Puerto Rico ‘Front Line’ of Fight against Colonialism, Say Speakers as Caribbean Regional Seminar Continues

GA/COL/3278
20 May 2015
Caribbean Regional Seminar, AM & PM Meetings

Puerto Rico ‘Front Line’ of Fight against Colonialism, Say Speakers as Caribbean Regional Seminar Continues

Longstanding Disputes, Including Western Sahara, Gibraltar, Falkland Island (Malvinas) also Discussed

MANAGUA, 20 May — Entering its second day, the Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization heard a large number of calls for the right of Puerto Rico to determine its own political status, with delegates noting that the island’s plight represented the “front line” of today’s decolonization efforts.

The case of Puerto Rico — which remained an unincorporated Territory of the United States — was the “trenches” of the decolonization movement, said the representative of the Seminar’s host country, Nicaragua.  It was incumbent upon the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, informally, the Special Committee of 24, to speak up against colonialism on the island, he added, stressing that Puerto Ricans were Latin and Caribbean by blood.

A number of delegates and experts speaking throughout the day noted that while Puerto Rico had been removed from the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories in 1953 by the General Assembly, the Assembly had left open the possibility of revisiting the matter.  Speakers widely stressed that both the Special Committee and Puerto Ricans themselves should seek to bring the issue back to the 194-member world body.

In that connection, Cuba’s delegate said that leaders in the Latin American and Caribbean region were committed to the goal of achieving a region free from colonialism, in line with the ultimate decolonization aims of the United Nations.  The Government of the United States should take note, said the speaker, of the international community’s position on that issue and accelerate the process to make it possible for the people of Puerto Rico to realize their independence.

Another rallying point was the case of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rican political prisoner and one of the leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (FALN), who had been held in the United States since his conviction for seditious conspiracy in 1981.  Several speakers called his incarceration a “humanitarian issue” and advocated for his speedy release.

Delegations ranging from Syria to China to the Russian Federation expressed concern over the cause of the Puerto Rican people, noting that the issue was a “complex” one that should again be considered by the General Assembly.

Shedding more light on the political and development aspects of the Puerto Rican question was Wilma E. Reveron-Collazo, member of the Bar Association of Puerto Rico, who said that the island was suffering from a brain drain of its most educated, skilled young people.  Unemployment was over 15 per cent, with many people living in poverty and working in the informal economy.

The idea of the United States as a so-called “generous administering Power” was a total fallacy, she said.  Despite claims by the United States that it provided billions of dollars to Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans paid back much more through taxes and by making purchases at large American chain stores.  The island was struggling with its national debt and hindered by the “straight jacket” of the Constitution that had been imposed on it.  Moreover, she said, the Government of Puerto Rico was completely colonialist and did not dare defy the interests of Wall Street.

A discussion also emerged about New Caledonia — a Territory administered by France, which was slated to hold a referendum by 2018 — with a number of speakers raising concerns about the composition of the electoral roll and issuing suggestions on how the Special Committee could best support the decolonization process there.

The Special Committee today also revisited the situation in other Non-Self-Governing Territories, including the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, Gibraltar and Western Sahara.

The Seminar will reconvene on Thursday, 21 May, to conclude its work.

Discussion on Caribbean Region

Following the work undertaken yesterday, the Seminar began its second day with a discussion on the theme “Review in the Caribbean region”, hearing from experts and non-governmental organizations, as well as delegations.

Opening the discussion, the representative of Iran asked how a Territory as small as Saint Helena, for example, could establish a viable Government with so few human resources.

PETER CLEGG, expert, responded that small States such as Saint Kitts and Nevis also had small populations and limited human resources, but nonetheless had fully functioning Governments.  All Non-Self-Governing Territories had the potential to do the same, he added.

DANIEL MANFRED MALCOLM, expert, said that the “close association” model — in which a symbiotic relationship was formed with a larger and more established country — could assist in the formation of a Government in a very small Territory.

PAMELA WARD PEARCE, representative of Saint Helena, said that the island had no aspirations or will towards independence.  Given its smallness and limited population, there were economies of scale.  Saint Helena was able to have a form of government, but it was not yet looking forward to independence.  The island was not part of the Caribbean and was culturally and geographically very different.  Addressing a comment made yesterday, she said that there had indeed been a problem with sexual exploitation in Saint Helena, but that it was not an endemic one.  “We are dealing with the problem through the courts, and systems are put in place,” she said in that respect.

