Stalled Progress over Non-Self-Governing Territories Sparks Frustration in Fourth Committee, as Petitioners Seek to Galvanize Support for Decolonization Effort

5 October 2010

Stalled Progress over Non-Self-Governing Territories Sparks Frustration in Fourth Committee, as Petitioners Seek to Galvanize Support for Decolonization Effort

5 October 2010
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

3rd Meeting (PM)

Stalled Progress over Non-Self-Governing Territories Sparks Frustration in Fourth

Committee, as Petitioners Seek to Galvanize Support for Decolonization Effort

Speakers from Western Sahara, New Caledonia, Turks and Caicos, Guam,

United States Virgin Islands Rebuke Delays, Undue Suffering, Political Exigencies

Questions of five Non-Self-Governing Territories were still mired in inaction, with few taking seriously enough the need to preserve a people’s voice and self-determination in a world where few had either, the Fourth Committee heard today, as petitioners for New Caledonia, Guam, Turks and Caicos, United States Virgin Islands, and Western Sahara took the floor in the decolonization debate.  

Speaking to problems confronting Guam, one petitioner said that the indigenous people there understood colonialism as leading to economic apartheid, and that race, class and geopolitical status determined one’s future.  Another petitioner on that question stressed that United States colonial rule deprived the citizens of Guam of the right to land and polluted the environment.  There were 80 contaminated dump sites on the island containing arsenic, lead, chromium, and cyanide.  That display of colonialism by the United States caused irreparable damage to the health of the Guahan people, he said.

On the question of Western Sahara, a petitioner stated that Africa could not develop or achieve adequate progress or living standards unless all African citizens enjoyed the same rights.  Those included the right to freedom, democracy and dignified living, which required independence and self-determination.

However, despite the fact that the Security Council and the United Nations, in many resolutions, had recognized the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination, petitioners argued that the occupying Administration of Morocco violated the Saharawis human rights on a daily basis.  The Saharawi people were peacefully resisting the Moroccan Government, petitioners said, while that Government exploited Western Sahara’s natural resources, effectively looting their national wealth.

Petitioners further said, 35 years later, Saharawis represented an entire generation of deprivation and suffering and that, in the areas of education, health, and nutrition, the United Nations system was failing them.  That population received no international protection, which the Organization should provide.  It was therefore more urgent today than ever to interfere to provide international protection and security for the Saharawi people and to bring to an end the colonization to which they had been subjected.

Speaking to the question of Turks and Caicos, one petitioner said the islands were being “re-colonized” and their peoples marginalized and disenfranchised, as systems set up for the population were being removed.  He stressed that there was no clear agenda on the Turks and Caicos self-determination, but reiterated that “We are small, but not insignificant.”

A petitioner on the question of the United States Virgin Islands said that while he lived in a nation that continued to treat him like a second-class citizen, he had come to the Special Committee on Decolonization earlier this year to tell the world that he was “a first-class human being”.  One day, colonialism in all its forms would come to an end, and there would be no more Non-Self-Governing Territories.  When that day came, it would be “a better world to live in”.

Speaking on the question of Guam was David Roberts, doctorate student at the University of Toronto, Michael Tuncap, a citizen of Guam, Josette Marie Quintana, graduate student and grassroots network member, Alfred Peredo Flores, doctorate student at the University of California, Mylinh Nguyen, and Maria Roberts, master’s candidate at the City College of New York.

The President of the Government of New Caledonia, Phillip Gomes, said that reform was under way, with an increase of 3 per cent in job growth, and an increase in gross domestic product (GDP) of 4 per cent.  While progress had clearly been seen in the Territory over the past year, with regard to education, air transport, and maritime issues, assistance was still needed. 

Also participating was the representative of Papua New Guinea.

Speaking on the question of Turks and Caicos was Alpha Gibbs, speaking on behalf of the Turks and Caicos Forum, and Conrad Howell, representing Constitutional and Electoral Reform for Turks and Caicos.

Speaking on the question of the United States Virgin Islands was Edward L. Brown, global human rights activist and historian.

Dr. Carlyle G. Corbin Jr., International Adviser on Governance and Multilateral Diplomacy, spoke on agenda items 57 and 59.

