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(Received from a UN Information Officer)

CANOUAN ISLAND, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, 17 May -- The year 2005 was a significant historical benchmark in the decolonization process, as it marked the convergence of the Millennium Declaration’s mid-term review and the five-year review of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, Julian Hunte (Saint Lucia), Chairman of the Special Committee on Decolonization, said today.

In his opening address to the 2005 Caribbean Regional Seminar, he noted that the important pronouncements of the Millennium Declaration review included the international community’s re-dedication to the right of self-determination, while that of the review of the Second International Decade was designed to assess the state-of-play in decolonization.  A “Canouan Consensus” should offer important insights for implementation of the road map on self-determination.

He said the Millennium Declaration and the two International Decades had been preceded by a long legislative authority for the realization of decolonization -- a series of resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and Economic and Social Council.  Significant mandates were contained in various human rights conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Arising from that extensive mandate, he said, was the consistent reaffirmation by all United Nations Member States to develop political education programmes in the Non-Self-Governing Territories on the options of political equality, to provide assistance to the Territories from United Nations agencies, to conduct visiting missions, to make operational the human rights dimension of self-determination, and to promote the repatriation of natural resources to the Territories.  The Special Committee was aware of the General Assembly’s annual reaffirmation for a transfer of powers to the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, consistent with sustained requests for such devolution of power resonating in many of those Territories.  Forward-thinking recommendations had been advanced by their peoples, including for the enhancement of the role of such United Nations bodies as the Electoral Assistance Division, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the regional commissions and specialized agencies in supporting their political and socio-economic advancement.

He said the Special Committee was further mindful of the measures called for in the plans of action of the two International Decades, especially the essential research and analysis on the situation in the individual Territories that was crucial to bridging the information deficit on decolonization.  However, that issue was very much unresolved precisely because implementation of the decolonization mandate had been woefully inadequate.  Unless the second half of the present decade concentrated on implementation, the Special Committee would continue in a never-ending spiral of inaction.

However, he stressed, the Special Committee did not intend to be a party to a process of inaction, with the adoption of resolutions as its only goal, but rather to accelerate efforts to expand its engagement with the wider United Nations system and other relevant bodies.  UNDP’s role in supporting the constitutional reform process in Anguilla several years ago, and its present assistance to the United Nations Special Mission to Bermuda were important demonstrations of the role that Programme could play in modernizing governance models in the remaining Territories.  On the Pacific side, discussions on UNDP assistance to New Zealand-administered Tokelau, as it proceeded towards free association, was another promising development.

The goal in Canouan was to ascertain the steps needed to advance the decolonization process, he said.  Hopefully, the 2005 Seminar would heighten the awareness of Member States on the complexities of the situation in the individual Territories and enhance the knowledge base of their representatives on the statutory role of the wider United Nations system in facilitating the attainment of absolute political equality.  Hopefully the Seminar would be able to elaborate the importance of the minimum standards of absolute political equality set forth in the legitimate political status options of integration, free association or independence.

Opening the Seminar on behalf of the host Government, Michael Browne, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Commerce and Trade, noted that the creation of the first International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was to have initiated a programme of action for the final phase of the decolonization process, with equal attention being placed on free association and integration alongside independence, as the three legitimate political status options.  Unfortunately, that Decade had not reduced the ranks of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, largely due to the lack of political will and administrative competency in implementing the decolonization mandate.

He said it was important to remain flexible on the parameters of self-government, while also remaining true to those principles that ensured that a full measure of self-government was achieved in the remaining Territories.  Just because most of the remaining 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories were small islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific did not mean that the principle of political equality should not continue to apply to them, a perspective that had been a consistent theme throughout the regional seminars.  While the decolonization process was not yet complete, it had taken on a new and complex dimension in the present era of accelerating globalization, which required innovative strategies to meet the target of full decolonisation by the end of the present decade.

Caribbean countries took seriously their responsibility of fostering self-determination and decolonization, especially in neighbouring countries that were part and parcel of the Caribbean civilization, but which had not yet achieved full self-determination, he emphasized.  That was especially critical in the Eastern Caribbean since some of the smallest Territories were regarded as integral to the region’s social and economic fabric.  All six independent member countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) were members of the Special Committee.

Noting that Caribbean Governments had provided important mechanisms for the integration of many Non-Self-Governing Territories into the region’s institutions, he said five of them were associate members of the OECS and one was a full member.  Similarly, five of the Territories were associate members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), while one was a full member.  Further, two of the Territories under the Special Committee’s review shared the common East Caribbean currency.  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines viewed the continued and expanded partnership of those Territories in regional institutions as a natural part of the Caribbean regional integration process and the relevant General Assembly resolutions made specific reference to the role of CARICOM and the Pacific Islands Forum in the development of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, in a message read out by Maria Maldonado, Chief of the Decolonization Unit, Department of Political Affairs, that the Seminar provided a valuable opportunity to take stock of the progress made in decolonization, and to formulate strategies to eradicate colonialism before the end of the present decade.  The successes of the United Nations in decolonization should inspire and encourage efforts to ensure that the people of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories could exercise their right to self-determination and, towards that end, it was essential that they understand the options regarding their political status and their right to choose their future freely.

It was also important that the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories be aware of the United Nations activities and assistance programmes available to them, he said.  As it had been seen in the case of Tokelau, cooperation on the part of all concerned was vital, especially the administering Powers.  The Secretariat would continue to support the Committee’s efforts and stood ready to help develop decolonization plans on a case-by-case basis with the participation of the representatives of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

In other business on the opening day, the Seminar elected three Vice-Chairs:  Birhanemeskel Abebe (Ethiopia), Albert Sitnikov (Russian Federation) and Crispin Gregoire (Dominica).  Orlando Requeijo Gual (Cuba) was elected Rapporteur and Chairman of the Drafting Group.

The Seminar then took up the mid-term assessment of progress in implementing the plan of action of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, and assessment of progress in individual Non-Self-Governing Territory in achieving sustainable political, social and economic development.

On that question, the Seminar heard from various experts and representatives from the United States Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Western Sahara, Saint Helena, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Gibraltar and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Among Member States making statements, the representatives of Morocco, Algeria, Cuba and Papua New Guinea all addressed the specific question of Western Sahara, which dominated much of the afternoon’s discussion.

The Seminar will meet again at 9 a.m. tomorrow, Wednesday 18 May, when it is expected to continue its assessment of progress in individual Non-Self-Governing Territories in sustainable political, social and economic development.

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For information media. Not an official record.