Secretary-General Confirms His Commitment to Decolonization Agenda in Message for Opening of Caribbean Regional Seminar

GA/COL/3307
16 May 2017
Caribbean Regional Seminar, AM & PM Meetings

Secretary-General Confirms His Commitment to Decolonization Agenda in Message for Opening of Caribbean Regional Seminar

KINGSTOWN, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, 16 May — Opening the Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization today, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said all stakeholders had a collective responsibility to advance progress towards decolonization, with cooperation underpinning success.

In a message delivered on his behalf by Rie Kadota, Officer-in-Charge of the Decolonization Unit in the Department of Political Affairs, the Secretary-General noted that the Special Committee on Decolonization had played an important role in advancing the decolonization agenda since its establishment by the General Assembly.  “The work ahead is a reminder that we all have contributions to make.”

He continued:  “Upholding the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and all relevant resolutions is our collective responsibility.”  Reaffirming his commitment to the decolonization agenda, he emphasized:  “Cooperation is essential to bring about the effective and complete implementation of the Declaration as we approach the end of the third Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.”

With the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as hosting the 2017 edition, the Seminar coincides with the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories and runs until 18 May.  Held annually since 1990, it is organized by the Special Committee — known formally as the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.  The theme for 2017 is “implementation of the third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism:  the future for decolonization in the Non-Self-Governing Territories:  what are the prospects?”  (For background information, see Press Release GA/COL/3306.)

Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño (Venezuela), Chair of the Special Committee, said his country’s people had fought for their independence from Spain, with the Caribbean providing havens for freedom fighters.  Moving forward, the Special Committee bore a heavy and high responsibility to address decolonization issues, and the Regional Seminar provided an important opportunity.  Diplomacy was the chosen weapon, to be wielded on behalf of the 17 listed Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Issues to be addressed during the Seminar should include proposals on how the Territories could work towards the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in order to ensure that no one was left behind, he said, emphasizing that colonialism and foreign occupation remained a stain on the work of the United Nations.  All efforts must be targeted at changing that.

Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, described himself as “a child of colonialism” who had grown to maturity during a time of independence.  Having become politically involved in 1968, he had taken part in the first independent elections in 1979, he said, adding that he was currently the longest-serving Prime Minister in the Western hemisphere.  Noting that many countries remained in a colonial condition, he emphasized that, in any anti-colonial struggle, armed or not, people must resolve the question of decolonization by sitting down to talk.

The Caribbean region had the most Non-Self-Governing Territories and colonies, currently administered by France, Netherlands, United Kingdom and the United States, he said, adding that, while not all their peoples wanted independence, all men and women had a right to self-determination.  At a time when people had grown accustomed to a few lines on Twitter explaining public policy, there was a tendency to forget what the phenomenon of colonialism meant, he stressed, pointing out that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had been “allocated” to the United Kingdom, and the subsequent armed struggle for the land had led to a campaign against indigenous peoples, with the United Kingdom finally defeating them in 1797.  What had been left, he said, was a legacy of native genocide and African slavery from which his country’s people still suffered today.

“It is important to remember what we are struggling against,” he stressed, recalling that the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre had described colonization as an economic system made possible only by a colonial sub-proletariat.  For those people, colonialism meant the extinction of their character, customs and language while they lived in an underworld of misery.  “We have to get to the core of the subject,” he said, emphasizing the importance of listening to people’s aspirations.  The United Nations had its role to play and the Seminar was important for the future of decolonization.  “It’s a messy road, a road with a lot of challenges,” he said, “but, in our broken condition, we have to try to make ourselves whole again.”

Throughout the opening day, experts and participants discussed ways to advance the gains made in the remaining 17 Territories under the Special Committee’s purview:  American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, French Polynesia, Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands and Western Sahara.  Many encouraged dialogue with their administering Powers — France, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States.

Speakers made a range of recommendations on how the Special Committee could overcome obstacles, including the formation of small groups to engage with administering Powers with a view to dispatching visit missions, and by reflecting on whether to request that the Secretary-General establish a high office for decolonization.  Some delegates stressed that sustainable development for all meant addressing the needs and rights of people living in colonial conditions and under foreign domination.

