Ensuring Non-Self-Governing Territories Can Address Challenges Key to Moving Decolonization Efforts Forward, Secretary-General Tells Regional Seminar

GA/COL/3320
10 May 2018
Pacific Regional Seminar, AM & PM Meetings

Ensuring Non-Self-Governing Territories Can Address Challenges Key to Moving Decolonization Efforts Forward, Secretary-General Tells Regional Seminar

SAINT GEORGES, Grenada, 10 May — Noting that “decolonization is still incomplete”, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told the 2018 Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization today that ensuring the Non-Self-Governing Territories were able to address a host of economic, social and environmental challenges would be the key to moving forward in their decolonization efforts.

In a message delivered by Josiane Ambiehl, Chief of the Decolonization Unit in the Department of Political Affairs, the Secretary-General noted that the Seminar’s particular focus on the Sustainable Development Goals in the context of the Non-Self-Governing Territories was especially timely.

He continued:  “This Regional Seminar is an opportunity to examine the situations in the remaining 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories from the political perspective and to consider the socioeconomic, environmental and cultural challenges that are relevant for the completion of the respective decolonization processes.”

The Goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were a blueprint for a common future of peace and prosperity, he said, emphasizing that “for the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories facing the challenges of climate change, access to health care, diversification of economies, conservation of marine resources and scarcity of drinking water, implementing the Agenda is of particular importance”.

Peter David, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Labour of Grenada, said that the decolonization of the remaining Territories was “unfinished business” for the United Nations and remained integral to all regional integration processes.  The 2018 theme for the Seminar was highly relevant and the event could influence the future course of the decolonization process, he added.

Grenada attached great significance to the work of the Special Committee on Decolonization, he continued, pointing out that the country had itself travelled along the decolonization path.  The eradication of colonialism must remain high on the United Nations agenda, bearing in mind the principles enshrined in the Organization’s Charter.

At the start of the decolonization process, almost a third of the world lived in colonies, but since that time, more than 80 colonies had gained independence, he stated.  Yet, there were still 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories, most of them in the Caribbean.

He went on to caution that the unilateral imposition of policies could have serious effects on the sustainable development aspirations of those Territories and impede their capacity to achieve the Goals.  Non-Self-Governing Territories remained vulnerable to natural disasters, including hurricanes and cyclones, he said, recalling the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. 

WALTON ALFONSO WEBSON (Antigua and Barbuda), Chair of the Special Committee on Decolonization, said that the Seminar provided a good opportunity to reflect on the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories, beginning on 25 May each year.  “This observance strengthens our commitment and resolve to strike down colonialism in all its aspects and take forward the decolonization process with a result-oriented vision.”

The Seminar held several discussions throughout the day, one of which focused on “short- and medium-term objectives for advancing decolonization: strategies and actions for the Special Committee”.  Another addressed “political developments and the Sustainable Development Goals in the Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Pacific region”.  Participants also discussed the Seminar’s recommendations.

Organized by the Special Committee, the Regional Seminars have been held annually since 1990.  The Special Committee’s list of Non-Self-Governing Territories comprises 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.  Their respective administering Powers are France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Seminar will reconvene on Friday, 11 May to conclude its work.

Discussion on Objectives for Advancing Decolonization

SERGEI CHERNIAVSKY, expert, noted that the Special Committee exercised full control over the admission of new members, and cautioned that enlarging the membership could compromise the consensus decision-making that it enjoyed.  Given the Special Committee’s past experience, it may wish to consider re-establishing small ad hoc working groups.  Furthermore, the Chair of the Special Committee may wish to enter into negotiations with the administering Powers regarding possible visiting missions to American Samoa and Pitcairn.  He also suggested that the Special Committee may wish to re-establish its working group on methods of work.

WILMA REVERON COLLAZO, expert, noted that the issue of Puerto Rico was discussed every year and the Special Committee passed dozens of related resolutions.  She went on to highlight the extremely large number of Puerto Ricans living under colonialism, underscoring the importance of the issue.

Mr. CHERNIAVSKY noted that the Special Committee was still in the exploratory stage in with regard to the special case of Puerto Rico.

SIDI MOHAMED OMAR ABDELLAHI, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario), emphasized that his organization’s status as the sole legitimate representative of Western Sahara had never been at issue in the Special Committee or any other body.

