5 October 1999


5 October 1999

Press Release



In this day and age, Gibraltar was neither Spain’s to claim nor the United Kingdom’s to give away -– it was the homeland of the people of Gibraltar, who were the only ones to determine their own political future, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) was told this morning as it heard requests for hearing.

Peter Caruana, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said that recent proposals submitted to the United Kingdom by Spain provided for the inevitable transfer of sovereignty to Spain, preceded by a transitional period of joint sovereignty by the two countries. That was totally unacceptable to his people. Gibraltar was seeking decolonization through reform and modernization of its current Constitution. To that end, Parliament had recently established a Select Committee on Constitutional Reform.

In his petition, J.J. Bossano, Leader of the Opposition Socialist Labour Party in Gibraltar, said the Socialist Labour Party would campaign for rejection of any so-called modernization of the Constitution which left the Territory’s international status unchanged. Nothing could be less modern than being a colony in the twenty-first century.

This morning, the Committee granted requests for hearing to petitioners from Gibraltar, Guam, Western Sahara, New Caledonia, specialized agencies and East Timor. It heard petitioners from Gibraltar before continuing its general debate on all decolonization issues. The Committee also decided to circulate a request for hearing from the International Federation for East Timor and to make a decision on that issue at its next meeting.

Speaking during the general debate, the representative of Ghana said that, with 17 Territories still under administering Powers, there was a need to speed up the process, since there was no alternative to the principle of self- determination.

The representative of Saint Lucia said that few, if any, legitimate popular consultations had been held in the Non-Self-Governing Territories to confirm the claim by some administering Powers that their people were content with their present status. Statements by territorial representatives before the Special Committee on decolonization had presented a totally different picture.

Fourth Committee - 1a - Press Release GA/SPD/158 4th Meeting (AM) 5 October 1999

Several speakers stressed that the right to self-determination was universal and did not depend on the size, geographical location or wealth of natural resources. The representative of China said that administering Powers should offer the Territories more assistance to establish a sound economic base and that foreign interest groups should take into account the wishes of the local peoples to protect their natural and labour resources.

Also in this morning’s debate, the need for better dissemination of information and for the education of the people on their rights were emphasized. Several speakers welcomed the results of the popular consultation in East Timor and stressed the need to implement the wish of the East Timorese for independence.

In addition, statements were made by the representatives of Mexico (on behalf of the Rio Group), Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Uruguay (on behalf of MERCOSUR, Bolivia and Chile), India and Cuba. Also speaking was the representative of the United States Virgin Islands.

Representatives of the United Kingdom and Cuba spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow to hear further petitions and to continue its consideration of decolonization issues.

Committee Work Programme

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to continue its consideration of decolonization issues. It was expected to hear a number of petitioners from Non-Self-Governing Territories.


PETER CARUANA, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said the essence of the Gibraltar issue was simple enough. The Kingdom of Spain claimed from the administering Power, the United Kingdom, the return of the sovereignty of Gibraltar, which Spain had lost in 1704 and subsequently ceded in perpetuity in 1713. Spain based its claim on two fundamental propositions, which included the alleged principle of territorial integrity and the alleged effect of the Treaty of Utrecht. The application of the principle of territorial integrity, if it existed in the process of decolonization, would, according to Spain, require the transfer of the sovereignty of his country by the United Kingdom to Spain contrary to the unanimous wishes of the people of Gibraltar. None of the General Assembly resolutions that Spain referred to in connection with the principle of territorial integrity stipulated what Spain sought to attribute to them. In the process of decolonization, there was no alternative to the principle of self-determination.

Spain’s referral’s to the Treaty of Utrecht was based on the provision of the Treaty purporting to give Spain first option if Britain was to alienate sovereignty of Gibraltar, he continued. Even if that provision were to be capable of that interpretation, it could not be valid and effective today to deny the people of Gibraltar the right to self-determination, given the current applicable principles of international law. His delegation was so confident of that view that it had, on several occasions, invited the Committee of 24 to refer the point to the International Court of Justice for a declaratory ruling, which the Gibraltar Government itself did not have the legal standing to do, given that it was not a party to the Treaty of Utrecht. He repeated that request again today. Spain also contended that the people of Gibraltar were not indigenous, being the descendants of people who had arrived in the Territory after the act of colonization and, therefore, were not a colonized people. However, over time they had acquired a unique and distinct identity and characteristics as a people. Gibraltar already enjoyed a very large measure of self-government. Economically, it was totally self-sufficient, too. In this day and age, Gibraltar was neither Spain’s to claim, nor the United Kingdom’s to give away -– it was the homeland of the people of Gibraltar, and that people was the only one that could determine its political future.

