1 June 2016
Pacific Regional Seminar, AM & PM Meetings

Speakers Urge Administering Powers to Address Impact of Nuclear Testing, Military Build-up in Pacific Territories, as Regional Decolonization Seminar Continues

Members Also Discuss Western Sahara, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands (Malvinas)

MANAGUA, 1 June — As the Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization entered its second day, delegates and experts and expressed concern about the effects of nuclear testing on the inhabitants of French Polynesia and the military build-up on Guam, calling on the administering Powers of both Non-Self-Governing Territories to address those issues.

Venezuela’s representative said France had exhibited a very condescending attitude and should fulfil its international obligations, particularly regarding its nuclear testing.

Cuba’s representative agreed, expressing support for a call by expert Richard Ariihau Tuheiava for the Secretary-General to publish, as a General Assembly document, the 2014 independent report prepared by renowned French scientists that comprehensively analysed the impact of nuclear testing, and for the Assembly to include a substantive reference to ownership of the island Territory’s natural resources in its 2016 resolution.

She also asked for more information on the militarization of Guam by the United States, while China’s representative emphasized the need for administering Powers to demilitarize Territories under their administration and to protect the right of local inhabitants to self-determination.

Since re-inscribing French Polynesia on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories in 2013, the General Assembly has adopted four resolutions asking France, the administering Power, to participate in and cooperate fully with the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, known informally as the Special Committee of 24.

Mr. Tuheiava said France had refused to acknowledge the Territory’s re-inscription, choosing instead to vacate its seat whenever the issue was discussed in the Special Committee.  The Government of France had a duty to advance the decolonization process, as it had already done with New Caledonia, he emphasized.  It was also worrisome that the Secretary-General’s report on the consequences of France’s nuclear testing over a 30-year period ending in 1997 was far from comprehensive and failed to assess its effects on the health of thousands of French Polynesia’s Ma’ohi people, who were yet to receive reparatory justice.

A discussion also emerged about Western Sahara, with some Special Committee members siding with Morocco’s claim to the Territory, while others supported the holding of a referendum on its status.  Algeria’s representative said the General Assembly should conduct a visiting mission to Western Sahara and expressed hope that the Special Committee could devote one session to the issue.

The case of Puerto Rico — an unincorporated Territory of the United States — was also discussed.  The General Assembly had removed it from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories in 1953, with the proviso that the General Assembly could revisit the issue.

Wilma Reveron-Collazo, a member of the Bar Association of Puerto Rico, shed light on the Territory’s political and other developments on the Territory, saying that crippling public debt had fuelled its current fiscal crisis.  However, the real aim of legislation on that issue under consideration in the United States Congress was to guarantee payment of the debt to bondholders on Wall Street, as the local population sank into deeper levels of unemployment and poverty, she said.

Sergei Cherniavsky, an expert, said the actions of the United States towards Puerto Rico were akin to those of a “financial junta” and a shining example of how administering Powers would return to drastic colonial measures of the past, while at the same time pronouncing themselves champions of human right.  Speakers expressed concern over the Puerto Rican people’s cause, calling on the Special Committee to assess the situation on the ground.

The Special Committee also revisited other Non-Self-Governing Territories, including New Caledonia, Falkland Islands (Malvinas)* and Gibraltar.

Discussion on Pacific Region

Following the work undertaken yesterday, the Seminar began its second day with a discussion on the theme “commitments and actions for decolonization in the Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Pacific region”, hearing from experts, non-governmental organizations and delegations.

MICHAEL LUJAN BEVACQUA, expert, noted that the compact of free association between the Federated States of Micronesia and the United States, in place since 1986, was set to expire in 2033, but some members of the Micronesian Congress had submitted a resolution to terminate it in 2018.  The desire to do so was due to the belief that United States policymakers viewed the compact as an act of charity rather than a treaty between two sovereign nations, and that China, aiming to increase its influence in the Federated States of Micronesia, may offer more economic support than the United States.  While the resolution had not been adopted, the issue persisted, he said.

Turning to Guam, he said that Territory had spent several decades negotiating with the Congress of the United States, the administering Power, over a possible change of status from unincorporated to commonwealth status.  However, that push had died in 1997, when the United States Government and the local Guam government had deadlocked over basic issues relating to the self-determination proposal.  Subsequent attempts to reignite it in Congress had failed, he noted, adding that the United States had long ignored its obligation to educate the people of Guam about their political status and enhance their understanding of self-determination.

