Skip to main content

Participants in Pacific Regional Seminar Discuss Challenges, Role of United Nations in Decolonization Process

Participants in Pacific Regional Seminar Discuss Challenges,

Role of United Nations in Decolonization Process


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

NOUMÉA, New Caledonia, 19 May 2010 — The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization continued its deliberations today at its Pacific Seminar on the Implementation of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, discussing challenges in the Pacific, Caribbean and elsewhere, as well as the broader role of the United Nations in the decolonization process.

Pacific Non-Self-Governing Territories

TOGIOLA TULAFANO, Governor of American Samoa, made the first presentation of the day, recalling that, in the past, the Territory had requested the Special Committee to remove it from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories because its “unincorporated” and “unorganized” status was akin to that of a self-governing Territory.  While it held the same position today, the time had come for a more definitive work plan to force a more collaborative approach between the Territory and the administering Power, the United States, in moving forward on issues of political status, local autonomy, self-governance and economic development.

He noted the affinity of the Territory’s people with the administering Power, manifested in a significant number of them serving in the United States armed forces, and the trust which allowed the Territory to control its own immigration and customs.  However, there was cause for worry those two services were now being federalized at the Territory’s expense, he said, adding that American Samoa was restricted in its use of land and its freedom to dispose of the grants allocated to it by the administering Power.  In addition, United States-level minimum wage laws introduced in the Territory had caused serious, perhaps irreparable, economic damage, he said, lamenting the absence of federal technical assistance and expertise to help American Samoans truly understand the effect of federal laws on the Territory’s economy and form of government.

Those issues could be resolved by applying a clearly specified, consistent principle as to how the Territory would be treated in the future, he said.  To that end, a constitutional committee was preparing proposals to be taken up by a constitutional convention in June.  He expressed hope that the questions of self-governance, self-determination and increased local autonomy would be at the top of the list.  He also stressed the importance of providing assistance and training on issues critical to the Pacific region.  In that connection, he requested the Special Committee to make visit American Samoa during its constitutional convention.

FAIPULE KURESA NASAU of Tokelau said the outcome of the second referendum on free association with New Zealand, which had not met the two-thirds majority, may have been the result of concerns that self-determination might have meant severing ties with the Government and people of New Zealand, which Tokelau did not want to do.  Remaining on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, Tokelau was very conscious of its right to self-determination and aspired to return to that issue in the near future, he said.  For the time being, however, self-determination considerations must take second place to the pressing needs of economic development, he said, expressing hope that the upcoming negotiations on the next economic support arrangement would conclude successfully and help address those needs.

DAVID PAYTON, Director, Office of the Administrator of Tokelau (New Zealand), elaborated on the Territory’s situation, stressing his country’s commitment to delivering quality services and infrastructure, including transport, power, education and health.  Highlighting the difficulty of delivering services to Tokelau due to its remoteness and small population of less than 1,500 people, he asked how the principles of equity and viability could be applied to the process of decolonization.

He said there was a need to think hard about how to proceed in Tokelau, bearing in mind the difficult situation in which Niue now found itself following its move to free association with New Zealand several years ago.  “It is likely to be necessary for Tokelau’s leaders to make hard decisions and set priorities that will require some preferred activities to be set aside,” he said.  He said that finding the right balance will determine the well-being of Tokelau and its people.  “Decolonization will be a factor in this dynamic process, but only a small part of it,” he concluded.

Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories

STEVE MCFIELD, representative of the Cayman Islands, said a new Constitution had been formally promulgated in November 2009, establishing the post of Premier for the fist time, among other changes.  The Constitution had been approved by a large majority in a special referendum.  As affirmed during the general elections of May 2009, the territorial government had no popular mandate to pursue full political independence, he said, adding that its attendance at the Seminar should be seen as an attempt to make its position clear and distinct.

