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GA/COL/3293
13 June 2016
2016 Session, 3rd Meeting (PM)

As Session Opens, Special Committee on Decolonization Approves Two Resolutions Addressing Dissemination of Information on Non-Self-Governing Territories

Opening its 2016 substantive session today, the Special Committee on decolonization, approved without a vote two draft resolutions on the dissemination of information with Non-Self-Governing Territories, and then commenced targeted discussions on the question of Gibraltar.

The first draft, approved annually for adoption by the General Assembly, would have the 193-member body reaffirm that administering Powers should continue to transmit information under Article 73 (e) of the Charter of the United Nations.

By its terms, 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 of Colonial Countries and Peoples — would have the Assembly request the administering Powers to transmit regularly to the Secretary-General statistical and other information on the economic, social and educational conditions in the Territories for which they were responsible.

The second draft, on dissemination of information on decolonization, would have the Assembly approve activities taken by the Department of Public Information and the Department of Political Affairs, encouraging updates to and wide dissemination of the 2006 “information leaflet” on what the United Nations could do to assist Non-Self-Governing Territories.

By other terms, the Assembly would request the Departments to develop ways to disseminate material on the issue of self-determination.  In such work, they would explore collaboration with the decolonization focal points of territorial Governments, particularly in the Pacific and Caribbean regions, and encourage the involvement of non-governmental organizations and Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Turning to the question of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said the Special Committee was “failing spectacularly” in its mandate to protect and promote the interests of people in Non-Self Governing Territories.  Having ceded Gibraltar through a treaty over 300 years ago, Spain now relied on a “pernicious” collaboration with the Special Committee to conspire against the interests of the people of Gibraltar.  “That betrayal will not be allowed by us to pass unchallenged or unnoticed,” he said.

The representative of Spain said the colonial situation of Gibraltar undermined her country’s territorial integrity, a point made clear in General Assembly resolution 2353/22 of 19 December 1967.  The reigning principle was not that of self-determination, but rather, of the restoration of Spanish territorial integrity.  It was essential to restore territory that had been ceded under the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 and subsequently illegally occupied by the United Kingdom. 

Special Committee Chair Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño (Venezuela) made a brief statement on the annual Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories, which underlined the commitment end colonialism around the world.  The Special Committee had put together a range of activities as recommended by General Assembly resolution 2911/27 of 2 November 1972, including an exhibition which would open immediately following the present meeting.  Other activities included a conference on decolonization, a cultural activity, the screening of a decolonization-oriented movie and the exhibition of information materials.

In other business, the Special Committee briefly debated a request by Venezuela’s delegate not to consider an aid memoire on the participation of a person who was not a representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front), the sole group approved to speak on the question of Western Sahara, as doing so would contravene relevant General Assembly resolutions.

Morocco’s delegate, defending the request, said that the referred-to representative, Abba Mhamed, was not claiming to represent those in the camps or others inside the Sahara region. “You are interpreting this in a broad manner,” he said, “as if he [Mr. Abba] represented the entire Sahara.  He is representing the Laâyoune.”

Also speaking today were Margaret Novicki, Acting Director of the Strategic Communications Division in the Department of Public Information, and Josiane Ambiehl, Chief of the Decolonization Unit of the Department of Political Affairs.

The representatives of Cuba, Chile Indonesia and Nicaragua also spoke, as well as Richard Buttigied of the Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group.

The Special Committee suspended its meeting until 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 14 June.

Action

The Special Committee then turned to a draft resolution titled “Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73 (e) of the Charter of the United Nations” (document A/A.C.109/2016/L.3), which would have the Assembly reaffirm that administering Powers should continue to transmit information under Article 73 (e) of the Charter of the United Nations.

Speaking before action, the representative of Venezuela, referring to the aide memoires circulated to the Special Committee, said a request by Mr. [Abba] Mhamed had been made in breach of the General Assembly’s resolutions on the representation of Western Sahara.  The communication referred to representation of the Sahara’s population, which was not in line with relevant resolutions with respect to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front).  He requested that the petition not be considered.