The past year marked the first time in recent memory that the United States had met that obligation, with the Department of Interior providing a $300,000 grant to the government of Guam for political status education, he said.  While promising, that move was likely to have been unique since 2016 was the final year in office for President Barack Obama.  It would be up to his successors to determine whether to provide more support.  He pointed out that Robert Underwood, a former territorial delegate to the United States Congress and current President of the University of Guam, had called for negotiating directly with the Office of the President of the United States and his Cabinet, rather than with Congress, arguing that Congress was too diverse, divided and unreliable as a consistent, coherent body through which the future of Territories administered by the United States could be negotiated.  Agreeing with that assessment, he noted that Guam’s current Governor, Eddie Calvo, had yet to respond to the suggested change.

RICHARD ARIIHAU TUHEIAVA, expert, said General Assembly resolution 67/265 of 17 May 2013 had returned Ma’ohi Nui/French Polynesia to the United Nations list of Non Self-Governing Territories.  Since then, the Assembly had adopted four consensus resolutions, on the recommendation of its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), and fifth text would be considered in a few weeks.  He asked Member States to pay close attention to the substantive updating of the resolutions to ensure that new developments were properly reflected.  The four resolutions called upon the administering Power to participate in and cooperate fully with the Special Committee’s work in implementation of Article 73b and 73e of the United Nations Charter with respect to French Polynesia, and to facilitate visiting and special missions to the Territory.  “We are thoroughly disappointed that the administering Power refuses to acknowledge the re-inscription and actually vacates their seat and leaves the room when the item is discussed at the C-24 and Fourth Committee,” he said, stressing that “the rule of law applies to all States, not just a few”.

He went on to underline that the blueprint for decolonization was clear, and the international community must insist on holding the respective administering Powers, and the United Nations system as a whole, accountable for implementing that mandate.  General Assembly resolution 68/93 of 2013 called on the Secretary-General to prepare a report on the environmental, ecological, health and other consequences of nuclear testing conducted in French Polynesia for 30 years, until 1997, he recalled.  However, the report could not be discussed by the Special Committee because it had been released in July 2014, a month after the panel’s regular session.  Describing the document as far from comprehensive, he said it comprised a mere compilation of replies from just two United Nations agencies out of the 22 requests for information.  It barely addressed the issue of nuclear testing and failed to assess its effects on the health of thousands of Ma’ohi people who had yet to receive reparatory justice.

Moreover, the report referred to an outdated 1996 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) study which claimed that the health effects of nuclear testing were negligible, he continued, declaring:  “That this finding was grossly premature is an understatement.”  A later document of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, not mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report, properly found that the nuclear testing involved the unrestrained release of radioactive materials, causing the largest collective dose of radiation from man-made sources thus far.  He said that he had offered on several occasions to provide the Special Committee with the comprehensive 2014 independent report “The French Nuclear Testing in French Polynesia”, prepared by renowned French scientists.

He went on to say that the Special Committee Chair should ask the Secretary-General to publish the independent study as a General Assembly document, and reiterated an earlier request to include French Polynesia in the work programme of the Scientific Committee.  French Polynesia’s House of Assembly intended to raise such issues during the upcoming session of the Human Rights Council, he said, adding that it had also asked the Special Committee to include in its resolution specific reference to the fact that the French Polynesia Assembly had passed a resolution in November 2014 addressing the issue of compensation for the effects of nuclear testing.  Although given to the Special Committee in early 2015, the document was not reflected in two subsequent Secretariat working papers or in the 2015 resolution on the Territory, he noted.  To date, the General Assembly resolution on French Polynesia/Ma’ohi remained silent on the core issue of ownership of the Territory’s natural resources, despite the House of Assembly’s repeated pronouncements.  Presenting an annex, he requested that the substantive references contained in it be included in the 2016 resolution on the issue, to be adopted by the Special Committee in the coming weeks.

JIMMY NAOUNA, expert, discussed the role of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, established in 2008, in addressing decolonization issues in the Pacific Non-Self-Governing Territories, supporting the aspirations of New Caledonia’s Kanak people for self-determination and ensuring full, effective implementation of the Nouméa Accord.  At their Summit in June 2015, Group leaders had signed the Honiara Declaration, renewing their commitment to the principle of cooperation and to uphold independence as the inalienable right of colonial countries and peoples, he recalled.  In 2013, the Group had celebrated 25 years of solidarity, as well as cultural and economic exchange.  The Group’s leaders had appointed a Group of Eminent Persons from five member Territories to hold wide consultations with all stakeholders in Melanesia and develop a new roadmap for the Group for the next 25 years, he said.

