The Special Committee on Decolonization opened its 2019 session today, electing Keisha Aniya McGuire (Grenada) as its chair and approving its tentative work programme and timetable.
Speaking at the meeting’s outset, Secretary-General António Guterres recalled that the dictatorship in Portugal, where he was born, came to an end thanks to the 1974 Carnation Revolution, while liberation movements in Angola and what was formerly Portuguese Guinea led to the independence of former Portuguese colonies.
Decolonization has transformed the United Nations membership, he said, propelling its growth from 51 original members to 193 today, and marking one of the most significant chapters of the Organization’s history. But, its story is still being written, as 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain. “Each deserves attention,” he said, as they still wait to attain self-government, in accordance with the United Nations Charter, the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and relevant United Nations resolutions.
He drew attention to “notable” movement on the question of New Caledonia, with a referendum held last November, in which New Caledonians expressed their will on the status of the Territory. Echoing the sentiments of Committee members participating in the meeting, he said this was an important step in the decolonization process. The cooperation of France, the administering Power, throughout the referendum process, in accordance with the 1998 Nouméa Accord, was commendable. For its part, the Committee assisted New Caledonia ahead of the referendum’s conduct, dispatching two visiting missions to the Territory.
More broadly, he said that, to achieve decolonization, the voices of peoples in the Territories must be heard. Cooperation with the administering Powers is equally vital, as peoples in the Territories must understand the options for their political status and right to choose their future freely. “Let us uphold our duty to assist all the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories in bringing their decolonization process to a successful conclusion, according to their choice,” he asserted.
Picking up that thread, Ms. McGuire said the Committee’s work has extraordinary significance for peoples around the world. “Only by us all working together — and joining our efforts — will we be able to drive the decolonization mandate forward.” She recalled the Committee’s mandate to seek suitable means for implementing General Assembly resolution 1514 (XX), which contains the declaration on decolonization, as well as other relevant resolutions, on a case-by-case basis.
In such work, it is essential to strengthen dialogue and cooperation with the administering Powers, the Territories and all stakeholders. “We are at a critical juncture,” she said, reminding delegates that there are less than two years until the end of the third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.
Raising a point of business, she said time is of the essence to determine a host for the 2019 Caribbean regional seminar, and she appealed to Caribbean Committee members to notify her by 8 March of their potential interest.
When the floor was opened, former Committee Chair Walton Alfonso Webson (Antigua and Barbuda) suggested following up on a proposal by the United Kingdom for the 2019 regional seminar to be hosted in one of its territories. The Decade cannot end without supporting the people whom the Committee is here to serve. Important questions hinged on how it has advanced the call for decolonization and he encouraged it to re-examine its approaches.
Detailing gains made, he said that, in January and February, the Committee met with three administering Powers and two stakeholders. With representatives of New Zealand, the Committee asked about Tuvalu’s self-determination and a programme to be carried out over four years aiming to improve the Territory’s public services, governance and environmental management. With representatives of the United Kingdom — which governs 10 of 17 Territories — discussions centred on visiting missions, the 2019 regional seminar, anti-money‑laundering acts, as well as the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, Gibraltar and Brexit.
Describing discussions with France on the New Caledonia referendum as “very fruitful”, he said that Argentina — in meetings with the Committee on the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) — requested that the Secretary-General use his good offices to address the matter. Discussions with Spain on Gibraltar addressed the question of Brexit, on which there is no clear position or answer.
He encouraged other administering Powers to accommodate such meetings and find space to participate in the Committee’s seminars. For its part, the Committee should “look within itself” — and at its own structures — to ensure it is firm in its decisions and ability to find solutions. “People in the Non‑Self‑Governing Territories depend on us,” he said.
In other business, the Special Committee — formally known 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 — elected three Vice‑Chairs: Ana Silvia Rodriguez Abascal (Cuba), Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia) and Francis Kai-Kai (Sierra Leone) — for its 2019 session, as well as Bashar Ja'afari (Syria) as Rapporteur.
Also speaking were representatives of Syria, Indonesia, Cuba, Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea, Iraq, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Timor-Leste and Tunisia.
The Special Committee will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.
* 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).