The Special Committee of 24, resuming its annual session today, approved several texts, including on the dissemination of information on decolonization to the Non-Self-Governing Territories, with particular emphasis on the options for self-determination, and the transmission of information from them, while also considering the question of Gibraltar.
The Committee, formally the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, also approved procedural texts relating to the work of its two-week session.
On the question of Gibraltar, arguments were made for and against its removal from the United Nations list of 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories. Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, appealed to the Special Committee to delist the Territory from the United Nations’ roster, underscoring the Committee’s “deafening silence” amid repeated requests for delisting.
Mr. Picardo said the Government and people supported, with the United Kingdom, a Trilateral Forum for dialogue and it was unfortunate, suspect and unacceptable that the Committee had adopted the position of one party, Spain.
Calling recent meetings with Spanish representatives and the Committee “unacceptable”, he provided updates on the European Commission’s findings against Spain for its treatment of the transit of persons at the frontier with Gibraltar. He also cited General Assembly resolution A/69/462, underlining the Committee’s obligation to contact his delegation directly. Yet, no such effort had been made, nor had the Committee ever visited Gibraltar or acknowledged invitations that had been extended to it since the 1960.
To overcome any possible logistical hurdles to that, he presented the Chair with a first-class British Airways ticket to travel from New York on 8 September in time for the 10 September first referendum, and offered to pay for flights for other Secretariat members.
“There is no possible impediment now to your visit,” he said. “We want you to see and understand our reality,” he stressed, adding, “Let’s get the work of decolonization done in partnership as an example to the rest of the world. Because we are not going to go away […] The Gibraltar ball is now firmly in your court. Have the courage to run with it or leave it to those of us who do.”
Petitioner Richard Buttigieg, of the Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group, said visiting would convince Special Committee members that it was not a case that could or should be resolved bilaterally by the United Kingdom and Spain. Noting that Spain had claimed that Gibraltar was “returned” on the basis of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, he underlined that “we are not secessionists. We do not seek to create conflict or division. All we ask for is to be recognized as a people with the right to decide our own future for ourselves.”
Gibraltar was integrated within the European Union, he said, adding that it defied “all logic that an outdated sovereignty claim might be used as a reason to deny us our right to self-determination and to keep Gibraltar on the United Nations list of colonies […] We will never surrender our resolve to exercise our rights,” he said.
Taking the floor, Special Committee Chair Xavier Lasso Mendoza said he was available to meet with Chief Minister Picardo, as he met with the representative of Spain, in complete transparency. Thanking him for the airline ticket, he said, “You know I am not going to use it.”
The representatives of Cuba and Chile expressed support for the work of the Chair on that matter.
The delegate from Spain said that, in line with resolution A/69/462 and the Special Committee’s recommendations, his country was trying to reach an agreement with the United Kingdom on a new regional cooperation framework dealing with issues that directly affected the cooperation between the inhabitants of both sides of the separation fence in Gibraltar. It was unfortunate, however, that the Committee had been unable to find a solution to the situation of Gibraltar. The administering Power of all Non-Self Governing Territories should initiate a dialogue aimed at swiftly breaking up or transforming the colonial links; cases of “colonialism by consent” that sought to perpetuate themselves were unacceptable.
The situation, said the representative, amounted to the illegal occupation of Spanish territory. With that, Spain called for the resumption of the bilateral dialogue with the United Kingdom. Both States would be able to find creative formulas to resolve differences, taking into account the interests of the colony’s present inhabitants. However, the unilateral and irresponsible attitude of the Gibraltarian local authorities, including in the fishing sector and tax system, had exacerbated the situation. That provocative attitude was inconveniencing inhabitants, making it ever more urgent to end the colonial situation.
The Committee decided to continue its consideration of the matter at its next session and to transmit all relevant documentation to the General Assembly.
Updating the Committee on the dissemination of information on decolonization, Janos Tisovszky, Chief of Information Centres Services, Department of Public Information, introduced the Secretary-General’s annual report, which covered the period from April 2014 to March 2015. The Department, he reported, had issued 35 press releases on decolonization in English and French. The Radio and News Centre continued to highlight United Nations activities in that regard, in all six official languages, plus Kiswahili and Portuguese. United Nations News Centre stories were picked up by an array of external websites around the world. In addition, the United Nations Information Centre in Canberra had provided media support to the 2014 Pacific Regional Seminar in Nadi, Fiji, in May 2014.
To that, the representative of Cuba expressed concern about the availability of United Nations webcast of the Special Committee’s sessions in all six official languages of the United Nations. Mr. Tisovszky responded that the availability of webcast in all official languages would be confirmed, and later told the Special Committee that the webcast had indeed been restored.
The representative of Sierra Leone agreed that “knowledge is power” and stressed the importance of the Department’s work. He asked whether Member States could engage with it in order to help translate the Special Committee’s work to the national level. Mr. Tisovszky said that there were 63 Information Centres around the world to facilitate that.
