Decolonization — Considered Long Ago by United Nations to Be ‘Irresistible and Irreversible’ — Only Outcome in Modern World, Fourth Committee Told

10 October 2013
GA/SPD/531

Decolonization — Considered Long Ago by United Nations to Be ‘Irresistible and Irreversible’ — Only Outcome in Modern World, Fourth Committee Told

10 October 2013
General Assembly
GA/SPD/531
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

6th Meeting (PM)

Decolonization — Considered Long Ago by United Nations to Be ‘Irresistible

 

and Irreversible’ — Only Outcome in Modern World, Fourth Committee Told

 

Member States, Petitioners Hone Positions on Non-Self-Governing Territories

Colonialism had no place in the modern world, speaker after speaker declared today in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), echoing the words of the Secretary-General and the foundational resolution of the General Assembly on the subject from more than five decades ago.

As the Committee continued its annual debate on decolonization — a process described by the Assembly as “irresistible and irreversible” — the United Nations, notwithstanding its many achievements in that field, would remain an Organization that had not fulfilled its responsibilities as long it had a “list” to keep of Non-Self-Governing Territories, said Liberia’s representative.

As many as 2 million people “still faced ambiguities and uncertainties” regarding their self-determination, while many colonial administrators continued to give justifications to evade their international obligations, he said.

Similarly frustrated, Nigeria’s delegate said that in the twenty-first century, colonialism was “an anomaly in the relationships between people”. Spurred by the belief that the right to independence was a historical and moral right that must be enjoyed all peoples, Nigeria had played a critical role in the struggle for independence of many African countries, as well as in the fight against apartheid, colonialism, and discrimination.

Also hailing from the continent, Uganda’s representative similarly emphasized that decolonization was long overdue.  He stressed the critical need to complete that process, not simply because it was an Article of the United Nations Charter, but because it was an inalienable right, which scholars agreed was an important principle of “international contemporary positive law”.

Parallel to the oft-expressed collective commitment to end colonialism and promote self-determination was discussion of enduring disputes, giving way to pronouncements of deeply entrenched positions.  Several speakers took up the issue of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*.  South American countries, said Suriname’s representative on behalf of their association, known as UNASUR, had expressed strong support for the legitimate rights of Argentina in that sovereignty dispute.

The military presence of the United Kingdom in the Malvinas Islands, South Georgias and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, she said, was contrary to her region’s policy of seeking a peaceful settlement of the sovereignty dispute.  Similarly, Cuba’s representative voiced full support for Argentina in the sovereignty dispute with the United Kingdom and warned that unilateral actions by the United Kingdom were “compounding tension in the region”.

The situation in Turks and Caicos drew the Committee’s attention, as the delegate from Trinidad and Tobago, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), expressed concern about the political crisis precipitated by the three-year suspension of elected governments there in 2009. A fact-finding mission sent to the Islands had reported that it was necessary to conduct a referendum for the people to express their views on the present dependency arrangement, noted the speaker, urging the administering Power to ensure that the same standards of democracy prevailing in the United Kingdom, should be extended to the Territory.

A referendum was essential in Western Sahara as well, said the representative of Burkina Faso, who urged the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to hasten efforts in that direction.  The situation there, he said, had created security challenges in West and North Africa, and had recently destabilised countries in the two regions.

Prior to that debate, several petitioners took the floor, including on that issue. One, from the Strategic Conflict Resolution Group, said that the suggestion that an independent Saharan state was “unviable” was rhetoric aimed at distracting the Committee. The United Nations owed the people of Western Sahara the ballot by which they were entitled to vote for any of three options – independence, autonomy and integration. It was not up to the Moroccan Government to decide how the Saharan people should be allowed to live. “So let them vote,” said the speaker.

Another petitioner drew attention to the situation in the Tindouf camps, which, he said, had no law except “the law of the jungle”.  Any autonomy should start there.  He asked why the Polisario leadership was afraid of opening up the camps, and demanded that those doors be opened and that the residents be given the option to stay or go.

A representative of the Polisario called attention to the mass graves of Saharan citizens, discovered in Morocco earlier this year.  Dozens of fellow Saharans, said the speaker, were imprisoned, and their mock trials were unworthy of a State that wished to take its place on the United Nations Human Rights Council.  The Polisario feared that the Secretary-General’s envoy would again come back empty-handed from his tour of the region because Morocco was unwilling to cooperate with an open and transparent decolonization process, he said.