The representative of Morocco, in a point of order, said the request for a hearing already had been adopted.  Mr. Mhamed was in an elected position by a population, part of which was in the Sahara, with another part in the Tindouf camp.  Some had participated in the elections, which had been held with international observers and formed part of the Special Envoy’s report and that of Christopher Ross.

He recalled that on 14 September 2015, regional elections had been held for the first time in Morocco and Western Sahara.  The Secretary-General had recognized those polls and Mr. Abba [Mhamed] represented those living in the Sahara.  He was here to present information on economic development.  The Special Envoy’s report could not be contested.  Assembly resolution 35/19 used the term “representative” not “the representative”.  Mr. Abba was one representative among many. “We are not here to decide who represents whom,” he said.  Rather, delegates were meeting to listen to reports.

The Chair clarified that, when taking up item 2, the Special Committee only had approved the dates on which Puerto Rico and other issues would be debated.  “This committee is not empowered to change any General Assembly resolutions concerning the question of Western Sahara,” he said.  Until the Assembly ruled otherwise, the sole representative of the Saharawi people was the POLISARIO Front.  If someone wished to change that, a proposal must be made in the Fourth Committee (Special Political & Decolonization) that the Assembly make a corresponding change.  POLISARIO Front was the sole entity to represent the Sahrawi people and legal consultations had been held on that matter.

The representative of Venezuela agreed that resolutions could only be changed by the General Assembly.  Resolution 34/37 and another from 1980 did not make a distinction between geographic locations of populations. They could not be changed by reports or other documents.

A representative of the Office of Legal Affairs said the Secretariat could not take a specific position on the note.  Recalling rules regarding representation, he noted that the categories of participants were:  Special Committee members, observers, representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories and petitioners.  As for the representation of Western Sahara, he recalled resolutions 34/37 and 35/19.  Rule 106 of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure confirmed to the Chair the power to rule on points of order.  The Chair would have control over the meeting.  Rule 107 stated that the Chair was under the Special Committee’s authority.

The representative of Morocco said the request for a hearing had been mentioned in the report.  Mr. Abba was asking for a hearing.  The population in the Sahara was requesting that he speak before the Special Committee.  “You cannot contest this request,” he said, adding that Mr. Abba did not claim represent those in the camps and others inside the Sahara region. He had been elected by a population.  “You are interpreting this in a broad manner,” he said “as if he [Mr. Abba] represented the entire Sahara.  He is representing the Laâyoune.”

As for procedure, he said the Chair had stated that only the dates for discussing item 2 had been adopted. However, a request for a hearing did not contain anything about dates or territories.  The aide-memoire and item 2 had been adopted.  He proposed listening to recordings about what had been said.  Finally, he asked the difference between “the representative” and “representative”.  He was not trying to change the resolution, but rather, respect it.  There was not one exclusive representative; there were several.

The Chair, responding, said the resolution was clear that the sole representative was the POLISARIO Front.  For that reason, the Bureau and the Chair had the power to rule on interpretations.  “Otherwise, we would be here for hours,” he said, inviting the representative of Morocco to raise the issue in the Fourth Committee.

The representative of Morocco, responding, said he was not trying to sabotage the meeting, stressing, rather, that the Chair was trying to impose the political position of his country.  “You’ve adopted a document and then saying it wasn’t adopted,” he pointed out.  “I know you are not very interested in the legitimacy of elected officials and have a problem respecting human rights, but you cannot impose these rules here.”

The Chair said he would not allow such discussions in the Committee.

The representative of Morocco said the Chair had accused him of sabotaging the meeting.  One could say the Sahara was a Non-Self-Governing Territory.  There was diversity in Morocco, with some who defended separation and autonomy and others who had no opinion.  In that spirit, Mr. Abba had come here today.  When populations were in camps, they were Saharawi.  When they were not, they did not have a right to speak.  The United Nations was trying to “turn the rules of democracy” on its head.  He asked what the Secretary-General had meant when he said there had been elections.  Then, the Special Committee had said it could not recognize those elections.  “This Committee is going to lose credibility,” he said, because it would prevent someone from speaking who had been legitimately elected.

