yet no one knew the real number of people in them. It was time to save the inhabitants. He was not the first to make that appeal, but he wished he could be the last.
ERIC CAMERON, World Action for Refugees, said that the refugees in Tindouf were living a life devoid of dignity and hope. Despite numerous attempts from the United Nations and concerned organizations, those Saharan refugees were still captives. If Algeria had demonstrated a true will to solve the situation, the Saharans would have been busy managing their lives and freedom in their own region. He did not wish to waste time repeating the stories of misery, which the Committee had heard before. Instead, his organization called on the United Nations to take immediate steps. Algeria should allow the Saharan refugees on its soil to move around freely. The refugee population should be allowed to repatriate of their own free will. Morocco should unconditionally receive those who wished to return to their land and recreate their lives. “The talking has to stop. Now is the time for action,” he concluded.
MANUEL OLLÉ SESÉ, of the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España, said that there was an “enormous amount of evidence”, since 1975, of non-stop human rights abuses and international crimes committed by the Moroccan State against Saharan civilians. The Moroccan Army had provoked the displacement of 40,000 Saharan civilians and had used napalm, white phosphorous and fragmentation bombs against them as they fled. Their heinous crimes were evidence of a systematic and generalized plan to exterminate the Saharan people. Since 2006, there had been a legal action initiated by victims and human rights organizations in the National Court of Spain under the universal jurisdiction principle, but Morocco had repeatedly ignored requests for its judicial cooperation, in an explicit effort by Moroccan authorities to perpetuate immunity for these crimes.
CHARLES WILSON, Coordinating Director of the International Sahrawi Friendship Association, said that to deny the profits of natural resources to the rightful owners was a denial of their human rights. The solution could be described in two words: “referendum now”. Hold the referendum and the issue of human rights abuses would end.
JAVIER A. GONZALEZ VEGA, a law professor at the University of Oviedo ( Spain), lamented the fact that, despite General Assembly resolutions and the emphatic statements of the International Court of Justice in relation to the issue, the people of Western Sahara continued to be denied their right to self-determination. The actions taken against the peaceful protestors of Camp Dignity, and the dismantling of that camp in 2010, was further evidence of the violation of Saharan civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. His organization had been involved in an inquiry mission in refugee camps in Western Sahara, and he noted that the difficulties surrounding the deployment of humanitarian aid had increased, namely after the decision of the Spanish Government — the de iure administrative Power of the Western Sahara — to repatriate Spanish members of non-governmental organizations operating in the camps.
ALEXANDRA KAPITANSKAYA, Strategic Conflict Resolution Group, said that Morocco had shown itself to be a “poor steward” of the Western Sahara, undermining its claim that its autonomy plan was the best solution to the conflict. Among many human rights violations, she said that peaceful protesters were beaten and Saharan women as young as 17 were threatened with rape in detention centres. Her organization had collected more than 100 reports of grave human rights violations, including murders, committed in the last year alone. Those were surely the “tip of the iceberg”, as the majority of violations went unreported. Every day, her organization collected images of Saharans of all ages with “bloodied faces, broken bones, their eyes swollen under huge hematomas”. She urged the international community to consider the consequences if the Moroccan autonomy plan was implemented.
LAHEEN MAHRAOUI, Membre de Conseil Royal Consultatif pour les Affaires Sahariennes, said that the refugees in Tindouf, in a particularly landlocked region, were extremely vulnerable. The population of those camps was desperate with their most elementary rights denied. Malnutrition affected women because the Polisario misappropriated international assistance, which had diminished because of the economic crisis. The Polisario continued to undermine the refugees’ ability to communicate by manipulating international public opinion. Most Saharans would go along with the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco, as that was the fairest solution. Everybody would win with that plan, and the people of the Maghreb could unite to deal with the other socioeconomic problems facing them.
Statements in General Debate
MARTIN VIDAL (Uruguay), associating with statements made on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Union of South American Nations, and Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said that the Committee’s significant achievements in decolonization should inspire it to finish the still-pending work of the handful of people who were still not able to exercise their right to self-determination. That right should be enjoyed in a framework of peace and human rights. Uruguay defended the rights of the Saharan people to self-determination. The conversation between Morocco and the Polisario Front should resume in good faith. The self-determination of Western Sahara should take place in line with the principles of the United Nations Charter and relevant United Nations resolutions. Uruguay supported the efforts of the Secretary-General and his envoy in the region. The country also supported the adoption by consensus of the draft resolution on the question. That was a concrete way to show the backing of the international community for a speedy solution to that dispute.
