MANAGUA, 2 June — As the Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization concluded this afternoon, speakers stressed the need for productive dialogue and harmonious relations in order to advance the decolonization of the world’s 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories.
“Sometimes the tone has reflected the difficulties we face, but we must find ways to advance,” said Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño (Venezuela), Chair of the Special Committee on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, known informally as the Committee of 24. It was important to maintain tolerance and a willingness to participate in discussion, he said, emphasizing that “there is no room for harsh criticism. We must keep in mind the key theme of this Seminar and not divert attention away.”
Stressing the urgent need to free people from the yoke of colonialism as the third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2011-2020) approached its end, he said: “The commitment does not fall to a few; the international community must join efforts for an end to this colonial situation,” urging greater productivity and fresh impetus to improve the work of United Nations bodies tasked with decolonization matters. The Special Committee stood ready to review the Non-Self-Governing Territories on a case-by-case basis, taking into account each one’s specific situation on the ground, as well as its historical and cultural context.
While the decision of a Territory’s status must be determined freely by its own people, the administering Power of each Territory also had an important role in resolving disputes and facilitating the decolonization process, he noted. Welcoming France’s participation in the Seminar and calling on other administering Powers to follow suit, he stressed that they must all abide by the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
Highlighting the themes addressed during the course of the three-day Seminar, he underlined that the management of natural resources must be carried out with full respect for the sovereignty of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. The International Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories, which had lost some lustre in recent years, must regain its original spirit, he said, calling on all to participate actively in the Special Committee’s next meeting, in New York on 13 June.
Visiting missions played a special role in helping understanding of the situation of the Territories and they should take place annually, he said, adding that the Special Committee would review the proposals made during the Seminar in relation to visits and see which ones were feasible. The practice of colonialism must cease, regardless of the form it took, he said, urging all parties to prevent the rise of new conflicts in areas already besieged by turmoil, such as the Middle East and North Africa. Recalling that more than 400,000 people had died during Venezuela’s struggle for independence, he pointed out that the people had eventually triumphed and helped to free five neighbouring countries, as well. Venezuela remained steadfast in its commitment to helping others achieve the same freedom.
María Rubiales de Chamorro, Nicaragua’s Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, also pledged her Government’s support for peoples struggling for liberation and agreed that progress had been made towards ending colonialism around the world. The commitment to advance the third International Decade demonstrated that dialogue and negotiation were possible when there was political will to implement United Nations resolutions.
Noting that discussions during the Seminar had been frank and straightforward, she said thanked France for participating and expressed hope that the other administering Powers would coordinate with the Special Committee in the future. “We trust in the political will of all,” to devise during the four years remaining in the International Decade specific measures to draft a road map so that people under the yoke of colonialism could finally be free, she said.
The Special Committee must do its part, by working to ensure implementation of the resolutions adopted, particularly those relating to the role of specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system, she emphasized. She welcomed the debate on how to bolster assistance to the Non-Self-Governing Territories and pledged Nicaragua’s commitment to further that discussion within the Special Committee.
Also today, participants approved the draft procedural report of the Seminar (document PRS/2016/CRP.5), which was presented by Jose Antonio Cousiño (Chile), Rapporteur of the Special Committee. It comprised three parts: organization of the Seminar; its proceedings; and conclusions and recommendations. The drafting of conclusions and recommendations had begun in Managua and would be finalized in New York.
In addition, participants approved a draft resolution, read out by Cuba’s representative, expressing appreciation to the Government and people of Nicaragua for hosting the Seminar.
The representative of Algeria also made closing remarks.
Review of Other Regions
This morning, participants concluded the discussion from Wednesday on the “Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism: commitments and actions for decolonization in the Non-Self-Governing Territories in other regions”.
AHMED BOUKHARI, Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), responding to Morocco’s Wednesday statement concerning Western Sahara, recalled that the country’s representative had claimed its aim was to recover its sovereign territories. However, the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the historical links of Morocco and Mauritania to Western Sahara before Spain’s colonization of the Territory was clear — Western Sahara had never been part of Morocco or Mauritania, and it had no historical links to the territorial sovereignty of those two new invaders. After signing the “illegal” Madrid Accords with Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, he said, Spain had committed a mea culpa of sorts in a letter to the United Nations on 26 February 1976, saying that, despite the accords, decolonization continued and would not end until Western Sahara pronounced itself.