Delegates from of the United Republic of Tanzania, El Salvador and Sao Tome and Principe also participated in the debate.

The representatives of Argentina and the United Kingdom spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m., 11 October, to continue its consideration of decolonization issues.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of decolonization issues, for which it was scheduled to hear from representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories and petitioners.

Petitioners for Western Sahara

KOUTA SIDY El MOCTAR said he was from the historical city of Timbuktu, Mali and was at the meeting to talk about the developments in Western Sahara, which had caused enormous suffering for the people of the region.  Developments in Western Sahara had led to some security challenges in the region and the rise in terror groups and human traffickers, who were destabilizing neighbouring countries, and the region as a whole. He asked the United Nations to redouble its efforts to resolve the issue and enable the people to achieve self-determination, while commending Morocco for its efforts to resolve the dispute and guard against threats to the region.

ALOUAT HAMOUDI said he was speaking today on behalf of the Saharan refugees — those who had died in exile and never returned to their homeland in Western Sahara.  The story of the Saharan people was one of a fight for freedom and human dignity, and it was one he had lived.  Western Sahara was among the few areas officially recognized by the United Nations as a Non-Self-Governing Territory.  The General Assembly had confirmed the Saharan people’s inalienable right to self-determination in 1965, and that right had been recognized in every subsequent resolution on that issue.  It also had been indicated in all agreements signed between Morocco and the Polisario Front.

Despite repeated recognition of the injustice of the current situation, nothing had changed, he said.  Rather, Morocco had rejected all United Nations resolutions and had never been punished for its repeated violations of international law.  In the meantime, more than 200,000 Saharan refugees, including his family, lived in the Algerian desert in “heartbreaking” conditions.  Human rights violations by Morocco were only worsening with the passage of time, he said, citing reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.  “The time has come to stop the 38 year-old illegal Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara,” he declared.  The Saharan people requested the chance to decide their own political fate in a free, fair and democratic referendum.

MULA IHFID SID AHMED, noting that he was a Saharan student at Westminster College, said that the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara had taken place in 1975, during and after which the Moroccan authorities had systematically violated international law and United Nations resolutions. Saharan citizens were humiliated everyday. Freedom was the most basic of all human rights, but the human rights of the Saharan people were routinely violated.  In 2010, Moroccan security forces had destroyed a Saharan camp outside Layoune.  In 2012, Morocco had refused to allow an African delegation on human rights to visit the occupied territory. When would the world take action to stop the atrocities in Western Sahara? Only a free and fair referendum could be a solution to the conflict.

ALEXANDRA KAPITANSKAYA, Strategic Conflict Resolution Group, stated that nearly 100,000 refugees lived in the Algerian desert, rather than in their homeland. Some petitioners had suggested that an independent Saharan State was “unviable”. That rhetoric served only one purpose — to distract the Committee. It was not the Committee’s task to find out if the region had the resources to support a prosperous Saharan State; its task was to enable the right to self-determination for the people of the Western Sahara. It thus followed that the referendum promised to the Saharan people by the United Nations was a fundamental human right. The ballot by which they were entitled to vote must include three options – independence, autonomy and integration. Morocco insisted on leaving out the option of independence. It was not up to the Moroccan Government to decide how the Saharan people should live. It was up to the Saharans. “So let them vote.”

RICARDO SANCHEZ, Observatorio aragones para el Sahara Occidental, called for an immediate referendum to free the people of Western Sahara from Morocco’s control, noting that the people deserved self-determination and life free from controlling Powers.  They were looking to the international community through the United Nations to help them achieve independence and freedom.  There was racial discrimination in Western Sahara and gross exploitation of the natural resources by Morocco, and he called on the Security Council to mandate the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to organize a referendum, as soon as possible to enable the Saharan people decide on their future.

FACHRUL RAZI, a doctorate candidate in political science at the University of Indonesia, said that the negotiation between Morocco and the Polisario with regard to the status of the conflict in the Western Saharan territory was “dicey”, noting that Polisario wanted to have a self-determination referendum, while Morocco offered autonomy for the territory. However, he believed that autonomy was the optimal political solution for the people of Western Sahara.  Therefore, he called on the Moroccan Government to give the Saharan people the authority and economic power to establish their own government, noting that it would help to build trust with both parties, as well as peace, security and stability in the region.

