Special Committee on Decolonization Hears Petitioner from Gibraltar as Spain Opposes Its Removal from List of Non-Self-Governing Territories

9 June 2009

Special Committee on Decolonization Hears Petitioner from Gibraltar as Spain Opposes Its Removal from List of Non-Self-Governing Territories

9 June 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Special Committee on


4th Meeting (AM)

special committee on decolonization hears petitioner from gibraltar as spain

opposes its removal from list of Non-Self-Governing Territories

As the Special Committee on Decolonization took up the question of Gibraltar this morning, the representative of Spain opposed any attempt to remove it from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories undergoing decolonization, and reiterated the Spanish Government’s wish to renew “conversations” with the United Kingdom on the future of Gibraltar.

Reiterating Spain’s full commitment to the decolonization process, he stressed the particular prominence of the question of Gibraltar, which concerned two member States of the European Union and allies within the North Atlantic Treaty.  The situation of Gibraltar undermined Spain’s national unity and territorial integrity.

He emphasized that the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, under which Gibraltar must remain British or once again become Spanish, was still in force, accepted both by Spain and the United Kingdom.  The United Nations, through its annual decisions, urged the United Kingdom and Spain to maintain bilateral negotiations in order to find a solution that would take into account the interests of the colony’s inhabitants.  In accordance with that mandate, the Government of Spain reiterated firmly its wish to renew conversations with the United Kingdom within the framework of the Brussels process.

Underscoring the continuing relevance of the Special Committee’s work, he said his country supported its Chairman’s pragmatic and realistic approach, which took into account the specific circumstances of each Non-Self-Governing Territory, on a case-by-case basis, and opposed any attempt to de-list Gibraltar -- which would undermine the procedure established by the United Nations -- on the basis of an alleged new, modern constitutional relationship that was no more than a sort of “colonialism by consent”, and which failed to comply with the doctrine or the content of United Nations resolutions.

He also stressed his country’s commitment to the Forum of Dialogue on Gibraltar, established in 2004, which focused on cooperation in finding a solution to local problems affecting the welfare of Gibraltar’s inhabitants.  Spain hoped that the agreements reached within the Forum, and the implementation of decisions taken there, would contribute to the creation of conditions favourable to resolving the question of sovereignty separately, within the framework of the Brussels process.  Meanwhile, Spain reaffirmed its willingness to negotiate with the United Kingdom, within the framework of the United Nations, in order to pave the way, once again, for the adoption of a consensus Assembly decision on Gibraltar.

The Committee also heard a petitioner from Gibraltar, Leader of the Opposition J.J. Bossano, who said that in terms of the Territory’s decolonization, Spain was “stuck in a time warp”, expecting Gibraltarians to accept that their rights as a people should be measured by the yardstick of the Europe that had existed in 1713 rather than by the human rights values of 2009.  Spain had used the spurious claim that a territorial dispute doctrine invented by the Special Committee overrode the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, covenants on political and social rights and long-established international jurisprudence on decolonization and self-determination.

This year, instead of demonstrating respect and support, Spain had challenged the sovereignty of Gibraltar’s territorial waters, he said.  Spain’s position that Gibraltar could not have territorial waters, which were not provided for under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, was wrong under international law.  In the past, Spain had respected Gibraltar’s territorial waters on the median line in the Bay of Gibraltar and the three miles off the coast, including the zone adjacent to the isthmus not covered by the Treaty.  It had not attempted to apply Spanish law to vessels anchored in those areas.

Spain had previously demarcated the flight paths over Gibraltar’s waters to and from the local airport, which were followed by aircraft not permitted to use Spanish airspace, he noted.  This year, however, Spain had claimed responsibility for the environmental protection of Gibraltar’s waters, which it had been unable to deliver.  Spain had also made a number of incursions into Gibraltar’s territorial jurisdiction, forcing the United Kingdom, as the administering Power, to take action to protect the sovereignty of Gibraltar’s waters, as required by the Territory’s Constitution.

