Discussion in Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization Focuses on Goals, Accomplishments of Non-Self-Governing Territories, United Nations System

2 June 2011

Discussion in Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization Focuses on Goals, Accomplishments of Non-Self-Governing Territories, United Nations System

2 June 2011
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Discussion in Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization Focuses on Goals,

Accomplishments of Non-Self-Governing Territories, United Nations System


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES, 1 June — In their second day of discussion, participants in the Caribbean regional seminar on decolonization today pressed the Special Committee on Decolonization charged with monitoring implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples to take a more active role in unlocking long-standing political stalemates that had bedevilled progress around the world and ensure that human rights in the 16 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories were better protected.

Discussion during the three-day seminar, convened in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, had focused on the dynamics and possible action to be taken in the Territories in the Caribbean, Pacific and other regions, under the purview of the Special Committee on Decolonization.  The Special Committee would consider the seminar’s conclusions and recommendations at its substantive session in June and subsequently transmit them to the General Assembly.

Throughout the day, representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories, Member States and experts alike aired their views on how to achieve badly needed breakthroughs on entrenched disputes over political status, local autonomy, self-governance, economic development and natural resource use.

A few speakers pointed out that some Territories still lacked their own constitution and representation in the legislative branches of their administering Powers, pressing that their right to elect representatives be respected.  Others emphasized that some areas had repeatedly requested removal from the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, arguing that it was time to focus on making economic gains.

For their part, some Member State representatives, while underscoring their strong support for the Special Committee, outlined reasons why the principle of self-determination did not apply to certain cases, particularly those concerning sovereignty claims over a Territory.  Others stressed that they had put forward proposals for autonomy, which should provide the basis and framework for reviving deadlocked negotiations.

Goals and expected accomplishments in the Pacific and other regions

LELEI PEAU, Representative of Governor Togiola T.A. Tulafono of American Samoa, said that, in the past, American Samoa had asked the Special Committee to de-list it, as it felt its “unincorporated” and “unorganized” status was akin to being self-governing, as not all United States’ laws applied and as the United States had never enacted legislation delineating the political relationship between the two. “It is time to be more concerned about how American Samoa can progress politically and economically while respecting the concerns of the United States and the United Nations in the process,” he said.

Stressing that American Samoa wished to move forward on issues of political status, local autonomy, self-governance and economic development, he said the United States regarded the status of its insular areas as an internal issue that did not fall under the Special Committee’s purview.  The United Nations, for its part, had pursued its mandate diplomatically, recognizing the work of the United States and American Samoa in undertaking a fourth constitutional convention, for example, in 2010.  There was likely no inhibiting disagreement among those positions, he added.

American Samoa’s formal political status would likely be determined in the distant future, he said, but even when decided, it would probably be some form of integration with the United States, which had been the preference over the last four decades, though never established by plebiscite.   American Samoa lacked the technical assistance to understand the effects of federal laws on its Territory and faced increasing responsibilities to comply with federal requirements at levels expected of States.  It could benefit greatly from the United Nations experience in dealing with insular area economies, Non-Self-Governing Territories and economic development in general.

Outlining recommendations that should emerge from the seminar, he urged administering Powers to rededicate themselves to advancing decolonization; submit annual progress reports on Non-Self-Governing Territories, according to the criteria, format and benchmarks established by the Special Committee; and cooperate with the Special Committee in assessing the effects of their actions on the political, economic and environmental advancement of the Territories.

EDWARD ALVAREZ, Representative of the Governor of Guam, cast a positive light on decolonization efforts over the last four months, as an executive director had been appointed, a Commission on Decolonization formed, funding secured for a Chamorro education programme, and efforts strengthened to populate a Chamorro registry, which complied with laws for holding a plebiscite.  The newly elected Governor had begun his four-year term with an aggressive plan to pursue the exercise of the fundamental human rights of the colonized people of Guam, the Chamorro people.  There were challenges ahead, as most people did not understand decolonization.  Those who had migrated to Guam were not aware they had been “sovereign” in the country from which they had come and believed they had the right to be “sovereign twice”.

In Guam, the militarization issue had temporarily taken over the issue of decolonization, he said.  Concerns had been aired on several occasions by Guam non-governmental organizations about the massive military build-up planned by the United States over the next five years, which had had a profound impact on the social, political, environmental, and economic landscape.  “Our Governor is serious about this inalienable right that must be exercised,” he said, as it provided leverage for Guam’s political future with the United States.  Ultimately, a partnership could be mutually agreed by both sides.  “We view this as long overdue,” he stressed, as others in the region had moved ahead while Guam had been left far behind.

