Special Committee on Decolonization, Resuming 2011 Session, Considers Gibraltar, Western Sahara Disputes, Approves Three Drafts on Non-Self-Governing Territories

13 June 2011

Special Committee on Decolonization, Resuming 2011 Session, Considers Gibraltar, Western Sahara Disputes, Approves Three Drafts on Non-Self-Governing Territories

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

Special Committee on


3rd Meeting (AM)

Special Committee on Decolonization, Resuming 2011 Session, Considers Gibraltar,


Western Sahara Disputes, Approves Three Drafts on Non-Self-Governing Territories

Gibraltar ’s Opposition Leader Says Pursuit of ‘De-Listing’ Will Continue;

Spain ’s Representative Says Ignoring His Country’s ‘Legitimate’ Rights Untenable

Resuming its 2011 session this morning, the Special Committee on Decolonization approved requests for hearings from several Non-Self-Governing Territories in the coming days and approved without a vote three draft resolutions concerning the transmission and dissemination of information on decolonization.

Nowhere was the Committee’s attention more needed, however, than in Gibraltar, said Fabian Picardo, petitioner and leader of the opposition in the Gibraltar Parliament, underscoring that his people would continue their fight to be de-listed by the United Nations as a colony of the United Kingdom and “never to pass under the yolk of Spanish colonialism in the future”.

He asked the 24-member body to protect the Territories from administering Powers that sought to exercise residual control and from States that sought to “suffocate” their emancipation through modern attempts to colonize.

The Special Committee should be concerned only with the evolving relationship between the administering Power and the colonial people, he said, and not with Spain’s wish to maintain a claim over Gibraltar’s sovereignty.  In fact, territories could no longer be handed over from one monarch to another regardless of the wishes of the people who lived in them.  That was the very basis of the principle of self-determination that the Committee was charged to uphold.

He called on Spain to recognize the rights of the people of Gibraltar and drop its claim to it, saying that a modern democracy like Spain must recognize that it was only by achieving the maximum level of self-government — and exercising self-determination that resulted in de-listing — that decolonization could take place.

With that, he asked the Special Committee for guidance on why Gibraltar had not yet attained the fullest possible measure of self-government and consequent de-listing.  There was no exception to the principle of self-determination, and Gibraltar looked to the Special Committee to show the world that the rights of colonial peoples were more important than those of “predatory nations”.

Spain’s representative, participating in today’s meeting as an observer, said the United Nations had recognized that the colonial situation in Gibraltar had disrupted Spain’s unity and territorial integrity, and the administering Power itself had admitted that the independence of its colony would not be possible against Spain’s wishes.

“It is not at all realistic to think that the Government of Spain could ever accept the perpetuation of the present situation, in which the administering Power and the colony seek to ignore Spain’s legitimate rights under the Treaty of Utrecht and the doctrine of the United Nations,” he said.  The General Assembly had spent more than three decades calling for a negotiated solution between the United Kingdom and Spain, adopting a consensus decision which outlined the United Nations mandate to hold a bilateral dialogue within the Brussels Process.

While no such dialogue had taken place in recent years, Spain was confident that both countries would be able to find “imaginative ways” to resolve their differences without neglecting the interests of the colony’s inhabitants, he said.  It was a sincere offer, which Spain repeatedly presented to the United Kingdom authorities at the highest levels.

He said that Spain also had allowed regional cooperation to continue with Gibraltar and the United Kingdom in a separate process — the Forum of Dialogue on Gibraltar — with a view to creating a constructive atmosphere.  But advances were being hampered by the local government’s insistence that it address aspects related to sovereignty, which were the sole responsibility of the United Kingdom and Spain.  He urged the Committee not to allow Territories to be removed from the list using arguments alien to its criteria.

Turning to the situation in Western Sahara, the Special Committee heard an impassioned plea by Ahmed Boukhari of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front), to support the Saharawi people’s inalienable right to self-determination.  Despite plans to hold a referendum in 1991 under the auspices of United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) and later attempts in 2003 by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General James Baker, the event had not materialized.

