Decolonization had been one of the “most defining issues” of the latter part of the twentieth century and beyond owing to the United Nations’ “untiring” efforts, but with 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories still on the Organization’s list, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today heard calls for completing the process through a common endeavour in the spirit of cooperation among all parties involved.
Committee Chair Durga Prasad Bhattarai (Nepal) made an appeal for a sustained joint effort, as he opened the annual debate on the subject, during which he emphasized the role of the Special Committee on Decolonization in ensuring the emergence of dozens of sovereign and independent States over the past decades. Despite those gains, he added, the task was far from complete.
Presenting the Report of the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to colonial Countries and Peoples, Rapporteur Bashar Ja’afari (Syria) provided an account of various aspects of the Committee’s work, including those relating to the Non-Self-Governing Territories within its purview. He said that, during the substantive session held earlier in the year, the Committee had considered the items on the agenda in the context of the third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism and provided recommendations on ways of moving forward.
Surveying the Special Committee’s achievements and challenges, its Chair, Xavier Lasso Mendoza (Ecuador) called for sustained efforts to further the new dynamics in the Committee, including through the process of informal consultations among the Bureau, administering Powers and Non-Self-Governing Territories.
He emphasized the need to update the resolution on the question of French Polynesia to include information on the environmental, ecological, health and other impacts of the 30-year period of nuclear testing there. Noting that petitioners from the territories would soon have an opportunity to express their views, he underscored the importance of cross-cutting issues such as climate change and the role of regional organizations.
On the question of the Malvinas Islands (Falklands)*, the representative of Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, reaffirmed the group’s support for Argentina’s rights and called on both Argentina and the United Kingdom to refrain from unilateral measures while seeking a solution to what he called an “anachronistic situation”.
Speaking on behalf of the Union of South American Nations, the representative of Suriname expressed support for the work and activities of the Special Committee, including in connection with the “special and particular” situations involving sovereignty disputes. He urged Argentina and the United Kingdom to resume bilateral negotiations on the Malvinas as soon as possible.
The representative of Argentina emphasized that the Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands were recognized as a “special and particular” situation that must be resolved between his country and the United Kingdom. Stressing that British military and commercial activities in the area created unnecessary tensions, she said Argentina was waiting for the United Kingdom to come to the negotiating table.
On Western Sahara, speakers stressed the need for a lasting and fair settlement in line with United Nations resolutions and with an emphasis on monitoring the human rights situation.
The representative of Iran, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, urged all administering Powers to pay full compensation for the economic, social and cultural consequences of their occupation. He also supported the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the establishment of an independent State.
Before concluding the meeting, the Chair announced the granting of requests for hearings by petitioners on French Polynesia, Gibraltar, New Caledonia and Western Sahara, to be held from 8 to 10 October.
Also speaking in today’s debate were representatives of Guatemala, Uruguay, Mexico, Brazil, El Salvador, Venezuela, Ecuador, China and Turkey.
Representatives of the United Kingdom, Morocco Argentina and Algeria spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 8 October, to continue its debate on decolonization issues.
As it began its annual general debate on all decolonization items this afternoon, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) had before it item 55 (documents A/69/23, chapters VII and XIII, and A/69/69);item 56 (document A/69/23, chapters V and XIII); item 57 (documents A/69/23, chapters VI and XIII, and A/69/66); item 58 (document A/69/67) and item 59 (documents A/69/23,chapters VIII, IX, X, XI and XIII, and A/69/189). Also before the Committee were requests for hearings (documents A/C.4/69/2, A/C.4/69/3, A/C.4/69/4 and A/C.4/69/5).
Introduction of Report
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) presented a report (document A/69/23) containing detailed accounts of various aspects of the Committee’s work, including those relating to the various Non-Self-Governing Territories within its purview. He said that, during the substantive session held earlier in the year, the Committee considered the items on the agenda in the context of the third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism and provided recommendations on ways of moving forward.
Recalling the General Assembly’s affirmation of French Polynesia’s right to self-determination, he highlighted the Committee’s work relating to the amelioration of the environmental and health impacts of 30 years of nuclear testing there. He thanked members of the Fourth Committee, as well as the Secretary-General for their support for the Special Committee’s work.
GHOLAMHOSSEIN DEHGHANI (Iran), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the Movement attached great importance to decolonization and the right of peoples to self-determination. He affirmed full support for the peoples under colonial rules. Noting that the Special Committee still had 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories on its agenda, he stressed the need to expedite the eradication of colonialism.