At their Summit in New Caledonia the same year, he continued, the Group’s leaders had endorsed the 2038 Prosperity Plan for All.  It contained four main objectives:  that the Group would be the “arc of stability”, good governance, and political stability; the region would be one of opportunity, prosperity and sustained economic growth, and structural reforms; it would improve social development indicators; and it would include climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable resource-based economies and green-growth policies.  To consolidate its role in regional and international affairs while creating a politically stable and safe environment for economic growth and prosperity, the Group’s members had agreed to approve and commit the Prosperity for All Plan and advocate its implementation as the main policy instrument for the region, he said.

He went on to state that the Group’s political support for the UC-FLNKS Group and for the Kanak people’s call for self-determination remained intact.  The relisting of French Polynesia as a Non-Self-Governing Territory and the continued support from the Permanent Missions of Group members at the United Nations had greatly helped the UC-FLNKS Group advance its cause regionally and internationally.  The report of the Group of Eminent Persons considered the UC-FLNKS Group as essentially a “government-in-waiting” should the Nouméa Accord processes result in independence for Kanaky-New Caledonia, he said, adding that in that case, the new State would take its rightful place in the Melanesian Spearhead Group.  The Group had conducted regular ministerial missions to New Caledonia since 2010 to monitor and evaluate implementation of the Nouméa Accord, but the 2014 mission had been deferred so as not to coincide with the United Nations visiting mission led by the Special Committee, he said.

Recommendations from previous Group ministerial missions had been endorsed by the Summit of the Group’s leaders and reflected the report of the Group of Eminent Persons, he said.  Among its recommendations, the leaders and other representatives were asked to include support for the UC-FLNKS Group’s cause and implementation of the Nouméa Accords in all their statements at the United Nations and elsewhere, and to consider appropriate financial, capacity-building and personnel assistance to the UC-FLNKS Group leading up to the elections.  The Group’s secretariat had been asked to identify ways and means to help the New Caledonia government benefit from the Melanesian Spearhead Group Trade Agreement.  The report of the United Nations visiting mission in March 2014 contained similar recommendations and actions, he said.  The mission urged, among other things, enhanced training for high-level executives in the public and private spheres, particularly in light of the ongoing transfer of powers; development by the administering Power of clear and reliable capacity; and reaffirmation of the General Assembly’s call on France, the administering Power, to cooperate fully in the Special Committee’s work.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Venezuela said the administering Power for French Polynesia had a very condescending attitude.  France must fulfil its international obligations, particularly regarding its nuclear testing, he said, categorically rejecting any action of the administering Powers that was in violation of United Nations resolutions.

The representative of Cuba supported the proposals by Mr. Tuheaiva and Mr. Naouna and expressed regret that administering Powers were not fulfilling their obligations.  She asked for more information about education programmes sponsored by the United States in Guam and the Territory’s militarization by the United States.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), Chair of the Special Committee, asked participants to submit any documents they had on the impact of nuclear testing in French Polynesia.

EDWARD ALVAREZ, Director-General, Commission on Decolonization of Guam, responded to the question from Cuba’s representative by saying there were no conditions attached to the money for education programmes in Guam.  Once the military build-up, which was likely to take place from 2018 to 2020, was in full swing, the decolonization process would become a “back burner” issue.  “So, that’s why we want to have a vote now,” he said, noting that the territorial government would not be able to engage as prolifically after November.

Mr. BEVACQUA said there were not many hopeful signs concerning Guam, noting that some United States military commanders referred to it as the “tip of their spear”.  Regarding the political status of the educational campaign, the University of Guam was organizing it, and not the government of Guam, he said.  “The difficulty for us is that the [United States] does not support any change, but we need to push for this as it is our right to determine our future.”

The representative of China said the administering Powers should demilitarize the Territories under their administration and protect the right to self-determination.  They advocated human rights, but completely ignored reality in the Pacific, he added.

Discussion on Caribbean Region

WILMA REVERON-COLLAZO, member of the Bar Association of Puerto Rico, said public debt was an impediment to the self-determination and independence of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  In the case of Puerto Rico, the United States Congress had submitted the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA HR 5278, to its Committee on Natural Resources in response to Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis, which was fuelled by some 93 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in unpaid debt.  While the bill applied immediately to Puerto Rico, it also contained definitions of the term “territory”, which could be extended to all United States Territories upon request by their respective legislatures or governors, she said, warning that the Pacific Territories were the future target.  The legislation was based on the Territorial Clause in Article IV, section 3 of the United States Constitution.  Not only was the United States invoking territorial power under its constitution, it was invoking such power over Puerto Rico, affirming that the Territory’s sovereignty was in the hands of the United States Congress.  The fact that it had achieved the attributes of self-government in 1953 — when the General Assembly had approved a proposal to remove it from its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories — had not changed United States sovereignty over Puerto Rico, she pointed out.

