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Secretary-General, in Message to Open Pacific Regional Seminar, Calls for Creative Efforts to Complete Decolonization Process

Secretary-General, in Message to Open Pacific Regional Seminar,

Calls for Creative Efforts to Complete Decolonization Process

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

NOUMÉA, New Caledonia, 18 May 2010 — In a message to open the Pacific Regional Seminar on the Implementation of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all involved to undertake “fresh and creative efforts” towards full implementation of decolonization.

The three-day Seminar in Nouméa is only the second to be held in a Non-Self-Governing Territory, highlighting the importance to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization of hearing directly from representatives of the Territories about the issues they face.

Held under the timely theme “Assessment of the decolonization process in today’s world”, the Seminar is taking place in the year marking the fiftieth anniversary of the General Assembly’s landmark Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and the end of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

In a message delivered by Laura Vaccari of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs, the Secretary-General described Timor-Leste’s successful quest for independence and two referenda held in Tokelau as highlights of the preceding Decade.  “Nonetheless, 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain on the [United Nations] list,” the Secretary-General said.  “It is essential for the people concerned to understand the options regarding their political status and to be able to exercise their right to freely choose their future.”

Welcoming Committee Members, representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories and administering Powers, Member States, experts, non-governmental organizations and international organizations, Special Committee Chairman Donatus St. Aimee (Saint Lucia) said that the Seminar was the last of the series planned for the Second Decade and as such was an important opportunity to assess the implementation of its mandate.

He noted that the Seminar was being held in a Territory that was going through a challenging and complex process of determining its political future, in close cooperation with the administering Power, France.  “The Special Committee regards the hosting of the Seminar as a significant manifestation of the improved cooperation between the administering Power and the [Special] Committee in advancing the decolonization process in general and in the Pacific region in particular,” he said.

Welcoming participants on behalf of the Government of New Caledonia, President M. Philippe Gomes said all the Territory’s major political actors — the High Commissioner of France, the President and Vice-President of the Congress, and the Presidents of the Assemblies of the three Provinces — welcomed the holding of the Seminar in New Caledonia.

He said New Caledonia’s current path towards self-determination had not been easy and that was one of the reasons why holding the Seminar in the Territory was important — so the Special Committee could confirm through first-hand discussions and exchanges the process and manner in which the process was taking place.

Also welcoming participants, the High Commissioner of France said that the support his country had provided for the event highlighted its commitment to the United Nations in the area of decolonization.  He expressed hope that the visit would help the Special Committee measure socio-economic progress in the Territory and the willingness of the community to build a common destiny based on shared values.

The two meetings following the opening session focussed on the resolution of the remaining challenges for Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Pacific — American Samoa, Guam, New Caledonia, Pitcairn and Tokelau.

Statement by the Chairman

DONATUS ST. AIMEE ( Saint Lucia), Special Committee Chairman, said in his keynote address that 50 years since the Declaration’s adoption, and after two Decades for the Eradication of Colonialism, the fact that 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained on the list suggests the need for “creative thinking” to move forward.  “At this seminar we are going to assess the socio-economic and political developments in the Territories with a view to working out, in cooperation with the administering Powers and representatives of the Territories, a realistic, action-oriented programme of work on a case-by-case basis for the way forward in advancing the decolonization process.”

He expressed hope that the Seminar would give participants from Non-Self-Governing Territories the type of information and options available to make an informed choice.  “Because it is not for the [United Nations] to determine the best outcomes,” he continued.  “The [United Nations] is primarily concerned with whether choices are made freely by the people, based on appropriate information and understanding.”  The Special Committee wished to listen closely to what the peoples concerned had to say, in the hope of offering proposals to the General Assembly, on a case by case basis, he said.

“Each [Non-Self-Governing Territory] still on the [United Nations] decolonization list has a unique mix of circumstances, often involving quite complex political issues,” he said.  “It is essential that ‘creative thinking’ that is sensitive to the circumstances is used by all concerned in addressing these issues, as there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.”

As an example relevant to the Pacific, he noted that the wishes of small island States needed to reflect their unique vulnerabilities in terms of survival in the modern world.  “Today, major issues of sustainability — in economic, environmental and social terms — confront everyone, but especially smaller, more vulnerable societies,” he said. 

The Chair noted that, in 2010, it was the responsibility of the Special Committee to bring those issues to the forefront, and the challenge for everyone was to think within the context of present realities and sustainable futures.  The Seminar would assess the progress of decolonization actions at the international level, measures undertaken by the United Nations in cooperation with the administering Powers, as well as the impact of developmental activities and programmes carried out by the Organization’s specialized agencies and other bodies, as well as non-governmental organizations in the Territories.

“We also need to evaluate the Committee’s role in following the impact of the economic and social developments on the constitutional and political advancement of the [Non-Self-Governing Territories], as well as its efforts aimed at ensuring the full cooperation of the administering Powers in this matter,” he said.  “I trust that after these deliberations we can come up with a plan for the way forward, as neither the work of the Special Committee nor the process of decolonization end with this Seminar or with the Second Decade.  There is clearly the need for additional work, focused work, if we are to come up with some success stories and move into the future,” he concluded.

