Swift action must be taken to end the “dangerous status quo” in Western Sahara and to finally grant independence to the “last African colony”, the Special Committee of 24 heard today, as it approved five draft resolutions on a range of items on its agenda.
“This is the last African colony to be decolonized,” Ahmed Boukhari, a representative of the Frente Polisario, told the Special Committee — known formally as the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. He implored the Committee to “awaken from its long sleep”.
In the face of the people’s decades-long wait for the right to self-determination, the United Nations annual renewal of Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was “financing the extension of a stalemate”, he said, urging action to conduct the plebiscite, which had been on hold since 1992.
Delegates shared their views and concerns, with speakers calling on Morocco to extend all efforts to move the process forward. Colonialism was illegal, some pointed out, insisting that the question of Western Sahara must be resolved as quickly as possible in order to uphold the people’s right to self-determination. Algeria’s representative emphasized that “it is high time to give peace a chance”.
Morocco’s speaker said his country had engaged in good faith with the United Nations to arrive at a solution based on autonomy, underscoring that “the spirit of compromise was the only way to move forward”.
In other business, the Committee approved, without a vote, an omnibus draft resolution on “Questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands” (document A/AC.109/2015/L.8).
Following that action, the Committee decided to dismantle in 2016 the omnibus text, which had been taken up since 1991, to allow separate texts to be approved on a case-by-case basis. By that decision, the Committee would, beginning in the seventy-first session, address each Non-Self-Governing Territory in a targeted resolution to bring maximum attention to the issues at stake.
“The time has come for the Committee to separate the 11 Territories grouped under the omnibus resolution, in order to demonstrate that we are concerned about the situation of all NSGTs [Non-Self-Governing territories] on an equal basis,” said Special Committee Chair Xavier Lasso Mendoza of Ecuador.
Also today, the Committee approved, without a vote, a draft resolution on Tokelau (document A/AC.109/2015/L.15), which reflected developments in that Non-Self-Governing Territory administered by New Zealand since 2013.
The draft highlighted, among other things, the free and fair democratic election held on 23 January 2014, the critical importance of climate change mitigation for sustainable development and the reaffirmation of the 2008 agreement between the Government of New Zealand and Tokelau to defer the self-determination process to an appropriate time.
On that point, a representative of the Ulu-o-Tokelau told the Committee that sustainable development was a top priority and that the issue of self-determination had been put on hold for now.
The Committee approved, also without votes, draft resolutions on visiting missions (document A/AC.109/2015/L.5); implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples by the specialized agencies and the international institutions associated with the United Nations (document A/AC.109/2015/L.10); and economic and other activities which affect the interests of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories (document A/AC.109/2015/L.11).
Also speaking today were representatives of Sierra Leone, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation, Côte d’Ivoire, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and South Africa. The representative of the Territorial Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands also delivered a statement.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 25 June, to continue its work.
When the Committee took up a working paper contained in document A/AC.109/2015/3 on Tokelau, a Non-Self-Governing Territory administered by New Zealand, ALIKI FAIPULE SIOPILI PEREZ, titular head of the Ulu-o-Tokelau, recited a prayer to encourage moving forward together on Tokelau, three tiny atolls about 300 miles from Samoa. Paying homage to the death of his father earlier this year and to two eminent leaders, he described the current situation.
As Polynesians, his people were part of the South Pacific region, he said, adding that Tokelau was isolated and vulnerable, spanning 12 square kilometres and home to 1,500 people. Given its small size, it might be difficult to understand the desire for self-determination, he said, updating the Committee on recent developments in that regard.
He said that, during the past year, efforts had been made to ready Tokelau for the decolonization process, including advocating that territories were given special consideration with regard to how partnerships could be engaged with United Nations bodies dealing with climate change and green growth. “The journey of decolonization and addressing these development issues are not just parallel,” he said; “they are one and same for Tokelau”.
A longer-term plan was now being shaped for the next 15 years, he continued, including efforts to improve the quality of life through better government and management systems and processes. Fiscal integrity, improved education and health and telecommunications infrastructure were also critical. Tokelau was also very concerned about climate change, coastal erosion and ocean acidification.
Tokelau had no current specific decolonization agenda or timetable as self-determination was not an immediate priority, he said. While the issue was “parked” for now, work was under way to build robust infrastructure, clear structures, systems and procedures within village and national institutions to support good governance in decision-making and contribute to the development of his people to be more resilient and self-reliant. He was grateful to the Government of New Zealand and the United Nations for their continuous support.