The Seminar held two discussions on the Special Committee’s future role in decolonizing the Non-Self Governing Territories on a case-by-case basis.  Their respective themes were:  “review and assessment of the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and the third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, with a view towards strengthening the work of the Committee”; and “what are the prospects for decolonization in the Non-Self-Governing Territories in light of the remaining years of the third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism?”

Participants also shared experiences during a discussion on “perspectives of the administering Powers, territorial governments, concerned Member States and other stakeholders, as well as views of experts on the decolonization process:  political developments in the Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Caribbean region, Pacific region and other regions”.

In other business, the Seminar adopted its provisional agenda (document CRS/2017/CRP.1) and took note of its provisional programme of work (document CRS/2017/CRP.2/Rev.1).  The Chair appointed the representatives of the Russian Federation and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as Vice-Chairs, and the representative of Chile as Rapporteur.

Organization of Seminar

The representative of Indonesia said he had strong objections to the presence of a certain individual at the opening ceremony, emphasizing that it should not create a precedent.  Any invitees must be invited by the Special Committee, he stressed.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), Special Committee Chair, said that only those with invitations from the Bureau and the Chair could attend, but explained that he could not prevent the host country from inviting guests to the inaugural session, apologizing to the delegation of Indonesia.

The representative of Morocco expressed regret to say that the Bureau had not discussed all requests, including those submitted in April for elected officials of the “Saharan province of Morocco”.  Asking why the Chair’s reply to those requests had been sent today and not earlier, he pointed out that the Saharan representatives had a right to participate under several provisions of the United Nations rules of procedure.  As such, Morocco disagreed with the Chair’s decision to reject that request, which had been taken without consensus and without respect for the rules of procedure, he emphasized.  Everyone, including elected officials, should have the right to speak in the Special Committee, he said, calling upon the Chair to respect the rules and underlining that the credibility of the United Nations depended on respect for human rights.

AHMED BOUKHARI, Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), recalled that General Assembly resolutions stated that Morocco was militarily occupying Western Sahara.  Morocco should end that occupation, and the Seminar should discuss that topic, he said, adding that there had been illegal activities in Western Sahara, including the process of choosing the so-called elected officials.

The representative of Algeria noted that the Frente Polisario delegate had been recognized as the sole representative of the Sahrawi people, adding that the Special Committee should be addressing the question of Western Sahara as it appeared on the agenda.

Mr. RAMÍREZ said he recognized the serious difference of opinion on the question of Western Sahara and the Bureau had obtained legal advice during the 2016 Seminar.  The letters sent in response to Morocco’s requests had contained a reply, in line with procedures, he stated.

The representative of Côte d’Ivoire reiterated his delegation’s earlier objection to the Special Committee’s decision, during the 2016 Seminar, to reject that request.  He expressed hope that a balance could be found and that the perspectives of elected officials could shed light on the situation in Western Sahara.

The representative of Grenada said a mutually acceptable political solution could not be reached if the parties of concern were isolated.  In the case of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, the voices of all parties had been heard.

The Chair said the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)* case was a different matter because it involved a sovereignty dispute.

The representative of Morocco said the Chair did not have the right to “chase anyone from this room”, emphasizing that all voices must be respected.

The Chair stressed that he had not sent anyone out.  “I will not be disrespected,” he added.  “Let us not descend into insults.”

The representative of Ecuador said participants had attended the Seminar to discuss core issues and not to waste time on points of order and procedural issues.  He requested that the discussion end and that the Special Committee accept the Chair’s decision.

Discussion I

Mr. RAMÍREZ (Venezuela), Special Committee Chair, opened by calling for immediate measures, without conditions or reservations, to give the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories the power to determine their future status.  Recalling that the Special Committee had recently met resistance and obstacles to its fulfilment of that task, he said they threatened its credibility and ability to fulfil its mandate.  Yet, there had been successes in the last year, he said, citing the elimination of the omnibus resolution covering 11 Non-Self-Governing Territories and the approval of 22 draft resolutions.  However, much remained to be done, he cautioned.  “Only three years remain before the end of the Decade,” he said.  “We need to take action.”