MOHAMMED RAZMA stated that there were no rights in the Tindouf camps, just the law of the jungle. The international community must intervene and save the people in the camps by safeguarding their most basic rights. The Polisario abducted Saharans and tortured them before jailing them. Any autonomy should start in the Tindouf camps, the doors of which must be opened and the residents given the option to leave or stay. Why was the Polisario leadership afraid of opening up the camps? They were afraid of the collective will of their residents.

AHMED BOUKHARI, representative of the Polisario Front, stated that once again the question of decolonization of Western Sahara was before the Fourth Committee. A great part of Western Sahara was still under military occupation by Morocco, whose newest accomplishment was the mass graves of Saharan citizens, which had been discovered earlier this year.  The whereabouts of more than 600 Saharan citizens was still unknown, and he asked whether they would be found in another mass grave.  Further, dozens of fellow Saharans were imprisoned, and their mock trials were unworthy of a State that wished to take its place in the United Nations Human Rights Council.  The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy would soon tour the region again; however, the Polisario feared that he would again come back empty-handed because Morocco was unwilling to cooperate with an open and transparent decolonization process.

CYNTHIA BASINET, actress, singer and humanitarian advocate, lamented that thousands of people of Western Sahara had lived as refugees, without the opportunity to fully enjoy their lives.  That situation had led to tyranny, poverty and untold hardship, she said, stressing the need for self-determination to salvage them from the deprivations.  Regrettably, the international community had turned a blind eye and remained stagnant on a referendum for the people of Western Sahara, and she implored the United Nations to remain forthright and steadfast in its responsibility to enable them to achieve self-determination.

ZITOUNI TAYEB, President, Coordination nationale cito yenne des cites et villes jumelees d’Algerie, said the association was in solidarity with the Saharan cities and people, and it would contribute its time and energy to see to their self-determination.  He called on the Special Committee to facilitate a referendum to enable them to determine their future, and asked why Morocco was afraid of that.  He also urged the United Nations to investigate the human rights abuses, forced detention and disappearances and encroachment on the territory’s natural resources.

General Debate

RODNEY CHARLES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that  decolonization remained an unfinished business in the second decade of the twenty-first century and the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. The Committee heard petitioners every year about democratic deficiencies in the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories. The resumption of formal cooperation between the administering Powers and the Fourth Committee was crucial to achieving the goal of decolonization.

CARICOM, he added, maintained its principal support for the people of Western Sahara and commended the efforts undertaken by the Secretary-General’s envoy. Decades of colonization pointed to irrefutable lessons. The United Nations must refine approaches and facilitate supportive mechanisms to minimize the legacies of colonialism, such as ethnic tensions and economic exploitation. Adequate follow-up by the United Nations was necessary, as was more interactive dialogue and requisite political analysis. CARICOM had long maintained that a Special Rapporteur or Independent Expert on decolonization would be most useful.

Turning to the question of Turks and Caicos, he stated that the political crisis precipitated by the three-year suspension of elected governments in that Territory in 2009 had been the subject of particular concern at the highest political level of CARICOM. A fact-finding mission sent to the Islands had found that the conduct of a referendum was vital. The report of the fact-finding mission had affirmed that it was the responsibility of the administering Power to provide the means for full self-determination, and to ensure that the same standards of democracy that prevail in the United Kingdom should be extended to the Territory.

KITTY SWEBB (Suriname), speaking on behalf of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), said that the issue of decolonization was an important priority, as colonialism violated the fundamental tenets of democracy and freedom, as stated in General Assembly resolution 1514.  The question of the Malvinas Islands had been considered by South American countries in several forums of special importance, reaffirmed UNASUR’s strong support for the legitimate rights of Argentina in the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgias and South Sandwich Islands, as well as the surrounding maritime areas.  She also reiterated the region’s abiding interest in an agreement by the United Kingdom to resume negotiations with Argentina in order to find, as soon as possible, a peaceful and definitive solution to the sovereignty dispute, in accordance with relevant resolutions and declarations of the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

At the same time, she emphasized that the military presence of the United Kingdom in the Malvinas Islands, South Georgias and South Sandwich Islands, as well as the surrounding maritime areas, was contrary to the region’s policy of seeking a peaceful settlement of the sovereignty dispute.  She condemned that presence and the implementation of unilateral British activities in the disputed areas, including the exploration and exploitation of Argentina’s renewable and non-renewable natural resources and the conduct of military exercise in violation of the General Assembly’s resolutions, especially 31/49.  UNASUR recognized Argentina’s willingness to resume negotiations for a prompt solution to the sovereignty dispute.

