5 November 2001


Press Release

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Third Committee

30th Meeting (PM)



Committee Also Hears Debate on Western

Sahara, as Discussion on Self-Determination Concludes

As the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) wrapped up its discussion surrounding issues relating to self-determination, the representative of India told Committee members that disturbing attempts continued to be made to reinvent some of the basic principles of the United Nations Charter and the United Nations Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

The delegation from India said that some leaders selectively applied the two international instruments for narrow political ends, unmindful of the havoc that this could cause to international peace and security.  Those who did so, he said, would do well to realize that this reinterpretation could sweep their own countries into its vortex.  A former Secretary-General had put it aptly -- if every ethnic, religious or linguistic group claimed statehood, there would be no limit to the fragmentation of peace and security, and economic well-being for all would become even more difficult to achieve.

Throughout the three-day debate, speakers expressed conflicting views about just how the right to self-determination would be or should be exercised.  Earlier, the representative of Liechtenstein noted that since the end of the process of decolonization, the right of self-determination had become somewhat of an orphan in United Nations debates.

She said some observers had gone so far as to argue that once people had achieved independence, the right of self-determination became obsolete -- that this could only be exercised once.  On the other hand, there were those who invoked the right of self-determination to advocate secession and independent statehood.  There needed to be, she said, a new approach, which differed from both those schools of thought.  Giving a voice to the disenfranchised and creating a fully participatory society was, in the long term, the only way to ensure sustainable development and, indeed, a society living in peace and prosperity.

While other delegates echoed that sentiment, adding that exercising the right of self-determination had to include sensitivity and awareness of the rights of others, some speakers said the right to self-determination was a natural and essential right for all human beings.  The exercise of that right should not be considered as an attempt to undermine the territorial integrity, sovereignty or

political unity of States, and should belong primarily to those that suffered under colonialism and foreign occupation.

The Committee opened its discussions with a presentation by Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, the Special Rapporteur on mercenaries, who highlighted the connection between mercenaries and terrorist activities and emphasized the fact that mercenaries were frequently employed in battles over self-determination.  Mercenaries would also likely be involved in other criminal activities, he said, including actions that could finance attacks.  If global partners wanted to be successful in a coordinated fight against terrorism, they would have to closely monitor the actions of mercenaries.

One instrument that could be helpful in that regard, he said, was the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries.  The Convention had been approved by the Assembly in 1989, but did not come into force until 20 October, 2001 because not enough countries had acceded to it.

Also participating in the discussions this afternoon were the representatives of Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria and Algeria.  The representatives of Morocco and Algeria each exercised two rights of reply.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., to begin consideration of matters related to human rights.  The Committee will open its deliberations with a presentation from and dialogue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met this afternoon to conclude its consideration of matters related to the rights of peoples to self-determination.  For background, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3650 of 31 October.

The Committee was also expected to hear the introduction of a draft resolution on the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (document A/C.3/56/L.30) by the representative of Denmark.  By that text, the Assembly would urge all parties to intensify their efforts to achieve the goals of the Decade and would request the High Commissioner for Human Rights to, within existing resources, give due regard to the dissemination of information on the situation, cultures, language rights and aspirations of indigenous peoples.

Further to the text, the Assembly would urge Governments to support the Decade, among other ways, by preparing relevant programmes and reports in consultation with indigenous peoples, and by seeking means of giving indigenous populations greater responsibility for their own affairs.  The Assembly would also urge Governments to support the Decade by contributing to the relevant United Nations Trust Fund, and by establishing national committees or other mechanisms involving indigenous peoples to ensure that the objectives and activities were carried out with their full participation.

A.K. BHATTACHARJEE (India) said that, as a country which had experienced colonialism and had become independent through a non-violent struggle in the exercise of its right of self-determination, India had always supported the legitimate right of peoples to self-determination and its application to peoples under colonial or alien domination, as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.  Here and elsewhere, disturbing attempts continued to be made to reinvent some of the basic principles of the Charter and the Declaration, applying them selectively for narrow political ends, unmindful of the havoc that this could cause in international peace and security.  Those who did so would do well to realize that this reinterpretation could sweep their own countries into its vortex.  A former Secretary-General had put it aptly -- if every ethnic, religious or linguistic group claimed statehood, there would be no limit to fragmentation, and peace, security and economic well being for all would become even more difficult to achieve.

Mr. Bhattacharjee said there was no room for self-determination to be distorted and misinterpreted as a right of any one group, on the basis of ethnicity, religion or racial criteria, or any other such categorization, to attempt to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of any State.  Despite this, in India's neighbourhood, the Government had seen the use of terror justified in the name of self-determination, in complete distortion and violation of the sacrosanct principles of the Charter of the United Nations, international law and civilized behaviour.