Other petitioners on the question of Western Sahara included Nancy Huff, Teach the Children International; Anna Farish, speaking on behalf of Leah Farish; Helen Hardin, chief of staff for representative Zach Wamp, United States Congress; Gale Sherril, the Landing Community Church; Andreas Balog representing Samaritan Austria, GEZA, and Austrian-Saharawi-Association; Seth Lenz, Christ the Rock Community Church; Janet Lenz, Not Forgotten International; Francois Paul Blanc, Professor; Alvaro Butureira, AC Centro Marroqui de Amistad; Latifa Ait-Baala, Action International Femmes; and Cynthia Basinet, and Nobel-nominated jazz artist.

Also for Western Sahara:  Miguel Ortiz Asin from Forum Canario-Saharaui; Jesus Loza, a member of Parliamento Vasco; Suzanne Scholte, from the Defense Forum Foundation; Stefan Simanowitz, a journalist who spent time in the region; Tayeb Zitouni, Mayor of Algiers; Noredine Benbraham, Scouts Musulmans Algeriens; Maya Sahli, Professor and member of the National Union of Algerian Women; and Said Ayachi, President of the Algerian National Committee for Solidarity with the Saharawi People.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 6 October, to hear the remaining petitioners regarding decolonization issues.


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of all decolonization issues, under its agenda items 57 and 59, which concern implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples by the specialized agencies and the international institutions associated with the United Nations (item 57); and implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (item 59).  The Committee was expected to hear petitioners on the questions of New Caledonia, Guam, Turks and Caicos, United States Virgin Islands, and Western Sahara.

Petitioners on Question of New Caledonia

PHILLIP GOMES, President of the Government of New Caledonia, said that it had been precisely a year since the Committee had taken up the issue of New Caledonia.  He noted progress in the Territory; over the past year, laws had been passed regarding education, air transport, and maritime issues.  However, the Territory needed the assistance of France to organize.  Reform was under way, and actions had been bearing fruit.  The Territory had seen an increase of 3 per cent in job growth, and an increase in gross domestic product (GDP) of 4 per cent.  That meant that per capita income was now $35,000.  However, unemployment was high in the Kanak.  The recruitment of foreign miners was continuing, and there were concerns about work permits.

Regarding relationships in the region, he hoped New Caledonia would have missions in the capitals of nearby countries.  In 2011, New Caledonia would host the fourteenth South Pacific Games.  In March 2011, it would host the annual forum of the European Union.  He was keen to underline the attachment of the Kanuk to the Territory and their openness towards the rest of the world.  He noted the impact of mining activities, recalling that last year a mining strategy had been adopted that included a plan for the rehabilitation of 200 mining sites.  He sought a democratic society and a united and prosperous land, with a shared future for all.

Questions to President Philippe Gomez

The representative of Papua New Guinea welcomed the statement made by the President of New Caledonia, and said that whenever possible, yearly regional seminars should be held in one of the territories.  More remained to be done, and he encouraged all parties to ensure that the rights of indigenous people were protected.  He asked about the equitable redistribution of wealth.

In response, Mr. Gomez said that New Caledonia sought increasing involvement in the region.  As it would be part of the regional area, it would also be involved in the political bodies there.  New Caledonia wanted to develop bilateral relations, and would work to redistribute wealth in the country.  New Caledonia was lucky enough to have considerable nickel resources, and it was necessary to make sure that that wealth was redistributed equitably and fairly — and not grabbed by just a few — throughout the country, including the Kanak.

Petitioners on Question of New Caledonia

ILLISANNE LAOUVEA, Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste, said that New Caledonia needed resources for true independence.  However, in 2009, it could not find the necessary resources to facilitate, and it still depended on the nickel market.  The Government was limited by a lack of available funds.  The difficulties encountered meant that New Caledonia needed to modernize its tax laws and think about what would happen after nickel; it must develop farming, tourism, and fisheries, which were promising, but also fragile.  New Caledonia should seek a plan for the country’s balanced development, and try to rebalance the public funds to provide for equal distribution in the provinces.