The representative of Ecuador said that the work of the experts should be circulated in a kind of mailing list to assist Member States in their work.  He had a fundamental problem with the question of Anguilla, from which complaints of “despotic” behaviour on the part of the Governor had emerged in recent years.  The people of Anguilla had wanted simply to draft their own constitution and live their lives.  He wished to hear more about that island and to know for sure that things were going well for its inhabitants.  In the case of Puerto Rico, Ecuador fully supported the ambitions of the people to achieve their inalienable right to self-determination.  It was in the interest of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to rid the region of colonization.  One important aspect was the deplorable human situation of the people of Puerto Rico, in particular the case of the political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera.  That humanitarian issue should be resolved as soon as possible.

Nicaragua’s delegate stressed that besides the economic aspects described by the Puerto Rican expert yesterday, there were cultural aspects to consider.  Puerto Ricans were Latin and Caribbean by blood.  They had rejected by 54 per cent the colonial governance of the United States, he said.  The case of Puerto Rico was “the front line” and “the trenches” of decolonization.  It was incumbent upon the Special Committee to speak up against colonialism on the island.  “We should press the General Assembly to consider, under all its aspects, the situation of Puerto Rico,” he added, noting that it was “shameful” that the world was currently in the Third International Decade of Decolonization.  There should be no need for a fourth, the speaker asserted.

The representative of Venezuela called on those seeking self-determination to prevent their colonizers from dictating the pace their independence.  Territories should not fear their lack of economic preparation as a reason not to look towards independence.  Many Non-Self-Governing Territories had been able to build sovereign economic power.  With regard to the situation in Puerto Rico, Venezuela demanded the island’s right to independence and called on the international community to put an end to the situation propagated by the administering Power, the United States.  He called for the prompt release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, adding that the General Assembly must urgently consider the situation of Puerto Rico.  Finally, he called on the United States Government to respond to the Special Committee’s demands and to adhere to the principles of the United Nations Charter with regard to Puerto Rico.

Cuba’s delegate said that, a few months ago, CELAC Heads of State and Government had reiterated the Latin and Caribbean nature of Puerto Rico.  Regional leaders committed themselves to continue working towards the goal of a Latin American and Caribbean region free from colonization.  The United States Government, he agreed with several speakers, should take note of the international community’s position on that issue and accelerate the process to make it possible for the people of Puerto Rico to realize their independence.  The General Assembly must continue to observe the debate taking place in Puerto Rico, including the Constitutional Assembly on issues of status, and it must consider the question in all its aspects.  The United States should also release Oscar Lopez Rivera.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that the issue of Puerto Rico was a complex one, but the time was appropriate to consider it.

Syria’s delegate said that attention should be focused on accomplishing concrete results in decolonization.  His country supported the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence, and called on the United States to fully implement General Assembly resolutions in that regard.

The representative of Argentina asked Mr. Clegg for more information on what he termed “Belongers” and “non-Belongers”, whose status manipulation could affect islands’ demographics.

The representative of China also supported Puerto Rico’s inalienable right to self-determination and its right to development, and he called on all parties to undertake efforts to resolve that longstanding problem.

Responding to Mr. Clegg’s statement, Iran’s delegate took the floor again to say that the population of Saint Kitts and Nevis was much larger than that of Saint Helena.  Meanwhile, the population of Puerto Rico was over 3 million, and the island would likely have the necessary human resources to set up a functioning Government.  Administering Powers could put obstacles in the way of self-determination, he said, asking the experts what could be done about that.

SERGEI CHERNIAVSKY, expert, then took the floor to say that a number of excellent questions had been raised.  In the case of Bermuda, which had one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, gross domestic product (GDP) was often a faulty indicator.  Stronger indicators, including economic ones, were urgently needed.  Bermuda could be the first target of the ad hoc group within the Special Committee, as many aspects of its status were still undecided.

Responding to Ecuador on the case of Anguilla, Mr. CLEGG said that there were questions about whether Anguilla’s Constitution was “fit for purpose” as it had not been recently reformed.  There had been some tensions between the local Government and the Governor.  Sometimes, the rhetoric used by Non-Self-Governing Territories overwhelmed reality.  A new constitution was required politically.  Responding to the representative of Venezuela, he said that the message of what Non-Self-Governing Territories really wanted could become cloudy.  To the representative of Argentina, he said that the issue of citizenship in Overseas Territories was a complex one.  “Belonger” status was fully controlled by the Territories themselves, and restricting it was not a source of migratory limits by the United Kingdom as it was controlled by the local territories.

To the representative of Iran, he went on to say that Saint Helena was indeed a very different example.  In many cases, Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Caribbean were largely self-sufficient, and it was up to them to move towards independence.  The United Kingdom did not have any wish to constrain the Territories in any fashion and would support them if they decided to do so.  Concerning Bermuda, he said that other Caribbean Territories looked forward to the island as an inspiring case with regard to furthering self-governance.