MARJON V. KAMARA ( Liberia) said that the right to be free from subjugation was inalienable. The pursuit of freedom was recognized and guaranteed by the United Nations Charter as a human right, as were the rights to justice, human dignity and the pursuit of happiness to which all persons were entitled. Seventeen Non-Self-Governing Territories, representing some 2 million people, still faced ambiguities and uncertainties regarding their self-determination. Many colonial administrators continued to provide justifications for evading their international obligations.

Liberia, she added, believed that there was scope for the United Nations to do more to reverse the current negative trend and to break the stalemate in many of those situations.  Strong and continuous engagement with the administering Powers was imperative. Until the remaining territories were free, the United Nations, notwithstanding its many achievements, would remain an organization with residual and urgent responsibilities to remove the lingering vestiges of colonization. As the Secretary-General himself acknowledged recently, “colonialism has no place in the modern world”.

DER KOGDA ( Burkina Faso), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, stressed the need to grant independence to the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories, in order to bring to an end to the long period of domination by colonial Powers. He urged the Special Committee on Decolonization to find a lasting solution to the issue of decolonization and accelerate its work, in order to enable those territories occupied by Administering Powers to be free and ensure the sustainable growth and development of the affected people.

On Western Sahara, he reiterated the need for the Saharans to be granted their independence, and he urged the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to hasten his efforts to organize a referendum and save the people from the abuses and hardship they had faced in refugee camps within and outside their territory.  The situation in Western Sahara had created a lot of security challenges in West and North Africa, and had recently destabilized some countries in the two regions.

RICHARD NDUHUURA ( Uganda) said it was important to complete decolonization because it was not just a mandate of the Charter, but an inalienable right, which scholars agreed was an important principle of “international contemporary positive law”. The people of the occupied territories must be given access to that right, and be allowed to freely choose through a democratic process. The legal basis of the Saharan people’s right to self-determination lay in the United Nations doctrine relating to decolonization.  It was the only remaining colony in Africa.

Respect for the right to self-determination, human rights and humanitarian law, international law, the centrality of the United Nations and non-exploitation of natural resources was important, he said. Uganda supported the self-determination of Western Sahara, and found regrettable the “countless violations” of United Nations and African Union resolutions and decisions. On the Palestine issue, his country had always endorsed the two-State solution and the resumption of dialogue between the parties.

LILIANNE SANCHEZ RODRIGUEZ ( Cuba), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) stated that, contrary to the resolutions adopted annually by the General Assembly, the scourge of colonialism persisted. Some administering Powers refused to cooperate with the Committee, ignoring their Charter-based obligations. The conclusions of the regional decolonization seminar, held in Ecuador earlier this year, should be widely disseminated. The United Nations Public Information Department should maintain decolonization as a priority item on its agenda.

Turning to the question of Puerto Rico, she said that the Territory maintained its cultural and spiritual identity even though it had not attained independence, despite the passage of 32 resolutions. The prompt release of Puerto Rican prisoners, one of whom had remained in an American prison for more than 30 years, was crucial. Further, Western Sahara was under the direct responsibility of the Organization and, in recent years, four rounds of formal negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General, as well as several informal conversations, had taken place. Cuba hoped that those negotiations would be met with success.

Her country fully supported the legitimate rights of the Argentine Republic in the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas, South Georgias, South Sandwich, and surrounding maritime areas. Cuba endorsed resolution 31/49, which urged the two parties to stop from making unilateral changes to the Territories. The exploitation of natural resources by the United Kingdom was illegal, and would compound tension in the region and contribute nothing to resolving that issue. Cuba called on that country to respond in a positive manner to Argentina’s willingness, expressed repeatedly, to resume bilateral negotiations.

RAMADHAN M MWINYI (United Republic of Tanzania) said that, as in previous sessions, the Committee was faced with the task of facilitating the decolonization of 17 remaining territories. That process must be accelerated, in particular, by strengthening dialogue. That was more easily said than done, but it was “high time” for a more proactive approach. Maintaining that the continuation of colonialism was incompatible with the United Nations Charter, and it was this Committee’s task to assist Non-Self-Governing Territories to exercise their rights to shape their own destiny, he called on the administering Powers to take the necessary measures to promptly achieve the decolonization of their territories.

Turning to Western Sahara, he reaffirmed his country’s strong support for the rights of the Saharans to self-determination. At the annual general debate last month, his country’s President had said that “the quest to resolve the dispute over the sovereignty of Western Sahara is long overdue”. He further pointed out that, in January, the African Union Commission had been asked to facilitate the organization of a referendum for the people of Western Sahara. He urged both parties to engage in genuine negotiations that would lead to a mutually acceptable political solution to the issue.

