21 February 2020
Organizational Session, 1st Meeting (AM)

United Nations Support for Self-Determination Remains Source of Pride, Crucial Pillar, Says Secretary-General, as Special Committee Opens 2020 Session

United Nations support for the right to self-determination — while slower than it was at its historic peak in the twentieth century — remains both a source of pride for the Organization and a crucial pillar of its work going forward, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Special Committee on Decolonization today.

The Secretary-General was delivering opening remarks as the 24-member body — known formally as the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples — launched its 2020 session.  He said decolonization is one of the Organization’s most significant historical chapters, recalling that the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories stood at 72 in 1946.  Today, it is 17.

While that achievement is a source of pride, more work remains since the remaining 17 Territories are still waiting to realize the promise of self-government, he emphasized.  He recalled that Timor-Leste was the last Territory removed from the list, in 2002, saying:  “It is reasonable to ask:  has the decolonization agenda reached an impasse?”  The answer is no, he added, noting that the South Pacific Territory of New Caledonia will hold its second referendum on independence in September.

Outlining recent successes, he pointed out that an unprecedented number of participants from Non-Self-Governing Territories, administering Powers and other stakeholders attended the Special Committee’s regional seminar in 2019.  In addition, a Special Committee delegation visited the Territory of Montserrat to gather first-hand information on its political and socioeconomic situation.

He went on to emphasize that decolonization is a process that must be guided by the aspirations and needs of the communities living in the Non-Self-Governing Territories, who face very real and pressing challenges.  Many of the Territories are small islands on the front lines of climate change, facing devastating natural disasters or struggling to build sustainable and self-sufficient economies, he said, pledging to work alongside the Special Committee “as you make another push to eradicate colonialism once and for all”.

Newly-elected Chair Keisha McGuire (Grenada) also delivered remarks, agreeing that decolonization is still in progress.  Against the backdrop of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations and the impending close of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, she said, the Special Committee’s members must push forward the four priorities of her chairmanship:  promoting the Special Committee’s mandate, collaboration, pragmatism, and agility.

“But we need to move faster,” she emphasized, calling upon Member States to accelerate the recent momentum.  Recalling that the Special Committee’s 2019 visit to Montserrat was carried out through a creative mix of funding sources in light of the liquidity crisis plaguing the United Nations, she said visiting missions are among the body’s most valuable tools.

Several speakers — including the representatives of Nicaragua, Cuba, Sierra Leone, Venezuela, Iraq and the Russian Federation — extended congratulations to the Chair upon her election and pledged their cooperation, while underlining the need to stay focused on the Special Committee’s core mandate.

Indonesia’s representative echoed those sentiments, while urging the Special Committee to strengthen its engagement with administering Powers.  Constructive relationships with all stakeholders are crucial, he added, calling for the use of both bilateral and multilateral forums to find common ground.

Fiji’s representative, speaking also for Papua New Guinea, was among members who spotlighted the upcoming self-determination referendum in New Caledonia — describing it as a matter of “unfinished business” before the Special Committee — while urging Member States to lend their unwavering support.

At the outset, Special Committee members elected their Bureau by acclamation, picking Ms. McGuire (Grenada) as Chair; Ana Silvia Rodriguez Abascal (Cuba), Alie Kabba (Sierra Leone) and Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia) as Vice-Chairs; and Bashar Ja’afari (Syria) as Rapporteur.

Members also approved a document titled “Organization of work: relevant resolutions and decisions of the General Assembly” (document A/SC/109/2020/L.1) and tentatively approved the session’s organization of work (document A/AC.109/2020/L.2), with the understanding that it may be revised at a later date.  They also approved an offer by the delegation of Indonesia to host the Special Committee’s Pacific Regional Seminar from 5 to 7 May 2020, as well as the Seminar’s guidelines and rules of procedure (document A/AC.109/2020/19).

Other procedural matters addressed today included the composition of the Special Committee; costs of travel and preparations for the Pacific Regional Seminar; extension of invitations to experts and organizations; and invitations for representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The Special Committee will reconvene on 13 March to begin its substantive work.

For information media. Not an official record.