The Non-Aligned Movement reiterated its full support to the decolonization process and its pertinent bodies, he said, calling for enhancement of their efficiency so as to improve cooperation with administering Powers and to ensure the active participation of peoples of the territories. He urged all administering Powers to pay full compensations for the economic, social and cultural consequences of their occupation. In addition, he reaffirmed the rights of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence and stressed that the Movement continued to support the inalienable right of Palestinian people to self-determination and establishment of their independent State.
XAVIER LASSO MENDOZA (Ecuador), surveying the Committee’s achievements and challenges, said the Committee had been strengthened with the addition of a third vice-chairman. He called for sustained efforts to push forward the new dynamics in the Committee, including through the process of informal consultations among the Bureau, administering Powers and Non-Self-Governing Territories.
He emphasized the need to update resolution V on the question of French Polynesia to include information on the environmental, ecological, health and other impacts of the 30-year period of nuclear testing there as contained the Secretary-General’s report. Noting that petitioners from the territories would have an opportunity to express their views soon, he underscored the importance of cross-cutting issues such as climate change and the role of regional organizations.
JUAN CARLOS MENDOZA-GARCÍA (Costa Rica), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), reiterated the organization’s firm support to the process of decolonization, as well as to the right of self-determination. The process of decolonization had been one of the greatest successes of the United Nations, but the existence of 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories meant the international community still must shoulder its responsibility. He urged the administering Powers to take into account the specific situation of each territory in moving them forward through the decolonization process. The CELAC summit earlier in the year reaffirmed the region’s commitment to freeing itself from colonialism, he stressed.
He supported, in addition, the dissemination of information on decolonization by the Department of Public Information. He also reaffirmed CELAC’s support for the rights of Argentina in the Malvinas dispute, calling on Britain and Argentina to seek a peaceful settlement in line with resolutions of the United Nations and regional organizations, and to refrain from unilateral measures while seeking a solution to what he called an “anachronistic situation”. Consideration of Puerto Rico should take into account all its dimensions, including the Latin American and Caribbean character of the territory. Consideration of the situation of island territories should take into account, in addition, rising sea levels and other current threats. Finally, he said that CELAC supported the Secretary-General’s pursuit of a just and lasting settlement for Western Sahara.
KITTY SWEEB (Suriname), speaking on behalf of the Union of South American Nations, described colonialism as a violation of the fundamental tenets of democracy and freedom whose existence impeded international economic cooperation and the development of dependent peoples. It also went against the United Nations’ ideals of universal peace.
Stating that the decolonization process required continued efforts to bring an end to colonialism, she pledged the Union’s support for the work and activities of the Special Committee to advance decolonization, including the “special and particular” situations involving sovereignty disputes.
The question of the Malvinas Islands had historic and legal circumstances that excluded the possibility of solving it under the exercise of the principle of self-determination, she said, calling upon Argentina and the United Kingdom to resume bilateral negotiations as soon as possible. Supporting Argentina’s legitimate sovereignty rights over the Malvinas Islands and its continuous constructive attitude towards a definitive solution, she said the military presence of the United Kingdom in the area and the unilateral exploration and exploitation of natural resources was contrary to the search for a peaceful settlement.
MÓNICA BOLAÑOS PÉREZ (Guatemala), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement and CELAC, said the Malvinas dispute, which had specific features of colonization recognized by the United Nations, required the resumption of bilateral relations between Argentina and the United Kingdom to ensure a fair and lasting settlement. Argentina had expressed its commitment to that end, she recalled, expressing hope that the United Kingdom would do the same.
Guatemala supported all resolutions on the Western Sahara, she said, reaffirming her Government’s support for the Secretary-General’s current efforts. A settlement would ensure the security and stability of the wider region.
GONZALO KONCKE (Uruguay), associating himself with the statements of the Union of South American Nations and CELAC, reaffirmed the collective commitment to redouble the efforts to bring about decolonization and forge discussion between Non-Self-Governing Territories and administering Powers.
On the question of Western Sahara, he said it was crucial to resume conversation and respect the right of self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. The issue was a priority for Uruguay, which urged the parties to cooperate with the United Nations to further respect human rights in Western Sahara.
Regarding the Malvinas Islands, he said that the current population of the Islands had come from the colonial homeland, Argentina. Uruguay supported Argentina’s legitimate right to sovereignty over the Malvinas, South Sandwich and South Georgia Islands. That was a very particular situation, which required a peaceful and negotiated solution between the parties. Uruguay urged the speedy resumption of negotiations towards a fair and peaceful solution. He said the MERCOSUR supported Argentina’s fair and well-founded claim, and its leaders reaffirmed that country’s legitimate right in that long-standing dispute.