The representative of Indonesia requested further information about the Special Committee’s subsidiary bodies that had existed in the past.

The representative of Algeria said the challenge was political will rather than the Special Committee’s methods of work, citing the Secretary-General’s emphasis on the need to make headway on the body’s mandate.

Mr. CHERNIAVSKY said that although the Special Committee was a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, it was in fact the “master of its own procedure”.

The representative of Syria pointed out that for many years, the people of Puerto Rico had sought the right to self-determination, a right guaranteed by General Assembly resolutions, including the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

The representative of Papua New Guinea said that in order for the Special Committee to deliver on its mandate, the primary question was: “Why have we not succeeded after many years”?  Members of the Special Committee should seek ways to more effectively carry out its mandate, he stressed.

ELEASALO VAALELE ALE, American Samoa, said the fact that the United Nations referred to them as Non-Self-Governing Territories did not mean they were not governments, nor that they were peoples with neither country or pride.  There was no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the issue of decolonization.

The representative of Cuba said that after more than 30 years of effort, Puerto Rico was still not able to exercise its legitimate right to self-determination and remained cut off from all economic, social and political opportunities for development.  The Territory’s situation had gone “from bad to worse”.  Recalling Hurricane Ivan, which had hit Grenada before it last hosted the Seminar, he emphasized that there was no denying that climate change was having serious detrimental effects.

CARLYLE CORBIN, expert, responding to the question posed by the representative of Indonesia, said that historically there had been subsidiary bodies of the Special Committee, including one related to the small island Territories.

JOSEPH BOSSANO, Gibraltar, said the priority of the Regional Seminars should be the exchange of information, and urged the Special Committee to provide a fixed block of time for the contributions of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The representative of Venezuela said that the people of Puerto Rico were victims of a long-running scheme of colonial domination.  She also called upon Argentina and the United Kingdom to enter into negotiations on the dispute involving sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas.

The representative of Sierra Leone said the Special Committee was not challenged by a lack of recommendations, but rather their implementation, adding that there must be an improvement in the meetings conducted with the administering Powers.

Mr. CHERNIAVSKY recalled that in the past, interactions with administering Powers were primarily about visiting missions.

Also speaking were the representatives of Cuba, Algeria and Syria.

Discussion on Recommendations

Mr. BOSSANO, Gibraltar, underlined the need to consider the results obtained in Tokelau, where the administering Power’s proposals were exemplary.  The Territory required “no further work” other than for the people to express their wishes, he noted.

Also delivering statements were Mr. Corbin, Mr. Cherniavsky and the representative of Algeria.

Discussion on Political Developments and the Sustainable Development Goals

Mr. ALE, American Samoa, said the people of that Territory were generally happy about the relationship with the United States, adding that the union could be described as “strong and healthy”.  That relationship had yielded countless benefits for the people, particularly the protection of indigenous rights.  The culture of Samoa could not exist without land, he pointed out, emphasizing that the protection of that land and ensuring it stayed with the native people and communal family ensured that the culture of American Samoa would survive in the future.  Nevertheless, American Samoa’s unique status and relationship with the United States was not without challenges, he said, noting that it was exposed to a government structure that existed at the pleasure of the executive branch.

He went on to state that the Governor had established the Office of Political Status, Constitutional Review and Federal Relations, which had been funded by the Government of the United States for two years.  American Samoans considered themselves proud and loyal Americans and had been part of the American family for well over 100 years, he noted.  Many of the solutions to the challenges facing the relationship between the Territory and the administering Power could be found within the confines of the political and judicial systems of the United States, with a “soft push” from the international community from time to time.

AMANDA BLAS, Guam, said the Territory was still plagued by unfunded federal mandates meant to help states and Territories meet the goals of the United States Government, such as the earned income tax credit and the Compact of Free Association.  The territorial government was still appealing a federal court ruling that had found Guam’s self-determination plebiscite to be unconstitutional, she noted.  Guam had made strides towards decolonization since the 2017 Seminar, she said, recalling that in August that year, the Governor had sent a letter to the Chair of the Special Committee inviting a visiting mission to the Territory, something that had not happened since the 1970s.  The visiting mission would shed new light on Guam’s pursuit of self-determination and acknowledge the new challenges it faced when it came to decolonization. 