Resolution of Remaining Challenges in the Pacific Region

PHILIPPE GOMES, President of the Government of New Caledonia, opened the discussion by recalling that the Territory had been close to civil war in 1986, before both sides had “resumed the thread of dialogue” and taken the chance to return to peace.  The Matignon and Nouméa Accords had engaged the Territory’s people on the path of declared and assumed decolonization, he said.

Describing New Caledonia’s “unique” process, he said it was based on several principles, including the recognition of the identity and legitimacy of both the original Kanak peoples and those who had come later from elsewhere.  The process affirmed the complex history that all the people of New Caledonia shared, and brought them together around a common destiny.  “We have a rendezvous with ourselves for a shared future,” the President concluded.

VICTOR TUTUGORO of the Political Bureau of the pro-independence Front de libération national kanak socialistse (FLNKS) expressed his appreciation on behalf of the Territory’s indigenous peoples for bringing the Seminar to New Caledonia, and for the attention given by the United Nations since its addition to the decolonization list in 1986.

He said that, in spite of efforts, achieving economic, social and community balance in New Caledonia remained a major challenge, pointing to many indicators showing that development in the provinces of Northern and Loyalty Islands lagged behind that of Southern Province.  At the conclusion of the Second International Decade, it was worth considering an extension into a third Decade, given that the Kanak people, and others around the world, still needed the assistance of the Special Committee and the United Nations system to pursue decolonization to its end.

There followed a general discussion on the decolonization process in the Pacific, and New Caledonia in particular, with participants particularly focused on socio-economic issues.

The Chairman noted that the colonial legacy was often one of uneven development, with former colonial cities and centres often starting from a “higher base” of social and economic infrastructure development than surrounding districts, and thereby creating challenges for post-decolonization administrations.

The importance of education also featured strongly in discussion, with several participants noting that it was not only a driver of economic development but also a mechanism for ensuring the protection of minority or indigenous languages and cultures.

In the context of New Caledonia, the President noted that despite a free school system where graduation numbers were rising, indicators for Kanak students remained a challenge.  He outlined a number of initiatives designed to better adapt the school system to social, cultural and geographical challenges, noting that education was one of the legislative competencies being transferred to the New Caledonia legislature.

Several experts and representatives of non-governmental organizations added to the discussion by presenting papers on their experiences in such places as Papua New Guinea, the Caribbean, Guam, Pitcairn and Gibraltar, in order to inform and enhance the Special Committee’s work in relation to New Caledonia and the Pacific more broadly.

Edward P. Wolfers described the concepts of self-determination and decolonization as close in meaning but not interchangeable.  Discussing the history of the decolonization process in the Pacific, he drew particular attention to the “home-grown” peculiarities of constitution-making in Samoa and Papua New Guinea, noting that those processes did not owe their authority to the laws of the former colonial Power.  Rather, they embodied the exchange of experiences and ideas, involving as they did various forms of regional cooperation and collaboration.  In conclusion, he made a number of recommendations relating to clarifying the role of self-determination in achieving decolonization and providing greater transparency and accountability in all aspects of the process in order to ensure that the relevant information reached the people in the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Sarimin Jacques Boengkih of the Agence Kanak de Developpement said that, with the transfer of power, New Caledonia could exercise some level of self-governance.  With the Territory on a path to becoming a State, it needed good governance as well as educational programmes focusing on raising public awareness among the indigenous peoples.  He underlined that New Caledonia was eligible for assistance from United Nations agencies, and requested their help with economic and social development.

Yoko Oryu, an expert from Japan, provided a comparative analysis of the decolonization processes in the French overseas Territories in the Caribbean and that of New Caledonia, stressing that the growing prominence of the issue in the latter Territory was creating increasing discussion in the international community.

Hope A. Cristobel of the Guahan and Chamorro Studies Association, deplored the situation of Guam’s Chamorro people who had been dispossessed of their land and were losing their identity as a result of a United States military build-up in the Territory.  She proposed that the Special Committee give the utmost priority to Chamorro self-determination, in conformity with the relevant United Nations documents.

Herbert Ford of the Pitcairn Islands Study Centre recounted the recent transformations and current challenges facing the people of Pitcairn, including the restructuring of its governance system and the provision of human rights protections under a new constitution, ratified in March 2010.  He said the independence option was hardly possible for Pitcairn in light of its dependence on supplies from New Zealand and its subsistence on garden produce and fishing.  He highlighted as possible ways forward for Pitcairn the other self-determination options of United Nations trusteeship, or retaining a connection with New Zealand similar to that administering Power’s relationship with Tokelau.

Carlyle Corbin of the United States Virgin Islands emphasized the importance of disseminating information and the potential role that United Nations information centres could play in that regard.  He argued that self-determination was a human rights issue and connections could be made with such bodies as the United Nations Human Rights Committee.  He said the Seminars were possibly the most important outcomes of the two Decades since they allowed a cross-fertilization of ideas.  He also called attention to the disconnection between United Nations resolutions requiring action on decolonization, and the budgetary and resource allocations needed to ensure implementation of those resolutions.

Joseph Bossano of Gibraltar also raised the issue of disseminating information on decolonization, saying it was insufficient to adequately advance the process unless it was supported by dialogue among all parties.  He said the Special Committee could play a more consistent role in following up on the issues and concerns raised at the Seminars.

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For information media. Not an official record.