Committee Hears from Petitioners, Observers on Questions of Western Sahara, Gibraltar
Resuming its session today, the Special Committee on Decolonization approved, without a vote, three draft resolutions on information relating to the Non-Self-Governing Territories that remained under its purview.
Formally known as the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, the 29-member body also took up the questions of Western Sahara and Gibraltar.
By the text on “Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73 e of the Charter of the United Nations” (document A/AC.109/2014/L.3), the General Assembly would request the administering Powers to transmit regularly to the Secretary-General statistical and other information of a technical nature relating to economic, social and educational conditions in the Territories, as well as the fullest possible information on political and constitutional developments there.
By the text on “dissemination of information on decolonization” (document A/AC.109/2014/L.4), the Assembly would request the Departments of Political Affairs and of Public Information to implement the Special Committee’s recommendations and to continue their efforts to take measures through all the media available, including publications, radio and television, as well as the Internet, to give publicity to the work of the United Nations on decolonization.
In relation to that text, Laura Vaccari, Chief of the Decolonization Unit, Department of Political Affairs, and Margaret Novicki, Chief of the Communications Campaigns Service, Department of Public Information, briefed on their work.
The Special Committee also adopted, as orally revised, the draft resolution on “Question of sending visiting and special missions to Territories” (document A/AC.109/2014/L.5), by which it called upon the administering Powers that have not yet done so to cooperate or continue to cooperate with the Organization by facilitating United Nations visiting missions to the Territories under their administration.
Turning to the question of Western Sahara, Ahmed Boukhari, representative of the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), said that the area was the last African colony awaiting decolonization. Yet, the last time a mission had been sent there was 1975. Morocco had replaced Spain as the colonizer. The United Nations had convinced Morocco of the need to hold a referendum, but it had never been held due to obstruction by Morocco. The Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council had stated that United Nations efforts should continue until the decolonization process took place.
The representatives of Cuba and Ecuador delivered their statements on that matter.
Moving to the next topic, Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said its leaders had been addressing the Special Committee since 1963. Gibraltar would have been delisted long ago if it were not for the Spanish Government’s repeated attempts to block it. He urged the Committee to provide its opinion on whether Gibraltar’s 2006 Constitution would deliver sufficient measure of self-government short of independence. It should visit Gibraltar, attend an upcoming symposium and seek an advisory opinion from the International Count of Justice on its right to self-determination.
Spain’s delegate, speaking as an observer, said that the inhabitants of some territories had given up their political independence in exchange for guarantee of their economic stability. Those were cases of “colonialism by consent”. The Spanish who lived there until 1704, the real Gibraltarians, were forced to leave and settled in the neighboring town of San Roque. Furthermore, the United Kingdom illegally seized other territories not ceded under the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. General Assembly resolution 2353 (1967) stated that the colonial situation of Gibraltar undermined the territorial integrity of Spain. Furthermore, the administrating Power had admitted that the independence of its colony was not possible without Spain’s consent. The United Kingdom, however, had been refusing for too many years to talk to Spain about the future of Gibraltar.
The Special Committee then heard from a petitioner, Denis Matthews, representative of the Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group.
Also participating as observers during the meeting were representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, Italy, Jamaica, Montenegro, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Turkey, Uganda and Uruguay.
The Special Committee will meet again on 23 June to hear petitioners concerning the situation in Puerto Rico.
The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples met this morning to hear from petitioners on the questions of the Western Sahara and Gibraltar. Before the Committee were two Secretariat working papers on the question of Gibraltar (document A/AC.109/2014/1) and on the question of the Western Sahara (document A/AC.109/2014/12).
Dissemination of Information on Decolonization
MARGARET NOVICKI, Chief of the Communications Campaigns Service, Department of Public Information, introduced the Secretary-General’s annual report on the dissemination of information on decolonization, which covered the April 2013-March 2014 period. Highlighting key activities, she said the Department had produced 38 press releases on decolonization in English and French, as well as covered meetings, statements and hearings by United Nations bodies. Decolonization issues and activities had been featured via United Nations Radio programmes and the multilingual United Nations News Centre portal, as well as distributed through email-based news alerts in English and French, RSS feeds, and on social media accounts.