When it came to putting an end to colonialism, he said, the international community must bear in mind respect for the territorial integrity of Member States. Uruguay supported the legitimate right of Argentina to the Malvinas Island and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas. The geographical, historical and legal basis of Argentina’s claim was entirely valid and Uruguay called on both States to implement the resolutions of the General Assembly and to undertake negotiations. Noting Argentina’s constructive attitude, he said it was essential for the parties to abstain from unilateral modifications.
JIM MCLAY ( New Zealand) announced to the Committee that New Zealand this year celebrated 50 years since Samoa ceased being a United Nations Trust Territory and achieved its full and sovereign independence from New Zealand.
He said his country, as the administering Power of Tokelau, focused its efforts on providing for the core requirements of those living on the three atolls. He recalled that, prior the referendums in 2006 and 2007, the leaders of both Tokelau and New Zealand had decided that there should be an appreciable period before another referendum was held. Meanwhile, New Zealand stood by the people of Tokelau and would support their continued development. In that regard, he reported on two recent successes, including a renewable energy project, which would meet at least 90 per cent of Tokelau’s energy needs and serve as a model for other small islands seeking to break their dependence on imported fossil fuels. He noted that women were being trained to maintain the system, which was evidence of the changing role of women in Tokelau society and public life in general. The second success involved addressing Tokelau’s short- and long-term transport needs.
MWABA PATRICIA KASESE-BOTA (Zambia), associating herself with the statement on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said it was highly regrettable that Western Sahara remained the last colony in Africa. Zambia would continue to support the efforts to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which would provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. In that regard, Zambia would co-sponsor the resolution on the implementation of the Declaration on Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
MOHAMMED LOULICHKI (Morocco), speaking in response to the statement made by the representative of Zambia, asked for clarification as to whether she had spoken in her national capacity or on behalf of the South African Development Community (SADC), which she had mentioned in the third paragraph of the second page of her statement.
The Committee Chair responded that the Committee had not received any list of States wishing to speak on behalf of Groups of States, only in their national capacities.
The representative of Zambia added that the statement had been delivered in the national capacity, with reference to documents from the African Union.
The representative of Morocco asked that the mention of the SADC not appear in the summary records of the Committee.
The Committee Chair took note of the observations made by the Moroccan and Zambian delegations.
RAMADHAN M. MWINYI (United Republic of Tanzania), associating himself with the statement made on behalf of by the Non-Aligned Movement, regretted that colonialism in all its manifestations remained on the Committee’s agenda. It was unfortunate that Western Sahara remained the only colony on the African continent yet to gain its independence, but “where there is a will there is a way”. He recalled the statement made by the Heads of Delegation during the sixty-seventh annual General Assembly debate, which had encouraged Morocco to rejoin the African Union, in order that a durable solution on the independence of Western Sahara could be found. Noting that it “takes two to tangle”, he called upon administering Powers to cooperate fully in the work of the Committee.
RODRIGO PINTADO ( Mexico) said that it was essential for the United Nations to further its decolonization agenda in the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. Mexico would continue to promote the right of people to exercise their right to self-determination and would support constructive proposals to conclude pending issues.
He said his country supported the efforts made to reach a just and lasting solution to the Western Sahara dispute, and it was committed to the rights of the Saharan people to self-determination. A lasting peace would involve holding a referendum providing all the options necessary to exercise that right. Mexico would support the efforts of the Secretary-General’s Envoy to reach a fair and lasting solution and requested the parties to cooperate with him. Further, his country welcomed the parties’ agreement to deepen consultations on the fundamental issue of the future status of Western Sahara, as well as the accords reached on mine clearance and natural resources. He also acknowledged the political will of the parties.
Mexico recognized Argentina’s claim over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands and surrounding maritime areas, he said. The resumption of negotiations between Argentina and the United Kingdom must be the basis for arriving at a just, peaceful solution to the dispute. He called on both parties to avoid unilateral actions in contravention of United Nations resolutions.
