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Caribbean Regional on Decolonization Concludes Work with Discussion on Priorities for Way Forward, Role of Special Committee

14 May 2009
General AssemblyGA/COL/3190
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York





Calls Heard for Additional International Decade as Time Runs out on Key Goals

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS, 14 May -- At the conclusion of its three-day review of the challenges and opportunities associated with the decolonization process today, participants of the 2009 Caribbean regional seminar on decolonization exchanged views on the impact of the event and considered the way forward in promoting the goals of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010).

The event was the last Caribbean seminar conducted by the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples -- also known as the Special Committee of 24 -- in the framework of the Second International Decade.

In his closing statement, the Special Committee Chairperson, Marty M. Natalegawa ( Indonesia) noted that “good, constructive discussions” had been held during the seminar.  Representatives of territorial Governments, administering Powers and other Member States, experts and civil society had made valuable contributions on how to move decolonization forward in the context of a changing world.  The seminar had discussed various emerging challenges, which could affect the Non-Self-Governing Territories on their path towards decolonization, as well as opportunities that might be available in responding to them.  The issues addressed included the impact of climate change, the global economic and financial crisis, the role of regional cooperation, education and public awareness, as well as the role of women, the empowerment of vulnerable people and the capacity for full self-government towards self-determination.

He stressed the value of comparative analysis in fostering a better understanding of decolonization and status-related issues, and highlighted political maturity, economic sustainability, enhanced administrative capacity and strengthened regional cooperation among the elements that Non-Self-Governing Territories needed in responding to the challenges of today.  Due to the cross-cutting nature of those challenges, it was important to approach those elements in a holistic and mutually reinforcing manner.  In response to climate change, which had exposed the vulnerability of many Non-Self-Governing Territories, regional cooperation could play a crucial role in the field of disaster preparedness, for example.

That in turn might also contribute to enhancing the capacity of the Non-Self-Governing Territories for full self-government, he said.  Indeed, regional cooperation and regional arrangements offered important opportunities for many Non-Self-Governing Territories.  They contributed to the development of a strong regional identity and strengthened concrete functional cooperation in various areas of mutual interest.  An important role in that regard was played by the United Nations regional commissions, such as the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and bodies like the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), as well as various United Nations specialized agencies.

The global economic crisis had further highlighted the importance of economic sustainability and diversification of the economic base in the Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said.  Relevant territorial Governments and administering Powers might approach that by stepping up attention to community-based development, including the development of small and medium enterprises, promotion of micro-financing and employment-generating activities, and the empowerment of vulnerable groups.  Education and public outreach were also crucial for decolonization.  It was particularly relevant to enable the people concerned to make informed decisions regarding their future political status.  In that context, various deliberations on decolonization and status-related exercises in the Territories should connect, in a meaningful way, to the reality on the ground and the people concerned.

The seminar had recognized the important role of women in the decolonization process, he said, adding that gender equality contributed significantly to good governance and enhanced the capacity for self-governance through equal rights for all.  Participants had held an extensive exchange of views on the status-related and constitution exercises in various Territories -- delicate matters requiring a meeting of certain expectations, as well as a transparent, accountable, inclusive and participatory approach that involved the people concerned.  They needed to be in line with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, as well as the Organization’s resolutions and decisions on decolonization.  They needed to adhere to human rights standards and the principles of good governance and democracy, while building upon the identity, cultural norms and local values of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Again, education and public outreach could be crucial in that regard.

There had also been a frank exchange of views about how the Special Committee could enhance its capacity to better understand the situation in each Non-Self-Governing Territory, he continued.  It was necessary to look into ways to better assess the current stage of decolonization and self-determination in each Territory and what remained to be done.  It was necessary, among other things, to look more thoroughly into how to put the United Nations decolonization mandate into practice and to continue working towards the possibility of sending visiting missions to the Territories.  Enhanced interaction and cooperation between the Special Committee and the administering Powers remained crucial.  It might be useful in that context to explore the possibility of creating frameworks for talks involving the Territories, the administering Powers and the Special Committee.

“We had valuable discussions on the way forward,” he said, noting that the underlying principle for the way forward was how to enhance the Special Committee’s relevance to the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Indeed, that was also the main purpose of the seminar.  “This is not the end.”  Participating members would need to provide the Special Committee with their conclusions and recommendations.

At the conclusion of the event, the seminar adopted a draft resolution expressing appreciation to the Government and people of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

In his closing statement on behalf of the host country, Delano Frank Bart, Permanent Representative of Saint Kitts and Nevis to the United Nations, characterized the seminar as “the penultimate event” in the course of the Decade.  “You have grappled with the myriad issues, which directly or indirectly affect the process of decolonization, especially in the small island Territories, which constitute the majority of the 16 Territories formally listed by the United Nations.”  The theme “Challenges and opportunities in the process of decolonization in today’s world” had indeed showcased many pertinent issues facing the Special Committee, the Non-Self-Governing Territories, the administering Powers and the international community as a whole.

He said the debate had been emotional at times, and it was clear that the deliberations had been wide-ranging and intense, but that underscored the importance of the Special Committee and the seminars.  The fusion of ideas emanating from the seminar would provide for greater understanding of the issues involved and foster greater cooperation among all the parties concerned.  It was clear that the process of self-determination leading to decolonization had become increasingly complex, requiring creative and innovative solutions.