Given the strong probability that the Plan of Action’s goals would not be fulfilled before 2020, he said, recommendations must be made to revise it in order to ensure progress, including through visiting missions and by the dissemination of information to the Territories.  The Special Committee should also examine the issue of visiting missions closely, with a view to fulfilling its mandate.  Emphasizing the need for political will, he called upon members to exert the necessary efforts to drive decolonization efforts forward.  Administering Powers must fulfil their responsibilities and the United Nations must continue to lead political processes through its specialized agencies, he said, underlining that the current blockage in the Special Committee must be addressed and the panel’s efforts rejuvenated.

The representative of Ecuador said much work remained to be done to end decolonization and until that time, international peace and security was under threat.  Describing the absence of self-determination as one of the root causes of conflict, he said that sustainable development for all would depend on addressing the needs and rights of people living in colonial conditions and under foreign domination.  Noting the presence of France’s delegate, he voiced regret in pointing out the absence of representatives from the other administering Powers —the United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand — while underlining that dialogue among all stakeholders was essential.  He urged the Special Committee to reflect on the request that the Secretary-General establish a high office for decolonization, and emphasized the need for progress on the issue of visiting missions.

SERGEI CHERNIAVSKY, expert, described visiting missions as the most effective tool for fulfilling the Special Committee’s mandate.  Providing a brief history, he said certain administering Powers had denied requests to accept visiting missions, and the first one had occurred in 1972, following an invitation by the Government of New Zealand, which, he noted, had accepted a total of 26 visits to date.  An administering Power’s position could become a major impediment in some cases, he said, recalling that the United Kingdom had ended formal cooperation with the Special Committee in 1986 and the United States in 1992.  Still, there had been a visit to Bermuda in 2006, based on the United Kingdom’s non-objection.

Sharing recommendations, he said the Special Committee could consider establishing small ad hoc working groups to engage with administering Powers, with a focus on American Samoa, Bermuda and Pitcairn.  In American Samoa, the Special Committee should examine obstacles to decolonization, including a prevailing attitude that viewed domestic law over international law in that regard.  Dialogue was essential in that situation, as it was in the cases of Bermuda and Pitcairn.  The Special Committee should determine whether or not Bermuda and Pitcairn should remain on the list, through a visiting mission to the former and through dialogue with the administering Power, the United Kingdom, on the latter.  Yet, the case‑by‑case basis process remained a paper tiger, he said, recommending that the small working groups should produce case-by-case programmes for relevant Territories.

The representative of Cuba, noting that 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained colonized 57 years after the adoption of General Assembly resolution 1514, said that an impasse in the Special Committee meant that independence had not been declared anywhere since Timor-Leste had done so in 2002.  Cooperation with administering Powers was essential and visiting missions should permit the Special Committee to see the situation on the ground first-hand.  More must be done to provide colonized peoples with decolonization information, she said, calling also for adequate funding and the participation of the entire United Nations system.  She proposed a “stock-taking exercise” to compile all proposals to be made during the Seminar, which the Special Committee could examine during its meetings in June.

The representative of Dominica said dialogue was indeed critical and all voices should be heard.  Yet, the Special Committee should examine exactly how decolonization was being considered.  The end result had been independence, he said, asking whether enough attention was being paid to the indebtedness levels of small island States, for example.  He asked whether the goal was independence or development, voicing support for the emphasis laid by his counterpart from Cuba on the need for United Nations agencies to take an active role in the Special Committee’s work.  A re-examination of the Special Committee’s very purpose could be considered at the end of the third Decade, he suggested, expressing for a more targeted mandate, including by considering all stakeholders as partners.

JOSEPH BOSSANO, Gibraltar, said that, over the years, the administering Power had discouraged efforts to approach the Special Committee.  He added that the warm reception he had received upon his own approach had demonstrated the Special Committee’s previous portrayal as “the enemy”.  Strengthening the Special Committee could be accomplished by ensuring that those under colonial rule knew it was on their side, he said, adding that visiting missions and further efforts should be taken in that regard.  Recalling the 2016 Seminar’s emphasis on the importance of sharing first-hand experiences of life under colonial rule, he said each case was different, with each population wanting a different future.  If Gibraltar were to be decolonized tomorrow, he said, he would remain involved in the fight to eradicate colonialism everywhere, and the Special Committee should enjoy the same kind of commitment from other Non-Self-Governing Territories.