MICHAEL TATHAM ( United Kingdom) stated that the United Kingdom maintained its long-standing position on the independence of the Territories it administered, which was that any separation should be on the clear and constitutionally based wish of the people of the Territory concerned. If it was the wish of the people, the United Kingdom would meet its obligations to help the people achieve that goal.
He referred to a white paper published in June, which outlined the overall approach of the United Kingdom to its Territories and confirmed its commitment to the relationship it had with them. The constitutional status of each had been reviewed and each had its own unique constitution. While the United Kingdom would continue to work with Territories to modernize their constitutions, and expected them to evolve and require adjustment in light of changing circumstances, it remained convinced that the fundamental structure of its constitutional relationships was the right one.
Quoting from the white paper, he said of his country: “We believe that at this point in the history of our relationships with the Territories, when a decade of constitutional revision is coming to a close, the time is not right to embark on a further round of constitutional change,” he said. Rather, the country’s strategy was to ensure that the constitutional arrangements worked effectively to promote the best interests of the Territories and the United Kingdom. It was important to continue to reflect on the constitutional relationship and the United Kingdom would continue dialogue with all parties concerned.
He said that the Special Committee on Decolonization (“Special Committee of 24”) no longer had a relevant role to play with respect to the Overseas Territories of the United Kingdom. The Territories had a large measure of self-government and all of them should have been delisted a long time ago.
However, given that some United Nations Members wished to retain the Committee and that some democratically elected Territory representatives wished to present their own positions directly to it, the United Kingdom would continue to support it and those Territories’ rights to determine their own futures.
The aforementioned white paper made it clear that the fundamental responsibility of the United Kingdom was to ensure that the Territories were secure, enjoyed good governance, and met the same high standards in terms of, among others, the rule of law, human rights and integrity.
He reported on positive developments in Turks and Caicos, including that it had been determined that elections would be held there next month. A new constitution had been drawn up with wide participation from the people of the Territory, and it would be brought into force soon. He was pleased that sufficient progress would be made to restore democratic governance there.
He concluded that the relationship between the United Kingdom and its Overseas Territories was based on partnership, shared values, and the right of each Territory to determine whether to maintain the link or not. For as long as they wanted to maintain the link, the United Kingdom was committed to assist in each Territory’s future development and continued security.
LILLY STELLA NGYEMA NDONG ( Gabon) stated that her country was deeply attached to multilateralism and in the centrality of the United Nations as the only intergovernmental organization that represented the people of the world. Hailing the historic successes of the Organization and the invaluable work of the Special Committee, she recalled the significant work of the United Nations in decolonization in Africa. However, 16 Territories remained on the Committee’s agenda, even as the world moved into the Third Decade. When it came to helping those Territories move on, there remained shortfalls in information and training. She called on all administering Powers to move towards decolonization, bearing in mind the specific nature of each case.
With regard to Western Sahara, she said her country welcomed the mediation undertaken by the Special Envoy, which had allowed for a renewal of dialogue. Despite the current impasse, there had been significant progress, such as the autonomy initiative, which offered a serious and credible solution to the different negotiation cycles. Gabon was of the opinion that the international community must breathe “a new dynamic” into the process. For Gabon, it was not merely that the status quo was not viable, but it was urgent to avoid the destabilization and its consequences. She called on the parties to commit to intense and substantive negotiations, and to show realism.
USMAN SARKI (Nigeria), associating himself with the statement of the Non-Aligned Movement, lamented that more than 50 years after the adoption of resolution 1514 and more than six decades since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 2 million people in 16 Territories still lived under foreign occupation or domination. There was “no greater injustice” than the denial of freedom and the right to self-determination, and it could not be justified under any pretext or argument. As a former colony, Nigeria had consistently, since its own independence in 1960, maintained a principled position of advocating for the freedom of all peoples under alien rule. He recalled that during the fifteenth session of the General Assembly, the Prime Minister at the time informed the Assembly that Nigeria would be “totally unwilling to be diverted from the ideals” which it thought to be true. Those were: equality, freedom, justice and the shared commonality of human values.
Africa was almost free, he said, but as long as some colonized Territories existed, the work of the Committee remained unrealized. He called on all administering Powers to hasten the independence of the Territories under their control. He regretted the lack of progress on the question of Western Sahara, and said that Nigeria continued to recognize the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, and would continue to advocate for it.
