Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Special Committee on Decolonization organizational meeting, in New York today:
It is an honour, in my capacity as President pro tempore, to open the 2017 session of the Special Committee. As this is the first time I address this body, let me express from the outset my sincere commitment to the decolonization agenda, one of the defining mandates of the United Nations.
Allow me a very emotional, personal comment. I am Portuguese. I was born and I lived my youth during the Salazar dictatorship. The Salazar dictatorship oppressed my country, and simultaneously oppressed the countries and the peoples — our sister peoples — in Africa and in Asia with a completely absurd colonial policy that Salazar intended to make last forever, forcing a bloody and terrible war to the peoples of Angola and Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau. That has created a strong bond between the Portuguese democrats and many of my friends and comrades at the time have been arrested, have been tortured or living in exile, and the liberation movements in Angola, in Mozambique, and in Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde.
It is clear to me that the Carnation Revolution that allowed democracy to be re-established in Portugal was possible thanks to the fact that the Portuguese army became tired of fighting a bloody war without a political solution and finally decided that it was time to reverse the dictatorship. Democracy became possible in Portugal, and decolonization finally — so late, but finally — came to bring freedom to the countries and to the peoples of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Cabo Verde, and later, in the complexity of the situation, to Timor-Leste, and of course, with the very successful transition of administration of Macau to China.
So, I followed, when I was young, the work of this Committee, hopeful as all Portuguese democrats and all members of the liberation movement, and I also witnessed the propaganda of the Salazar regime against this Committee that was, I would say, common in the Portuguese media at that time. So, you can imagine how I feel to be here today as Secretary-General of the United Nations, and President pro tempore of this Committee that is so strongly linked to my dreams and to my struggles of my youth and to the fraternity that linked my generation of democratic-minded Portuguese to the liberation movements of several of the countries that have contributed so essentially for Portuguese democracy to be established.
When the Special Committee was established in 1962, the United Nations had 110 Member States. Today, there are 193 and most of the new States were former colonies. The Special Committee has played a vital role in that process, faithfully discharging its General Assembly mandate. Despite this significant progress, 17 Territories remain Non-Self-Governing Territories. We want to reaffirm the commitment of this Special Committee to assist each Territory in finding an appropriate format and timing for the completion of its decolonization process, taking into account the Territory’s particular circumstances. Achieving that goal requires proactive and sustained engagement by all parties involved — the administering Powers, the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, the United Nations and other stakeholders.
I commend the work of the Special Committee, and am encouraged by the resumption of informal consultations with the administering Powers and other stakeholders. I trust that the Special Committee will continue to advance the United Nations decolonization mandate. I can assure you that the Secretariat will continue to support your work in the year ahead. I wish you every success in the 2017 session as you continue striving to bring this important work to a conclusion.