MICHAEL VICTOR SUMMERS, Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, said that the reason why some Non-Self-Governing Territories were unresponsive to the Special Committee was that the issues were not attractive or relevant to them.  Despite letters inviting the Special Committee for a visiting mission, it had not responded, he said.  The Government of the United Kingdom had not objected, but the Government of Argentina had, he noted, adding that the Special Committee had more of a colonial attitude than it cared to admit.  To be successful, it must engage with the Non-Self-Governing Territories in a more effective manner.

Mr. BOUKHARI, Frente Polisario, said the reasons for the failure to realize the goal of decolonization must be examined.  “You cannot fix something unless you know how it was broken,” he said, emphasizing that discord had crept into the Special Committee’s work.  That problem had begun with the issue of Western Sahara, he said, adding that a fair response to the current situation required examining all the stages of history, from colonial Powers carving up the world to the Security Council’s visit regarding a referendum.  The peace process should continue, he stressed.

The representative of Algeria called for the reiteration of commitments within the basic framework of decolonizing the Non-Self-Governing Territories.  To maintain the hope of realizing decolonization, the Special Committee must adhere to its mandate.

ALEJANDRO BETTS, expert, said the United Nations had clearly defined the road map for the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, and the current situation should be ended through a peaceful, negotiated settlement based on dialogue.  However, the administering Power, the United Kingdom, had rejected that.

MICKAEL FORREST, expert, said the Special Committee’s role in the case of New Caledonia was significant.  Conclusions and recommendations arising from the 2014 visiting mission had been clear on current processes, including those relating to natural resources, immigration and other pertinent issues.  The Kanak people looked forward to a referendum in 2018, he said.

Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Spain, Venezuela and the Russian Federation.

Discussion II

CARLYLE CORBIN, expert, recalled challenges that had appeared over the years, including the failure by certain administering Powers to meet their obligations under the United Nations Charter.  That should not be an excuse for the United Nations not to carry out its responsibilities, he emphasized.  Providing an overview of the current situation, he highlighted areas particular to small island Non-Self-Governing Territories, including United Nations commitment to the decolonization mandate, case-by-case work programmes and political education programmes, and failure to disseminate decolonization information.  Successful implementation of the decolonization mandate could be seen in the work of specialized agencies and other United Nations entities, he said.  The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCWA) maintained specific provisions for providing associate membership to Non-Self-Governing Territories, he noted.

Turning to other concerns, he said the General Assembly had urged the Special Committee to initiate a formal collaboration with human rights bodies, but no such action had been taken.  Furthermore, the annual Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had consistently mentioned its failure to receive information requested from the Special Committee about racial discrimination, a major concern in some Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Besides issues of self-determination and ownership of natural resources, he said the absence of clarity in Territories about the United Nations process, coupled with the denigration of that process often propagated by the administering Powers, had created in the Territories a sense of hesitancy to engage the Special Committee.

Given such above situations, it was not surprising that few genuine self-determination processes were under way, he said, noting that the Puerto Rico plebiscite scheduled in June had been compromised.  The failure to implement decolonization was the United Nations Achilles’ heel, he declared.  As its resolutions repeatedly stated, innovative methods were needed to bring about a true self-determination process, he said, emphasizing the need to modify the budget for the decolonization agenda to reflect the actions required by Assembly resolutions.

The representative of Venezuela emphasized the need to breathe new life into the process and to find new ways to advance decolonization goals.

Mr. BOUKHARI, Frente Polisario, wondered whether the Special Committee would remain inactive when an administering Power was not identified.  Citing references to Western Sahara’s natural resources, he asked what would happen to previously exploited natural resources upon independence.

The representative of Timor-Leste asked how the Special Committee could be supported in undertaking its mandate.

WILMA REVERON-COLLAZO, expert, underlined the importance of recognizing that decolonization discussions were really about flagrant violations of human rights, including in Puerto Rico.  Before talk about taking independence “off the table”, it was important to discuss how to engage the administering Powers, which in certain cases continued to cause damage.  It was time to start talking about the cost of that damage.  When administering Powers were charged a daily rate for occupation, they would react swiftly to requests for discussions, she noted.