When the floor opened, the representative of Sierra Leone expressed his delegation’s support for Mr. Perez and the Ulu-o-Tokelau.
NICOLA NGAWATI (New Zealand) said that Tokelau had a unique status as a Non-Self-Governing Territory of New Zealand, adding, “overall, I would characterize our relationship with Tokelau as extremely positive.” At the same time, the Territory faced a number of challenges that were unlikely to change, given its position as one of the most geographically isolated communities of New Zealand citizens in the world.
All of New Zealand’s engagement with Tokelau was framed in terms of her country’s aim to improve the quality of life for people living in the Territory. They were working together to develop a quality-of-life plan to address weaknesses, she said, adding that the process would include a five-year plan for improving essential public services and strengthening Tokelau’s resilience. Highlighting some of that work, including in the areas of shipping, education and revenue from fisheries, she said that the focus remained on providing core services for Tokelau before any act of self-determination was considered. “There is no active push to change the status quo,” she said.
The Special Committee next turned its attention to a draft resolution entitled “Question of Tokelau” (document A/AC.109/2015/L.15), hearing an introduction by ROBERT GUBA AISI (Papua New Guinea). He commended New Zealand, as the administering Power, for the continued and consistent provision of adequate information on significant developments on the self-determination process in Tokelau. The most important new development since last year’s resolution related to Tokelau’s regional and international cooperation, which was an important building block for its future aspirations. It was imperative that the United Nations worked with the people of Tokelau and the administering Power as efforts continued to determine the future status of the people. Tokelau and New Zealand’s continuing exemplary mutual understanding and constructive engagement was a useful benchmark for the self-determination process for other Non-Self-Governing Territories and administering Powers.
The draft, he concluded, was fair, balanced and forward-looking and would facilitate the advancement of the self-determination aspirations of the people of Tokelau, he said.
The Special Committee then approved the text without a vote.
Turks and Caicos Islands
CONRAD HOWELL, a representative of the Territorial Government of Turks and Caicos Islands, updated the Committee on recent developments, underlining that the systems of governance needed to change for the people. “Buoyant economies, with great opportunities, minus political guarantees or right of determination, makes for marginalization and destabilization,” he said, urging a change in the status quo. He sought support for a special resolution to examine the administering Power’s abuses and inactivity, and recommended other options, such as free association. “Just as the worker counts on his union,” he said, “those colonies wishing to be decolonized look to the Decolonization Committee”.
The Special Committee then approved, without a vote, a draft resolution entitled “Questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands” (document A/AC.109/2015/L.8).
By that text, the General Assembly would reaffirm the inalienable and fundamental right of the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to self-determination. It would call on the administering Powers of those Territories to cooperate fully with the work of the Special Committee. It stressed the importance of implementing the action plans for the International Decades for the Eradication of Colonialism, in particular by expediting the application of the work programme for the decolonization of each Territory on a case-by-case basis.
Addressing each Territory individually, the text asked the General Assembly to stress the importance of various constitutional exercises in the respective Territories administered by the United Kingdom and the United States, led by the Territorial Governments. Also by the text, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to continue to report to it regularly on the implementation of decolonization resolutions. It would reiterate its request to the Human Rights Council to collaborate with the Special Committee and its request to the Special Committee to continue to collaborate with the Economic and Social Council.
Special Committee Chair XAVIER LASSO MENDOZA (Ecuador) then updated members on recent discussions on the omnibus draft resolution. Recalling that until 1990 the Committee had addressed all Non-Self-Governing Territories in stand-alone resolutions, he noted that the omnibus text had since 1991 covered 11 of them. As such, members had argued, at the Caribbean Regional Seminar in Managua in May, that the current format deprived those Territories of the opportunity to be treated as distinct and urgent decolonization cases.
“Those arguments are very strong,” he said. “The time has come for the Committee to separate the 11 territories grouped under the omnibus resolution, in order to demonstrate that we are concerned about the situation of all NSGTs [Non-Self-Governing Territories] on an equal basis.”
The Committee then decided to do so, taking effect from the seventy-first session in 2016.
Next, the Special Committee approved, without a vote, a draft resolution entitled “Question of sending visiting and special missions to Territories” (document A/AC.109/2015/L.5), by which it would have the Assembly stress the need to dispatch periodic visiting missions to Non-Self-Governing Territories in order to facilitate the full, speedy and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. It would call upon the administering Powers to cooperate or continue to cooperate with the United Nations by facilitating United Nations visiting missions, and further request them to cooperate fully with the Special Committee in exploring the possibility of undertaking visiting or special missions to the Territories.