He said that, having accepted that Gibraltarians were a separate people from those of the administering Power, as required by resolution 1541 (XV) principle (IV), it was not for the Special Committee to arbitrate, mandate or establish a doctrine as to the appropriate relevant monarch for Gibraltar.  The monarch’s identity was irrelevant for the purpose of eradicating colonialism.  Decolonization could only happen when the peoples of the Territories’ exercised self-determination.  Without the Gibraltarians, there would be no colonial relationship to correct, but only an uninhabited piece of land subject to a territorial dispute.

He said Spain had used false arguments to pursue its case, relying on the natural special relationship it enjoyed with some of its former colonies for support.  The Special Committee’s Spanish-speaking members should acknowledge and accept that they had more in common with Gibraltar than with Spain in terms of commitment to decolonization and the right to self-determination, regardless of Hispanic cultural affinity.  The Special Committee should conduct an assessment of the constitutional changes in Gibraltar, in line with its duty to monitor progress in the Territories towards self-government.  The United Kingdom had claimed that Gibraltar’s new Constitution made for a non-colonial relationship with the United Kingdom; the Special Committee’s report to the Fourth Committee should comment on that change instead of once again deferring the matter for another year.

Noting Spain’s position that Gibraltar should revert to Spanish rule while retaining all the privileges it currently enjoyed as a Non-Self-Governing Territory under British rule, he said that flew in the face of the Special Committee’s decolonization mandate.  Gibraltar would not cede to or share with Spain one inch of land, one drop of territorial water or any airspace whatsoever.  The Special Committee should consider the question of Gibraltar as it would any other Non-Self-Governing Territory and not allow itself to be led astray by the misguided, self-serving arguments of Spain, whose sole objective was to replace the United Kingdom as administering Power.

The Committee will take up its decision of 9 June 2008 concerning Puerto Rico at 10 a.m. on Monday, 15 June.


The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples met this morning to take up the question of Gibraltar.

Before members was a Secretariat working paper on Gibraltar (document A/AC.109/2009/15) outlining the constitutional, legal and political issues, as well as the economic and social conditions in the Territory, its future status, and the role of the Special Committee and the General Assembly’s Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).  Gibraltar’s last general elections were held on 11 October 2007, when the incumbent Social Democratic Party obtained 49 per cent of the vote and its leader, Peter Caruana, was reappointed Chief Minister for a fourth term.  The next elections are due by the end of October 2011.

Recalling a statement made during a meeting of the Fourth Committee on 7 October 2008, the working paper notes that the representative of the United Kingdom described Gibraltar’s new Constitution as providing for a modern, non-colonial relationship between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom, acceptable to both sides, a factor that the Special Committee’s criteria for “de-listing” a Non-Self Governing Territory failed to take into account.  In the same meeting, Mr. Caruana stated that the “question of Gibraltar” was no longer one of decolonization, for that matter had been settled by the new constitutional arrangement approved by the people of Gibraltar in a self-determination referendum.

The working paper goes on to cite the Chief Minister’s call for direct action by the General Assembly to de-list Gibraltar since the territorial government had broken ties with the Special Committee and had acted alone to achieve its own decolonization.  The Fourth Committee’s annual resolution on the question of Gibraltar did not represent a consensus insofar as the United Kingdom and Spain were concerned, but rather masked profound disagreement.  The resolution also considered the Brussels process to be ongoing even though the United Kingdom and Spain had not met under that process since 2001.  The two countries signed the Brussels Declaration in November 1984.

Turning to the statement by the representative of Spain during the same meeting, the working paper cites him as saying he could not accept the United Kingdom’s contention that its new constitutional decree nullified the need to fulfil earlier United Nations resolutions concerning Gibraltar, which remained a colonial Territory.  Also unacceptable was the United Kingdom’s claim that it was justified not to resume negotiations with Spain owing to its commitment to the people of Gibraltar not to enter into understandings concerning sovereignty without their consent.

According to the working paper, the representative of Spain supported the United Nations position, confirmed in successive resolutions, that the decolonization of Gibraltar could not be the result only of bilateral negotiations between Spain and the United Kingdom, in view of the sovereignty dispute and the related issues of Spain’s territorial integrity.  The principle of self-determination therefore did not apply in Gibraltar’s case.  Spain was determined to continue working with the Forum of Dialogue on Gibraltar, a framework separate from the Brussels process, and was fully committed to addressing questions of local cooperation in the context of the Forum.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.