The main cause of stagnation was that the United Nations continued to lend legitimacy to the land titles of the so-called administering Powers, she said.  “I said earlier in these seminars, and I repeat once again:  there are no legal land titles after 1960 and the purpose of resolution 1514 (XV) was one of emancipating the people and abolishing colonialism in all its manifestations.”  She continued:  “The only thing that should be administered by the Powers is their exit from the territory, the transfer of power and reparations for damage inflicted during the years of colonial rule,” as the United Kingdom had done in Kenya, and Italy in LibyaThe aim of legislation before the United States House of Representatives was to guarantee payment of public debt to bondholders on Wall Street and to vulture funds, she said.  Describing that as a return to the colonial past, she said that the board created for that purpose would comprise seven members appointed by the President of the United States, six from lists sent by the majority and minority leaders in the United States Congress and one chosen by the President.  Only one board member would have to be a resident of, or operate a business in, Puerto Rico, she said, adding that they could meet in closed-door executive sessions.

Once the bill was approved, the government of Puerto Rico would be prevented from adapting any tax law or making any fiscal decision, she continued.  However, the board would be able, among other things, to hold hearings, receive evidence, obtain official information from creditors, wield subpoena power and lock public employees out.  Prior financial agreements would be made retroactive and subject to full compliance with the board’s specifications.  Violations would be punishable by imprisonment, but board members would enjoy absolute immunity.  The United States District Courts would have exclusive jurisdiction over Puerto Rico, and the board would have absolute autonomy over the Territory, with full control over its budget and decisions on infrastructure projects, which would be exempt from regular vetting procedures, endangering natural resources and the environment.  The federal minimum wage for people between 20 and 25 years of age would not apply, and the board, which would exist for at least four fiscal years, would have the final word on any decision to restructure, refinance or remove debt.  To add insult to injury, the United States Government would not be responsible for the payment of debts for bonds issued in the Territory, she said.  “My people face terrible days of uncertainty.  Hopelessness has penetrated deep into the minds of the people.”  Noting that the board had indicated that more public employees would be laid off, and social services, special education and pensions would be reduced to repay the debt.  The people of Puerto Rico must be assured that their exercise of true self-determination would receive the necessary financial support to transition to independence.

The floor was then opened for discussion.

SERGEI CHERNIAVSKY, expert, supported Ms. Reveron-Collazo’s statement, saying that the case of Puerto Rico illustrated how an administering Power could disregard all democratic principles when it felt that its interests were under threat.  The actions of the United States towards Puerto Rico demonstrated a type of colonialism that the administering Power claimed was gone.  “But, it’s there,” he said.  “The case of Puerto Rico is a very bright example of how administering Powers would return to their drastic colonial measures of the past, even though they pronounce themselves as champions of human right.”  It was up to the academic community to expose that, he added.

The representative of Cuba said the call for the creation of a reparations fund, and reaffirmed the Puerto Rican people’s right to self-determination, emphasizing that it was incumbent upon the Special Committee and the General Assembly to consider that broadly.  Cuba called for the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a pro-independence leader in Puerto Rico, currently jailed in the United States, she said.

The representative of Nicaragua also called for Puerto Rico’s decolonization, saying the status quo was unacceptable.  The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States had called for it, he said, noting that Puerto Rico was not in a state of free association.  The United States must ensure an independent self-determination process for Puerto Rico, he stressed, while also calling for Oscar Lopez Rivera’s release.

The representative of Venezuela echoed those comments, calling on the General Assembly to address the issue comprehensively and adopt steps to enable the people of Puerto Rico to make decisions on their future.  He urged the Special Committee to assess the situation in the Territory and respond to what it was — a type of colonialism.  Venezuela wished to see Puerto Rico free and sovereign, he said.

The representative of Syria said that if the United States was really serious in promoting human rights around the world as it claimed, it should first address the human rights situation in its colony, Puerto Rico, and allow its people to choose their own future.  The Special Committee should continue to examine the case, he said, calling for Oscar Lopez Rivera’s release.