Morocco had militarily occupied an area that did not belong to it, and none of its actions in that area had legal validity, he continued. Describing the Sahrawi people as a minority in their own land, he said 350,000 Moroccan settlers had been transferred to the Territory, while Morocco claimed that the United Nations had declared the request for a referendum on Western Sahara invalid. “Who said the referendum was not applicable?”, he asked. On 6 November 2015, the King of Morocco had said that the international community could do whatever it wished, but Morocco would remain in Western Sahara until the end of time, he said. “We should not distort facts or misinterpret.”
He went on to refute the assertion by Morocco’s representative that Sahrawi refugees were being denied humanitarian assistance, saying he was distorting the facts. The Security Council resolutions on the question of Western Sahara were clear, he emphasized, pointing out that two permanent and two non-permanent Council members were present at the Seminar. The Moroccan proposal was for autonomy over Western Sahara, while the Frente Polisario’s proposal was for a free and fair referendum. The Council had taken note of both, he said, demanding: “When did it say that the Moroccan proposal prevails?” It was painful to see a strategy aimed at creating confusion and using linguistic manoeuvres to conceal the facts, he added.
The representative of Morocco, commenting on Algeria’s statement of yesterday, asked why that that country had created the Frente Polisario, financed it for 40 years and given it a home if it truly had no interest in the group’s leadership, as it claimed. At one point, Morocco had held some 100,000 Algerian soldiers for a decade, eventually forcing the International Committee of the Red Cross to intervene, he recalled. When asked how much it was spending to support the Frente Polisario, the Government of Algeria had not replied, he said, adding that it had spent an estimated $75 billion on the Frente Polisario, including on lobbying activities in the United States and elsewhere.
Algeria was directly involved in the conflict and an interested party, he stressed, adding: “We simply want Algeria to play fair and straightforward. If there are any innovative ideas or approaches, we are ready to discuss them.” It was Algeria that had proposed partitioning Western Sahara because it wished to gain access to the Atlantic Ocean and to reduce Morocco’s territorial integrity, he said. However, Morocco had not accepted that idea because it believed the area was indivisible. Algeria claimed to be a defender of self-determination around the world, but it did not defend that principle on behalf of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said. Did it have the courage to defend that principle on behalf of Gibraltar and other Non-Self-Governing Territories?. It seemed that Algeria only did so in an area where it sought control, he said. Concerning the diversion of humanitarian assistance intended for Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf camps in Algeria, he cited reports by the European Anti-Fraud Office and a European Parliament statement on the issue, calling upon the European Commission to evaluate the situation and make the necessary adjustments to ensure the refugees were not harmed.
The representative of Algeria, recalling that his counterpart from Morocco had claimed on Wednesday that his country had created the Frente Polisario, said that was not true. For more than 40 years, Algeria had been focused on decolonization without military involvement, he said, pointing out that decolonization was the position of the international community as a whole, not just Algeria. Regarding the refugee population in the Tindouf camps, he recalled that the European Commission had made a statement in April rejecting the lies and allegations about a diversion of funds. “So, how can you reconcile that there were these diversions, but the [United Nations] agencies then continued to donate?” The Special Committee’s purpose was to advance decolonization and everyone should respect that mandate. “Do we agree that the Western Sahara is a Non-Self-Governing Territory?”, he asked, calling on Morocco and Frente Polisario to respond to the needs of the Territory’s people without military intervention.
The representative of Russian Federation said he was disappointed that instead of focusing on implementation, more proposals were being set forth to extend the dispute over Western Sahara. He called upon the parties in question to replace their confrontational approach with a responsible one and to respect the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). That Mission’s key task was to get dialogue going between the two parties, and the Security Council’s role was to support stability in that part of the world, he said.
JOSEPH BOSSANO, Minister for Economic Development, Socialist Labour Party of Gibraltar, said that unless the Special Committee decided to take one of the Non-Self-Governing Territories somewhere, there would be a fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. The Special Committee must be able to deliver, he said.