Further, United Nations Television had covered live more than 30 events on decolonization, she said, including all of the meetings of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee), while United Nations Photo had covered the Committee’s meetings and related press conferences. The United Nations Audiovisual Library provided photographic and film material to an independent filmmaker in South Africa for a documentary on Namibia’s independence — entitled Paths to Freedom — to be released on 27 July. The Department continued to update the United Nations website on decolonization in the six official United Nations languages. As well, a Press Officer was deployed to cover the regional seminar on decolonization, held in Quito, Ecuador, from 28 to 30 May 2013.
Educating the public about decolonization was integral to the Department’s outreach activities, she continued, noting that the roles of the Trusteeship Council and Special Committee had been included in the narrative of the guided and audio tours of United Nations Headquarters. The Dag Hammarskjöld Library provided research and information services on decolonization. During the reporting period, 388 documents on decolonization had been digitized and posted on the Official Documents System. The global network of United Nations Information Centres raised awareness of decolonization issues via print, broadcast, and electronic and social media, and stories had been made available often in local languages, to youth, civil society and the media.
“The Department of Public Information, as the public voice of the Organization, continues to disseminate information about decolonization,” she said, stressing the need for immediate and full implementation of the 1960 United Nations Declaration on Decolonization.
LAURA VACCARI, Chief of the Decolonization Unit, Department of Political Affairs, said the Unit was responsible for the annual preparation of the Secretariat Working Papers on each of the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories. Contributions transmitted by the administering Powers pursuant to article 73 e of the United Nations Charter were the basis for the updating exercise and supplemented with information from public sources in order to provide accurate data about political, constitutional and socioeconomic developments.
The Unit had been instrumental in the organization, conduct and follow-up of the annual regional seminar, held this year in Fiji, she said. The seminars aimed to provide a “fresh” opportunity for in-depth discussion among Special Committee members and representatives from interested Member States, Non-Self-Governing Territories, civil society, regional organizations, and administering Powers, as well as experts from United Nations agencies and programmes. After the event, the Unit contributed to the preparation of the seminar report.
Concerning knowledge and information sharing, she said the Unit maintained a roster of contacts comprising experts, academics and non-governmental organizations dealing with decolonization matters, as a way to widen exchanges and contribute to the preparation of the annual seminars and the Working Papers. The Unit also worked closely with the Department of Public Information to keep the United Nations decolonization website a user-friendly, informative application. The regularly updated site was a “fine witness testimony” to the joint accomplishments of the two Departments. In sum, the Unit looked forward to continued work on the dissemination of information on decolonization, anticipating needs where possible and addressing priorities designed to promote the objectives of the Committee.
The representative of Cuba, following those remarks, noted the Unit’s support of States, highlighting the importance of the recent regional seminar in Fiji, where Non-Self-Governing Territories had participated. Given the collective frustration about the lack of progress in eradicating colonialism, the Committee should discuss possible steps to be taken in the short- and medium-term and adapt its work programme towards that end.
The representative of Sierra Leone expressed his appreciation for the Unit’s guidance, encouraging it to continue its work. In that context, he recalled its support given to the visiting mission to New Caledonia.
Question of Western Sahara
The representative of Cuba, speaking in general statement, said that, for more than a half century, the people of Western Sahara had presented their case to the Committee, as the area had been on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories since 1973. Several resolutions had been adopted recognizing it as a case for decolonization. Cuba supported Sahrawis’ right to self-determination, based on the United Nations Charter, related resolutions and international law. It had followed the negotiations held under the Secretary-General’s auspices, with a view to determining the future status of that territory. While no significant progress had been made, he had seen the political will to continue with negotiations.
