12 February 2003


Press Release

Special Committee on


1st Meeting (AM) 



Newly-Elected Chair Says States Administering

Final 16 Territories Should See Committee as Partner, Not Adversary

Secretary-General Kofi Annan this morning called on the Special Committee on decolonization and those countries responsible for administering the final 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories “to reinvigorate the decolonization process and enable us to close this unfinished chapter in history”, as the Committee opened its 2003 session with the election of officers and adoption of its work programme.

The Secretary-General said last year, Timor-Leste, formerly known as East-Timor, took its place in the United Nations as a sovereign nation.  For many years before that, the East Timorese had been able to use the Special Committee as an important international forum in which to voice their aspirations.

The Special Committee would continue to base its work on the principles of the United Nations Charter and General Assembly resolutions 1514 and

1541 containing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, he continued.  Those documents established that Non-Self-Governing Territories could exercise a full measure of self-government through one of three options:  free association; integrations with another State; or independence.  It was essential that the choice be the result of the freely expressed wishes of the territorial peoples.

He emphasized the importance of productive cooperation between the Special Committee and the administering Powers, recalling that at the inception of the United Nations, the administering Powers had undertaken under the Charter obligation to bring the territories under their administration to an appropriate level of self-government.

Since the creation of the Special Committee, many of the 16 remaining Non-Self Governing Territories had made considerable progress towards self-government by developing their constitutional, political and economic systems, he said.  In recent years, the Special Committee had endeavoured to engage the administering Powers in a transparent and creative dialogue on the future of the Territories.  It had sought to establish case-by-case programmes of work, with the full participation of the peoples of the Territories, so as to promote their political, economic and social developments and to determine the status of each territory in the context of decolonization.

In his opening statement, the newly-elected Chairman, Earl Stephen Huntley (Saint Lucia), said that the issue of decolonization had been with the international community for too long, and by now should have disappeared from its agenda.  That could be achieved through faithful implementation of the mandate by all of the political actors in the process –- Member States, the United Nations machinery and the wider United Nations system. 

The Special Committee remained the principal venue for the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to articulate their views before the international community, he said, including through regional seminars in the Caribbean and Pacific.  Among the important recommendations that arose from those exercises, and from increasingly targeted resolutions of the Assembly, was the plan of action of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

Formulation of recommendations and the passing of resolutions was not enough, however, he said.  It was imperative for the Committee to accelerate its work, making it more dynamic, relevant and proactive in order to see concrete and meaningful results.  The work of the Committee must be the catalyst for bringing about the removal of territories from the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Therefore, the major task this year was to put in place a series of programmes and actions that would trigger an automatic process of decolonization within this decade of the remaining 16 non-independent territories.  To achieve that, he proposed to establish working groups for each territory, or perhaps groups of territories.  In particular, the seminar in the Caribbean this year could have as its focus the way forward for the non-independent territories of that region. 

A successful, meaningful and peaceful decolonization process could not take place without the administering Powers’ support, he pointed out.  Those Powers must not see a more proactive Committee as an adversary, but as a partner enabling them to discharge a responsibility common to all members of the United Nations.  New Zealand’s collaboration with the Committee in relation to Tokelau served as a model in that regard.  The Committee’s mission there last year had been the first in eight years.  While the mission had been generally deemed successful, there could be no real sense of accomplishment, unless the Committee could implement its main recommendation –- that a study be undertaken as soon as possible on the implications of the options for self-determination for Tokelau. It was imperative that the Committee be given the resources to carry that out this year. 

Regarding the role of the wider United Nations system he said that the regional commissions, specialized agencies and such bodies as the United Nations Development Programme had to continue to assist the peoples of the territories in the development of their capacity to assume the responsibility of governance, as they advanced toward a full measure of self-government.  Also useful was cooperation between such relevant committees as the Third and the Fourth, as well as collaboration between the decolonization and the human rights committees.  The inclusion of the territories in the programmes of action of the Durban Declaration, the World Summit for Sustainable Development and other world conference outcome activities would also be highly desirable.

Also this morning, the Committee elected, Bernard Tanoh-Boutchoue (Côte d’Ivoire) and Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla (Cuba) as Vice-Chairmen, and Fayssal Mekdad (Syria) as Rapporteur.  Further, it adopted its programme of work for the 2003 session, as contained in documents A/AC.109/2003/L.1 and L.2.

Regarding this year’s regional seminar, the Chairman informed the Committee he had begun consultation with the United Kingdom to hold the seminar in Anguilla.  It would be the first time a regional seminar would take place in a Non-Self Governing Territory.  The Committee authorized the chair to hold consultations on the necessary preparations for the seminar, to be held at the end of May.

Several Committee members noted the importance of the Secretary-General’s and the Chairman’s statements, stressing the overriding importance of priorities set out for the 2003 session.  They urged the Chairman to convey his message to the summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur on 24 and

25 February, saying that the Summit should reconfirm the founding principles of the movement, including decolonization .

Statements were made by the representatives of Antigua and Barbuda (also on behalf of Grenada), United Republic of Tanzania, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Venezuela and Fiji.

The Special Committee on decolonization –- 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 and commonly referred to as the “Special Committee of 24” -- was established by the General Assembly in 1961.  It meets annually, hears appointed and elected representatives of Non-Self Governing Territories and petitioners, dispatches visiting missions to those Territories, and organizes seminars on the political, social, economic and educational situations there.

The 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories covered by the Committee are:  American Samoa; Anguilla; Bermuda; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; Falkland Islands/Malvinas; Gibraltar; Guam; Montserrat; New Caledonia; Pitcairn; St. Helena; Tokelau; Turks and Caicos Islands; United States Virgin Islands; and Western Sahara.

Its current membership is as follows:  Antigua and Barbuda; Bolivia; Chile; China; Congo; Côte d'Ivoire; Cuba; Ethiopia; Fiji; Grenada; India; Indonesia; Iran; Iraq; Mali; Papua New Guinea; Russian Federation; Saint Lucia; Sierra Leone; Syria; Tunisia; United Republic of Tanzania; Venezuela; and Serbia and Montenegro.

The Special Committee will meet at a date to be announced.

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For information media. Not an official record.