SAINT GEORGE'S, Grenada, 9 May — As the Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization opened today, participants called for renewed focus on supporting the Non-Self-Governing Territories to achieve the objectives laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, bearing in mind the need for greater collaboration in addressing the unique challenges faced by each Territory.
Walton Alfonso Webson (Antigua and Barbuda), Chair of the Special Committee on Decolonization, called attention to this this year’s theme: “Implementation of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism: towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in the Non-Self-Governing Territories: social, economic and environmental challenges”.
Following the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, he recalled, the Special Committee had engaged in fruitful discussions, stressing the importance of fostering the economic and social sustainable development of the Territories. He also recalled that in the concluding observations from the last Seminar, the Special Committee acknowledged that climate change had exposed many of the Territories to even greater environmental and economic vulnerability. Given the cross-cutting nature of the challenges confronting some Territories, efforts must be made for the continued strengthening of administrative capacity, good governance and economic sustainability, he said.
Carlyle Corbin, expert, told the Special Committee that the Sustainable Development Goals were constructs of the General Assembly, and for Non-Self-Governing Territories, the fundamental question remaining was how to interface with those United Nations mechanisms designed for independent States. The extent to which the Territories could realize the Goals was directly related to the extent to which the United Nations system could provide the political space for their engagement, which would require a better system of accountability for the implementation of United Nations resolutions on the issue, he said. Achieving the Goals would heighten the possibilities for further political advancement towards the full measure of self-government, he added.
Indonesia’s representative said it was essential to put in place a mechanism that would enable implementation of the Goals, and in that context, the Special Committee should undertake its discussions on the future development agenda in parallel with its decolonization efforts, bearing in mind the need for collaboration among all stakeholders under the principle of inclusiveness.
Papua New Guinea’s delegate noted that the Seminar’s theme was extremely timely and pertinent as countries sought to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. There were some 1.7 million peoples in the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories and their lives and livelihoods, human rights, dignity and natural resources were at stake, he emphasized.
The Seminar held four discussions throughout the day, addressing the following topics: the “role of the Special Committee in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in the Non-Self-Governing Territories towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”; “political developments and the Sustainable Development Goals in the Non-Self-Governing Territories” in the Caribbean and other regions; and the “role of the United Nations system in helping the Non-Self-Governing Territories to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.
During those discussions, experts and participants discussed ways to advance the gains made in the 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 respective administering Powers — France, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States.
In other business, the Seminar adopted its provisional agenda (document PRS/2018.CRP.1) and adopted its provisional programme of work (document PRS/2018/CRP.2/Rev.1), as orally revised. The Chair also appointed the representatives of Grenada and Côte d’Ivoire as Vice-Chairs, and the representative of Papua New Guinea as Rapporteur.
Organization of Seminar
At the outset, the representative of Morocco drew attention to the presence of two guests whose names did not appear on the list of speakers. The representative of Grenada said they guests should be seated with the other representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories, as was the longstanding practice.
WALTON ALFONSO WEBSON (Antigua and Barbuda), Special Committee Chair, recalled that the official list of participants would be produced at the end of the Seminar, and expressed his hope that everybody’s voice would be heard.
The representative of Cuba said he was unsure who was in the meeting and in what capacity they were participating.
The representative of Syria said he accepted the programme of work, but reserved his delegation’s position until the list of participants was made available for discussion.
The representative of Grenada noted that, as per the General Assembly’s decision, all participants must fall under a specific category and there was no “Other” category. Until the issue of the two participants was discussed, Grenada could not agree to adoption of the programme of work.
The representative of Timor-Leste expressed confusion about the category under which he the two participants fell.
The representatives of Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia said the issue should be resolved before the programme of work was adopted.
In light of the differing views, the Chair suggested that the Seminar adopt only the first part of the programme of work, thereby allowing proceedings to continue. He also proposed that the Bureau meet for further consultations.
The representative of Syria said the programme of work could be adopted as a separate document.
The delegate of Grenada, supported by the representative of Dominica, held that the piecemeal approach was not acceptable, and agreed with the Chair’s proposal that the Bureau meet. The delegates of Indonesia and Cuba also agreed to meet as a Bureau, although the representative of Grenada registered its objection to a joint Seminar Bureau and Special Committee Bureau meeting.