WILMA E. REVERON-COLLAZO, member of the Bar Association of Puerto Rico, said that there were no weapons to defeat the most powerful empire in the world, but Puerto Rico did have a moral imperative in such cases as that of Oscar Lopez Rivera.  She thanked all delegations that had expressed their support for Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination.  Migration had had a major impact on the country’s demographic development, she said, noting that migratory flows from Puerto Rico to the United States had risen in the last few years.  Those migrants were the most educated young people, and there had also been an exodus of doctors and engineers.  That had a major impact on the island’s development.  Unemployment was over 15 per cent, with many people living in poverty and working in the informal economy.

The idea of the United States as a so-called “generous administering Power” was a total fallacy, she said.  Despite the fact that the United States said that it provided billions of dollars to Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans paid back much more.  The island was struggling with its national debt and it was hindered by the “strait jacket” of a constitution that had been imposed on it.  The Government of Puerto Rico was completely colonialist and did not dare defy the interests of Wall Street.  For example, many Puerto Ricans wished to buy oil from Venezuela, but due to the relations between that State and the United States, it was unable to do so.  It was most important to bring the case of Puerto Rico to the Assembly once again.

CONRAD HOWELL, expert, addressed the issue of becoming a “Belonger” in Non-Self-Governing Territories.  In Turks and Caicos’ most recent Constitution, the word “Belonger” had been removed.  Minor changes and missed opportunities existed.  He agreed with Argentina that the term “Belonger” had a kind of colonial connotation.

Mr. CLEGG said that the idea of “Belonger” allowed certain people to take part in the democratic process.  The United Kingdom did try to get Turks and Caicos to expand the definition of “Belonger”, but the Territory had declined.

Review of Pacific Region

Opening the discussion, MICHAEL LUJAN BEVACQUA, expert, said that one of the most significant impediments to achieving decolonization in Guam was the lack of support of the administering Power, the United States.  That had manifested most prominently in the administering Power’s insistence that a decolonization plebiscite follow United States national law rather than international conventions.

Guam had had difficulty in engaging productively with the United States, he said.  Over the past three decades, the administering Power had moved from being antagonistic to apathetic on the topic of Guam’s decolonization.  The United States insisted that Guam undergo decolonization in a way that followed only the administering Power’s own narrow national interests.

At the heart of the decolonization process was a political-status plebiscite vote in which those who had been historically denied their right to self-determination would receive the chance to determine the next step in their political evolution.  The movement to decolonize had long been overshadowed by the fear that that vote would be attacked as “unconstitutional”.  Representatives of the United States Government and local opponents to decolonization had made the argument that the “vote” should be open to all United States citizens who were eligible to vote and must not be limited to only a select group.  Completely lost on these opponents was the fact that that was not a regular, electoral vote, but rather part of an internationally recognized process of redress.

He noted that, in 2011, an ethnically white long-time resident of Guam, Arnold “Dave” Davis, filed a lawsuit claiming that the proposed decolonization plebiscite would violate his United States constitutional rights as he was not allowed to register for it.  His lawsuit was dismissed in the courts of Guam on the basis that it was not “ripe”, since no plebiscite has been scheduled, although a Decolonization Commission was in place and was tasked with educating the island community and helping guide the plebiscite process.

He said he had appealed the decision in the Ninth Circuit District Court, a higher United States federal court, and just last week, that Court announced its ruling that Davis’ case was indeed ripe and could be heard.  The case so far had been a “twisted deformation of the arc of justice”.  In order to make his argument, Davis’ attorneys used the history of segregation and discrimination in the United States against the rights of the Chamorro people.

While some progress had been made in recent years, the Davis case had a chilling effect, he went on.  Recent statements by United States Department of Interior officials hinted at a hesitancy to provide any support for self-determination education, and the Department of Justice might become involved.  He encouraged the United Nations to engage with the United States to help it understand its role in the decolonization process.  In Guam, that was vital to help realize the larger goal of eradication.

EDWARD PAUL WOLFERS said that decolonization in the Pacific had led to diverse outcomes and remained a dynamic, evolving situation.  In that region, the number of Non-Self-Governing Territories on the United Nations list had actually gone up.  That was seen by some as a negative and by others as a positive.  Some small islands in the region people were agitating to be treated in a similar way.  The process of decolonization in the Pacific had a longer history than was usually recognized; it was made up of serious anti-colonial movements.  Those movements were conceptually quite different from those in other parts of the world.  The need for “case-by-case basis” consideration was very important to the region.