Morocco had rejected the Baker plan on “groundless” claims it jeopardized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, he said, and since then, had tried to sell its proposal of “autonomy within Moroccan sovereignty”, which would require Saharawis to renounce their independence and join the occupying Power.  That “pseudo-solution” was a serious denial of the sense and scope of the principle of self-determination, as outlined in General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 1960, and defined in 1541 (XV) of that same year.

With the seventh round of negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front recently concluded, the situation was still at an impasse, he said.  The Special Committee had an “ineluctable” responsibility to decolonize the last African colony on its agenda.  The Saharawi people would continue to seek their self-determination and independence.

Also today, the Special Committee approved without a vote three draft resolutions concerning the transmission and dissemination of information on decolonization.

The first, on “Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73 e of the Charter of the United Nations” (document A/AC.109/2011/L.3) would have the General Assembly request that administering Powers transmit or continue to transmit to the Secretary-General information relating to economic, social and educational conditions in the Territories for which they were responsible, as well as on political and constitutional developments, within a maximum period of six months following the expiration of the administrative year in those Territories.

The second text, on “Dissemination of Information on decolonization (document A/AC.109/2011/L.4), would have the Assembly request the Secretary-General to enhance the information provided on the United Nations decolonization website and continue to include links to the full series of reports of the regional seminars on decolonization.

The Department of Public Information would be requested to update web-based information on the assistance programmes available to the Non-Self-Governing Territories, while both that Department and the Department of Political Affairs would be requested to implement the Special Committee’s recommendations and continue to take measures, through all media available, to publicize United Nations work in the field of decolonization.

By the third text, on the “Question of sending visiting and special missions to Territories” (document A/AC.109/2011/L.5), the Special Committee stressed the need to dispatch periodic visiting missions in order to facilitate the full, speedy and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.  Administering Powers that had not yet done so were called upon to cooperate by facilitating such missions to the Territories under their administration and to explore the possibility of undertaking visiting or special missions.  The Chair was requested to continue consultations with those Powers and to report back on the results.

Before that action, Margaret Novicki, Chief of the Communications Campaign Service of the Department of Public Information, introduced the Secretary-General’s annual report on the dissemination of information on decolonization (document A/AC.109/2011/17), which gave an overview of the activities undertaken between April 2010 and March 2011 to disseminate information on decolonization.

Perhaps the single most important activity undertaken in the past year, said Ms. Novicki, was the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), which contained the Declaration on decolonization.  The Department had contributed to the commemoration in December 2010 with a press kit, the screening of documentary footage and a slide display at the United Nations.

In other areas, the Department continued to provide media coverage of the United Nations decolonization work, she said, noting that 43 press releases had been produced in the reporting period.  United Nations television and radio were fully engaged in covering meetings, statements and hearings related to the issue.  The Department also had covered the 2011 Caribbean regional seminar on decolonization, held in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines from 31 May to 2 June.  Working with the Department of Political Affairs, the Department had revamped the decolonization website in the United Nations six official languages.

Taking the floor next, Laura Vaccari, Chief of the Decolonization Unit of the Department of Political Affairs, said her Unit had worked in “imaginative and creative” ways to make the decolonization website a useful and friendly educational tool.  In the coming year, it planned to update the content of its publications on the basis of priorities set in the Third International Decade for the eradication of Colonialism.  It also had prepared annual working papers on each of the 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Among other activities, the Unit was responsible for the substantive organization, input and follow-up to the annual regional seminars, she said, which provided unique forums for the exchange of information on decolonization among representatives of the Territories and the Committee, as well as civil society and other actors.  It was currently working to showcase the Special Committee’s work in the recently held Caribbean regional seminar.

In final business today, the Special Committee approved a number of requests for hearings from petitioners from Guam, New Caledonia, Turks and Caicos Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), and on its decision of 15 June 2009 concerning Puerto Rico, an item on which Special Committee Chairman Francisco Carrión-Mena ( Ecuador) reminded delegates that there had been an annual discussion.  Twenty organizations had requested a hearing on that item.

Also speaking in today’s debate were the representatives of Cuba, Saint Lucia and Papua New Guinea.

The Special Committee on Decolonization will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 20 June, to take up the 15 June 2009 decision concerning Puerto Rico and to hear the petitioners on that agenda item.

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