Petitioners on Question of Guam

DAVID ROBERTS, a doctorate student at the University of Toronto, said that Guam remained a non-self-governing entity under colonial rule of the United States.  The indigenous people of Guam understood that colonialism led to economic apartheid, and that race, class and geopolitical status determined one’s future.  Leadership on the issue was dire, even though it was more crucial than ever.  The United States military occupied 30 per cent of the island and, despite the fact that the United States advocated for self-determination around the world, it refused to recognize the rights of the people of Guam, which was reprehensible. Because of the Okinawa relocation, Guam would grow by 45 per cent.  However, the citizens of Guam were left out of discussions. 

MICHAEL TUNCAP, a citizen of Guam, said he was required to make decisions regarding his children, noting that the transfer of United States Marines would devastate the island’s environmental and cultural health.  Specifically, he noted that the dumping of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and radiation had destroyed the largest barrier reef.  As recently as July 2008, a nuclear submarine had leaked radioactivity into waters and the environment.  Americans deprived the citizens of Guam of the right to land, and they pollute the environment.  He drew attention to the 80 contaminated dump sites on the island, and noted the presence of arsenic, lead, chromium, and cyanide on Guam, saying that United States colonialism caused irreparable damage to health.  He also noted massive radiation from Agents Orange and Purple, as well as high cancer and neuro-degenerative diseases. 

JOSETTE MARIE QUINTANA, self-described as a proud Chamorro daughter and graduate student who was part of a grassroots network of scholars and students who pushed for Chamorro rights, expressed concern in today’s critical time of grave attack, when the United States was in the midst of the largest military build-up since the Second World War.  Being barred from decision-making characterized the political process for the Chamorro, whose exclusion permeated power struggles.  The military build-up was horrific, and despite the advocates for Guam, the green light to move forward had been announced in the United States Department of Defense record of decision.  Colonization of Guam denied the inclusion of the Chamorros.  She implored the Fourth Committee to call for its decolonization.

ALFRED PEREDO FLORES, doctorate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, United States, said Guahan was being prepared by an American military build-up that would permanently affect the island and its people.  When Anderson Air Force Base was built, 30 per cent of the territory was already owned by the military.  Many Chamorros were forced to relinquish their land.  The United States military discussed the possibility that it would need further expansion, which would come from local landowners.  The United States was currently planning to build a shooting range over a historical burial site.  He asked the United Nations to investigate the administering Power’s non-compliance with the Declaration.

MYLINH NGUYEN said that self-determination, as a basic human right of the people of Guam, was under threat.  Decolonization was something that the administering Power had signed up for and accepted as a sacred trust.  The administering Power’s plans to “hyper-militarize” Guam was in direct opposition to the decolonization process.  In Guam, the United States military still held one third of ancestral lands.

MARIA ROBERTS, master’s candidate at the City College of New York, said that the increased militarization of Guam was a violation of the right to self-determination.  The military build-up plan would further displace peoples from their homes, disrupting a culture that was more than 4,000 years old.

Petitioners on Question of Turks and Caicos

ALPHA GIBBS, speaking on behalf of the Turks and Caicos Forum, said his continuing concern was the blatant failure of the United Kingdom in discharging its responsibilities to Turks and Caicos.  The suspension of duties constituted an assault on fundamental human rights, as the duly elected representatives were removed from office, and Parliament was disbanded.  A United Kingdom civil servant had been appointed as Governor and, thus, executed the combined functions that the Premier and six Cabinet members did.  He noted that the consultants brought on worked in isolation, without the consultation of local counterparts.

He said that work had been undertaken to stabilize the economy, in which a reform process was embedded.  Those goals, along with the attainment of a balanced budget, were noble aims, but their achievement was not acceptable in the face of the disenfranchisement of an entire people.  The United Kingdom was taking the approach that, within 24 months, a perfect set of reforms would be designed which would turn Turks and Caicos into a perfect democracy, with a balanced budget, without including the native people in the reforms.  He could not understand how that process could be sustained.  The Government of the United Kingdom had published a “Progress through Partnership” whitepaper, but he saw no partnership.  He urged the United Nations to get involved, for without such oversight, he feared “our heritage will be lost”.