He said the presentation of the Special Rapporteur on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of people to self-determination was useful and ground-breaking.  He clearly brought out the links between fundamentalism, mercenary activities and terrorism fueled through crime, drug trafficking and other criminal activities.  The assessment of the Special Rapporteur that it would be a mistake to discount the use of mercenaries in terrorist attacks was accurate.  India also supported his view that the question of mercenary activities in terrorism should be looked at seriously.  That would be within his mandate.  In that regard, the Special Rapporteur was urged to look at mercenary activities coupled with religious or ideological motivation -- the so-called "paid volunteers" -- and aimed at the destruction of sovereign and independent States.

SHAMSHAD AHMAD (Pakistan) said that in today’s world, many nations had attained their statehood through the exercise of the immutable principle of self-determination.  More than three quarters of the globe had gained freedom since the end of the Second World War, and East Timor, with a population of fewer than 1 million people, was only the latest case in which people had been able to exercise that right.  Nevertheless, he continued, there were still millions of people struggling for freedom.  The Security Council resolutions created to uphold their right to self-determination remain buried in the archives of the United Nations, ignored and unimplemented.

Regrettably, for some, attempts were consistently made to equate legitimate struggles for freedom with terrorism and to nullify the just cause of peoples under foreign occupation aiming to exercise their right to self-determination. That was not only a distortion of contemporary reality but also a method of demeaning all those legitimate struggles and wars for independence, which, throughout history, had been met with pride.  No two outstanding issues in this regard were more glaring than in Kashmir and Palestine.  In Palestine, the spiraling violence and coercive measures against the Palestinian people underscored the urgent need for the international community to facilitate an early resolution to the situation.

Similarly, in Kashmir, the occupying powers’ continued denial of the right to self-determination to the people living there had sparked  a legitimate struggle for freedom.  The Kashmir issue, which had threatened peace and security in the region and around the globe for some 54 years had been marked by the brutal force used by the occupying power to suppress the indigenous freedom struggle of the Kashmiri people.  Since there was no excuse for selectively implementing Security Council resolutions, all such instruments involving the destiny of the Kashmiri people must be implemented.  The international community must also impress upon India to end its campaign of repression against the Kashmiri people and abandon its effort to impose a military solution on the situation.  India must be persuaded to follow a path of peaceful dialogue respectful of the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

J.K. SHINKAIYE (Nigeria) said his delegation attached great importance to the effective guarantee and observance of human rights and the right of peoples to self-determination.  Those were rights enshrined in the United Nations Charter and embodied in the international covenant on human rights.  The use of mercenaries to impede the right of peoples to self-determination was of concern to Nigeria, coming from a sub-region that was vulnerable to the activities of mercenaries in a number of conflict areas in Africa.  It was in this regard that the delegation was saddened by the report of the Special Rapporteur that the traditional use of mercenaries to impede the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination had by no means disappeared.  Rather, it had expanded and had assumed new forms in African armed conflicts.  Their involvement in conflicts through training contracts or direct participation had destroyed the lives of thousands of Africans, threatened government stability and denied control of petroleum and mineral sources.

He said the effects of mercenary activities in Africa were a major challenge to global peace, prosperity and human rights.  In the Special Rapporteur's report, reference was made to several countries where conflicts appeared to revolve around the control of natural resources, such as petroleum, uranium, magnesium, bauxite, diamonds and other precious stones.  Despite the devastation that was caused by armed conflicts, there were those who profited from it -- such as the international arms merchants and those who controlled the markets in precious stones.  Nigeria agreed with the Special Rapporteur that the international community had to investigate the possible complicity, by act or omission, of those who benefited from the illicit trafficking.

Mr. Shinkaiye said the role of some private security companies that hired out military services went beyond military advice and assistance and constituted acts detrimental to peace and respect for human rights.  Nigeria reiterated that the use of mercenaries, in whatever guise, remained a threat to the self-determination of peoples in the areas where they operated.  Nigeria also supported the recommendation calling on States to incorporate practical legislation to prohibit the use of their territories for the recruitment, training, financing and use of mercenaries.  The Government fully shared the views expressed in the report that if there were gaps in the law, States had an obligation to pass legislation to regulate private security activity, limit its scope, and set up adequate oversight and control mechanisms.

RANIA AL HAJ ALI (Syria) said the right to self-determination was sacrosanct.  Her country had long supported the struggle of those living under colonial domination and foreign occupation.  Despite broad international support and the support of countless international covenants and conventions, the United Nations had not managed to ensure the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people.  This had mainly been due to Israel’s expansive policies and gross violations of the Charter and international law.

Israel had been able to continue its policies, particularly its attempts to alter the demographic make-up of its region through forced relocation of the Palestinian population, mainly due to the absence of any international pressure to bring such practices to an end.  The United Nations stood unable to stem Israel’s coercive and oppressive actions.  It was important to understand that peace in the region could not be achieved as long as the Palestinian people were denied their right to self-determination.  She believed that people should continue their struggles for statehood and self-determination until those rights were achieved.

DALILA SAMAH (Algeria) on behalf of Deputy Ambassador Mourad Benmehidi, said 50 years after its birth, the United Nations had changed with the changes of the world.  In fact, it had helped force those world changes, one of which was the freedom realized by people who had been living under colonialism.  Over the years, the increasing number of independent countries that joined the United Nations ended up with the adoption of the Declaration of the Granting of Independence to Countries and People Under Colonialism.