The representatives of Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea also spoke on the matter.
Upon resumption, and following interventions by the delegates of Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Dominica and Syria, the Chair expressed regret that no consensus had been reached and recommended moving forward on the first meeting, which would allow the substantive discussions to take place.
The representative of Grenada said her delegation was unable to support the Chair’s proposal, while the representative of Cuba suggested that the Chair suspend the meeting to allow informal consultations.
After suspending the meeting again to allow for further informal discussions, the Chair informed the Seminar that a compromise had been reached. The programme of work was subsequently adopted.
Mr. WEBSON, Chair of the Special Committee, recalled that following General Assembly resolution 70/1, whereby the Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Special Committee had engaged in fruitful discussions stressing the importance of fostering the economic and social sustainable development of the Territories. By its resolution 72/92 on the economic and other activities affecting the interests of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, the Assembly had further stressed the importance of inclusivity and inclusion. He recalled further that in the concluding observations from the last Seminar, held in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Special Committee took note of “a number of issues relating to the decolonization process during the Third Decade, including the impact of climate change”, especially in the Territories, and also acknowledged that climate change had exposed many of the Territories “to even greater environmental and economic vulnerability”. Participants also underlined that, given the cross-cutting nature of the challenges faced by some Territories, efforts must be made for the continued strengthening of administrative capacity, good governance and economic sustainability of the Territories.
PETER CLEGG, expert, said the ten United Kingdom Territories under the Special Committee’s purview were, to varying degrees, facing significant social, economic and environmental challenges, the likes of which had not been seen for at least a generation, perhaps longer. Those challenges highlighted certain vulnerabilities as a result of the Territories’ close ties to the United Kingdom and questions were increasingly being raised about that administering Power’s benevolence. The European Union had been a key trading partner for the Territories and in recent years their bonds had strengthened in several key aspects, including those related to trade, aid, free movement of citizens and policy dialogue. “None of the Territories were in favour of Brexit and, with the exception of Gibraltar, none had had a voice in the decision to leave the European Union,” he pointed out.
He went on to note that the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands had been extremely serious, and in the immediate aftermath, there had been criticism of the United Kingdom’s response, including in preparing for the storms and in providing humanitarian assistance afterwards. The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union had initiated a set of centrifugal forces in the relationship between the United Kingdom and its Territories, including their quest for new paths of influence and new opportunities to best secure their own development. “This is not at all to say that there will be a fundamental break in ties going forward,” he emphasized, but nevertheless, because of Brexit and the United Kingdom’s response to Hurricane Irma, among other factors, the Territories were exploring new options to advance their interests, which were, at the very least, pushing against the limits of their relations with the United Kingdom.
JOSEPH BOSSANO, Gibraltar, noted that, just as the United Kingdom had done, that Territory had joined the European Union in 1973, and would leave the bloc at the same time as the administering Power. He expressed concern that although the United Kingdom regularly told the Special Committee that its unique relations with its Territories meant they were no longer colonies, it continued to impose its will on them.
The representative of Indonesia stressed that it was essential to put in place a mechanism that would enable the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. In that context, the Special Committee should undertake its discussions on the future development agenda in parallel with its decolonization efforts, bearing in mind the need for collaboration among all stakeholders under the principle of inclusiveness. She went on to ask Mr. Clegg what he believed was the biggest challenge facing the Special Committee’s work.
The representative of Papua New Guinea said that the Seminar’s theme was extremely timely and pertinent as countries sought to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. There were 1.7 million peoples in the Non-Self-Governing Territories and their lives and livelihoods, human rights, dignity and natural resources were at stake. He suggested that the Special Committee request that the administering Powers provide specific information on implementation of the future development agenda in the Territories in the context of their obligations under Article 73 e of the United Nations Charter.
The representative of Sierra Leone said the Special Committee had a responsibility to look closely at the information provided and interface with the administering Power to ensure that the problems faced by the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories were addressed. Those problems were serious, but not insurmountable.
Mr. CLEGG said there was a great deal of variance when it came to the level of cooperation between the United Kingdom and its overseas Territories, yet new opportunities for greater collaboration were opening up as a result of the challenges faced by the administering Power and the Territories.