Sahrawis required support and solidarity in order to meet their basic needs for food and water, he said, noting that Cuba, despite its modest resources, had contributed to their development in the area of education. Hundreds of young people from the territory were studying in Cuba. His Government supported the United Nations search for a settlement of that issue so that Sahrawis could exercise their right to self-determination, expressing hope that resolutions would be respected.
The representative of Ecuador said colonialism denied fundamental human rights, breached international law and impeded peace and cooperation. Decolonization had become a main objective of the United Nations, with the General Assembly’s approval of resolution 1514 (1960). He highlighted the substantial role of administrators, urging them to fully cooperate in that cause. It was up to Sahrawis to manifest their views on self-determination options. Ecuador fully supported the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy and ongoing negotiations to find a lasting, fair solution to restore Sahrawis’ inalienable right to self-determination. He also expressed support for the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), urging continued examination of mechanisms for evaluating the situation in that Non-Self-Governing Territory.
AHMED BOUKHARI, representative of the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), said that Western Sahara was the last African colony awaiting decolonization. “This is an affront,” he said, as the continent had seen the beginnings of the fight for freedom that had led to the adoption of resolution 1514 (1960). On various occasions, he had reiterated the enormous responsibility of the United Nations to help end that situation, created through an act of force in 1975. Yet, the last time a mission had been sent to the area was in May 1975. Its report had provided the first exhaustive information to the General Assembly on the situation and its recommendations had been strengthened by the International Court of Justice, whose ruling days later had enshrined Sahrawis’ right to self-determination through a referendum.
He said the Committee had been involved in the legal and practical shaping of that process, which should have led to the decolonization of Western Sahara in 1975. But Morocco had replaced Spain as the colonizer, an unprecedented situation in colonial history. Sahrawis fought for their right to exist. The United Nations had convinced Morocco of the need to hold a referendum, organized with the African Union. The United Nations had dispatched MINURSO to oversee that process. It was to have been held in 1992, yet never was, due to obstruction by Morocco. That country had unilaterally proclaimed Western Sahara part of its territory and did not accept a referendum that included independence as an option. Such intransigence was the cause for the lack of decolonization progress.
In 2012, Morocco had requested the Special Envoy’s resignation, he said, and negotiations were interrupted. Subsequent planned trips had never taken place. Maintaining the status quo allowed Morocco to involve the United Nations in financing what it was doing, to the detriment of the Organization’s credibility. The occupying Power preferred the status quo, which allowed it to practice brutal repression and invite foreign companies to drill for oil off the coast. There had been an abdication of responsibility by the United Nations, which had been perceived by Morocco as permission to continue its abuse.
The Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council had stated that United Nations efforts should continue until the decolonization process took place. The Frente Polisario would work with the African Union and the United Nations to resolve the conflict and allow the Committee to “emerge from its hibernation” to resume its responsibilities. He reiterated his request to send a mission to the territory and update information on events that had taken place since 1975.
The Question of Gibraltar
FABIAN PICARDO, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said Gibraltarian leaders had been addressing the Special Committee since 1963. The body had sufficient jurisdiction to start assisting Gibraltar as it was required to do by Articles 73 and 74 of the Charter and the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. “Every year we come here and remind you that these oblige you to act to protect our right to self-determination in delisting our nation,” he said, adding that Gibraltar, however, continued to be treated under successive Chairmen to a deafening silence.
Gibraltar would have been delisted long ago in keeping with the fourth option for decolonization if it were not for the Spanish Government’s repeated attempts to block it, he said. Spain had politically transformed everything about itself in the past 50 years except for its attitude to Gibraltar. The crux of the matter was the Spanish Government’s unsustainable insistence that although Gibraltar was in their view a colonial territory, the Gibraltarians were not a colonial people able to avail themselves of the rights and protections available to such peoples in the Charter and in other principles of international law.
Spain made unnecessary sporadic pedestrian controls, stifled business, and damaged trade, he said. Its State vessels made illegal incursions into Gibraltar’s territorial sea almost every day. The Special Committee had not provided its opinion on whether Gibraltar’s 2006 Constitution would deliver sufficient measure of self-government short of independence. It should support Gibraltar with the things that were in its power through such measures as visiting Gibraltar, attending an upcoming symposium and seeking an advisory opinion from the International Count of Justice on its right to self-determination.