History showed that the fight for political freedom was long and drawn out, he said, recalling that Guam had a non-voting delegate in the United States Congress.  Conceding that Guam had its own internal conflicts, he said it was time to put down the political swords for the good of all Chamorros and Guamanians.  With that, he urged the United States to subscribe to the resolution on the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2011-2020), and the United Nations to send an observation team to Guam during its future plebiscite.  Further, the 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories should form a coalition funded by the United Nations to exchange information.  “There is much power in this room and we just need to harness it,” he said.

RONALD L. MCNINCH-SU, University of Guam, presented a paper on constitutional advancement and self-government in Guam, noting that the native Chamorro people had several concerns related to land ownership and control, war reparations, and the right to determine Guam’s future, given that there was no Chamorro voting registry.  To improve constitutional advancement and self-government, Guam needed, among other things, a constitution and representation in the United States Senate.  Adopting an “off-the-shelf organic act” local constitution in Guam could incrementally improve local government, while federal-Guam relations would not change, per se.

For the United Nations, political status definitions or categories could be expanded, notably to ensure that the “integration” category fit the political realities of the various Territories, he said. That meant viewing integration in a way that allowed Guam, for example, to ask to be integrated as a federal district of the United States, while maintaining all the benefits of the status quo.  Also, resources might exist to assist Chamorro people.  At the same time, the perception of the United Nations as a mentor in political status change had contributed to the overall lack of impetus on the issue in Guam, and it was important to reinforce the point that Guam leaders must act.

When the floor was opened for discussion, participants challenged the Special Committee to “think outside the box” about decolonization, as its approach always had been influenced by the administering Powers.  One participant said she understood the consequences of being “de-listed”, as her people were now in historic and political “limbo”.  The size of island legislatures also was a focus, with one speaker explaining that in the Cayman Islands, there were 15 elected officials.  The big challenge was related to political parties, a system introduced in the last 10 years.  The ongoing debate centred on whether to move to single-member constituencies.

Another speaker pointed out that in Turks and Caicos, the legislature also had 15 elected officials, as well as four appointed officials and the Attorney General.  In 2007, landslide elections had seen 13 members elected to Government and two to the opposition, which many thought was “tough on parliamentary democracy”.  The proposed constitution suggested that appointed officials be removed, leaving 15 elected officials, nine of whom would be “at-large” representatives, an idea that had been largely rejected on the ground that that would give way to more transactional politics.

ROGER EDWARDS, member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, said the 3,000 people living on the islands were of mixed backgrounds.  The islands were often accused by the Argentines of having an “imported colonial population”, but in fact, the population grew with immigrants from the United Kingdom, Saint Helena, Chile, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, United States, Russian Federation, Georgia, France and the Philippines.  “We are entirely self-funded and self-governing with the exception of foreign affairs and defence,” he said.

The eight members of the Legislative Assembly were freely elected for four years, he continued.  Each year, the Assembly voted three of its members onto the Executive Council, which advised the Governor, and under the new Constitution, the Governor made decisions advised by the Council.  In 2007, gross domestic product (GDP) had reached 109 million British pounds and the economy had grown by an estimated 5 per cent in 2010.  The islands were actively searching for oil inside the legally constituted economic zone, with 18 wells drilled to date.  It was unclear whether any oil would be used for commercial purposes.

The challenges ahead included attempts by Argentina to impede certain sectors of the economy, he said.  People on the islands did not view the United Kingdom as a “hard taskmaster” but rather as a “benevolent uncle”, ready to advise and always there to help when asked.  “We are content with the current status,” he said, adding that any other arrangement would constitute the “subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation”.

JOE BOSSANO, Opposition Leader in Gibraltar, said Gibraltar was a Territory and the administering Powers had nothing to say.  A version of history had been put forward before the Committee that suited Spain’s interest, but had nothing to do with decolonization.  The Special Committee must question jurisdiction over resolving territorial disputes.  All sorts of things happened 200 years ago.  The “mess” today was the result of imperialism, whereby European Powers had helped themselves to pieces of land all over the world, enriching themselves at the expense of indigenous people.  Governments must recognize that they derived their power from the consent of the governed.  The Special Committee must examine what was happening with constitutional progress in the Territories under its purview. 