CARLYLE CORBIN, an expert,presented a paper on “Challenges to the Attainment of Full Self-Government for Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories under United States Administration”.  He said that, given the similarities between the governance models of Caribbean Territories and those under United States administration in the Pacific, it was to be hoped that useful comparisons could be made for the Seminar’s benefit.

Discussing the United States Virgin Islands, he said that a 1993 referendum had provided “an excessive number of seven alternatives”, which had contributed to a lack of clarity on the part of the electorate and boycotts that had resulted in the failure to achieve the required 50 per cent of voter participation.  More recently, a constitutional convention had produced a draft Constitution, which, while “not designed to address the colonial status nor provide any serious devolution of authority”, was currently before the United State Congress for approval.  Highlighting the importance of education in the decolonization process, he said other measures currently before Congress included a bill on funding educational programmes on political status options in American Samoa, Guam and the United States Virgin Islands.

Other Non-Self-Governing Territories

FADEL KAMAL,representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) speaking on the question of Western Sahara, said it was regrettable that the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and the end of the Second Decade had passed by without the Saharawi people exercising their right to self-determination.  “The Saharawi people rightly feel that their legitimate aspirations have been overtaken by political expediency and a meek United Nations system that is seemingly unwilling or unable of delivering on its promise,” he said.

He said the United Nations must ensure that Morocco abided by its obligations to respect the basic human rights of Saharawis, and should consider options for international administration of the natural resources and associated revenues of Western Sahara pending a political solution.  He suggested further that the Special Committee send a delegation to Western Sahara to assess the situation, as part of a renewed effort to monitor the decolonization process and implement the Organization’s “sacred trust” to the Saharawi people.  “It is clear that the only viable solution to the question of Western Sahara is to ensure that the Saharawi people have the opportunity to decide freely and democratically their future […] through the organization of a free, fair and transparent referendum under the auspices of the United Nations,” he concluded.

KHADDAD EL MOUSSAOUI, Vice-President, Royal Advisory Council on Saharan Affairs (Morocco), presented an outline of the “Moroccan Initiative for negotiating an autonomy status of the Sahara region”, saying it “guarantees to the people of Western Sahara, their position and role, without any discrimination or exclusion, to freely play in organs and institutions that provide exclusive democratic management of the Western Sahara internal affairs, through autonomous legislative and executive powers, and resources financial control […].  Morocco also guarantees them active participation in the economic and socio-cultural areas within a sovereign Kingdom.”

He said the other parties to the dispute over Western Sahara had adopted a “radical attitude”, noting in particular a “narrow interpretation of the principle of self-determination”.  In that respect, and in hopes of seeing the political process continue in peace, Morocco wished to see the other parties engaging in intense and substantial negotiations.  Reaffirming Morocco’s attachment to the process of negotiations and its support for the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, he restated his country’s “determination to pursue its commitments aiming at achieving a political negotiated solution on the basis of the ‘Moroccan Autonomy Initiative’”.

MOHAMED SOFIANE BERRAH (Algeria), began his presentation by underscoring the importance of reminding the Special Committee of its raison d’etre — monitoring the implementation of the Declaration and assisting Non-Self-Governing Territories as they pursued any of the three self-determination options.  Today, decolonization appeared to have lost its “character of despicability”, he said, recalling that United Nations resolutions condemned colonialism while the goal of the Special Committee was to eradicate it.  Any socio-economic benefits that colonization may have bought to the peoples of the Territories should not justify the fact of colonization itself, he stressed.

On the question of Western Sahara, he said it was only fair that the Territory’s people enjoy international protection.  That could be achieved by extending the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to include human rights monitoring and reporting.

He went on to say that the process of negotiations over Western Sahara “cultivates hope for a peaceful solution”, emphasizing, however, that dialogue was not an end in itself and must lead to conclusions and results if peace was to be achieved in the region.  In light of major ongoing challenges, Algeria would support the idea of a Third Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, in hopes that it would help bring about an end to decolonization once and for all.