He said it was wrong to give the impression that Gibraltar it was a British outpost, noting that it had links with the socialist parties of both Spain and the United Kingdom. Its Chief Minister had not been sent by the United Kingdom to run the military base, but rather was the grandson of a woman who had fled to Gibraltar during the Spanish Civil War, he said, rejecting the statement by Spain’s representative as incorrect. There was a system in place that everyone must observe, and that system was the process of self-determination, in accordance with Article 73 of the United Nations Charter, he said. Either there was full self-government, and in that case Gibraltar would cease to be on the list, or there was not, and it would remain on the list.
The Seminar then held a discussion on “the role of the United Nations system in providing development assistance to Non Self-Governing Territories, in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions” and “recommendations for advancing decolonization”.
The representative of Sierra Leone asked why United Nations specialized agencies were absent from the Seminar.
The Secretary of the Special Committee said many agencies had been invited and the Chair’s invitation letters had been transmitted to them, but the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had been the only one to respond, and it attended only the opening ceremony.
The representative of Sierra Leone said the fact that the FAO representative had left was a sign of contempt that made a mockery of the Seminar. He asked for an explanation as to why that representative had left early.
The Chair said that a number of regional bodies and United Nations entities had been invited to the Seminar and pointed out that all the experts invited were present. The Seminar’s recommendations and conclusions would express the disappointment of participants, he added.
The representative of Cuba agreed that the absence of the specialized agencies demonstrated a lack of respect for Special Committee members and Non-Self-Governing peoples, and that the Seminar’s conclusions and recommendations should contain strong language on that. Only six agencies had responded to requests to submit information for the Economic and Social Council report, she noted, recalling that only had done so in 2015. The Special Committee must look into the situation more seriously, she said.
WILMA REVERON-COLLAZO, expert, pointed out that today was the anniversary of the death of Luisa Cáceres Díaz de Arismendi, one of the female liberators of Venezuela, who died in 1866. Turning to the Special Committee’s work, she said that information on the education of peoples subjected to colonialism should be included in the Seminar’s final report. The expert on Guam had provided good references in that regard, and they could be replicated. She said the two pamphlets distributed at the Seminar annually should be revised, adding that there should be an “information network” page for the Special Committee’s website, where the wealth of materials available on the subject could be shared. The Special Committee should also create a webpage or blog to share experiences.
Regarding a reparations fund for people subjected to colonialism, she said that, upon the recommendation of the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, a study had been carried out on such an activity with a view to establishing guidelines. A report had been prepared and it included lists of various types of restitution and compensation. Colonialism had caused damage in the areas of education, culture, history and language through attempts at assimilation and the pillaging of land, she said. In the case of Puerto Rico, the use of Vieques Island as a military base had resulted in greater pollution, she noted, expressing hope that the Special Committee would take the reparations plea from the Territories very seriously.
Mr. BOUKHARI noted that part of the Sahrawi population were refugees living in the Tindouf camps and in Spain. They were human beings with social and economic rights who needed a sustainable level of development and the right to their own natural resources. However, there was a lack of response on the part of the United Nations on the question of including the Sahrawi people in that regard, he said, emphasizing that they could not live solely on humanitarian aid. The Frente Polisario welcomed the contributions of Algeria, Cuba and Venezuela towards their education, he said, proposing that the Special Committee hold a special meeting on Western Sahara with the participation of regional organizations, such as the African Union and the European Union. Meanwhile, what would happen to Western Sahara’s natural resources until the conflict over the Territory was resolved?, he asked. That question must be addressed because millions of dollars were at stake in relation to the exploitation of fisheries and phosphate. The Special Committee should not wait, he stressed, adding that it should assess the needs on the ground in Non-Self-Governing Territories in order to renew the hope of their peoples in the international system.
The representative of Venezuela voiced strong disappointment that no United Nations specialized agencies had attended the Seminar, emphasizing that they must play a fundamental role in the Non-Self-Governing Territories. He asked whether their absence was due to inertia or an attempt to weaken the Special Committee’s capacity. He called on them to participate in the regional seminars and to cooperate with the quest of the Non-Self-Governing Territories for self-determination. The Special Committee had sent invitations to the World Bank, World Health Organization (WHO), International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), FAO, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Food Programme (WFP) and UN-Women, among others.