He said there were some important questions that needed to be asked, as there were options that might not have been explored properly in the decolonization process.  It was also important to disaggregate the actors, the processes and the outcomes in different colonies in the region.  Sometimes, very local issues could radicalize people against a colonial regime; sometimes it was a more general rhetoric.  There were places where questions could be raised about how the process was moving along, or if it was even moving at all.  In Pitcairn, due to its small population, critical positions such as in policing had to be held by people who came from other societies.  In the case of Tokelau, the Head of Government was held outside the island. 

A discussion about public or political education should be undertaken, as sometimes those terms meant “convincing people that you know the answer”, he went on.  There were cases in the Pacific where people were not given the proper options before a referendum.  United Nations principles should also be examined, as those rights, such as to self-determination and the right to self-determination for indigenous peoples, were sometimes conflicting on the ground, and some questions were not being addressed by current international frameworks.

The general tone of the Seminar had been less confrontational and more forward looking than many decolonization discussions in the past, he said.  However, it was important to consider whether the Special Committee was just trying to “take names off the list” or whether it was actually considering the situation of Non-Self-Governing Territories on the ground.  Given the complexity of the issues, he suggested the appointment a panel of experts with the ability to analyse the issues.

ROCH WAMYTAN, expert, recalled that New Caledonia was back on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories and that it was set to hold a referendum by 2018.  The role of France as the administering Power should be considered, as should its respect for its commitments in that regard.  Was France preparing the Territory for self-determination, or was it taking actions to keep it as a colony?  Was it “playing fair” by the rules of decolonization?  Former French Presidents had noted that the French empire was one “where the sun never sets”, he said.  The question for New Caledonia now was whether the interests of France remained in the Pacific.  Could it defend its interests without its overseas colonies?

The history of colonization had taught that administering Powers tried to “sweet talk” the people of their Overseas Territories, but set a red line at independence, he went on.  Thousands of New Caledonian natives had fought in wars for France.  There was too much money poorly distributed in New Caledonia and life was too expensive there.  Unless drastic economic reforms were taken, the situation would persist.  The peoples under trusteeship did not agree with the manoeuvres of colonial domination:  destabilization, tension and fear.  Immigration was another instrument to defend the interest of the nation; the history of New Caledonia was a long one of migratory flows.  The administering Power was preparing the question to be asked of the Caledonian population, and pro-independence residents wanted advice from the United Nations in that respect.

On the right to vote, criteria and electoral rolls, he went on to say that the administering Powers had played out the issue at will.  The various political agreements of past years had addressed the question of the electoral body.  The problem was the inscription on the electoral list of all native Caledonians as well as Kanaks and others.  It was necessary to be vigilant with regard to the right to vote, as previous laws had restricted that right of indigenous peoples, botched voting lists, and undertaken other “dirty play”.  The Special Committee must therefore help New Caledonia prepare for its upcoming referendum.

MIKAEL FORREST, expert, said that the Nouméa Accord was in its final stages because the referendum was due to take place at the latest by 2018.  The Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) was helping the Territory move towards independence.  His wish was adherence to the Nouméa Agreement so that independence could emerge with the recognition of France.

FLNKS had made a number of concessions to those ends, he said.  The Nouméa Agreement was very clear as a process of decolonization, and the electoral campaign continued.  He reiterated his request for mediation as delivered to the General Assembly’s Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), in particular to allow the decolonization process to be followed to its end without interference.  He recalled that in the case of the Marshall Islands, the United Nations had issued a decision to assist with the problem of electoral fraud, which now existed in New Caledonia.  The values of the Kanak people were those of respect and sovereignty; the agreement on decolonization must be respected to those ends.  He recommended an informal dialogue with the administering Power so that all concerns were satisfied.

The ensuing discussion focused largely on Guam’s steps towards decolonization and on the case of New Caledonia’s upcoming referendum.  Many delegates stressed the need for new ways to prompt administering Powers to show greater political will towards lifting obstacles to the conclusion of colonialism.

In that vein, the representative of Papua New Guinea said that in international law, the word “sacred” was used only once, in relation to the responsibility of administering Powers to their Territories.  The Special Committee had no authority over the issue of Guam or any other Territory under its consideration.  Going to the General Assembly via a resolution was one way to address the issues raised today, but even that route could “fall on deaf ears”.  Instead, new ways to engage the administering Powers should be considered.  The proposal to create a panel of experts to take the issues forward deserved serious consideration.  Turning to New Caledonia, he said that there were “mixed signals” on that Territory’s electoral list, stressing the importance of a credible electoral list that was made public and shared with all.