Many new ideas were reflected in the expert papers presented this week and further refined through the participants’ reflections, he said.  What should be taken away from the seminar was that the international community needed to work together and remain engaged in “the affairs of our fellow man, whatever their political reality”.  The presentations by elected territorial leaders had provided special insights in respect of the situation on the ground and prospects for the way forward.  The deliberations had been enhanced further by the insights of Member States and other members of the Special Committee with a special interest.

The tenor of overall discussions suggested a gathering of momentum to take a collective qualitative leap forward, he said.  Over the previous 18 months, the energy, food and financial crises had manifested themselves, and in the next few weeks the United Nations would hold a meeting at the highest level to address the financial crisis.  At that and all future meetings, the concerns of Non-Self-Governing Territories should remain in the international community’s collective consciousness.  The Territories had been hit as hard as most countries, if not more, but their concerns were often marginalized.  “Our role is to ensure that all needs are met, especially the needs of those of us who are not governing themselves.”

Highlighting the impact of climate change, he said that, of the 16 Territories under the Special Committee’s mandate, the majority were islands.  Therefore, the concerns of small island developing States within the United Nations system were also the concerns of those Territories.  They were among the most vulnerable and needed to be aware of the commitment of the international community to stand by them and “weather the storm together”.

Recalling that his country had recently celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary of independence, he said Saint Kitts and Nevis remembered the concerns of the pre-independence period.  One needed the goodwill of all parties to resolve such issues, and the participants should, therefore, take away with them a determination to ensure that the day would come in the not-too-distant future, when the Special Committee’s work would bear fruit, and that the solutions found would be in the best interests of all concerned.

Presenting the draft report of the seminar, Rapporteur Albert V. Sitnikov ( Russian Federation) said that the document would include a narrative portion describing the organization and proceedings of the event, and participating members of the Special Committee would provide it with their conclusions and recommendations.  That part of the draft had previously been formulated by a drafting group in closed meetings during the seminar.  However, that had not always been productive due to time constraints, for example, and the report had generally been finalized back in New York.  On 3 April 2009, the Special Committee had revised the rules of procedure for the seminar and it would no longer have a drafting group.  Instead, the conclusions and recommendations would be considered and finalized in New York by participating members.

Way Forward

At the outset of today’s meeting, participants focused on the way forward, considering priorities for the remainder of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

Addressing the Special Committee’s future work, several speakers recommended setting up a clear “checklist” of Non-Self-Governing Territories’ accomplishments to measure their progress along the path to decolonization.  It had been proposed that the Special Committee undertake a more interactive approach in gathering information about the situation in each Non-Self-Governing Territory, engaging more actively with the administering Powers.  That point was echoed by one speaker, who called for a more robust programme of work with the administering Powers, so as to advance self-determination, highlighting also the need to promote the Territories’ involvement with regional organizations.  With only two agencies of the United Nations system attending the seminar, the Special Committee should seek their increased involvement in such events.  The resolutions adopted each year should be more action-oriented.

Several participants emphasized the importance of education and dissemination of information, with one speaker stressing: “You cannot insist on your rights, unless you understand them.”  Decisions on self-determination must be based on full information, and the Special Committee needed to pay particular attention to that.  Another participant added, however, that education was not the responsibility of the Special Committee alone; regional and non-governmental organizations could play an important role in that regard.  She also emphasized the need to involve United Nations information centres in education and awareness-raising campaigns in the Territories.  In addition to publications and electronic media, traditional media like radio and television, which could have a high impact in Non-Self-Governing Territories, should not be disregarded.  There was also a need to provide financial assistance for the Territories’ efforts to promote education, convene constitutional conventions and carry out other activities related to self-government.

One speaker said that, even with the Second International Decade coming to an end, its priorities remained unambiguous.  “First, we must remain engaged.  It is essential that, within the mandate that governs our work, we intensify the commitment of every stakeholder, particularly the Non-Self-Governing Territories.”  Of equal importance were cooperation on the part of the administering Powers and the preparedness of the Special Committee to continue to encourage and stimulate the necessary dialogue.  It was also important to focus more productively on the specific needs of each Territory in terms of their political and economic needs, and how the United Nations system could be of assistance in each case.

As much as it had been hoped that the Second Decade would see the full resolution of all decolonization issues, it now seemed highly likely that several of those issues would outlast the Decade, a delegate said, suggesting that a third International Decade needed to be considered.  In the remainder of the Second Decade and possibly beyond, the international community must be guided by the political options available to the Non-Self-Governing Territories: free association with other independent States, full integration with political rights, or independence.

That proposal was supported by several other speakers, with one participant agreeing that it was important “to think about a third and possibly fourth and fifth International Decade”, until all Non-Self-Governing Territories had attained self-determination.  He also strongly recommended a more “aggressive” stance on decolonization issues.  Another speaker agreed that the Special Committee should not continue doing the things it had been doing in the past.  By being more proactive, it could demonstrate that it was “alive and kicking”.

Another speaker said that efforts to promote education and information while raising sensitivity to decolonization values needed to be strengthened by local authorities in the Territories, in partnership with administering Powers and the international community.  That would promote maturity and movement towards “appropriation of their own destiny”.  In that connection, the Special Committee should promote dialogue among the Non-Self-Governing Territories, the administering Powers and the international community at large.  After two International Decades, the time had come to establish a mechanism for dialogue with administering Powers to facilitate the decolonization process.  Such an approach should be explored during a Third Decade.

A participant said he wished to see improved assistance to Non-Self-Governing Territories through results-oriented activities, in which all United Nations institutions could play a major role.  In addition to efforts to strengthen support to Non-Self-Governing Territories, assistance was needed to enhance the participation of women in the decolonization process, another speaker stressed.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.