8 June 2004


Press Release



Greater Action from Special Committee of 24 Requested

As Mid-point of Second Decade for Eradication of Colonialism Approaches

(Delayed in transmission; reissued as received from a UN Information Officer.)

MADANG, Papua New Guinea, 19 May -– A Non-Self-Governing Territory’s desire for independence is often hindered by concerns of social transformation and economic sustainability, the Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization heard this morning, on day two of its discussions.  A review of the Special Committee’s approach to the decolonization process was also pushed by experts and participants.

The debate on the implications of self-government in the Pacific region followed presentations from five experts in the field.  Participants included member States 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, also known as the “Special Committee of 24” on decolonization, representatives of several Non-Self-Governing Territories, administering Powers and a regional organization.

Speaking frankly on decolonization and development, Dr. Penelope Schoeffel outlined concerns of most Pacific islanders regarding the “price” of independence.  Pacific people deeply desire the blessings of modernity such as good health services and schools, public order and justice, good housing, efficient utilities such as power and water, and well paid work.  However, Dr. Schoeffel says, most Pacific islanders cannot pay the price required to enjoy these benefits in their home islands because the price is cultural transformation.

Dr. Schoeffel argued that sticking to traditional institutions often works best in island States because their geographical situation means there are often no realistic prospects for market-based growth.

Social and economic indicators are higher in PacificStates and Territories with empowered indigenous majorities who enjoy the benefits of strong links to a metropolitan power, and few of the disadvantages, she said.  Dr. Schoefell used the examples of the FrenchPacificTerritories where New Caledonia and French Polynesia enjoy high gross domestic product (GDP), with France subsidizing both Territories.

Noting that the situation is different depending on relationships with administering Powers, Dr. Schoefell suggests that in today’s globalizing world the concept of decolonization needs rethinking.

Speaking on the realities of a free association arrangement, Dr. Alison Quentin-Baxter, an expert from New Zealand, also called on the Special Committee to take a fresh look at its current approach to the decolonization process.

Dr. Quentin-Baxter proposed that the Committee should carry forward its work on the basis of a more specific working model for a Territory’s attainment of a full measure of self-government. This should be based on what appear to be the wishes of the peoples of the Territories to which it might apply.  In saying this, Dr. Quentin-Baxter suggested there were 10 Territories that would be appropriate:  Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, St. Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the United States Virgin Islands.  In saying this, Dr. Quentin-Baxter said all of those Territories seem to have a close relationship with the administering Power.

All the free association arrangements recognize the need for close and regular consultation between parties, she said.  In her view, the concept of self-government in free association is flexible enough to meet the needs of the smallest and poorest islands that are still non-self-governing territories.  The ability to look to the partner State for continuing economic assistance was a key element in the decisions of the associated States to opt for that status.  One example used was that of Niue and its free association relationship with New Zealand.

Australian expert Nic Maclellan raised the point that significant forces in some Non-Self-Governing Territories do not want independence because they do not understand the decolonization options available, nor the process involved.

In American Samoa, he said, senior government leaders have rejected the need to participate in a decolonization process.  He suggested that the level of funding provided by administering Powers plays an important psychological and material role in setting attitudes to decolonization.

Mr Maclellan adds that, within the Pacific, other material or political issues can also affect engagement in the decolonization process.  For example, social factors such as continuing alliance towards highly localized family, kinship, religious or regional groupings, rather than the abstracted concept of “the nation”.  He also cited the continuation of aid flows as a concern for Non-Self-Governing Territories considering independence.

The responsibility of administering Powers and their sometimes reluctant engagement with the Special Committee was highlighted in Mr. Maclellan’s presentation.  It is welcoming to see the recent involvement of representatives of the Governments of France and the United Kingdom in Regional Seminar, and in informal dialogue with the Committee, he noted.

Issues associated with programmes of immigration and transmigration were highlighted in Mr. Maclellan’s presentation.  Using Guam and New Caledonia as examples, he said the indigenous populations of both Territories has been made a minority through the process of colonial settlement and migration.  Military build-up in Non-Self-Governing Territories was another point he raised, using a case study on Guam.

Mr. Maclellan took the concerns of Non-Self-Governing Territories and the call for a more creative approach to decolonization into a regional context.  His presentation discussed the involvement of Non-Self-Governing Territories in regional processes in development, environment and trade, and the evolving policies of regional intergovernmental organizations towards the territories.  The Pacific Islands Forum evolving policy towards Non-Self-Governing Territories was highlighted.

In following discussions, the representative of the Forum outlined how the organization was working to incorporate such Territories.  He also commented on their strengthening relationship with the United Nations.

Focusing on the particular needs of the remaining listed territories,
Mr. Maclellan said the process of self-determination for Non-Self-Governing Territories under the mandate of the Special Committee will also be influenced by debates over independence, autonomy and federalism within neighbouring post-colonial States and other PacificTerritories that have not been relisted.