The Chair said the only election that the Special Committee was awaiting was a referendum to resolve the question of Western Sahara.  Until then, it was not going to make any changes in the geographic situation.  He returned the Committee’s attention to the draft resolution, noting that the only changes that had been made to the draft were technical updates.

Speaking before action, the representative of Cuba said the Secretary-General’s reports reflected the information to be provided by administering Powers and she reaffirmed their duty to provide it.

The Special Committee then approved by consensus the draft resolution (document A/A.C.109/2016/L.3), by which the Assembly would request administering Powers to transmit regularly to the Secretary-General statistical and other technical information concerning the economic, social and educational conditions in the Territories for which they were responsible, as well as the fullest possible information on political and constitutional developments in the Territories concerned, within a maximum period of six months following the expiration of the administrative year in those Territories.  It would request the Secretary-General to continue to ensure that adequate information was drawn from all available published sources in the preparation of working papers relating to the Territories concerned.

The Special Committee then turned to a second draft text on Dissemination of information on decolonization (document A/A.C.109/2016/L.4), by which the General Assembly would approve activities taken by the Department of Public Information and the Department of Political Affairs, encouraging updates to and wide dissemination of the 2006 “information leaflet” on what the United Nations could do to assist Non-Self-Governing Territories.

In addition, the Assembly would request the Departments to implement the Special Committee’s recommendations and develop ways to disseminate material on the issue of self-determination.  In such work, they would explore the idea of collaboration with the decolonization focal points of territorial Governments, particularly in the Pacific and Caribbean regions; and encourage the involvement of non-governmental organizations and Non-Self Governing Territories.  The Assembly would request the Special Committee to report to its seventy-second session on the implementation of the present resolution.

MARGARET NOVICKI, Acting Director, Strategic Communications Division, Department of Public Information, introduced the annual report of the Secretary-General containing an overview of the activities undertaken by the Department to disseminate information on decolonization (document A/AC.109/2015/18).  During the reporting period, the Department had produced 33 press releases in English and French, covering meetings and statements of various United Nations bodies, including the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), the Special Committee and the General Assembly.  A press officer had been deployed to the recent Pacific Regional Seminar in Managua, and the Department had worked with the Decolonization Unit of Department of Political Affairs to update the profiles of the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories.

United Nations TV had covered open meetings of the Special Committee and the Fourth Committee, and coverage of meetings had been made available live and on-demand on the UNTV website.  The United Nations Photo Unit had also covered a number of related events, including General Assembly meetings.  United Nations radio units also continued to highlight activities relate to decolonization in the six official languages, as well as Portuguese and Kiswahili.  The United Nations News Centre had also featured the issues in a number of articles.  The topic of decolonization continued to be regularly included in the narrative of the guided tours at United Nations Headquarters, while the Dag Hammarskjöld Library had handled requests for research and information services on decolonization.  The Department had finalized the updating of a leaflet on decolonization, which would be made available in both electronic and print formats in the coming weeks.

The representative of Cuba encouraged the Department of Public Information to continue and broaden its activities aimed at the dissemination of information on decolonization, and welcomed the use of all media in that respect.  She encouraged the more systematic dissemination of such information, stressing that the Department should update and disseminate information in all languages equally.  Indeed, she did not see balanced linguistic treatment of information on decolonization.  “We must think of all our audiences and everyone visiting our website,” she stressed in that regard.

The representative of Chile echoed that sentiment, recalling that the issue of disseminating information on decolonization had been raised in the Committee on Information.  He asked how much progress had been made in digitizing the work of the Special Committee and encouraged the Special Committee to look into other media that could be used to disseminate its work.  Finally, he called for a more rigorous approach to disseminating information on the legal context of decolonization.

The representative of Indonesia said the work of the Special Committee should be aligned with poverty eradication, social inclusion and the other goals of the new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.  While much progress had been achieved, there was a need to continue joint efforts to implement the third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.  He welcomed the work of the recent Pacific Seminar on Decolonization, and noted with appreciation the good will of some administering Powers which continued to cooperate with the Special Committee.  That body should conduct further visiting missions to the Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said, extending his delegation’s full support for the Special Committee’s work.