CARLYLE CORBIN, expert, said the absence of the specialized agencies was related to a perception of relevancy and a lack of information. Noting that Cuba’s representative had mentioned that they also stayed away from meetings in New York, he said a study on agency responses expressed concern over the language of the invitation. Many agencies considered themselves to be involved in the social and economic spheres, so they may hesitate to participate in what they considered a political event, he explained. They were providing assistance on the ground, but not discussing that assistance with the Special Committee.
To help bridge the gap in perception, he said, the Economic and Social Council had modified the name of its resolution on the question to read “support to Non-Self-Governing Territories by the specialized agencies and the international institutions associated with the United Nations”. Several delegates in the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly had said that what they viewed as political issues should not be addressed in other circumstances, with one saying that the agencies’ rules of procedure must be respected. Noting that all Non-Self-Governing Territories were associate members of either the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) or the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), he said the latter had completed three studies, in 2004, 2007 and 2015, on their work in Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said, cautioning that if the Territories remained outside the system, full decolonization would be much less likely to be achieved in the course of the third International Decade.
The representative of Bolivia said the right of peoples in the Non-Self-Governing Territories to self-determination was inextricably linked to the Sustainable Development Goals and must be promoted as such.
SERGEI CHERNIAVSKY, expert, said it was important to realize that any organization was a bureaucracy, and any invitation would take time to trickle down. He suggested forging good relations with desk officers of the specialized agencies and alerting them to upcoming events. The guidelines for United Nations entities regarding Internet presence were very restrictive, and any open forum that raised the issue would attract other entities.
The representative of Nicaragua said it was not up to the agencies to decide what was political and what was not. It was unacceptable that invited agencies had not responded. He requested that the Special Committee ask the Secretary-General to respond in writing about the failure of United Nations agencies to attend.
RICHARD ARIIHAU TUHEIAVA, expert, suggested creating a standard political education programme about the self-determination process, perhaps based on the experience of Guam, to ensure that the Special Committee’s work was understood.
The Chair said United Nations regional organizations had been invited, but they had not responded to the invitations, so perhaps pressure could be exerted on the Foreign Ministers of their member States.
ERNESTO MOREAU, member of the American Association of Jurists, proposed compiling a list of States and companies that did not act in a manner consistent with United Nations resolutions on reparations for people in the Non-Self-Governing Territories.
The representative of Cuba suggested that the Secretariat compile a list of proposals and suggestions from experts and distribute it in New York, at the Special Committee’s next consideration of the conclusions and recommendations of the Seminar.
The Chair said the experts had made good proposals and asked participants to provide that information to the Secretariat. He also voiced support for the idea of a specific meeting to discuss those proposals.
JIMMY NAOUNA, expert, supported proposals by several experts and the suggestion by Nicaragua’s representative on inviting the Secretary-General to play an active role in issuing a formal invitation to United Nations agencies to participate in the work of the Special Committee. Regional organizations could also play an important role and their presence in the seminars would foster a greater link to the Non-Self-Governing Territories. On educating people in the Territories, he suggested holding public forums and other events to help people in New Caledonia understand the Nouméa Accords and the decolonization process, including during the lead-up to the 2018 referendum on self-determination.
Mr. BOUKHARI, taking the floor again to respond to statements by Morocco’s representative, he said he had provided several facts to make Special Committee members aware of the true picture in Western Sahara. Emphasizing that the creation of a “greater Morocco” in the north did not involve Algeria, he said Mauritania’s independence had not been recognized until 1979. Moroccan intervention continued to pose a great danger to peace and stability in the region. “These are the facts,” he said. “It’s odd to me that they’re invoking certain aspects of international law to confuse the Committee,” he added. “We are captive people. Let us have the self-determination referendum and let the Sahrawi people decide.” He expressed regret that the Morocco press agency had today referred to the passing of Mohamed Abdelaziz, Secretary General of the Frente Polisario, earlier in the week as a “non-event”.
Mr. MUNENE suggested that the Special Committee identify and address no more than four clear obstacles to decolonization, as a way to move the process forward. Such information could be put in a report that could be presented the next time the Special Committee met, he suggested.
The Chair welcomed the contributions and specific proposals of experts on how to move forward and asked that they be sent to the Special Committee through its Secretariat by 7 June, so that they could be taken up during its next session, to begin on 13 June. There would be a series of events from 13 to 16 June related to the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories, he added.
The representative of Venezuela and Julien Boanemoi of Special Local Law Groupings also spoke.