The so-called “Matutes proposals”, which had been submitted by the Foreign Minister of Spain to the United Kingdom, provided for the inevitable transfer of sovereignty to Spain, preceded by a transitional period of joint sovereignty between Britain and Spain, he said. That was totally unacceptable to the people of Gibraltar, who had expressed their will not only through a massively subscribed public petition, but also through a unanimous resolution of Gibraltar’s Parliament supported by all political parties in Gibraltar. Notwithstanding its determination to decide its own future, Gibraltar did not turn its back on Spain and was not afraid to engage in dialogue. However, any such dialogue must be on the basis and subject to the overriding principle that the people of Gibraltar had the right to freely decide their own future and that its wishes must be respected.

Gibraltar could not stand still, he said, and the offer for dialogue was not an alternative to proceeding with Gibraltar’s natural aspiration to be decolonized. It was seeking to achieve decolonization through the exercise of its right to self-determination by a process of reform and modernization of its current Constitution. To that end, the Parliament of Gibraltar had recently established a Select Committee on Constitutional Reform with a view to achieving consensus on constitutional proposals to submit to the United Kingdom, which would put an end to the colonial status of Gibraltar.

J.J. BOSSANO, leader of the Opposition Socialist Labour Party of Gibraltar, said that the long overdue recognition of the rights of the East Timorese to determine their own decolonization in accordance with their wishes was a sign of the times, marred though it had been by the tragic cost in human life and suffering that had been paid for the exercise of that right. That was strong evidence that the struggle against imperialism and colonialism was as real, and could be as brutal, as it was 50 years ago when the United Nations Charter was written.

In Gibraltar’s case, the colonial situation today was worse than it was in 1963, he said. The level of self-government achieved in 1963 had, since 1973, been whittled away, allowing the colonial Power to determine what applied in Gibraltar in terms of European Union rights. Gibraltar had been converted into a bargaining chip, with the United Kingdom using it in the European Union to gain something for itself by making concessions in matters affecting Gibraltarians.

He said that Gibraltar’s Parliament had nevertheless agreed to participate in a select committee with a view to arriving at proposals for decolonization under United Nations auspices, and would have to result in changing Gibraltar’s international status. The Socialist Labour Party would campaign for rejection of any so-called modernization of the Constitution which left the Territory’s international status unchanged. Nothing could be less modern than being a colony in the twenty-first century.

CARLYLE CORBIN, Minister of State for External Affairs of the United States Virgin Islands, said that the implementation by United Nations specialized agencies and associated international institutions was critical to the socio- economic development of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. He expressed concern over the minimal response from the wider United Nations system to the report of the Secretary-General transmitting the related resolution to the various bodies and requesting information on their activities in implementing the decolonization Declaration. Few United Nations bodies had bothered to respond, he said.

Continuing, he said closer attention must be paid to whether General Assembly resolutions on the small Territories were actually carried out, especially when action by the United Nations system was required. The strides in making the United Nations system more responsive to the socio-economic and constitutional development aspirations of those Territories had been successful largely due to the efforts of the Territories themselves, with the support of many Member States, most notably in the Caribbean and Pacific regions. But there was a limit to how much they could do alone. The United Nations could help them immeasurably if only by responding to the requests for information made by the Secretary-General and by Member States.

PABLO MACEDO (Mexico), speaking for the members of the Rio Group, said that there were still several issues to be resolved in the field of decolonization. Intense work needed to be done to ensure the success of the self-determination process in the 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories. In the process of decolonization, the Special Committee on decolonization had played a special role. It had tried to encourage participation of the administering Powers, specialized agencies, international institutions and Member States in the effort to achieve decolonization of those Territories.

He hoped that the administering Powers would create conditions to ensure free exercise of the inalienable right to self-determination of the peoples of the Territories. He invited them to fulfil their commitments and urged them to take effective measures to allow the protection of the right of the peoples to the natural resources of their countries. They should also keep the Territories free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Sending missions to the Territories was worth continuing, for it allowed gathering valuable information. Seminars were also important in that respect.

The Rio Group recognized the importance of the signing by the Indonesian and Portuguese Governments of an agreement on East Timor, he said, and it applauded the decision of Indonesia to support the public consultation in the Territory. He regretted the recent violence there and called for implementation of the results of the consultation. On Western Sahara, he said that the Group was pleased at the level of cooperation demonstrated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro (POLISARIO Front) and the Government of Morocco. The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) had also actively participated in the process. There was progress in the repatriation of the Western Sahara residents whose participation in the referendum should be guaranteed. The beginning of the appeal process inspired hope, but it should not turn into a new identification process, which would delay the holding of the referendum. The Rio Group also regretted recent violence in the capital of Western Sahara, which had led to deplorable consequences. He urged all the parties to refrain from actions creating obstacles to the decolonization of that last enclave of colonialism on the African continent. A recent declaration by Argentina and the United Kingdom constituted a firm basis for future negotiations to find a solution to the dispute over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands.