Responding to that comment, Mr. BEVACQUA said the biggest impediment Guam faced was the resistance of the United States to even engage on the issues at hand.  It reserved the right to ignore whatever Guam did or said.

Mr. WOLFERS expressed hope that the Special Committee would think critically about the realities of decolonization, including whether there was a “stand-off” between the wishes of the local populations and the administering Powers.  The dynamics of change, the processes being used, the transfer of powers, and the question of the outcome all should be examined.  It was not about asking people what to do, but to think of new ways forward.  Climate change was another issue deserving critical consideration.  There might be different ways of involving populations, while legitimizing outcomes in a single integrated process.  In the Pacific, societies with experience — in the Caribbean, Africa and other places — had contributed to the discussion, because of their experiences and outcomes.

Concerning the electoral list in New Caledonia, Mr. WAMYTAN said that a year had passed since the Special Committee’s mission to New Caledonia, and there was no more clarity on the positions on the electoral list for the referendum.  The Government itself was having difficulty implementing its own law.  There was friction within the administrative counsels that drew up the list.  The French Government had set up a guidebook with instructions on how to draw up electoral lists, but even those guidebooks had had no effect.  Were the pro-French creating a “smokescreen” to cover up their tracks so that when the time came for a referendum no list would exist and the vote would have to be delayed?  At the moment, only two classes of people were entered on the list:  the Kanaks and those who had participated in the referendum that led to the Noumea Agreement in 1988.  Other classes were less clear, including, for example, many people who had come to New Caledonia for a short time and had had children there, who were then left behind.  Others just owned a home in New Caledonia.  Should everyone who was born in New Caledonia be registered to vote in the referendum, or just those who demonstrated that their “centre of moral and material interest” was on the island?

Cuba’s delegate said that the omnibus resolution of the General Assembly called on the administering Power to continue transferring lands to their original proprietors.  He asked the representative of Guam to provide further information in that regard.

Responding, Mr. BEVACQUA said that while Guam was only 212 square miles, much of that land had been used by United States army facilities.  The island had fought hard to regain that Territory.  The issue of land was very important, but the United States also did not take seriously other issues, such as immigration.  There had been recent proposals by that Government to continue to expand its military presence in Guam, he added.

Ms. REVERON-COLLAZO said that the Special Committee should base its work on General Assembly resolution 1415 (XV), which stated that the size or population of a Territory should not impede its status.  There should be a range of options for a Territory, as long as those were based first and foremost on the premise of granting independence and transferring powers based on resolution 1415 (XV).

Mr. FORREST cited a number of problems with the electoral list in New Caledonia, and went on to enumerate a number of preparations that were taking place ahead of the referendum in 2018.

Clarifying his position on Puerto Rico, Mr. WOLFERS said that he was in no way suggesting that there should be quantitative indicators or population limits.  The right to independence should never be retracted for any population because it did not fit a stereotypical model.  However, there were different challenges in different places that needed to be addressed.

Mr. CHERNIAVSKY agreed that each Territory was entitled to self-determination no matter its size or population.  However, he also agreed that “unconventional means” might be needed in extreme cases of very small Territories.

Also participating in that discussion were representatives of Syria, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Algeria and China.

Review of Other Regions

PHYLLIS RENDELL, from the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), said she had been elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) in 2013.  When the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) had first been settled, it was indeed a colony.  However, unlike surrounding colonies, the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) had no indigenous populations and only a small population of 2,500 people.  It had chosen a modern self-governing relationship with the United Kingdom, which was quite different from a colony of the United Kingdom.  Today, political change and the evolution of the Territory’s Constitution had been driven by the invasion by Argentina in 1982.  “We’re very proud of our current Constitution,” which was in line with the United Nations Charter, she said.

Constitutional reform of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) had stripped away all vestiges of colonialism, and all land ownership was held by islanders, she continued.  The legal system was appropriate to the society in the South Atlantic and was not dependent upon the laws of the United Kingdom.  The economy had grown year by year, with funds being spent on infrastructure and development projects.  The Falkland Islands (Malvinas) fishery, which was recognized as one of the best-managed in the world, brought in much revenue.  Strong tourism and agriculture industries were main features of the islands.  Offshore activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone were strictly regulated.