RICARDO ALDAY GONZÁLEZ (Mexico) said the right to self-determination was enshrined in the United Nations Charter and was a guiding principle of his country. He reiterated the need for United Nations to remain engaged in the process of decolonization, especially within the framework of the third Decade.
On Western Sahara, he stressed the need for a lasting and fair settlement in line with United Nations resolutions. Mexico agreed with the importance of monitoring the human rights situation, he said, adding that lasting peace should include a referendum comprising all the options necessary towards that end.
On the Malvinas Islands, he expressed support for Argentina’s historical and legal claims, and stressed the urgency of a negotiated settlement in accordance with United Nations resolutions, as well as those of regional organizations.
ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil), associating himself with CELAC, the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and the Union of South American Nations, said the Malvinas dispute represented “unfinished business” of the United Nations. Brazil called on both parties to engage in dialogue in keeping with the primacy of rule of law, he said, urging the United Kingdom to refrain from “illegitimate” exploitation of hydrocarbons and other resources in the area. Additionally, the United Kingdom’s military activities there contradicted the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes. The desire for a peaceful settlement of the Malvinas dispute was shared by developing countries across the globe, which, he said, underscored the urgency of a solution.
MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL (Argentina) associated herself with all of those who supported the process of decolonization and proclaimed the need to put an end to colonialism in all its forms, through self-determination and territorial integrity. She expressed Argentina’s support for the right to self-determination and insisted that no people should be living under foreign occupation, as that would deny them that basic human right. Argentina reiterated its support for the Special Committee on Decolonization, stating that people were entitled to freely decide their political future. She could not tolerate the use of the self-determination principle to justify the continuation of sovereignty disputes, which hurt Argentina’s territorial integrity, since the British occupation in 1883.
Regarding the Malvinas, South Sandwich and the South Georgia Islands, she said that the matter had been recognized as a special and particular situation that must be resolved only between the two parties — bearing in mind the best interests of the people of those Islands. She said there were no colonialized people in the Malvinas, but a special colonization situation resulted in the sovereignty dispute. Her Government believed that any attempt to authorize the British population on the Island to become the “referee” of the dispute would invalidate the principle of self-determination, precisely because there were no people under colonial rule. According to Argentina, the people were British subjects for whom the situation had not changed over the years. On the other hand, Argentines from the country’s mainland could not settle in the Malvinas, with a few exceptions.
The United Nations, she stressed, recognized that the right of self-determination did not apply to that situation. Indeed, the United Nations had asked that the sovereignty dispute be settled through negotiation; however, the United Kingdom refused to respect the mandates of the international community. She added that the United Kingdom pursued illegal activities, namely, the exploitation of renewable and non-renewable resources. It also conducted military exercises. She insisted that those British activities created unnecessary tensions and conflicts, which was “a slap” on Argentina and the other countries in the region. That gave the dispute a regional dimension.
She emphasized that it has been nearly half a century since the United Nations had been urging a peaceful solution through direct negotiation between the two Governments concerned. She said that Argentina had been sitting at the negotiation table for many years and was waiting for the United Kingdom to do the same. The representative of Argentina reaffirmed her decision to find a peaceful solution through dialogue with the United Kingdom.
RUBÉN IGNACIO ZAMORA RIVAS (El Salvador), associating himself with CELAC, reaffirmed his Government’s support for Argentina’s legitimate rights to the Malvinas Islands. Calling for a settlement based on the principles of justice and international law, he urged Argentina and the United Kingdom to seek a peaceful settlement to their sovereignty dispute.
In the case of Western Sahara, he stressed the need for a fair and lasting solution through dialogue that respected the human rights of the people. Welcoming efforts to create a conducive atmosphere for peace, he related his own country’s emergence from conflict through similar endeavours to institute durable democratic and participatory institutions.
HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela), associating with the statements of CELAC, Suriname and Iran, said that, despite the progress made in decolonization, there remained many colonial situations, which ran contrary to international law. He recommended that Member States mobilize their efforts to help the people in the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories realize their aspirations of independence and freedom.
He expressed Venezuela’s support for the right of self-determination of the people of Puerto Rico, whose fight for independence was a “dear” cause for Latin America and the Caribbean. He demanded an end to the United States’ colonization, and called on that country to adopt the necessary measures to bring about self-determination in Puerto Rico.
Regarding the question of the Malvinas, South Sandwich and South Georgia Islands, he voiced his country’s support for the sovereignty right of Argentina in line with international law. Venezuela was committed to put an end to colonialism in all its forms and to foster negotiation between the United Kingdom and Argentina. Venezuela supported current negotiations, as those were the only legitimate framework by which to reach a political solution that was fair, durable and accepted by all. Finally, Venezuela urged the French Government to facilitate self-determination in French Polynesia.