PHAVANH NUANTHASING (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) said that, as a member of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), her country fully supported the statement made by the Philippines on behalf of that organization. The decolonization process had not ended, but rather entered a more complex phase, because there were still 2 million people in the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories who had not yet exercised their right to choose their own destiny. Every effort should, therefore, be made to intensify international cooperation to ensure that they exercised that right. She hoped that the administering Powers would cooperate fully with the United Nations and the peoples of the Territories.

She said that the Lao Republic reaffirmed the applicability of the principles of self-determination enshrined in the Charter and relevant General Assembly resolutions. They should remain the guidelines for the exercise of self- determination by all Non-Self-Governing Territories, regardless of size, location, population or endowment with natural resources. Most of the Territories were small countries with vulnerable economies. The needed assistance should be provided to them; that was, first and foremost, the responsibility of the administering Powers. At the same time, the United Nations and its specialized agencies should increase development assistance and take steps to ensure adequate economic foundations and political education to enable them to assume the responsibility of self-government. Visiting missions should be sent to those Territories to facilitate full, speedy and effective implementation of the Declaration on decolonization.

CLAUDE BOUAH-KAMON (Côte d’Ivoire) said that the current General Assembly session had particular significance since it marked the end of the millennium and the end of the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. On the threshold of that Decade, there remained 17 Territories which had not achieved self-determination.

He said that freeing the world from colonialism should be one of the priorities of the United Nations and the international community. The means must be found to make the next century one in which no country or people, no matter how powerful, should feel it could control the destiny of another people, no matter how small or vulnerable, unless through the free and widely expressed will of the people concerned.

He said his country was aware of the various options available to the people of Non-Self-Governing Territories -– integration with an independent State, free association with an independent State and total independence from the administering Power –- and it remained convinced that the best way for them to achieve self-determination was through real and direct dialogue, under United Nations auspices, between the administering Powers and the legitimate representatives of the peoples concerned of those Territories.

Côte d’Ivoire was pleased with the new spirit of direct dialogue between the Special Committee and the administering Powers after a long period of suspicion, he said. In the context of that new partnership, a new orientation should be encouraged by establishing official and unofficial contacts.

JORGE PEREZ OTERMIN (Uruguay), associating his delegation with the statement of the Rio Group and on behalf of the Common Market of the Southern Cone (MERCOSUR) Group, Bolivia and Chile, expressed satisfaction with the strengthening of the bilateral process between Argentina and the United Kingdom on their sovereignty dispute over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), following reciprocal visits by President Carlos Menem and the Prince of Wales.

He reaffirmed the commitment adopted by the MERCOSUR countries, as well as Bolivia and Chile, to the policy of ensuring free communications and transit of persons, in a fluid and friendly way, without which the situation could not be resolved.

JAGAT MEHTA (India) called for elimination of the lingering remnants of colonialism. The complexity of situations and diverse conditions in the Non-Self- Governing Territories made the task more difficult, but the international community could not shirk its collective responsibility. The peoples of those Territories should be allowed to make their own decisions and choose their own economic, political and social systems. Cooperation, not confrontation, should be the guiding principle in the attempts to attain those goals. The administering Powers should show political realism and flexibility. The United Nations must ascertain the wishes of those peoples and enable them to fulfil their will.

He urged a critical review of decolonization activities and elaboration of a plan of action that would truly reflect the aspirations of the peoples of the Non- Self-Governing Territories. Such a plan should be based on a realistic appraisal of the situation in the Territories. The constructive involvement of the administering Powers could only be welcomed. Certain of those Powers had already demonstrated the necessary flexibility and accommodation; as a result, there was hope that matters pertaining to some of the Territories could be resolved in a spirit of cooperation.

YAW ODEI OSEI (Ghana) said that there was a need to speed up the process of decolonization, since there was no alternative to the principle of self- determination. He urged dialogue between the administering Powers and the people of the Territories, under the auspices of the United Nations. The Special Committee should devise practical and innovative strategies to speed up the process. It must continue its work until the total eradication of colonialism had been achieved. In that regard, he welcomed the conclusions and recommendations of the Caribbean Regional Seminar held in Saint Lucia in May.

The administering Powers had a duty under the Charter to cooperate in every way necessary, including assisting visiting United Nations missions to ascertain conditions in the Territories at first hand, he said. He commended New Zealand’s cooperation with the Special Committee. The time was right to ensure that the decision of the East Timorese people was respected. He also commended progress made on the Western Sahara issue, citing the flexibility and compromise demonstrated by the POLISARIO Front and Morocco in accepting the Secretary- General’s programme for implementation of the settlement plan for the referendum. The two parties should continue to demonstrate their commitment to the process to ensure its conclusion.