This was all contrary to the “outrageous” comments of Argentina, which claimed that the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) were being polluted.  The islands used a large amount of wind power and hydrocarbons, she said, noting that “we listen to our constituents and support them.”  The island she represented was not a colony.  Over 99 per cent of the electorate had voted in 2013 to remain a protectorate of the United Kingdom.  The Falkland Islands (Malvinas) received no financial aid from the United Kingdom and was only dependent upon the United Kingdom for defence.  Argentina no longer shared scientific data or information on fish stocks with the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) and it had chosen to walk away from an exploration of hydrocarbons, closing the door on a major opportunity.  It was the duty of the Special Committee to bring each Territory to a status that it desired.  She invited the Special Committee to visit the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

Taking the floor, the representative of El Salvador said that the issue of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) was a priority on the multilateral agenda.  It was paradoxical that while the United Kingdom and Argentina had bilateral links in other areas, they had not yet been able to resolve the sovereignty dispute on the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).  The solution must be based on the historic legal rights of the archipelago, which was under Argentine control.  It had been half a century of recognition of the right of Argentina over the islands, based on a number of resolutions of the General Assembly and Organization of American States (OAS).  Regarding the referendum, she said that invoking a vote to the detriment of the sovereign right of a people to their land was against the spirit of United Nations resolutions.  It was up to the Special Committee to end the scourge of colonialism.

Venezuela’s delegate said that the acts of the colonial British Powers whose goals were the annexation of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) and surrounding islands were acts of aggression.  The islands were a colonial enclave that persisted into the twenty-first century.  He urged a resumption of negotiations between Argentina and the United Kingdom, with a view to finding a solution in line with international law.  The British refusal to negotiate ignored the calls of the international community.  General Assembly resolution 3149 recognized efforts by Argentina to accelerate the decolonization of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).  He rejected the United Kingdom’s illegal exploitation of natural resources, including hydrocarbons, in the islands, as well as the military exercises carried out by the United Kingdom in the region.  One could not disguise a colonial claim as an assertion of self-determination.  The situation was a sovereignty dispute, and a referendum was not appropriate or applicable.

The representative of Argentina said that the process of decolonization had been one of the most successful efforts of the United Nations.  Seventeen Non-Self-Governing Territories remained; however, promising trends gave rise to optimism.  For the first time since 1961, the General Assembly had requested the Secretary-General to meet with the Special Committee once a year to help it continue its good work on a case-by-case basis.  That new momentum was extremely important for Argentina, given the continuing illegal occupation of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), the South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands, and the surrounding maritime areas.

While the sovereignty dispute had long existed, the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) was expressly designated as a “special and particular case” of decolonization.  The Argentine population had been expelled.  Unlike the situation in the Caribbean region, there was no question of “Belongership”; the United Kingdom had instead built up a population of its own.  There were no people subjected to alien subjugation, domination or exploitation.  The inhabitants of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) never criticized the United Kingdom because they were citizens of that country.  Recalling that for 50 years the United Nations had been calling on the United Kingdom and Argentina to resolve the sovereignty dispute, he said that there could be no attempt to call into question its bilateral nature.

He noted that the United Nations had urged the countries to resume negotiations in which they had been engaged for almost two decades.  There had always been only two sides to that process.  Documents had been drafted and even initialed by the parties.  However, the intransigence of settlers with economic interests on the islands had interfered in those bilateral talks.  There was a call for respect of the United Nations Charter, but the Organization had expressly ruled out the applicability of the principle of self-determination with regard to the Malvinas.  Argentina had nothing against the British residents of the islands and it had many times demonstrated support for their well-being and way of life.  Argentina had the firm support of the good offices of the Secretary-General, as mandated by the General Assembly, as well as regional groups.  There were some attempts today to blame Argentina for non-cooperation.  However, it was the United Kingdom that ignored General Assembly resolutions and calls to engage with Argentina.  It was not Argentina that had resorted to war-mongering and arms races, he added.

Ms. RENDELL, responding to El Salvador, said that the Committee’s role was to support Non-Self-Governing Territories and not to sort out a territorial claim.  To the Argentine representative, she said that she wished to hear that the islanders' wishes were being respected.  One could not invade a territory, lose a war, and then expect to continue dialogue as if nothing had happened.  “We have rights — the right to self-determination and the right for our voices to be heard through this Committee,” she said.

ALEJANDRO BETTS, expert, then took the floor to invite the Special Committee to look at the situation “as an anthropologist”.  He said he was living proof of the colonization of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) today.  The foreign occupation of a South Atlantic territory, with the construction of a military base, represented a threat to the entire region.  As an Islander, he had devoted much of his life to the study of the decolonization of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), consulting exhaustive research works on the issue and finding “the other side of the story”.

He said there was a lost, ignored, censored history in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), which led him to believe that Argentina was the sole successor of the Spanish crown and therefore the rightful owner of the islands.  The undermining of the territorial integrity of a South American State had gone unresolved for so long because of the impunity offered by the use of force itself.  The will of the inhabitants of the islands should not take precedence over the question of sovereignty.