Turning to a draft resolution entitled “Implementation on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Peoples and Countries” (document A/AC.109/2015/L.9), the Special Committee decided to defer the agenda item until a later date.
Acting without a vote, it next approved a draft resolution entitled “Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples by the specialized agencies and the international institutions associated with the United Nations” (document A/AC.109/2015/L.10). However, the delegate of the Russian Federation said that he would have abstained had there been a vote.
By that text, the General Assembly would express its appreciation to the African Union, the Pacific Islands Forum, the Caribbean Community and other regional organizations for their continued cooperation, and recommend that all States intensify their efforts through specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system to ensure the full and effective implementation of the Declaration and other relevant resolutions.
Further to the text, the Assembly would request the specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system to intensify their engagement with the Special Committee and to examine conditions in each Territory so as to take appropriate measures to accelerate progress in their economic and social sectors. It would also make a number of particular requests to the specialized agencies and organizations, including with regard to providing information on environmental problems, natural disasters, drug trafficking and other issues.
Also without a vote, the special Committee approved a draft resolution entitled “Economic and other activities which affect the interests of the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories” (document A/AC.109/2015/L.11), by which the Assembly would reaffirm the right of the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories to self-determination and affirm the value of foreign economic investment undertaken in collaboration with the peoples of those Territories in accordance with their wishes.
Also, the Assembly, reaffirming the responsibility of the administering Powers under the United Nations Charter to promote the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, including their indigenous populations, would call on Governments that had not yet done so to take legislative, administrative or other measures in respect of their nationals and other bodies under their jurisdiction that owned and operated enterprises in the Territories that were detrimental to interests of the inhabitants of those Territories, in order to end such enterprises. Among other things, it would call upon the administering Powers concerned to ensure that no discriminatory working conditions prevailed in the Territories under administration.
Taking up a report on the “Question of Western Sahara” (document A/AC.109/2015/2), the Committee began a discussion on the issue.
CLAUDE STANISLAS BOUAH-KAMON (Côte d’Ivoire) said the parties had continued to show political will in an atmosphere amenable to dialogue. His delegation supported the Security Council, which had adopted resolution 2218 (2015), for showing its commitment to resolving the dispute. The status quo was neither acceptable nor beneficial, he said, urging pursuit of the negotiating process as outlined in Security Council resolution 1754 (2007).
JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua) said in the Third Decade aimed at eradicating colonialism the international community had repeatedly called for the right of the Saharan people to self-determination and independence. That aim had yet to be fulfilled and action must be taken. The African Union had made efforts to ensure progress in that area and he hoped the process would advance towards that goal.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said his delegation hoped the negotiating process begun by the United Nations would be renewed. The process would be successful if Morocco ended its delaying tactics, as those obstacles had continued the occupation of its territory. Human rights groups had reported violations, he said, adding that thousands of refugees had suffered from hunger, displacement and separation from their families. Expressing support for the people, he hoped the process would resolve outstanding issues.
OSCAR LEÓN GONZÁLEZ (Cuba) said his country supported the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination, based on international law. The African Union’s Peace and Security Council decision focused on close cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations, he noted, adding that Cuba contributed to efforts aimed at helping the people, including through education programmes.
LUIS MAURICIO ARANCIBIA FERNÁNDEZ (Bolivia) said the conflict in Western Sahara was a decolonization issue, and noted that the most recent round of talks had not led to any results. He hoped that a solution compatible with the United Nations Charter would be found in the near future. He reaffirmed the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination, and supported all efforts of the United Nations to those ends.
VANDI CHIDI MINAH (Sierra Leone) said that the question of Western Sahara was one of the most difficult in Africa. The two sides, Morocco and the people of Western Sahara, were determined to resolve the issue through negotiations. The African Union was also seized of the matter, and efforts were under way to push the parties to negotiate and reach a settlement that was sustainable and acceptable to all parties. His country would continue to support those efforts, including by asking the Security Council to be more proactive in finding a solution. The Special Committee should support all efforts geared towards that end.