CONRAD HOWELL, representing Constitutional and Electoral Reform for Turks and Caicos, drew attention to the call for constitutional restoration, and noted that amendments were usually progressive and protective of the people.  However, the ones passed in Turks and Caicos were aggressive and added insult to injury by the enlargement of the franchise, implying that the islands’ people could not self-govern.  That was a full frontal attack against self-determination, which deserved the Committee’s attention.  The islands were being “re-colonized” and people were being marginalized and disenfranchised, and systems set up for those people were being removed.  Civil service was being demoralized.  There was no clear agenda on the Turks and Caicos self-determination.  He reiterated that, “We are small, but not insignificant”.  Moreover, his people desired the same thing as others, namely, the right of self-determination.  In conclusion, he saluted “this promised land” as his own, saying, “we stand with courage brave”.

Question on United States Virgin Islands

EDWARD L. BROWN, global human rights activist and historian, said that there existed in the modern world a group of people who were not officially emancipated; the Danish subjects in the islands had not been emancipated during the transfer of the land to the United States.  On 31 March at the transfer ceremonies, the pages of history turned, and history should not repeat itself.  One should not sell a people and a culture, and enslave humanity.  There were still individuals alive today who were born before the transfer.

Regarding the situation in Guam, he said that by fully addressing the issue of reparations, Japan and the United States could find true dialogue and reconciliation over the attacks on Pearl Harbour and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  He lived in a nation that continued to treat him like a second-class citizen, but from 2008, the Special Committee on Decolonization had allowed him to tell the world that he was a first-class human being.  One day, colonialism in all its forms would come to an end and there would be no more Non-Self-Governing Territories.  When that day came, it would be a better world to live in.

Items 57 and 59

DR.CARLYLE G. CORBIN JR, International Adviser on Governance and Multilateral Diplomacy, said that the present dependency models, however sophisticated, were still in violation of the principles of self-determination, and that that was a fundamental human right not exercised by the peoples of the Territories.  At the conclusion of the 2010 review of the Special Committee, much remained to be done, as only one Territory — Timor-Leste — had been decolonized since the independence of Namibia 20 years ago.  He stressed that there was nothing wrong with the resolutions put in place for the process of decolonization, but rather, it was the implementation of those resolutions that remained a weak point.

Petitioners on Question of Western Sahara

NANCY HUFF, Teach the Children International, mentioned several areas of concern:  the abuse of women, which included the exchange of sex for food in the camps; slavery in the Tindouf camps; restricted freedom of movement in and out of the camps; and human trafficking.  Additionally, Al-Qaida was building a base outside of the Maghreb, which increased the threat in the desert region, as humans and arms passed through the area.  She urged the Committee not to conduct business as usual, as the situation was getting worse.

ANNA FARISH, speaking on behalf of Leah Farish, said the issue was not one of decolonization but one of re-colonization, as Algeria was colonizing the camp.  Algerians who did not fit in elsewhere were being bussed in to maintain the population of the camps.  The United Nations should encourage identification papers for refugees.  Refugee visits had dried up and, thus, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) should open an exit centre that would protect departures.  Al-Qaida was recruiting in the camps, she said, stressing the existence of harmful influences both inside and outside the camps.

HELEN HARDIN, Chief of Staff of Representative Zach Wamp, United States Congress, said little had improved, if anything.  She noted the upcoming Casablanca trial of three human rights activists who had been charged with treason for visiting the refugee camps and allowing the refugees to celebrate the visit with patriotic ceremonies.  She urged the United Nations to have international observers attend.  She also noted a New Republic article by United Nations Special Representative Francesco Bastagli, who said leaders perpetuated a grave injustice and that a “straightforward political issue has become a political maze”. 

GALE SHERRIL, Landing Community Church, said that the issue of Western Sahara was an embarrassment to the international community; there were good intentions gone awry.  Now, there were 30 year-old children, and they now had their own children.  Time stood still for those in the Tindouf camps.  She interviewed people in the Sarawahi camps, who had told of risking their lives, sex abuse, children being taken from their parents, and men going along with leaders’ plans out of fear for their own safety.  Every effort must be made to implement a viable exit strategy for people who lived in the camps.