DONALDSON ROMEO, Premier of Montserrat, said “if there was a Territory to be decolonized, Montserrat is certainly one”. Economic dependency and colonialism worked very well together, and the Territory could not achieve its development goals if that type of dependency continued. The case of Montserrat was somewhat different from those of other Territories, where Brexit should not have a negative impact on the promised, critical aid needed to get Montserrat out of dependency. That was because Montserrat was eligible for official development assistance (ODA) and had “first call” on United Kingdom aid, as had been the case for 23 years after the eruptions of Mount Soufriere. Yet, due to delays and negotiations, Montserrat had not progressed significantly, he said.
Securing funding for the rebuilding of key infrastructure in Monserrat in a timely fashion would require an intervention by the Special Committee, he continued, underlining that the Territory and the United Kingdom needed a neutral partner to help move those negotiations forward. He recalled that the previous leader of Monserrat had appeared before the Special Committee to request that the Territory be removed from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, a request made with the purpose of gaining the United Kingdom’s favour, and without the knowledge or support of the people of Monserrat. He requested that the Special Committee visit the Territory.
WILMA REVERON COLLAZO, expert, said that Hurricanes Irma and Maria had devastated Puerto Rico from top to bottom in 2017, completely destroying the Territory’s electric infrastructure and leaving the majority of homes without power. Like other small island nations directly in the path of those storms, the devastation was catastrophic; yet the major difference between Puerto Rico and other small island nations in the Caribbean, was that those countries enjoyed full sovereignty, were able to receive aid and could take decisions on economic development policies, rather than being forced to wait and find out when, where and what type of aid would be received. Following those most recent hurricanes, it had taken three weeks for the response to the Puerto Rico disaster to get under way, although Cuba had made an immediate offer of aid. Regrettably, the United States had never responded to that offer.
She went on to note that thousands of Puerto Ricans had died as a consequence of the hurricanes, largely due to the lack of basic medical services in the immediate aftermath of the storms. The World Food Programme had been unable to provide resources to the Territory. A management board imposed by the United States had sought to recover a debt owed by Puerto Rico at a time when the Territory had not only been bankrupt, but also completely destroyed by the hurricanes. Recalling that a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) had warned that inhabitants of the Latin American and Caribbean region faced dire consequences due to the rising threat posed by climate-related disasters, she said the inaction, lack of commitment and deliberate foot-dragging by the administering Powers had inhibited Territories from putting the necessary public policies in place and taking other steps to ensure they could effectively withstand the negative fallout from climate-related events.
The representative of Cuba said that the Seminar had allowed participants to hear fresh information and receive first-hand impressions of the plight of those living in the Territories. What had been shared was not only unfortunate, but indeed harrowing. Cuba had not been permitted to provide aid to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and despite having been invited to the Seminar, the administering Powers were not present to provide their perspectives.
The Chair pointed out that there had been a clear call for greater communication between the Special Committee and administering Powers, and emphasized the need for greater engagement by the latter during future Seminars.
Mr. BOSSANO, Gibraltar, said he would continue to do everything in his power to prevent Gibraltar being handed over to a foreign Power, a proposition that would perpetuate colonialism and frustrate three decades of effort. Recalling Grenada’s quest for independence, he underlined that no one had suggested that its people, the descendants of slaves, had been “imported” by the colonial Power and therefore did not belong there, nor had such an argument prevailed in any liberation struggle against colonialism anywhere in the world, he said, adding that it seemed Spain continued to live in a past era in its attempt to deprive the people of Gibraltar of their homeland.
He went on to question why Spain would want to do away with the Tripartite Forum established in 2004 after having previously spoken about it in such glowing terms. That agreement was the only thing that had been successful in bringing the parties together and producing, he noted. Gibraltar had spent a great deal of money to ensure that it was in compliance with that deal, yet the new Government of Spain was attempting to manipulate the Brexit situation. The only solution going forward would be a tripartite structure with three voices and three vetoes, he emphasized. “Never again will there be bilateral negotiations between the United Kingdom and Spain and the imposition of the results on Gibraltar.”