AHMED BOUKHARI, Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), said the Special Committee was obliged to ensure that 2011 was a decisive year for the Saharawi people in exercising their long-overdue right to self-determination.  While the Frente Polisario had held to the ceasefire with Morocco, outlined in Security Council resolution 690 (1991), the international community had failed to implement a referendum for the Saharawi people to choose their future.  The process had been stalemated since 2004.  The Special Committee must now consider ways to reinvigorate negotiations and send to Western Sahara a mission to update it on events since 1975.

Unilaterally imposed solutions were incompatible with the need for a political solution that would provide for the self-determination of Saharawis, a point the Special Committee must underline, he said, calling “baseless” Moroccan efforts to present its autonomy plan as the sole framework for negotiating a mutually agreed solution.  The United Nations did not recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, which, under international law, was a Non-Self-Governing Territory.

Drawing attention to what he called systematic human rights abuses by Morocco in Western Sahara, he said a 2006 report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights documented an excessive use of force against peaceful Saharawi demonstrators.  In 2011, the Security Council had stressed the importance of improving human rights in Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps, bolstering the need for credible United Nations monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation as a way of restoring Saharawis’ confidence in the United Nations process.

Finally, he urged the Special Committee to report on and protect the natural resources of Western Sahara from illegal exploitation, pointing to the plunder of resources by Morocco and “cooperating foreign interests” as a clear breach of international legal principles applied to natural resource use in the Territory.  The Special Committee must consider ways to ensure reporting by the Secretary-General on the estimated value of natural resources extracted annually from the Territory and its maritime zones, and to direct revenues from that exploitation towards the socio-economic benefit of Saharawis.

When the floor opened for discussion, Argentina’s representative made clear that his Government was not contrary to cooperating with the United Kingdom on practical aspects deriving from the de facto situation prevailing in the South Atlantic, under due legal safeguards and with a view to creating the proper atmosphere to enable parties to resume negotiations.

He also regretted that "the British misrepresent historical facts in an attempt to conceal the act of usurpation it committed in 1833". He called the United Kingdom to "immediately resume negotiations with Argentina on sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas in order to reach a just and definitive solution to this dispute".

He reiterated Argentina’s permanent willingness to settle the sovereignty dispute with the United Kingdom, taking into account the interests of the population of the islands and in accordance with United Nations pronouncements, in order to end the “anachronistic” situation and fulfil its obligation as a member of an international community that condemned colonialism.

Spain’s delegate said her country was suffering over Gibraltar, a colonial situation which undermined its territorial integrity.  The United Nations mandate vis-à-vis Gibraltar had been clear from the start of the Special Committee’s work.  General Assembly resolutions had called for bilateral negotiations between the United Kingdom and Spain to find a solution that would make decolonization of Gibraltar possible, as the Assembly considered it a colonial situation with different foundations than other cases.  Spain would not sacrifice its legitimate rights over the Territory, which predated the British presence.  When assessing Gibraltar, Spain demanded compliance with United Nations procedure.

Algeria’s delegate voiced concern that the Western Sahara represented incomplete decolonization and that its people had not been allowed the right to decide their future.  “There is no alternative to the principle of self-determination,” he said, adding that the way forward lay with the United Nations, which had the duty to safeguard that right.  He expressed hope that it would organize a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara in the near future.  For negotiations to succeed, Morocco and the Frente Polisario had been invited by Security Council resolution 1979 (2011) to show political will towards a solution, including by expanding discussion of each others’ proposals.

Morocco’s delegate said his country had shown its commitment to advancing negotiations by making innovative proposals in the last round of informal talks, while the other parties continued to adopt a radical attitude characterized by an attachment to “rigid” and past solutions, whose inapplicability had been clearly established.  Resolution 1979 confirmed the centrality of the political process as the only way to solve the regional dispute, by welcoming an intensification of the “rhythm of the informal meetings” and commending the innovative approach.  Morocco remained ready to cooperate with the other parties, the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy to achieve a political, final and negotiated solution.

The representative of Chile also participated in the discussion.

Goals and expected accomplishments of the United Nations system in providing assistance to Non-Self-Governing Territories

LIZE DENNER, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), describing work over the past year, said Non-Self-Governing Territories, in their capacity as associate members of the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee, regularly had participated in the Commission’s activities.  In 2011, the Cayman Islands participated in the Third Meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee of the Regional Coordinating Mechanism.

In addition, recent social development studies on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities included data from and analyses on nearly all Territories, she said, while another study currently being finalized, on violence against women, included data from the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos.  A report on climate change in the Caribbean included studies on tourism, health and transport in Montserrat, as well as on water in Turks and Caicos, she added.

*     A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

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