The representative of Bolivia said his country had also suffered human rights violations by outside Powers.  It was necessary to condemn the double standards of the United States, which allegedly exported democracy around the world, but had one of the worst human rights track records.  Bolivia supported the Puerto Rican people’s efforts for self-determination efforts, he said, voicing support for calls to release Oscar Lopez Rivera.

Review of Other Regions

JOSEPH BOSSANO, Minister for Economic Development, Socialist Labour Party of Gibraltar, said the Special Committee had not acted within its mandate in recent years.  Gibraltar was under colonial rule, and until it was removed from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, the United Kingdom must submit annual reports under Article 73, paragraph e of the Charter.  However, Spain could not be selective by saying that 73e applied to them, but Article 73b did not.  Article 73b required the United Kingdom to develop self-government in Gibraltar, taking the population’s political aspirations into account, whereas Spain claimed that the Territory’s people were an artificial population.  The Seminar could not support Spain’s view of the selective application of Article 73, he said, emphasizing that, to be on the United Nations list, a Territory must have its own people, with a distinct culture and identity, separate from that of the administering Power.  The people of Gibraltar fit that description, yet the Special Committee was not carrying out its mandate to monitor levels of self-government in Gibraltar.

Pointing out that at least 23 of the Special Committee’s 29 members had once been under colonial rule, he asked:  “Why do you turn a deaf ear to everything we Gibraltarians say?”  No sovereignty claim by anyone could negate parts of Article 73; either it applied as a whole, or not at all, he stressed.  The report of the 2015 Seminar referred to the Gibraltarians as “the population of Gibraltar”, which was Spain’s term, he said, calling upon the Special Committee to refer to them as the “people of Gibraltar” in summaries and reports.  Should the Special Committee continue to use Spain’s terminology, it would be in breach of the United Nations Charter.  He recalled that during the first and second International Decades, the Seminar’s conclusions included the statement that the decolonization process would be incomplete until all issues were resolved in a satisfactory manner, but during the third Decade, the words “and related follow-up matters” had been inserted as an added condition.  Everyone was entitled to know the implications of the use of those new words, he said.

He went on to recall that, in 2015, he had complained about reference to an agreement to hold four-sided talks to replace the tripartite forum, and that had been extended to five-sided talks in 2016.  In the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), Spain had suggested six-sided talks.  Expressing hope that such references would not be part of the 2016 Seminar’s conclusions and recommendations, he said participating members of the Special Committee should prepare them as a whole.  Describing accusations by Spain’s right-wing caretaker Government that Gibraltarians had committed illegalities and corruption as false, he said they were an attempt to blacken their reputation, he said Gibraltarians would never allow Spain to impose its control over the “Gibraltarian nation”, which was more united and stronger than ever and had a cast-iron commitment that no talks would take place in Spain without Gibraltarians’ prior commitment.  Last week, FIFA had welcomed Gibraltar as the latest nation to compete in international football, finally overcoming Spain’s decades-long campaign to keep Gibraltar out, he said.

KRYSTEEN ORMOND, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), describing herself as a third-generation Falkland Islander, said that, in just three generations of her family, the Territory had moved through a process of political growth, cultural development and decolonization.  The Territory was economically self-sufficient and it was a falsehood to suggest that Falkland Islanders were an implanted population, merely a collection of white United Kingdom citizens sent from London.  The 2012 census had found that the Territory’s people represented 36 national identities and 60 countries of birth, she said, adding that the multicultural society was a clear representation of the organic nature of settlement.  There had been no native population before British settlement.  Falkland Islanders were a people with their own unique background and culture, drawing on the diverse, shared heritages of the nationalities that had settled on the islands, and with a right to have a say in their own future.

She went on to point out that the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) held general elections every four years, she said, adding that constitutional reform in 2009 had devolved greater power of self-governance to the Legislative Assembly.  The Government of the United Kingdom’s supported the Territory only in terms of defence and foreign affairs, she noted, emphasizing that self-determination included the right to organize a free, fair and democratic referendum, and to “show the world that our status as a British Overseas Territory is by choice and not be colonization”.  She added:  “I do not live in a colony,”  noting that describing the islands as a “special and particular colonial situation” owing to the dispute over their sovereignty was a euphemistic way of saying it did not really matter what the islanders thought and that they had already been decolonized.