ROGER EDWARDS, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), said the right of that Territory’s people to determine their own future was unequivocal. Falkland Islanders were British, living in an overseas Territory because they wished to do so, as demonstrated in the March 2013 referendum. “That result was unequivocal, but unfortunately, Argentina refuses to accept and recognize the result of that referendum,” he said. It had been argued that the islanders were not a “people” but an implanted British population put there to further Britain’s colonial aspirations, he recalled. Yet, a recent census clearly demonstrated that that was not the case because people from more than 60 ethnic background groups lived and worked peacefully together, having done so for the past 185 years.
He pointed out that the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) were now self-financing and had been so since the late 1980s, adding that they did not receive economic aid nor pay any taxes or levies to the United Kingdom. Britain had never relinquished its sovereignty claim and the islanders had freely demonstrated their wish to remain British. “We would be delighted to have a normal, friendly relationship with all our neighbours, to freely trade with, work with and discuss things of mutual benefit,” he emphasized. “Instead, we are not recognized or accepted as a people in our own right.”
SIDI MOHAMED OMAR ABDELLAHI, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario), said that he addressed the Special Committee as “the legitimate representative of the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territory of Western Sahara” and that the Seminar’s theme was particularly relevant given Morocco’s plundering of Western Sahara’s natural resources. The situation of Western Sahara as a Non-Self-Governing Territory was entirely compatible with international law, as Morocco continued to plunder its natural resources, often in complicity with third parties. Its people continued to be denied their legal rights, which was not a time-barred issue, nor should it be overtaken by the colonial realities being created by the “occupying Power”.
Emphasizing that the United Nations should assume its responsibility to Western Sahara’s people without further delay, he said it was high time for the Organization not just to “talk the talk but also, and more importantly, walk the talk”. He called upon the Special Committee to closely follow the situation on the ground and consider dispatching a visiting mission to the Territory, a request made on several previous occasions. Morocco had left no stone unturned in its efforts to undermine the self-determination of Western Sahara’s people and had resorted to manipulation, intimidation and war mongering, among other actions, he stressed.
MHAMED ABBA, expressing his gratitude to be invited and allowed “as an elected Sahraoui for the region to participate, for the first time, in this meeting”, said the local council in Western Sahara had implemented a number of projects, including one with an agricultural focus that would create many new jobs, while other projects aimed at promoting tourism and culture, among others. The council members presented reports containing details of such projects, thereby demonstrating the principles of good governance and accountability, he said, adding that the local council sought to double the local gross domestic product (GDP) and stimulate financial resources for the benefit of the local people.
The representative of Spain said her country’s position on Gibraltar was straightforward and simple — all must comply with the decisions of the United Nations. Since 1965, the General Assembly had referred to the question of Gibraltar on an annual basis, calling upon Spain and the United Kingdom to reach agreement on its decolonization. “Let’s be clear, this is about putting an end to a colonial situation,” she stressed.
LUIS VERNET, expert, said the applicability of the standards of self-determination and territorial integrity must consider the specific characteristics of the British colonial enterprise on the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). Recalling that the British had brought their own subjects to the islands, he emphasized that the issue should not be dealt with like other cases of decolonization. It was the people of Argentina who had suffered, having been expelled through military force and unable to return for some 200 years. The only civilized way to resolve the question was through bilateral dialogue between Argentina and the United Kingdom, he stressed.
The representative of Argentina said the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas remained the subject of an illegal occupation as a result of an act of force perpetuated by the United Kingdom. The issue was a sovereignty dispute recognized by the United Nations, he said, underlining that the General Assembly was crystal clear in its recognition of the situation as a special and particular case of decolonization.
The representative of Morocco said his country had made huge investments in Western Sahara in areas including public infrastructure and services. As a result, the Territory’s people currently enjoyed a higher level of human development than the national average. The Government of Morocco sought to foster a local economy that could turn Western Sahara into a crossroads for Africa and a hub of regional cooperation. Stressing that the people of Western Sahara should not be held hostage to political game-playing, he noted that they had elected their own local officials.
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire said the situation in the Non-Self-Governing Territories must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Commending the efforts of the United Nations system to support the holding of a referendum in Western Sahara to ensure that the relevant agreements were upheld, he expressed support for the initiative undertaken by Morocco, describing it as a good basis for finding a lasting solution.
The representative of Dominica said that the Moroccan autonomy initiative represented a serious and credible proposal to end the dispute involving Western Sahara.