XAVIER LASSO MENDOZA (Ecuador), associating with Non-Aligned Movement, CELAC and the Union of South American Nations, called for redoubled efforts to eliminate colonialism in all its manifestations. It represented a denial of basic human rights and an impediment to international cooperation. The Committee needed to constantly remind administering Powers of their responsibility to transmit information on the Non-Self-Governing Territories under their jurisdictions.
He stressed the urgency of reaching a settlement to the Western Sahara dispute based on the wishes and aspirations of the people. The question of Puerto Rico was of concern to Latin America and the Caribbean, and the issue must be addressed in recognition of the regional reality. He urged the United States to ensure the full expression of the right to self-determination of the people of Puerto Rico, and called for the release of political prisoners. The Malvinas represented a special situation that must be addressed accordingly, he said, expressing firm support for Argentina’s claims.
CAROL VIVIANA ARCE ECHEVERRÍA (Costa Rica), associating with CELAC, reiterated her country’s support for the process of decolonization, and said that a significant number of nations had attained the goal, but it was not a thing of the past, as 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories were still under colonialized rule. She reaffirmed Costa Rica’s commitment to the mandate of the Special Committee, which had been in existence for more than 50 years. She trusted that it would continue to seek independence for colonial countries and people. She urged the administering Powers to transmit information to each of the Territories for which they were responsible.
She reiterated Costa Rica’s support for Argentina’s position regarding the dispute, which was a special and particular colonial situation. That dispute was a question of territorial integrity, on which a settlement would be possible with the resumption of negotiations.
On the question of the Western Sahara, she expressed Costa Rica’s support for a just, durable solution that was acceptable to all parties in Western Sahara and based on the principle of international law. She was in favour of a referendum on self-determination of the Saharan people. She also insisted that the mandate of MINURSO be expanded to ensure respect for human rights in the Territory and in the Tindouf refugee camp.
WEI ZONGLEI (China), pledging his Government’s full support to the Committee, highlighted the achievements made by the United Nations and the Special Committee since their inception in ensuring the independence of dozens of countries. However, he said, the “poisonous legacy” left behind by colonialism was difficult to eliminate. He expressed hope that the Special Committee would continue building ties with the Non-Self-Governing Territories in pursuing its work.
Y. HALIT ÇEVIK (Turkey) said the work of the Special Committee remained relevant and valuable in ensuring respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people in the Non-Self-Governing Territories. Any efforts at self-determination must be generated from within and respect the wishes of the people, he said, adding that the administering Powers must safeguard their rights to social economic development.
Right of Reply
The representative of the United Kingdom, responding to statements made by several speakers, said his Government had no doubt about the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. The people of the Falklands had voted overwhelmingly to stay within the United Kingdom in a referendum in 2013, he recalled. He regretted Argentina’s refusal to meet with the United Kingdom on the matter, and rejected claims that his country had heightened military activity in the region. Force levels had been reduced since the conflict in the 1980s, he said, adding that people of the Falklands had made a decision to develop their own resources. The United Kingdom urged Argentina to respect the wishes of the people of the Falklands.
Also exercising his right of reply, the representative of Morocco said his Government emphasized the principle of neutrality of the United Nations, as well as the principles of predictability and transparency in the search for peace. He rejected efforts to expand the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), and added that his Government remained firmly determined to implement a final settlement that enjoyed consensus. Morocco’s commitment to human rights was recognized by the international community, and the country’s cooperation with international organizations and institutions was also exemplary. All people living in Morocco enjoyed full human rights. The concept and principles of self-determination had undergone an evolution, which needed to be recognized.
The representative of Argentina affirmed Argentine sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands, Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas. He said the United Kingdom consistently distorted the reality of the situation, which, he said, stemmed from its own uncertainties over its claims. The British “referendum” was a tautological act asking the British whether they wished to remain British. It was imperative to resume the bilateral negotiations on sovereignty in accordance with United Nations resolutions on the matter.
The representative of Algeria said Western Sahara was a Non-Self-Governing Territory, and thus, his Government was puzzled by the Moroccan representative’s effort to reinterpret the right of self-determination. The question of Western Sahara was one of decolonization and thus should be pursued as such. Concerning the United Nations mandate, he said the people of Western Sahara should be allowed to express their aspirations freely. The United Nations and the international community must reactivate the referendum process forthwith.
Taking the floor again in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Morocco said the issue of referendum was overtaken by the search for a political settlement.
The representative of Algeria, also taking the floor again, asserted that no country had recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. Therefore, he urged Morocco to find a solution within the framework of international law.
* 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).