Ms. NOVICKI then took the floor again, stressing that the Department of Public Information would spare no effort to promote the work of the United Nations on decolonization within its resources.  With regard to the question on digitization, she said the project aimed to make increasing number of documents of the United Nations available through the Internet, while preserving the original documents.  The Department would continue to use all of its platforms to promote the work of the Special Committee. 

JOSIANE AMBIEHL, Chief, Decolonization Unit, Department of Political Affairs, then briefed the Special Committee on the contributions of the Unit and the Department to the dissemination of information on decolonization during the period from June 2015 to June 2016.  “Information is all around us,” she said, particularly social media.  The Department’s Twitter account had around 171,000 followers, she said, describing as an example a number of tweets about the recent Pacific Regional Seminar in Managua.

During the period under review, she said, the Decolonization Unit had continued to work closely with colleagues in the Department of Public Information to keep the United Nations Decolonization website up to date.  Moreover, the Unit had been responsible for the annual preparation of the Secretariat Working Papers on each of the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Information transmitted by the administering Powers pursuant to article 73 (e) of the Charter constituted the basis for those Working Papers, supplemented with information from the public sources in order for the Secretariat to provide information accurately on political, constitutional, socioeconomic and other developments in the Territories.

Furthermore, she said, the Decolonization Unit was responsible for substantively supporting the convening and follow-up of the annual regional Seminar.  Last week, immediately after the return from Managua, the Decolonization Unit had worked closely with the Department of Public Information to ensure that the statements made at the Seminar by various participants, including discussion papers by experts and representatives of civil society and press releases covering those three days of discussions, were made available on the United Nations Decolonization website.

The representative of Nicaragua recalled that the Seminar held in her country had reaffirmed the commitment of the Special Committee to fight for all people to “stand on an equal footing”. 

The Special Committee then approved the draft resolution without a vote.

The representative of Iran, speaking after action, asked whether the Special Committee’s working group would review resolutions in the coming weeks.

The Chair, responding, said resolutions would be prepared and distributed.  The two approved today had been repeated over time and only a few updates had been made.  Concerning the draft resolution on visiting missions, he said once it was prepared, it would be distributed through the Secretariat with comments by Special Committee.

The representative of Iran asked whether there should be an informal working group to review that draft, in order to show that all resolutions were discussed at an expert level.

The Chair said the best group to do that was the Bureau.  Special Committee members would be welcome to join those discussions.

Question of Gibraltar

FABIAN PICARDO, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said his people were suffering today not under the yoke of colonialism, but from the suppression of their inalienable international legal rights as a result of the deliberate inaction by the Special Committee.  That body’s mandate was to protect and promote the interests of people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

“You are failing spectacularly in this mission,” he continued, stressing that the Special Committee was not appointed to act as referees or arbiters in the territorial or other disputes between States.  However, it was empowered to carry out visiting missions to listed territories, he said, reiterating his invitation for the body to come to Gibraltar.

The spurious Spanish claims to the sovereignty of Gibraltar were, in fact, being allowed to influence the Special Committee in an entirely inappropriate manner, he said.  The body would do well to read the soon-to-be published seminal judgement of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the case brought by the Gibraltar Football Association against the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).  That international court had recently overturned Spain’s objections to Gibraltar’s entry into the organization that governed world football, as it found no legitimate sovereignty dispute over Gibraltar and no pending legal dispute as a matter of public international law.

Having ceded Gibraltar through a treaty over 300 years ago, Spain now relied on the “pernicious” collaboration of bodies, such as the Special Committee to advance by stealth claims that it would not take to court, he said.  Spain was factually, legally and morally wrong in all the contentions it made on the question of Gibraltar, he said, stressing that the Committee was conspiring with Spain against the interests of the people of Gibraltar.

“That betrayal will not be allowed by us to pass unchallenged or unnoticed,” he added, denouncing Spanish assertions that, in the case of a British exit from the European Union, Gibraltar would have to accept joint sovereignty between the United Kingdom and Spain as “political blackmail of the most infantile sort”.  “Gibraltar is not for sale,” he stressed, concluding:  “We will never be Spanish.”