Also speaking during the discussion were representatives of Cuba and Dominica.  Mr. Forrest, expert, also participated, as did Mr. Bossano, of Gibraltar.

Other Perspectives

The Seminar then considered “perspectives of the administering Powers, territorial Governments, concerned Member States and other stakeholders, as well as views of experts on the decolonization process”.  Its discussion on the theme “political developments in the Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Caribbean region, Pacific region and other regions” featured presentations by Dan Aga Tapaau (American Samoa), Manuel Terai (French Polynesia) and Amanda Francel Blas (Guam).

Mr. TAPAAU delivered a statement on behalf of Lolo Matalasi Moliga, Governor of American Samoa, saying that the Territory’s people enjoyed great constitutional freedoms.  They comprised up to 90 per cent of the population and owned 90 per cent of the Territory’s lands under the indigenous land-tenure system.  They did not consider themselves to be colonized, nor did they yearn for independence.  Yet, serious democratic deficiencies existed, he said, pointing out that American Samoa remained an unincorporated territory in which the population went without citizenship, the right to vote for United States presidents or the right for its delegate to vote in the United States Congress.  Those deficiencies were even more acute when considering the sons and daughters of American Samoa who had served in the United States Armed Forces and pledged an oath to support the United States Constitution.

He asked whether the notion of complete equality contained in the relevant General Assembly resolutions was in line with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Maintaining a distinct cultural community was a priority, as was preserving Samoan lands for Samoans.  Expressing concern about a constitutional interpretation that would allow outsiders an equal right to own land, he cautioned that that could undermine and eventually destroy Samoan culture.  The real danger was not equal protection, but a toxic mix of free-market profiteering, artificially altered demographics and legally sanctioned access, he warned.  To help answer questions about future prospects for decolonization, the Governor had established the Office of Political Status, Constitutional Review and Federal Relations in 2016, he said, adding that it had developed a set of principles.  Among them were clarifying Guam’s relationship with the United States, solidifying rights to land, marine resources and cultural heritage, and protecting the Territory’s internal self-governance.  “The process will be authentic only if it is in our hands,” he emphasized.  “It’s a struggle we cannot afford to lose as future generations depend on it.”

Mr. TERAI, French Polynesia, said cases from the Pacific region reflected different situations, noting that French Polynesia had decided, with the majority, to remain within the bosom of the French Republic.  He went on to highlight reports on the health and environmental impacts of French nuclear testing over 30 years and France’s response, which had opened to door to compensation for victims.  France had also addressed concerns about natural sources, he said, noting that French Polynesia would participate, alongside other States in the region, in the World Conference on Oceans, to be held at United Nations Headquarters in June.  French Polynesians had also taken part in the recent French presidential elections, he added.

Regarding other achievements, he said the Elysée Agreement, signed in March, addressed the impact of nuclear tests, adding that France would provide financial assistance for oncology services and offer compensation to victims.  He expressed astonishment at the General Assembly’s adoption of a 2011 decolonization resolution without consulting the population of French Polynesia, describing it as a self-governing territory that should not be on the Special Committee’s list.  France was not a colonial State, nor was French Polynesia a colony requiring decolonization, a position voiced by the majority of the population in various elections, he said, asking the Special Committee to remove French Polynesia from its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Ms. BLAS, Guam, said the Territory had been subjected to many mandates of the United States, but unfortunately, many of them were unfunded and beyond the population’s control, which had landed Guam in debt.  Exacerbating that problem was an earned income tax credit for the working poor that had reached a total of $65 million in 2016.  Health care was another concern that further affected debt, she said.  In fact, reimbursements from the United States had not met needs in immigration, education and other sectors, yet growth had risen despite those challenges.  Still, challenges went beyond the financial sphere, she said, noting that land transfers and housing were also concerns.

Self-determination efforts continued and a plebiscite was planned, she continued.  Yet, Guam was up for an enormous battle, following the administering Power’s recent court decision deeming the planned plebiscite unlawful and unconstitutional.  With 2020 three years away, Guam’s ability to realize self-governance was under threat, she warned.  However, outreach projects to spread education programmes on self-determination continued, and with regard to self-determination, “we have followed the rules”.

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* A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

For information media. Not an official record.