The representative of Grenada voiced support for the political process undertaken by the Security Council since 2007 with the aim of finding a mutually-acceptable solution to the question of Western Sahara, adding that Morocco’s proposal represented a viable solution.
The representative of Cuba said the Secretary-General had undertaken admirable efforts to solve the political issue of Western Sahara, which could only be found in accordance with international law. Cuba supported the right of Western Sahara’s people to self-determination and urged compliance with the relevant United Nations resolutions.
The representative of Antigua and Barbuda underscored her delegation’s support for the United Nations political process on the question of Western Sahara.
The representative of Sierra Leone said his delegation would bring the issues cited by the representative of Montserrat to the attention of the administering Power at the first available opportunity. Regarding the issue of Western Sahara, Sierra Leone supported the ongoing process taking place within the Security Council.
The representative of Saint Lucia expressed support for Morocco’s efforts aimed at finding a fair resolution of the Western Sahara question.
The representative of Syria, emphasizing the importance of implementing General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, voiced support for the legitimate rights of Argentina on the issue of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), in accordance with the principle of territorial integrity.
The representative of Venezuela expressed her country’s support for and solidarity with the people of Western Sahara with regard to their right to self-determination and independence.
Mr. OMAR ABDELLAHI, responding to questions posed during the discussion, said that with regard to the political process, he hoped previous hindrances would now hopefully be removed so that the negotiations could restart. He reiterated the numerous urgent requests for a visiting mission to Western Sahara.
The representative of Papua New Guinea said his delegation was encouraged by the process under way in the Security Council on the question of Western Sahara, and supported efforts aimed at finding a solution through political dialogue.
The representative of Argentina, while referring to improved bilateral relations, expressed regret that the United Kingdom was pursuing unilateral actions, including the exploitation and exploration of non-renewable resources.
Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Nicaragua, Chile, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Timor-Leste and Algeria.
STEVEN O’MALLEY, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative in Barbados and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), noted that the United Nations was quite active in the Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories, including through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which had five main areas of work in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Following hurricanes Irma and Maria, UNICEF had deployed technical staff to provide in-country support for relief and recovery, he recalled. The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) had recently signed its first strategy for technical cooperation with the six United Kingdom Territories in the Caribbean, which would be in place until 2022, he said, noting that mental health would be the first priority of that strategy.
He went on to state that in 2017, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) had continued its technical support for the development of a sexual and reproductive health policy for Anguilla, while following Hurricane Irma, it had provided life-saving emergency sexual and reproductive health kits to the Ministry of Health in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) worked with the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla on issues related to gender, while several other United Nations agencies collaborated to reduce the effects of non-communicable diseases.
CARLYLE CORBIN, expert, said the Pacific and Caribbean regions had the most diverse governance models to be found anywhere in the world. Noting that the Sustainable Development Goals were constructs of the General Assembly, he said that for Non-Self-Governing Territories, the fundamental question remaining was how to interface with those United Nations mechanisms designed for independent States. Two regional commissions — ECLAC and the Economic and the Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) — were positive examples of agencies that maintained provisions for Non-Self-Governing Territories to enjoy associate membership, thereby allowing them to participate in the programmes and activities of regional organization.
He went on to say that the extent to which the Territories could realize the Sustainable Development Goals was directly related to the extent to which the United Nations system could provide the political space for their engagement, which would require a better system of accountability for implementation of United Nations resolutions on the issue. Achievement of the Goals would heighten the possibilities for further political advancement towards the full measure of self-government.
DALE ALEXANDER, Focal Point for the Associate Member Territories, ECLAC subregional headquarters for the Caribbean, said the 2017 hurricane season had been atypical, with two category five storms severely impacting the northern Caribbean. Eight months later, the Territories remained in various stages of recovery, still suffering from the impacts of those storms. Anguilla had suffered significant economic and environmental damage, which had resulted in major disruptions to its productive sectors, while the British Virgin Islands had also been devastated at an estimated cost of some $2.3 billion. There had been comparatively less damage in the Turks and Caicos Islands despite having been hit by both hurricanes. He noted that Anguilla had used the Commission’s assessment as a critical component of its documentation to guide discussions with the administering Power.
* 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).