FRANCISCA MARÍA PEDROS CARRETERO (Spain) said the United Nations had repeatedly recognized the specificity of the decolonization process of Gibraltar, noting that the colonial situation of Gibraltar undermined the territorial integrity of Spain.  That had been made clear in General Assembly resolution 2353/22 of 19 December 1967 in which the United Nations had clearly stated that in the decolonization process in Gibraltar the reigning principle was not that of self-determination but the principle of restoration of Spanish territorial integrity.

Therefore, she stated, the solution was the restitution of the territory, both that which was ceded under the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, and that which had subsequently been occupied illegally by the United Kingdom.  In Gibraltar, there was a case of “consented colonialism” which sought to perpetuate itself despite the established criteria by the United Nations.

Briefly outlining the history of the War of Spanish Succession, during which the United Kingdom had occupied the territory of Gibraltar, she went on to say that the General Assembly had for the past four decades been urging the administering Power and Spain to resolve their differences over the dispute.  In violation of international law, that country had occupied areas under Spanish sovereignty to which it was not entitled, and which Spain had never ceased to claim.

As it had already been determined by the Special Committee, she went on, the relationship between Gibraltar and the administering Power was colonial in nature.  Spain was calling for full compliance with the United Nations mandate:  to enter into negotiations with the United Kingdom to end the colonial situation, while taking into account the interests of the inhabitants of the territory.  Describing infringements placed by the local Gibraltarian authorities on Spanish fisherman, as well as the territory’s “discriminatory and opaque” financial and tax system, she said the Gibraltarian side continued to pour “slanderous” accusations against the Special Committee, accusing it of bias and of ignoring the aspirations of the inhabitants of Gibraltar.  She urged the Committee not to heed arguments alien to the doctrine of the Organization, and therefore, not to remove Gibraltar from the corresponding list of United Nations Non-Self-Governing Territories.

RICHARD BUTTIGIEG, Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group, said the Special Committee continued to refuse to send a visiting mission to Gibraltar.  If it were to do so, it would witness first-hand how Spanish police and customs vessels continued to trespass British Gibraltar Territorial Waters, as well as the unjustified and unreasonable restriction of vehicular and pedestrian flow that Spain arbitrarily imposed at the Gibraltar-Spain frontier, in clear contravention of the freedom of movement of people and goods.

A visiting mission, he emphasized, would be able to report back to the Special Committee that, contrary to what the current Spanish caretaker Government asserted, Gibraltar was not a “parasitic nation” comprising a “pre-fabricated” community.  Instead, it would see that Gibraltar and Gibraltarians were part of a vibrant, tolerant and peaceful culture that wished to have a cordial and friendly relationship with Spain.

“We shall never allow our wishes and aspirations to be trampled upon by an undemocratic bully who seems to think we will one day yield to their demands simply by repeating them ad nauseam,” he said.  The Gibraltar 2006 Constitution provided Gibraltar with a level of self-governance that was not akin to that of a colony, and its relationship with the United Kingdom was non-colonial in nature.

In 10 days, he noted, the country would be facing a seminal moment, as, together with the rest of the United Kingdom, it would participate in a referendum to decide whether the United Kingdom (and Gibraltar) would remain within the European Union.  The Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Spanish caretaker Government had already stated publicly that, should the United Kingdom vote out of the European Union, Spain would seek to discuss Gibraltar’s sovereignty the very next day.

In the mind of the Foreign Minister, Gibraltar should cease to be British or should have its sovereignty shared without any regard for the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, he underscored.  If the Minister cared for the latter, he would heed the results of two referenda in which the Gibraltarian people had overwhelmingly rejected the notion of joint sovereignty with Spain, with 99 per cent of the electorate voting against it on both occasions.

Suggesting that the United Nations could be forced by the International Court of Justice to remove Gibraltar from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said that Gibraltar was “very much willing to test the strength of its case” in that regard; unfortunately, however, such proceedings could not take place unless Spain agreed to them.

“Please do not see us as secessionists,” he said, stressing that “we are most certainly not”.  Gibraltar did not seek to create any conflict or division whatsoever.  All they sought was to be recognized as a people with the right to decide their own future for themselves.

For information media. Not an official record.