ESCALANTE HASBUN (El Salvador), endorsing the statement presented by Cuba on behalf of CELAC, voiced support for the legitimate rights of Argentina over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgias and South Sandwich Islands, as well as the surrounding maritime areas.   He called for a peaceful settlement of the sovereignty dispute and emphasised that the United Nations should hasten efforts to see to peaceful settlement, as reflected in General Assembly resolution 31/49.

On Western Sahara, he expressed support for the rights of Saharan people to self-determination and, supporting the resolution on the issue, called on the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy to accelerate action to enable the people to achieve independence, which would ensure justice, freedom and fairness.  He also reiterated his country’s desire to contribute to global peace and development, foster cordial relationships between neighbours, and remain steadfast in its commitment to resolve conflicts among warring nations.

JOY OGWU ( Nigeria) said that in the twenty-first century, colonialism must be viewed as an anomaly in the relationships between people. The continued existence of a single territory under occupation against the will of its inhabitants was objectionable. The right to independence was an historical and moral right which must be enjoyed by all peoples. It was for that reason that Nigeria had played a critical role in the struggle for independence of many African countries, as well as in the fight against apartheid, colonialism, and discrimination.

Nigeria regretted, she added, that the Western Sahara issue was still far from being satisfactorily resolved, after decades of the struggle for independence by the Saharan people. Her country welcomed the Secretary-General’s report of 16 August, and commended his efforts and those of his Personal Envoy to find a lasting solution to the issue. Nigeria also welcomed the latest round of informal talks, and believed that it was still possible for both the Polisario and Morocco to negotiate “a lasting solution to the Western Sahara issue”.

CARLOS AGOSTINHO DAS NEVES ( Sao Tome and Principe) hailed the Moroccan authorities for undertaking political reforms. On the question of Western Sahara, his country firmly supported the efforts of the United Nations to find a political, mutually negotiated solution to that conflict. In that connection, he emphasized the feasibility of the autonomy plan submitted to the United Nations as part of the Moroccan initiative, and called on the parties to begin intense and substantive negotiations, showing a spirit of realism and compromise.  He added that a census of the population of the Tindouf camps was necessary.

Right of Reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of the United Kingdom, responding to the delegates of Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Cuba and El Salvador, said that her country had no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.  The United Kingdom was clear that the future of the Islands should be determined by its people. In March, an overwhelming majority had voted in a referendum to remain an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom and the Falkland Islands had made it clear that they remained willing to cooperate with Argentina on matters of mutual interest in the South Atlantic. Claims that the United Kingdom was militarizing the South Atlantic were highly false; the United Kingdom maintained a minimum defensive military posture there. The decision to exploit natural resources was made by the Falkland government, in order to benefit the peoples of the Falkland Islands.

Turning to the subject of Turks and Caicos, she added that the United Kingdom had not received any formal communication from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) regarding its visit to the Islands. Therefore, it could not comment on that issue.  However, her country wished to report the positive development of a return to elected government in that Territory as of November 2012.

Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Argentina said that he wished to repeat what the President of Argentina had stated in the General Assembly in September and what the Foreign Minister had told the Special Committee on Decolonization in June:  the Malvinas, South Georgias, South Sandwich Islands and surrounding maritime areas were an integral part of the national territory of Argentina, illegally occupied by the United Kingdom and   subjected to a sovereignty dispute recognized by the United Nations. Various resolutions had recognized the existence of a sovereignty dispute regarding the Malvinas Islands, and had urged the two Governments to resume negotiations.

The Decolonization Committee had stated that repeatedly, and most recently in the June 2013 resolution, he said.  The Organization of American States had also adopted a new statement along similar lines. Argentina regretted that the United Kingdom tended to mislead regarding historical events, in order to hide the action of usurpation in 1833. That act had repeatedly been protested by Argentina. The United Kingdom should stand by its commitments to resume negotiations, and thereby act in a lawful and responsible manner.

Argentina repeated that self-determination of peoples was not applicable in the dispute between the two countries, he added. The illegitimate vote that had taken place in the Malvinas in March was a unilateral act and did not affect the unquestionable sovereign rights of Argentina to the territory. The referendum was a spurious tautological act carried out by the United Kingdom to ask British subjects if they wished to continue being British.

* *** *

* 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).

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