JULIAN HUNTE (Saint Lucia), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, said that if the decolonization of the small island Territories was to succeed in the new millennium, a sufficient level of resources was necessary. With a little over a year remaining in the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, the Special Committee was yet to be provided with the necessary resources and specialized expertise to undertake many of the activities contained in the Plan of Action adopted by the General Assembly in 1991.

He said no major research studies had been carried out on the economic and social situation in the individual Territories, nor on the progress and extent of implementation of the decolonization Declaration. It was not difficult, therefore, to understand why Member States were still unclear about the details of the individual political status arrangements in the remaining small island Territories. Yet, they were asked to make important decisions regarding their political and constitutional future. Few, if any, legitimate popular consultations had been held in those Territories to confirm the conclusion that people were content with their present non-self-governing status, and statements before the Special Committee by territorial representatives presented a totally different picture.

He said the draft resolution on the small Territories served to update issues contained in resolutions over the last several years, which had been approved virtually unchanged and which offered flexible and innovative solutions to addressing the decolonization issue for the people of the small island Territories. While it had been suggested in the past that the United Nations should adopt the same text year after year, because there had been consensus in the old language, Saint Lucia was strongly of the view that new ideas, solutions and information were essential for the process to be moved forward.

RAFAEL DAUSÁ CÉSPEDES (Cuba) said that much still remained to be done in the field of decolonization. The dynamism of the 1950s had been lost, and it appeared that on the eve of the millennium the goal of decolonization would have to wait a bit longer. Cuba could not agree with the argument that the size of a given Territory should be taken into account in determining whether or not it deserved self-determination. That inalienable right could not be determined by size, geographical location or natural resources.

Far from decreasing, the challenges facing the Special Committee were more complex than ever, he said. With a few well-known exceptions, there was a history among the administering Powers of lateness in carrying out their obligation to transmit information on the Territories under their administration. Visiting missions were a magnificent opportunity for the Special Committee to obtain first- hand information on the situation in the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

He reiterated his country’s concern over military activities being carried out by some administering Powers to the detriment of the peoples of Non-Self- Governing Territories. Cuba was firmly opposed to any attempt to use those Territories to carry out nuclear tests and store hazardous or toxic wastes.

Welcoming the results of the East Timor popular consultation, he said Cuba was following with great interest the evolution of the situation in Western Sahara. Cuba also supported dialogue as the only way to bring about a lasting and just solution to the sovereignty dispute over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) and affirmed that the rights of the people of Guam must be respected. Cuba reaffirmed the right to independence of the people of Puerto Rico who, despite having suffered the yoke of colonialism for more than 100 years, had not lost their identity as a Latin American and Caribbean people.

SHEN GUOFANG (China) said that one of the most important achievements of the United Nations since its inception was that it had helped a large number of colonies cast off the yoke of colonial rule and achieve independence. The historically significant Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples had greatly accelerated the speed of decolonization. The membership of the United Nations had jumped from 51 to 188. However, it was important not to lose sight of the fact that colonialism still held ground, and there were still more than a dozen Non-Self-Governing Territories around the world. To reach the goal of decolonization remained an arduous task, which called for even greater efforts by the administering Powers, as well as the whole international community. The Chinese people had always sympathized with and supported the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories in their struggle for self-determination and independence.

According to the Charter, the Declaration and relevant General Assembly resolutions, people of Non-Self-Governing Territories enjoyed the inalienable right to free determination of their future status, he said. The joint efforts of all parties concerned, including the United Nations, the peoples of the Territories and administering Powers, were required to ensure the exercise of that right. Effective means were needed to make known the will and situation of the people of Non-Self-Governing Territories. Dissemination of information on decolonization and regional seminars were important in that respect. He called on the administering Powers to coordinate more closely with the United Nations and make sure that people of the Territories fully understood their rights. Administering Powers should also offer the Territories more assistance towards establishing a more sound economic base. Foreign economic interest groups carrying out activities in the Territories should take into full account the wish of the local people and protect local natural and labour resources.

Right of Reply

KATHERINE SMITH (United Kingdom) said that her Government’s position regarding the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) was well known. It had last been expressed in the General Assembly plenary on 21 September and disseminated as an official document.

Mr. DAUSÁ CÉSPEDES (Cuba) said that in the sovereignty dispute, his country supported Argentina’s position. His country was in favour of a peaceful solution, taking into account all interests regarding the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

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For information media. Not an official record.