There was no dispute over political status on the part of the islanders, and, therefore, the question of self-determination could not be invoked, he said.  The Malvinas did not constitute a country or a nation, and there was no “Falklander citizenship”, but rather only British citizenship.  It would be a flagrant violation of international law for the British citizens in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) to be allowed to decide the status of the islands.

Turning to the question of Gibraltar, JOSEPH BOSSANO, representative of Gibraltar, said that in 1964, the Special Committee had said that there was a dispute between the United Kingdom and Spain that should be resolved through negotiations.  He had then started to campaign for the right of his country.  The basis of the Spanish claim over Gibraltar was simply 200 years of rule, in a long history of rule by Muslim empires and others.  “I am no prefabricated puppet of the administering Power,” as Spain would have the Special Committee believe, he said.  It was crucial to take into account the people’s aspirations.  Gibraltar had taken the transfer of power from the United Kingdom “as far as we could”, but the Special Committee needed to help them take it the rest of the way.

Debunking a number of past statements by the Special Committee, he said that the Seminars had been designed so that the Special Committee could directly hear the views of the people.  He would be grateful if the relevant paragraphs were corrected to differentiate between the United Kingdom’s views and Gibraltar’s views.  There was nothing anachronistic about the Special Committee’s current methods.  The Spanish right to Gibraltar had already been negated.  There was no single case in which the will of a native people had been recognized and later had been disenfranchised.  Gibraltar’s future could only be decided by its current people, in line with the United Nations Charter’s Chapter XI.  “If we have to defend our land and the land of our forefathers, we will do so,” he said.

On Western Sahara, MOHAMED YESLEM BEISAT DEICH, Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO), said that the venue and time of the Seminar gave it a great importance.  Western Sahara was the last country to be decolonized in Africa, culminating in the settlement plan that had been accepted by the two parties in 1988.  A plan under several Security Council resolutions in 1990 and 1991 allowed for the holding of a referendum, under the supervision of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  Morocco then began putting obstacles in the way of the settlement plan.  Despite efforts by the United Nations, Moroccan obstruction continued unabated.  In 2004, Morocco even went so far as to reject any solution that did not conform to its ownership of Western Sahara. 

To date, no progress had been made owing to Morocco’s intransigence, he said.  Yesterday, its representative had denied the very existence of the Saharan people and the verdict of the International Court of Justice on Western Sahara.  He was once again pushing the situation to a very dangerous level, “adding fuel on the fire” that was already burning in the North Africa region.  Frente POLISARIO was doing its utmost to facilitate the mission of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Western Sahara.  Meanwhile, Morocco continued to perpetrate massive human rights violations of the Saharan people in the Territory, which was well-documented by many renowned human rights organizations.  Those abuses involved the disappearance of human rights activists, police brutality and extrajudicial executions, among other crimes.

The entire occupied Territory was under a military siege, he continued.  The Security Council had regrettably not been able to take action to ensure better transparency on the ground in Western Sahara.  Morocco still maintained its “shameful” expanse of landmines along the berm in Western Sahara.  As an expression of its deep concern, the African Union Peace and Security Council had taken a decision in March reaffirming its commitment to seek out a speedy solution to the situation, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.  It had proposed several practical steps in that regard, including an international contact group on Western Sahara and a regular review of the Territory’s situation by the African Union.  It was time for the Special Committee to pay a visit to the last African Territory to be decolonized.  A special session should also be convened on Western Sahara.  The only way forward was for the United Nations to set a date for the holding of a referendum to allow the Saharan people to decide their destiny freely and democratically, he concluded.

Ms. PEARCE, noting that she was an elected member of the Legislative Council of Saint Helena, said it had taken her nine days to reach Nicaragua, which illustrated the geographical isolation of her island.  The soon-to-be-built airport in Saint Helena would represent a major social and emotional change for the island.  Saint Helena had always been proud of its partnership with the United Kingdom, she said, adding “we value and depend upon it”.  It currently did not have the resources or the will to become independent.  Saint Helena had become energized since the construction of the airport, with corresponding boosts in the economy.  However, there were fears that the success would benefit the few and not the many, creating a situation of “haves” and “have nots”.