ARTHUR KAFEERO ( Uganda), aligning with the statement made on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the decolonization process remained a central issue for the United Nations. In Africa, the founding fathers of the then Organization of African Unity (OAU), which had metamorphosed into the African Union, had made significant efforts to decolonize the entire continent. But there were still 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories, and in the continent of Africa, the question of Western Sahara remained unresolved.
Uganda was convinced, he added, that only the Saharan people should decide their own future and destiny, without conditions. His country was concerned about the reports of human rights violations in Western Sahara, and believed concrete steps should be taken to ensure the situation was monitored and that human rights were protected. He concluded by welcoming the latest round of informal talks held in March, despite the lack of substantive progress, and urged the parties to continue to negotiate in good faith, so that a lasting solution could be found.
JEROBEAM SHAANIKA ( Namibia) said that the decolonization Declaration remained an unfulfilled promise nearly 52 years after the passage of General Assembly resolution 1514. His country was convinced that occupation of any territory by force was morally wrong and politically unacceptable. Knowing only too well how it felt to live under foreign domination and colonial subjugation, Namibia would continue to keep faith with the peoples of Western Sahara and Palestine who were still yearning to be free and exercise their right to self-determination. It was concerned that the question of Western Sahara remained unresolved after so many years and encouraged the parties to the conflict to redouble their efforts and speed up the negotiation process, eventually leading to the holding of a referendum. Just like any other nation, the people of Western Sahara were entitled to the right to determine their own destiny.
JACKSON BUMBA VANGU ( Democratic Republic of the Congo), aligning with that made on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that, in the face of the deadlocks facing the decolonization agenda, it was necessary for all Member States to cooperate fully with the United Nations to solve the decolonization problem and, in cases where it was necessary, imagine new solutions.
He said the position of his country on the question of Western Sahara was unchanged. It was necessary to move away from past approaches and find a mechanism that led to a solution. The points not yet resolved required new initiatives. His country believed that the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco was a fair solution, which should be acceptable to all. The international community must take this historic opportunity to promote that solution and resolve the serious humanitarian crisis in Western Sahara.
KODJO MENAN ( Togo) said that since last year’s adoption of the General Assembly resolution on the question of Western Sahara, negotiations between the concerned parties had continued with mixed results. While he welcomed “numerous encouraging signs of progress on technical but sensitive issues”, he regretted that negotiations were still aimed at determining the status of the Territory.
He said that given the impasse, which was harmful to the Saharan people and had the potential to destabilize other countries in the region, parties should be willing to move beyond fixed and extreme positions and explore innovative and realistic options, taking a pragmatic approach. He hailed the initiative of Morocco, which fell within its overall framework of decentralization, to introduce an autonomy plan, calling it a “realistic angle for the negotiation process”. He also supported other efforts by Morocco, including the creation of a national human rights council, which was independent and already in operation. Such efforts would help to consolidate the rule of law and expand individual freedoms, both in Morocco and the Sahara.
Right of Reply
Exercising the right of reply, the representative of the United Kingdom said her country had no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands and surrounding areas. There could be no negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falklands until the islanders so wished. She regretted that Argentina had withdrawn from cooperation with the South Atlantic Fisheries Commission. It had also banned charter flights to the Islands in 2003 and restricted shipping to the Islands, as well as penalized companies that did business in or with the Islands. The referendum to be held in 2013 would make the wishes of the inhabitants of the Islands clear to the international community.
Also exercising the right of reply, the representative of Argentina said that he wished to repeat the statement made by the President of Argentina before the Special Committee on 14 June and later in the General Assembly. The Malvinas Islands, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands and surrounding areas were part of the national territory of Argentina illegally occupied by the United Kingdom and thus subjected to a sovereignty dispute recognized by international organizations. The British Government was twisting historic facts to cover the usurpation. Instead of refuting historical facts, the United Kingdom should honour its commitments and resume negotiations to find a fair and lasting solution, as called for by the international community.
Further, he added, the principle of self-determination of peoples was not applicable to the case of the Malvinas. Argentina rejected the references to those Argentine Territories as British Overseas Territories.
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* 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).