In October 2017, Guam’s largest delegation had appeared before the General Assembly’s Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), she recalled, adding that the Assembly’s adoption of a resolution concerning Guam in December called upon the administering Power to take into consideration the expressed will of the native inhabitants, a major milestone in the Territory’s quest for self-determination.  “Despite the challenges we face, the burden we bear and the obstacles we encounter, Guam will continue to move forward in pursuing its self-determination,” she declared.

ENGEL RAYGADAS, French Polynesia, said there was a legitimate and acceptable status for small islands that were less than fully independent, “and yet, this does not mean that we are colonies”.  Many on the Special Committee’s list enjoyed full internal autonomy far beyond the status of many other non-listed cases.  Since its accession to the Pacific Islands Forum, French Polynesia had worked towards stronger regional integration and was committed to the Forum’s strategic vision, he said, adding that it was through that regional framework that French Polynesia’s awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals had been raised.

He said there had been a political divide in French Polynesia for some 40 years, between those supporting broad autonomy within the French Republic and the pro-independence party, adding that last Sunday, the Territory had held its general election for representatives of the Assembly of French Polynesia.  French Polynesia was “fully future-focused”, with both feet in the twenty-first century, and would like to see some evolution in the way in which the Special Committee its particular situation, he said.

The representative of Cuba noted that the issue of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) had been on the Special Committee’s agenda for many years, and support for Argentina in that sovereignty dispute had been expressed at the very highest levels of Government.  He went on to call for a fair, negotiated solution to the issue as soon as possible.

The representative of the Melanesian Spearhead Group described that entity as a subregional organization in the Pacific consisting mainly of Melanesian countries.  During a summit earlier in the year, the Group had pledged to support the people of New Caledonia by providing scholarships allowing students to undertake university studies in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, as well as to seek work opportunities in Melanesian countries.  Furthermore, a recent high-level dialogue had focused on biodiversity, climate change and development, he added.

ROGER EDWARDS, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), said it was totally wrong that claims concerning sovereignty issues were being raised in the Special Committee, which had no responsibility to the United Kingdom or to Argentina, but only to the Territory’s people.

Mr. BOSSANO, Gibraltar, stressed that the Special Committee’s most important function was to protect the people by ensuring they were not manipulated by greater Powers.

The representative of Sierra Leone said that the representative of the Melanesian Spearhead Group had brought up some very important discussion points, and recalled the visiting mission to New Caledonia undertaken in 2014.

The representative of Cuba expressed regret that a representative of New Caledonia was not in attendance so the Special Committee could receive an update on the progress made there since the visiting mission in 2014.  Referring to the most recent visiting mission to the Territory, in March, he noted that 50 per cent of the population lacked full access to education, which had important implications, particularly for young people.  He went on to stress the importance of making full and unbiased information available to the population in preparation for the upcoming referendum.

The representative of Papua New Guinea questioned how the Special Committee could help to ensure that the people of the Territories could be owners and drivers of the Sustainable Development Goals.  One of the main ways to achieve that objective would be to build the people’s capacities, he said.

The representative of Indonesia said that, as a member of the visiting mission, she had been encouraged to see the efforts undertaken to implement the Nouméa Accord and to prepare for the upcoming referendum.  She stressed that consultations with the administering Powers should continue.

Mr. RAYGADAS, French Polynesia, said the Territory had developed indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals within the framework of the Pacific Island Forum, and asked what Special Committee members intended to do in support of the Non-Self-Governing Territories’ pursuit of the Goals.

Discussion on Recommendations

Mr. BOSSANO, Gibraltar, noted that a reference to Gibraltar in a past report was inaccurate and needed amendment.

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda said that, as a nation that had overcome the challenges of colonialism, her country stood in solidarity with its brothers and sisters, near and far, in overcoming the scourge of colonialism.  Recalling the presentation by the Premier of Monserrat, she expressed hope that his concerns would be fully reflected in the Seminar’s report, and suggested that the Special Committee undertake a visiting mission to that Territory.

The representative of Argentina expressed his country’s willingness to resume negotiations with the United Kingdom on the question of the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas.

Mr. RAYGADAS, French Polynesia, requesting a copy of a report mentioned in the 2017 General Assembly resolution on French Polynesia, said there was a general sense of attachment to France across the Territory, as demonstrated in the most recent elections, in which the majority of the people had expressed support for autonomy rather than independence.

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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.