XAVIER LASSO MENDOZA (Ecuador), Chair of the Special Committee, stressed that he had to discharge his responsibility by hearing all concerned parties, and there was no negligence. His Committee did not necessarily have all of the powers described by the previous speaker. It would be dangerous and imperial if it had such powers. He, however, respected the right to freely express views.
JOSÉ JAVIER GUTIÉRREZ BLANCO NAVARRETE (Spain), speaking as an observer, said his Government had always maintained that the opinion of the population was an important factor in the path to decolonization, except for situations involving a dispute over the rights of another State. In certain cases, it was the inhabitants of the territory who, in agreement with the colonial power and with their economic stability guaranteed, gave up their political independence. Those were cases of “colonialism by consent” that sought to perpetuate itself.
Gibraltar had been occupied in 1704 by Great Britain on behalf of Archduke Charles of Austria, pretender to the Spanish Crown, he said. It was artificially populated in numerous waves with persons brought from different locations, and it was enlarged later with land wrested illegally from Spain. The Spanish who lived there until that year, the real Gibraltarians, were forced to leave the territory and settled in the neighbouring town of San Roque. Furthermore, the United Kingdom illegally seized other territories not ceded under the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession.
The United Nations had on many occasions recognized the specific nature of Gibraltar’s decolonization process. General Assembly resolution 2353 (1967) stated that the colonial situation of Gibraltar undermined the territorial integrity of Spain. Furthermore, the administrating Power had admitted that the independence of its colony was not possible without Spain’s consent, in accordance with the Utrecht Treaty. Those two factors were more than sufficient to consider that a negotiated solution was required for the decolonization of Gibraltar. The administrating Power, however, had been refusing for too many years to even talk to Spain about the future of Gibraltar.
DENIS MATTHEWS, representative of the Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group, said all Gibraltarians were convinced of their right to self-determination over their political future and that of their land. Over the 300 years that Gibraltar had been British, a gradual progression had culminated in the 2006 Constitution, which established a decolonized status for Gibraltar. Regrettably, Gibraltar had been unable to elicit an opinion from the United Nations as to whether that view was correct. Despite that the Constitution had been presented to the Special Committee, all such efforts had “fallen on deaf ears”. He found that disappointing, especially amid the fervour of declarations of Decades, which appeared to give urgency to decolonization but had come to an “abrupt standstill” on the question of Gibraltar, an issue that had been relegated to a state of limbo.
He said it should be clear there was no prospect of progress on the basis of bilateral negotiations between the United Kingdom and Spain, as suggested by Spain’s representative. The way ahead must be by application of the principle of self-determination. The administering State had recognized that in Gibraltar’s Constitution and had made clear that no other course was acceptable. Further, in 2008, the Minister of State for Europe had noted that the United Kingdom would never enter into agreement on sovereignty without the agreement of the Government of Gibraltar and its people. Nor would it enter into a process without that agreement.
He failed to see how anyone could suggest that Spain had any role to play. Yet, the Fourth Committee had called on the United Kingdom and Spain to negotiate an end to Gibraltar’s colonial situation, presumably in compliance with Assembly resolutions that were out of step with twenty-first century thinking. That proposal was “abhorrent”, as it reduced Gibraltarians to “insignificant pawns” in negotiations carried out “over our heads” and apparently aimed at installing a permanent state of colonialism.
Any reasonable person would expect Spain to have abandoned its claim to Gibraltar, based on respect for democratic principles. That it had not suggested that Spain found it easy to bully the 30,000 inhabitants of Gibraltar, or a convenient distraction from internal unrest in the country. Citing examples of Spaniards who did not share the views of their Government on the Gibraltar question, he asked the Special Committee what it must do to elicit a response on progressing with decolonization. He also suggested organizing a visiting mission to the Territory.