She said it was Algeria's hope that the launching of the second International Decade for the Elimination of Colonialism would lead to the complete eradication of that scourge.  Colonialism was a great burden in this new millennium, and the goal of decolonization would be incomplete if one nation remained a colony under another nation.

The Palestinian people, she said, had an inalienable right to their self-determination, and Algeria condemned the violence that the Palestinian people had faced daily over the last year.  Israel had to be forced to live up to the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, related to civilians in the time of war.  At the same time, it should be recognized that the people of Sahara were excising their rights, although unfortunately, they were being stripped of their rights.  But in Western Sahara, the United Nations was working toward a solution.  In 1991, the two parties to the conflict, supported by the General Assembly and the Security Council, had made considerable progress, including the holding of a referendum on self-determination.  Unfortunately, that process had stalled in the last year and a half.  The international community should step up its efforts to guarantee the right of people to decide their own future.

Rights of Reply

Exercising the right of reply, the delegate of Morocco said his statement was more of a clarification.  The delegate heard the comments of Algeria, who, in her statement, dwelled a little bit on the issue of Western Sahara.  She should be reminded that the issue was a matter being examined by the Security Council, and the Council had adopted resolution 1359 unanimously.  That resolution drew logical conclusions from the Secretary-General’s conclusions.  The settlement plan had found itself stalled because of difficulties that could not be overcome, and it was up to the international community to find a just and long-term solution.  That would benefit the region as a whole.

An alternative was proposed to settle the matter.  Algeria had been invited to make its views on the framework plan known, but Algeria had not yet given its decision.  Morocco had many times expressed its willingness to engage in dialogue with all interested parties to settle the conflict.  But Morocco, the United Nations and the international community as a whole were waiting for Algeria to make a decision.

Exercising the right of reply, the representative of Algeria said he would shed true light on the situation in the Western Sahara.  The representative of Morocco had said that the question of Western Sahara was on the Council’s agenda.  In reality that question was on the agenda of the General Assembly since it was an issue of decolonization.  That was so because Morocco had occupied the Western Sahara since 1975 and had not agreed to a settlement plan.  With all that in mind, the issue was also relevant to the work of the Third Committee.

He went on to say that Morocco had also mentioned the latest Security Council resolution on the issue.  That resolution (1359) had stated that the United Nations remained committed to the implementation of the settlement plan as the only framework for resolving the situation between both Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO).  He added that Algeria was not a party to the conflict in the Western Sahara.

The international community should be focused on trying to find an equitable solution in compliance with international law.  The Council did not take note of or support the report of the Secretary-General to which the draft alternative agreement had been annexed.  That framework agreement did not respect the relevant

position of the Assembly on decolonization issues and could not provide a basis for a settlement of the situation in the Western Sahara.  The international community should expect cooperation from the parties to the conflict so that the situation of the people of the Western Sahara, who had been living under foreign occupation for so long, could be significantly improved.

The representative of Morocco, exercising a second right of reply, said the delegation did not want to reopen that debate in the current forum.  But given what the previous speaker had just said, it should be clarified that Morocco did not occupy the territory in 1975.  Morocco had entered Sahara as a result of an international agreement.  That agreement was registered in good form with the United Nations Secretary-General.  Morocco was entitled to take that action and should not be considered an occupying power.

Also the gentlemen from Algeria should be reminded that the personal envoy of the Secretary-General had presented a framework draft which the Security Council had not been asked to support or adopt.  The Council had simply proposed the draft framework to the parties in the conflict, and to Algeria, to open a dialogue and to present an alternative to a settlement plan that was stalled.  This was a complicated settlement plan.  The representative of Algeria said Algeria was not a party to it.  Looking at the reports of the Secretary-General, it was seen who cooperated with the United Nations and who did not.  It was clearly seen who was open to all avenues to settle the matter.  When it became clear that the original settlement plan was encountering difficulties, it was Morocco which had expressed readiness to find an alternative resolution.

In response to the statement by Morocco, the representative of Algeria said two specific elements had been mentioned:  the status of Morocco’s presence in the Western Sahara and the status of the situation between the POLISARIO and Morocco.  The settlement plan, which as of 1991 aimed at finding a solution to the situation in the region, called for, among other things a cease-fire between the Moroccan forces and the POLISARIO.  Tangible progress had been made until the beginning of the year.  But implementation of the plan was and had been blocked since that time by a flood of appeals to the verification committee.

He said that the 1975 agreement Morocco claimed to have made with Spain was considered a “secret” agreement not supported by any international body.  The Council and the Assembly had always acted through various resolutions to demand withdrawal of forces and the holding of a referendum on self-determination for the people of the Western Sahara.  Algeria supported the cause of the people of the Western Sahara and others who fought for their right to self-determination, for the well-being of the entire region.

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For information media. Not an official record.