Presentations from experts Dr. Edward P. Wolfers and Mr. Asofou So’o concluded the first session of the third Seminar meeting, on the topics of the viability of small States and the case of American Samoa, respectively.  Both echoed social and economic concerns raised throughout the morning, and called on action from the Committee of 24.


Mr. So’o’s analysis of the situation in American Samoa caused response from the Territory’s representative on the request for a people’s referendum and issues pertaining to land registration.  The representative said that the expert’s report should include the most recent studies:  Population Task Force Report, American Samoa Economic Advisory Report, and the Territorial General Plan.  Further discussion on the referendum proposal followed.

Other discussion following the experts’ presentations included commendation from two administering Powers –- representatives for the United Kingdom and New Zealand.  In their experience, both recognized the lack of expertise available within many administering Powers.  The representative for the United Kingdom invited members of the Special Committee, or experts, to meet with his team if passing through London in order to expand their knowledge of the field whenever possible.

Mr. Maclellan made the point that it is not just in government departments where expertise is lacking, but also in keeping external parties alive to aid in education and awareness.  He used the example of the crucial role of the United Nations Information Centre in Sydney.

The Chairman of the Special Committee also noted the importance of keeping dialogue open between parties.

The representative from Guam added to the discussion in saying that part of the frustration in the decolonization process is having to deal with several different government departments and not always getting the same information form each.

Tokelau’s representative responded by outlining the process adopted by the New Zealand Government, where the people of Tokelau have a separate department dedicated to their process of decolonization.  This provides them with a “one stop shop” regarding any matter.  He commended it as a mechanism for other administrative Powers to use.

There was a call from Ambassador Donigi, former Chairman of the Special Committee, for more information on the negatives of free association, as he felt most of the presentations highlighted only the positives.  Comments were also taken from other delegates, including Morocco, United States Virgin Islands and Saint Lucia.


Statements from the United Kingdom, Argentina and Morocco were delivered this morning.

In addition to providing updates on Anguilla, Bermuda, Pitcairn and other UnitedKingdom-administeredTerritories, the representative for the United Kingdom called on the Committee to take into consideration changes over the past 10 years regarding the situations of Territories on the United Nations list and the process of delisting.

The representative from Argentina raised the question of the MalvinasIslands, which the Special Committee and the General Assembly have recognized as a special and particular case that differs from other colonial cases.  He stated that his Government’s wished to resume negotiations with the United Kingdom in relation to their sovereignty dispute.

A statement by the representative of Morocco included comments on the position of the country regarding the issue of Western Sahara.  Morocco is more determined than ever to enter into meaningful negotiations with the other parties to achieve a mutually acceptable political solution, particularly in the light of the latest and promising developments in the regions of Maghreb, he said.

Views of Non-Self-Governing Territories

The morning continued with views from the Non-Self-Governing States of the United States Virgin Islands and Frente POLISARIO (Western Sahara).

Dr. Carlyle Corbin spoke as a representative of the Governor of the United States Virgin Islands and raised several issues with regard to the implementation of the decolonization mandate and the post-Anguilla period.

Mandates of the General Assembly are only useful if they are implemented, Dr. Corbin said.  It is his Government’s view that one of the long-standing and fundamental mandates of the General Assembly is that it addresses the two interrelated issues of:  the need for support for political education programmes;

and the establishment of the parameters which define the principles of political status legitimacy.  He added that both issues had been touched on at the 2004 Seminar.

The representative for the United States Virgin Islands called for an expansion of existing political education programmes and for the Committee to work with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in facilitating such programmes for the Territories under its review.

He also proposed that the Committee on decolonization develop a working relationship with the Committee on Human Rights to exchange information on the self-determination processes in the respective Territories, consistent with the resolution recognizing that self-determination is a fundamental human right.

Stating that there is no mechanism to monitor compliance with specific United Nations mandates, the representative for the United States Virgin Islands commented that without such a mechanism the relevance of the United Nations to their political development process comes into question.  He listed several recommendations related to the decolonization seminars, including a mid-term five-year review of the implementation of the plan of action of the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

Western Sahara has been on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories for more than 40 years.  The representative for Western Sahara provided the Committee with his perspective on the history of the relationship between the United Nations and the Territory, and its dispute with Morocco.

He also spoke of human rights abuses and illegal exploitations regarding Western Sahara’s natural resources.  The representative stated his people’s belief that the United Nations can succeed in Western Sahara as it did in other similar situations, such as East Timor and Namibia.  He called upon the United Nations’ Special Committee on decolonization to send a delegation to Western Sahara and report on its findings.  He asked that the Committee of 24 continued to closely monitor the decolonization process in Western Sahara.

Proceedings will continue at 3 p.m. today, where the views expressed by the United States Virgin Islands, Western Sahara and Morocco will be discussed.  The Committee will also hear the perspective of the non-governmental and other organizations on the process of decolonization in the Pacific region.

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For information media. Not an official record.