Four years ago, there were four expatriate families; now there were more than 100 families and growing, she said, adding that that had changed the fabric of Saint Helena.  The eventual consequence could overwhelm the island.  Trying to prevent that had led to accusations of racism.  To grant them Saint Helena status would be to further disadvantage the island’s own people.  Most people on the island had physically built their homes with their own hands.  Ironically, the same people who had invested so heavily were now feeling abandoned.  There was no definite plan by the United Kingdom to operate an air route or a sea link between Saint Helena and neighbouring islands.  The new Constitution of 2009 enshrined human rights, but the Convention on All Forms of the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and other major international agreements had not yet been ratified.

Following those presentations, the representative of Spain said that the end of the “scourge of colonialism” was closer than ever before.  The situation of Gibraltar reminded the international community that more remained to be done.  Once again this year, Spain was grateful for the opportunity to state its position on the case of Gibraltar, which was artificially populated by the colonizer, the United Kingdom.  The real Gibraltarians were forced to leave Gibraltar and settle in a surrounding town.  Moreover, the United Kingdom also seized other territories around the world.  The United Nations had recognized the specific nature of Gibraltar’s decolonization, noting that the current situation undermined Spain’s legitimate right to its land.  Spain was willing to reach a negotiated solution with the United Kingdom; however, the United Kingdom stated that it would not enter into talks with Spain without the consent of the people of Gibraltar.  The colonization of the isthmus was illegal, he said, and Spain demanded its return.

Spain had no intention to change the nationality or the way of life of the people of Gibraltar, he went on.  It would not recognize the British assertion that the people of Gibraltar had exercised their right to self-determination.  Such a “figment of the imagination” did not stand up to the slightest scrutiny.  It was obvious that only the United Nations could determine when the decolonization of Gibraltar had been completed.  Until then, the Territory would remain on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The representative of Morocco said that his country had a personal experience with the history of colonization and the process of decolonization.  Once divided, the Kingdom of Morocco had gradually begun to recover its territories.  It should be clear that for the people of Morocco, the issue of Western Sahara was one of sovereignty and territorial integrity.  That dispute had been maintained by the “hostile” attitude of Algeria and its attempts to prevent Morocco from maintaining its sovereignty and territorial integrity.  That attitude went against the history and spirit of the Maghreb region.

For almost four decades there had been progress, but a stalemate now reigned, he said.  Algeria pretended to defend the right to self-determination, but it was simply using that as a pretence for its own political manoeuvres.  Based on the Security Council mandate, the United Nations had helped Western Sahara move towards a negotiated solution.  The goal of independence of Western Sahara was not achievable.  Morocco had presented an autonomy initiative, which was widely considered to be a viable political solution to the current stalemate and one that would contribute to stability in the Saharan region.  However, Algeria and Frente POLISARIO were making human rights their “workhorse”, manipulating the international community for their own ends.  Furthermore, the Moroccan Constitution approved in June 2011 had ushered in a new era, guaranteeing greater human rights.  The African Union was not neutral when it came to Western Sahara, he said, adding that any solution must fall under United Nations auspices.

Algeria’s delegate said that while efforts made by the United Nations had allowed for the decolonization of a vast number of countries, the Territory of Western Sahara remained the last colony in Africa.  Sadly, its people had not been able to fully enjoy the provisions of resolution 1514 (XV).  The occupying Power had made false commitments and false promises.  Many plans had called for a referendum on self-determination, but each had been impeded by Morocco.  In that case, it was a matter of doing justice to a people who only wished to exercise their right to self-determination.  Both the United Nations and the African Union believed that any negotiated solution must lead to such self-determination.

Noting that the United Nations, since 1963, had included Western Sahara on its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said the Organization, therefore, must bring all its authority to bear with a view to allowing the people of Western Sahara to decide their own destiny.  Public opinion must be marshalled to protect the rights of the people of Western Sahara, as well as its natural resources.  The United Nations must not allow the issue to remain stalemated.  Algeria would continue to provide its support to the actions of the Special Committee with a view to a fair, lasting settlement to the conflict.  It regretted that the Moroccan delegation had not respected the constructive spirit of the Seminar, making “fantastical” accusations against Algeria and telling lies.

Mr. DEICH took the floor again to thank those delegations that had offered their support for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.  The issue was not a regional one, but one of self-determination and decolonization.  The International Court of Justice had said that the Saharan people were entitled to their inalienable right to self-determination.  Conspiracy theories were unhelpful and insulting to the intelligence of Member State representatives.

Mr. BOSSANO said that only the United Nations could take a decision on the decolonization of Gibraltar.  The representative of Spain should recognize that the people of Gibraltar had an international character.

Also taking part in that discussion were representatives of Syria, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Chile, Guatemala, Ethiopia, China and Papua New Guinea.

Argentina’s delegate took the floor again to express gratitude for the overwhelming support of previous speakers.

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

For information media. Not an official record.