AGUSTÍN FORNEL (Ecuador) rejected the fact that in the twenty-first century, colonialism — which impeded peace and development — still existed. The Third International Decade should put an end, once and for all, to the need for such work. In that respect, he urged the full cooperation of all colonial Powers with the work of the Special Committee. On Western Sahara, which had claimed its people’s inalienable right to self-determination, he said that it was solely up to the Saharan people to express their desires. The question of Western Sahara was clearly an issue of decolonization. Colonialism in all of its manifestations was a denial of fundamental human rights, he said, urging the parties involved to continue to seek an agreement on the question of Western Sahara.
Taking the floor, AHMED BOUKHARI, representative of the Frente Polisario, said that Western Sahara had been a Spanish colony that was invaded by Morocco in 1975. “It is an affront for Africa to have this persistent colonial case,” he said, adding that Frente Polisario had repeatedly appealed to the Special Committee to take action. “This is the last African colony to be decolonized,” he said, adding, “we are facing a dangerous status quo.”
Twenty-three years had passed, he said, since a referendum on the status of Western Sahara had been blocked by Morocco. That country held a position of “intransigence”, which was the reason why the decolonization process had not progressed. Indeed, Moroccan obstruction — with the “unconcealed support” of France — was enabled by the United Nations, whose annual renewal of the Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was “financing the extension of a stalemate”. In addition, the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the Saharan people had been ongoing for more than 40 years. Morocco refused to receive the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy and sought to prolong the process in the hope that the issue would be forgotten.
The recent Summit of the African Union had adopted a text appealing to the General Assembly to set a date for the resolution of the question of Western Sahara. The Saharan people were frustrated at United Nations inaction, he said, urging the Special Committee to show that the Organization was active on the matter. He also asked it to visit the Territory of Western Sahara, which he said would be welcomed by Member States in good faith. “This Committee must awaken from its long sleep,” he said, adding that “the Saharawi people invite you and await you”.
EPHRAIM LESHALA MMINELE (South Africa) said that his delegation believed in the legitimate right of people living under colonialism to exercise their right to self-determination. To not recognize the Saharawi Republic would be to be complicit in denying the Saharawi people those rights, he said. The continuous colonial occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco constituted a threat to the credibility of the Special Committee. It was regrettable that, following four decades of efforts, no proposal had been able to break the impasse between the two parties. The Africa Union Special Envoy for Western Sahara had taken various relevant actions, such as establishing a Contact Group on Western Sahara in order to ensure sustained high-level attention to the issue. In addition, the African Union Peace and Security Council had proposed a global boycott of products made with resources exploited from Western Sahara. Finally, he called on the Special Committee to undertake a visit to that Territory.
SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria) said with regard to the “last colony in Africa”, the conflict was a decolonization issue. The United Nations must ensure the implementation of the principle of self-determination pursuant to its Charter. Calling for the immediate resolution of the issue, he said that his delegation was deeply frustrated and concerned at the absence of progress. General Assembly and Security Council resolutions and the International Court of Justice opinion called for action, he said, adding, “it is high time to give peace a chance”. He urged the organization, without delay, of a referendum on self-determination.
Turning to human rights, he said it was the duty of the international community to monitor the situation. As for the exploitation of natural resources, he said exploration activities were in violation of international law with regard to Non-Self-Governing Territories. All Security Council resolutions had reaffirmed the body’s commitment to the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, while calling on Morocco to immediately withdraw. The African Union had also taken a strong stand on the situation, and he hoped that reason would prevail in settling the issues. Algeria would never forego its stand on self-determination, he concluded.
OMAR KADIRI (Morocco) said that in keeping with Algeria’s desire to limit his country’s territory, its role in the current situation was clear: it continued to fuel the dispute. It must fully resume its responsibilities in the process, he said, adding that the Security Council, since 2004, had “abandoned” all previous plans and called for a negotiated settlement. By 2007, a self-determination status proposal was produced from consultations with people living in the Territory.
“The spirit of compromise was the only way to move forward,” he said. Instead of moving forward with the autonomy initiative and progressing with good will, a strategy perpetrating the suffering of people in camps had been embraced. Concerning human rights, he said Algeria was not the best judge, given realities among its own population, including unresolved cases of forced disappearances. He pointed out that the Tindouf camps census-taking was Algeria’s responsibility. Morocco had engaged in good faith with the United Nations to arrive at a solution based on autonomy.
Taking the floor for a second time, Mr. BOUKADOUM (Algeria) said that his country was an official observer of the peace process. He invited the Committee to visit the region to hear directly from the people in Tindouf and Western Sahara.