AHMED BOUKHARI, Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), said the reason why the referendum on Western Sahara had not been held was that because Morocco, the occupying Power, had reneged on all its commitments in conjunction with the 1991 Peace Plan, and had done so at the same time that the United Nations had completed the costly voter-identification exercise.  In his October 2004 report, then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan had stressed that “Morocco has already accepted its option of independence” in the referendum that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) would hold.  Since then, Morocco had been undermining United Nations decolonization efforts, he said.  That had been clearly demonstrated in the address to the nation by the King of Morocco on 6 November 2015, the fortieth anniversary of that country’s invasion of Western Sahara, he said.

The Security Council, guarantor of the integrity of the 1991 Peace Plan, continued to evade its responsibility in that regard, he said, warning that recent developments indicated that the situation could reach a point of no return.  In March, Morocco had impeded the Secretary-General’s visit to Layoune, the seat of MINURSO, and the Mission’s civilian and political components had been expelled in mid-March.  Morocco had refused to comply with the Security Council’s deadline, set in resolution 2285 (2016), for allowing the expelled MINURSO personnel to return within 90 days, he noted, adding that the international community was faced with the Security Council’s possible failure to protect the decolonization process.  If it chose to apply the policy of Pontius Pilate, the General Assembly must assume its decolonization responsibilities, he said.  “The likely collapse of the political process, in which the Sahrawi people have placed all their trust, will lead only to a scenario of war, a return to the very starting point of 1975,” he said, warning that such an eventuality would prolong regional tensions and the suffering of an innocent people.

“The Frente Polisario does not want a return to armed conflict,” he continued, adding that there was still room for the United Nations to intensify efforts to spare the region a spiral of confrontation.  If such a confrontation became inevitable, however, the Frente Polisario would “assume our obligations to defend the right of our people to independence”.  He emphasized that the Special Committee must assume its responsibility now, more than ever.  “Silence is not an option,” he said, adding that the Special Committee must not be intimidated by threats.  Moreover, it had been 41 years since the Special Committee had sent a mission to Western Sahara.  Its reports and working papers were limited to colourless, second-hand summaries of reports of the Secretary-General to the Security Council.  It was time for the Special Committee to return to Western Sahara and carry out a first-hand account of the situation.  It should also hold as special session on Western Sahara, he said.

MACHARIA MUNENE, expert, said the people of Western Sahara were suffering from both Spanish and Moroccan colonialism and must be freed from both.  Morocco was more egregious, partly because it was stuck in a past era of empire-building, blind to geopolitical reality, disdaining others and encouraged to act with impunity.  When the International Court of Justice had dismissed Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara, it had ignored the ruling, but instead of being held to account, there had been efforts to accommodate Morocco, he recalled.  In February, Morocco had suspended contacts with the European Union after a European Union court’s nullification of a farm-trade arrangement that included the annexed Territory of Western Sahara.

He said that, in March, when Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had visited southern Algeria and expressed concern over the fate of people under “occupation”, Morocco had reacted by organizing protests against him in Rabat and by expelling United Nations peacekeepers from Western Sahara.  Morocco’s impunity was partly due to the influence it seemingly exercised over France and the United States, both permanent Security Council members, who had been turned into virtual cheerleaders for Morocco’s intransigence in ignoring United Nations calls for decolonization.  The United States had indirectly accepted Morocco’s annexation scheme and had decided to fund its activities in Western Sahara, he said, noting that such actions effectively undermined the United Nations mandate  “There is a need to accept that, currently on the issue of Western Sahara, Morocco strangleholds the [United Nations] and that this stranglehold needs to be broken,” he said.

To do so, charges against Morocco’s “international bad behaviour” must be broadened to include crimes of aggression against the Sahrawi people and the annexation of Western Sahara, he continued.  It must be made clear that the United Nations was the only global organ with the mandate to legitimize States and their sovereignty.  Secondly, there should be emphasis on the fact that the United Nations and the African Union recognized Western Sahara’s legitimate existence as a geopolitical entity with its own history, identity, language and culture.  Spain, as the recognized administering Power, should conduct the decolonizing process because the Territory remained technically its colony.  A condition for admitting Spain to the United Nations was that it would decolonize Western Sahara, he recalled, adding that Spain should be challenged to take its mandated responsibility more seriously and assert its legitimate presence.  It should follow the lead of the United Kingdom, which had reasserted its control over then Rhodesia from Ian Smith and then supervised the transition to the independence of Zimbabwe, he said.