ANDREAS BALOG, on behalf of Samaritan Austria, GEZA, Austrian Saharawi Association, said the people of Western Sahara had a right to self-determination. Part of Western Sahara was illegally occupied by Morocco, and thus the rule of law and United Nations principles were essential to maintain international peace.  It was time the United Nations assumed responsibility instead of “realpolitik” solutions.  There was a need to accept rule of law, stop illegal exploitation, and liberate Africa’s last colony.

SETH LENZ, Christ the Rock Community Church, said that while visiting the Saharawi camps, he was told of the horrors that people lived with, being unable to claim their identity or nationalism, and prevented from visiting family.  The Saharawi were merely pleading for a voice, and he asked that the Committee take care of this people, who were being rejected from the brotherhood of man.

JANET LENZ, Not Forgotten International, said it was her purpose to remind the Committee of the faces and names of the Sahawari, as they were not numbers or categories, or nameless and faceless entities.  She related the story of a brother and sister, separated for more than 30 years, who had been able to meet again face to face.  She urged the international community not to forget that there were hundreds of thousands of Saharawi people waiting for a decision.

FRANCOIS PAUL BLANC, Professor, said a solemn commitment was required on the part of Morocco to achieve a definitive solution to the dispute over Western Sahara.  Within the territory, there must be autonomous rights.  That autonomy would be open to negotiations and referendums to be held among the local populations.

ALVARO BUTUREIRA, AC Centro Marroqui de Amistad, said his presence was an effort to see what had been done by the Secretary-General and his personal envoy, and an appeal for the release for Mustapha Ould Salma Sidi Mouloud.

LATIFA AIT-BAALA, Action International Femmes, said that there were increasing problems with family visits for Saharawis, and she stressed that many had condemned the treatment inflicted in Algeria on Moroccan journalist colleagues.  Those journalists had been subjected to interrogations for four days, before being expelled.  A high official of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario) was arrested by Algerian soldiers for treason and was awaiting a military tribunal.  Indeed, anyone who disagreed with the Algerian Government was accused of treason.  The reason for the official’s arrest had been his wish to liberate those in the Tindouf camps from their suffering.  The Government’s actions had been denounced by groups such as Human Rights watch and others. 

CYNTHIA BASINET, Nobel-nominated jazz artist and actress, said the limits of Morocco’s record were apparent in its ban on demonstrations.  She suggested that Morocco’s judges should curb immunity on police and continue positive steps by ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and take very seriously the preservation of a people’s voice and right to self-determination in a world where few had either and, yet, they were the basis of human dignity.

MIGUEL ORTIZ ASIN, Forum Canario-Saharaui, said that he had met with Saharawi people who passed through the Canary Islands.  After 35 years, people were being divided and families were being split, and that must not be allowed to continue.  The Moroccan proposal was an attempt to find some solution.  However, there was the question of people living in the land of their forefathers, their economic and social development, and regaining of dignity.  He hoped Western Sahara would be shown some priority.

JESUS LOZA, a member of Parliamento Vasco, said the decolonization situation was blocked; 19 years had passed and nothing had changed.  Everything was worse and could lead to general destabilization.  The Sarawahi people were worse off, and maintaining the status quo was costly and hindered development.  There were many to blame, but that did not lead to a solution.  He wanted to talk about the future, in a way that respected the dignity of both sides and improved relations.  Now was a crucial moment.  The circumstances to unblock the stalemate existed.  He proposed shared sovereignty, and encouraged the international community to work for a shared solution.

SUZANNE SCHOLTE, the Defense Forum Foundation, said that the continual delay of the referendum put hundreds of thousands at risk, and despite the lack of progress, the Sarawahi have relied on peaceful means and international law to press for movement forward.  In the face of violence against them, the Sarawahi leadership said they would abide by international law and the results of a referendum.

STEFAN SIMANOWITZ, a journalist who spent time in the region, said that the crisis had gone on for too long.  He relayed statements from others, who said that over 35 years was too long for people to not know their own future.  On a personal level, he went to the refugee camps, where the situation affected him profoundly and he met with human rights defenders; he said it was a tragedy they could not be here to tell their stories in person.  Local doctors spoke of health problems in the camps, meningitis and malnutrition.  There was no work, no water.  The human stories told of the need for a political solution and the right to self-determination.  History showed a political solution is the only way forward.

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