The representative of Algeria reaffirmed the country’s commitment to the Special Committee, urging cooperation by all Member States and international organizations. She called for continued efforts towards a “speedy end to colonialism” in 2015, adding that there was no alternative but to grant independence to peoples under illegal occupation.
She expressed her delegation’s deep concern by the way that issue was being handled with regard to Western Sahara and deplored the fact that the report of the sole visit of the Special Committee to Western Sahara was not posted on the United Nations website. It was also disappointing that, last year, the Committee’s open meetings had not been webcast by the United Nations. The dissemination of information on decolonization should cover “wider areas”, she stressed.
Mr. Tisovszky responded that those requests would be looked into, and that the Department would come back with an answer.
On a point of order, the representative of Morocco said that the delegation of Algeria should not have been allowed to speak about Western Sahara at this time. That area was rightfully part of the Kingdom of Morocco, and the issue had remained on the Special Committee’s agenda because of the “hostile attitude” of Algeria in the Sahel, which posed a major threat. Algeria, which claimed to defend the right to self-determination, had proposed the division of the Sahara and its population, whereas Morocco had presented a credible plan for autonomy.
Chief of the Decolonization Unit, Department of Political Affairs, Josiane Ambiehl, agreed that the dissemination of information on decolonization was an integral part of the United Nations’ work to further the aims of the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. The Decolonization Unit had worked closely with the Public Information Department to keep its website user-friendly and informative. Another of the Unit’s activities was the annual preparation of Secretariat working papers on each of the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories. The latest were issued in 2015 and posted online.
Furthermore, the Decolonization Unit was responsible for substantively supporting the convening and follow-up of the annual regional Seminar which was held alternatively in the Caribbean and the Pacific. In 2015, the Seminar was held in Managua, Nicaragua, and received daily press release coverage. With respect to knowledge- and information-sharing, the Decolonization Unit was responsible for maintaining a roster of contacts comprising information on individual experts, academics and non-governmental organizations dealing with decolonization matters. She added that information on and images of the regional Seminars and the other work of the Special Committee was distributed widely on social media.
Several representatives — including from Cuba, Syria, Iran, Sierra Leone, Chile and Algeria — thanked the people and Government of Nicaragua for hosting the Caribbean regional Seminar in May and expressed satisfaction at its outcome. Many also thanked the Decolonization Unit for its work. The representative of Algeria, however, pointed to several omissions on the Decolonization website.
Finally, the Special Committee approved draft resolution A/AC.109/2015/L.3 on the question of information from Non-Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73e of the United Nations Charter, while the Chair drew attention to document A/70/67, which contained information provided by the administering Powers. It also approved draft resolution A/AC.109/2015/L.4 on the dissemination of information on decolonization.
Turning to the question of sending visiting missions to Territories, the Special Committee heard from the representative of Papua New Guinea, who asked why there was no reference in the draft resolution under consideration (document A/AC.109/2015/L.5) to invitations that had been made during the recent Seminar in Managua. The Secretary of the Committee clarified that such invitations would be listed in the report of the Seminar itself. The related draft resolution, she said, had been circulated in advance for comments; however, its approval was postponed, pending additional comments or additions to the text.
On the question of visits, the representative of Algeria said that those improved the Committee’s efficiency and allowed its members to engage with the people of the Territories. Forty years had passed since the Special Committee had made its first and only visit to Western Sahara, she said, adding that an invitation to that Territory had been made during the recent Managua Seminar.
The representative of Morocco said that the question of Western Sahara fell under the mandate of the Security Council. The United Nations was constantly seized with the matter and had a special envoy for dealing with it. A visit to the Territory could be counterproductive and could hinder the political process there.
Mr. Lasso Mendoza, briefing the Committee on the Bureau’s intersessional activities, said that in the course of informal discussions with the United States, its representative had informed the Bureau that it was endeavouring to address concerns on implementing the General Assembly’s request to the administering Power to fund an education campaign for a planned plebiscite on self-determination in Guam. It also reviewed the ongoing dialogue on American Samoa’s political status and the assistance to the people of the United States Virgin Islands on their constitutional development. The Bureau had also raised the issue of Puerto Rico and the need to release Oscar Lopez Rivera.
In addition, Bureau members also met with the Secretary-General, in line with General Assembly resolution A/69/107, to explore innovative ways of using his good offices to help to advance the decolonization agenda on a case-by-case basis. The Bureau requested the Secretary-General’s help in furthering the Committee’s work on the questions of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)* and Western Sahara.
Also today, the Special Committee approved its provisional agenda and its tentative programme of work and timetable (document A/AC.109/2015/L.2). Taking up the issue of “requests for hearing”, the Committee decided to consider the hearing of petitioners concerning Puerto Rico on 22 June, the question of Western Sahara on 23 June, and the question of New Caledonia on 26 June.
The Special Committee will reconvene on Monday, 22 June, to hear petitioners concerning Puerto Rico.
* A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).