All Member States were obligated to tell Morocco that its presence in Western Sahara was illegitimate, he said, adding that the United States and France, in particular, must free themselves from serving as “bodyguards” for Morocco’s aggression, which was in the best interest of those supposedly self-respecting big Powers, he said.  In addition, members of the Special Committee should sponsor a resolution charging Morocco with the crimes of frustrating independence, aggression and annexation.  Spain should be reminded of its obligation to act responsibly on decolonization and urged to “clean up its image” by rectifying an historical anomaly.  Those three crimes should be brought to the attention of the Security Council and the General Assembly, he said, stressing that the crime of aggression amounted to cultural “genocide” since Morocco wished to eliminate the identity of the Sahrawi people.

ALEJANDRO BETTS, expert, said during the ensuing discussion that it was time to view the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) with the sense of realism it deserved.  Regrettably, the United Kingdom was not willing to resolve issues through dialogue and continued to exploit the Territory’s natural resources.  Its strategy was clear:  to deflect attention while exploiting the region’s natural resources.  It had strengthened that position by militarizing the South Atlantic, he said, noting that its military presence was in violation of General Assembly resolution 41/11, which declared the area a demilitarized zone of peace.  The time had come for Argentina to request a measure for the United Kingdom to suspend its exploitation of resources in the area and withdraw its juridical and military presence, he said.  That would, at a minimum, illustrate a true commitment to dialogue between the parties, which Argentina had already shown, to resolve the matter.

The representative of Spain said that for years her Government had urged the United Kingdom to resume bilateral negotiations on sovereignty issues concerning Gibraltar.  The United Kingdom’s ongoing occupation of the Territory was a violation of international law, and Spain had always asked for its unconditional return.  The case of Gibraltar was different from that of other Non-Self-Governing Territories, and the United Nations had stated that the principle that should reign was not self-determination, but a return of the Territory to Spain’s territorial integrity.  Gibraltar’s Spanish inhabitants had been forced to abandon the Territory, and Spain did not accept its current inhabitants.  While Spain would not force them out, however, it would not back down from standing up against the colonial interests of the United Kingdom, she emphasized.  Spain could not accept the United Kingdom’s claim that the inhabitants of Gibraltar had exercised their right to self-determination, and until the matter was resolved under United Nations the auspices, Gibraltar would remain on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The representative of Argentina, addressing the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), said his Government did not have anything against the Territory’s British inhabitants.  Argentina and the United Kingdom had reached the Madrid Agreement and both countries had been able to make progress in the past, he said, adding that it was necessary to build mutual trust and create the requisite conditions for resuming negotiations on sovereignty.  Emphasizing that Argentina had no desire to integrate the civilian population of the islands by force, he said that, on the contrary, it respected their human rights.  The Secretary-General’s good offices mission remained valid and should continue.  Argentina renewed its commitment to a productive dialogue with the United Kingdom.  “No item should be left off the table,” he said, calling on the United Kingdom to return to negotiations on the basis of trust.

ERNESTO MOREAU, member of the American Association of Jurists, expressed solidarity with all people struggling against colonialism and denounced the growing militarization of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), as well as the issuance of licenses for the exploitation of hydrocarbon and fishing resources.  Recalling that the United Kingdom had forcibly occupied the islands in 1833, he said it had driven out the legitimate Argentine authorities and installed British subordinates.  Since the British invasion, Argentina had uninterruptedly claimed restitution in all international forums, he said.  The United Kingdom’s continued offensive threatened regional peace and stability, and the Association shared the concern of the Government of Argentina and the Latin America region for the growing militarization of the South Atlantic and the plundering of the natural resources of the Argentine continental shelf.

That situation, complicated by the United States, also threatened the international order, he continued.  Argentine territory had been subjected to shelling by missiles and the installation of a military fort in Mount Pleasant, as well as a naval port capable of accommodating nuclear-powered vessels.  As part of efforts for control over the South Atlantic, plans had been made in recent years, to deploy nuclear-capable submarines, in violation of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, he said.  Those were unilateral and unjustified actions carried out by a foreign Power, amounting to a destabilizing intrusion and resulting in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and growing environmental deterioration.  He voiced support for the 11 March decision by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to approve Argentina’s 2009 recommendations proving that illegal acts had occurred in the area of the Argentine continental shelf area.

He said that the objective of such unilateral actions was to ensure that British subjects implanted in the islands legalized that situation, contrary to the aim of self-determination, which referred to the original inhabitants and not the settlers.  Instead of ending colonialism, law had been used to perpetuate the situation, he said.  The American Association of Jurists appreciated the support of all Latin American and Caribbean countries and regional organizations, particularly the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and the Union of South American Nations, for strengthening regional integration, he said, adding that he rejected all direct and indirect colonial actions, including those involving private businesses.  It was time to put an end to the exploitation of natural resources and military build-up in Argentine territory, he said.

The representative of Ecuador said visiting missions to the Territories were a good tool and should be encouraged.  An open, honest dialogue was needed with the administering Powers, and the Seminars must also continue.  Regarding the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), he said the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom must resume dialogue, emphasizing that the world could not afford to take another three decades for the eradication of colonialism.

The representative of Sierra Leone, stressing that the Special Committee must remain neutral, called for less emotion and urged participants to temper their remarks.  Regarding Western Sahara, he sought clarification of a comment by Mr. Boukhari that if the United Nations failed to take action, the possibility for armed conflict was inevitable.  He also asked Mr. Munene to clarify some points, particularly those regarding the characterization of Morocco.

Mr. RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), Chair of the Special Committee, echoed those comments, urging participants to maintain respect for each other.

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda voiced support for the autonomy initiative presented by Morocco, saying which was in line with General Assembly resolutions.  Taking note of the fact that two local leaders had been elected in Western Sahara, yet had not been allowed to participate in the current Seminar, he said he looked forward to their participation in future Seminars.

The representative of Cuba said her Government would continue to support Argentina’s claim over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

The representative of Morocco described some statements as misleading and only aimed at perpetuating the suffering.  The Moroccan territory had been divided in 1912, and 40 years later the country had gradually regained territorial unity.  The Sahara region had been through an agreement deposited by the Secretary-General in 1975.  In 1963, Morocco had inscribed the question of the Sahara region at the General Assembly, a time when the Frente Polisario did not exist, he noted, saying that was irrefutable proof of Morocco’s sovereignty over the area.  In 2015, thousands of Moroccans, including the King, had peacefully celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the “Green March”, the peaceful recovery of Moroccan territory.

He recalled that the Secretary-General’s report S/2016/355 of April 2016 noted that, in 2015, elections had been held without incident in Layoune and another region.  A total of $7 billion — of which 54 per cent had contributed by the private sector — had been invested in the region with the aim of doubling GDP and contributing to socioeconomic development and good governance.  Emphasizing that dialogue was the only way to resolve the dispute, he said that Security Council resolutions rightly considered that the status quo could not continue.  The Sahrawi refugee population in the Tindouf camps in Algeria had been deprived of humanitarian assistance for years, he said, adding that reports from the European Union stated that instead of helping people in the camps, Frente Polisario members had enriched themselves.

Mr. BOUKHARI, Frente Polisario, responding to the question from Sierra Leone’s representative, said the Sahrawi people were victims of a war that had led to the situation that continued today, adding that the absence of a United Nations political process left a very dangerous void.  The Security Council had given Morocco 90 days to allow the expelled MINURSO civilian staff to return, but if the Council adopted a “Pontius Pilate policy”, leaving a political vacuum, then it would be necessary to start again from scratch.  “What I am saying to the international community is, please do something before this goes out of control,” he said.  Frente Polisario did not want war, but when the other party said that it would remain in Western Sahara even though the international community had stated the contrary, that in itself was a declaration of war, he said, adding that permanent members of the Security Council had until July to act.

Mr. MUNENE also responded to Sierra Leone’s representative, noting that his style and presentation, rather than the content of what he had said, seemed to bother that delegate.  He clarified that legitimacy in Western Sahara’s case came from the United Nations, which had accepted Western Sahara as a separate entity that was not part of Morocco.  He disputed Morocco’s claim that it was simply recovering its territories, noting that the United Nations and the European Union had rejected that recovery argument.

Ms. ORMOND said that although she thought the United Nations valued her voice, it seemed that during the Seminar, the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) had become a matter of bilateral relations between Argentina and the United Kingdom, whereas the voice of the people of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) did not seem to count.  “Ultimately, it is my future, the future of my children and grandchildren,” she said.  How could it be fair if others societies decided that future?Mr. MOREAU said that Argentina had maintained a single policy in terms of recovery of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

The representative of Algeria said his Government had always had a principled position in support of self-determination around the world and wished to see the Western Sahara referendum question resolved.  Algeria supported the renewal of MINURSO’s mandate for another year and called upon all actors to help implement the relevant Security Council resolution.  The General Assembly should conduct a visiting mission to Western Sahara, he said, expressing hope that the Special Committee could devote a session to the issue.

Also speaking during the discussion on Western Sahara were representatives of Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Chile, Venezuela, Grenada, Syria, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba, Saint Lucia and Iraq.


*     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.