EMMA EDWARDS, Member, Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) recalled that the islanders had repeatedly expressed their firm view that “we are content with our current relationship with Britain”, noting that, for a variety of reasons, the options of full independence, free association or integration with an independent State were not suitable for the Territory.  “We are happy with the status quo, and do not like being told by others what to do.”  The Falkland Islands were currently not ready for independence, “but we do express our right of self-determination […] with almost all of the people of the Falkland Islands wishing to remain and enjoy our British Overseas Territory status”.

Outlining aspects of the “healthy democracy” enjoyed by the Territory, she said they included elections in November 2009, and a new Constitution, which had entered into force in January 2009, and enhanced local democracy, established a greater degree of internal self-government and provided mechanisms for transparency and accountability.  While the Territory’s small economy “took a hit” during the financial crisis, it remained strong, she said, citing a number of programmes and initiatives in the areas of transport, telecommunications, energy production, health care and education which benefited the islanders.

MARIA FERNANDA CANAS(Argentina) said that, although her country had consistently supported the applicability of the self-determination principle to peoplesunder colonial rule, that was not the case in the “Question of the Malvinas Islands”, which affected the territorial integrity of Argentina.  “This question refers to the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, and clearly differs from traditional colonial cases,” she emphasized.

Recalling that the United Nations had rejected the applicability of the self-determination principle to the Malvinas question, she said the Organization classified it as a “special and particular” form of colonialism constituting a sovereignty dispute to be resolved by negotiations between Argentina and the United Kingdom, taking into account the interests of the islanders.  “We have committed ourselves to taking into account their interests,” she said, adding that Argentina would do that by enshrining a commitment to their way of life and interests in the Constitution and calling on the United Kingdom to resume negotiations to solve the dispute.  “The Argentine commitment to recover the Islands […] is not some sudden passion but a long-sustained national concern that stretches back more than 177 years,” she concluded.

CARLOS ARAGON DE LA SERNA (Spain) said: “I regret to inform the participants in this Seminar that […] we unfortunately cannot provide the Special Committee with any good news regarding the decolonization of Gibraltar.”  Arguing that Gibraltar’s new constitutional order of 2006 did not entail any change in its international status, he noted that “colonialism by consent does not mean that the resulting political arrangements are any less colonial”, and that the new constitutional text did not affect the legal validity of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.  “My Government is therefore opposed to any attempt to see Gibraltar removed from the UN list of territories that are undergoing the decolonization process,” he said.

United Nations doctrine rightly led the Special Committee to differentiate between Non-Self-Governing Territories subject to a decolonization process where there was a dispute over sovereignty, such as Gibraltar, and those where there was no such dispute.  Further, he said, “the mandate of the United Nations […] invites the United Kingdom and Spain to find a negotiated solution taking into account the interests of the population of the colony.”  Despite Spain’s willingness, he said, “the United Kingdom has consistently ignored our appeals to resume conversations to find a definitive solution to the question of Gibraltar”.

JOSEPH BOSSANO,an observer from Gibraltar, said the territorial government did not attend the Special Committee’s Seminars because it considered itself already decolonized.  One of the Seminar’s main aims was to hear the views of non-self-governing peoples, he said, calling for more time to be given to their representatives rather than Member States.  The Seminar was an opportunity for the Special Committee to reach out to those people without the filter of the administering Power.  Discussing the historical basis of the dispute over Gibraltar, he said the Treaty of Utrecht had been signed in 1713, and he suggested it was time that Member States considered new ideas and solutions that would reflect the current world.

Role of United Nations System

SALA GEORGINA BONIN, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)Multi-Country Office, Samoa, began by outlining the agency’s work in supporting the self-determination process in Tokelau, part of its broader work supporting Tokelau under a special relations agreement signed with New Zealand in the 1980s.  She said the main areas of UNDP’s support for Tokelau’s self-determination included governance-reform initiatives to help the Territory’s home-grown government structure and direct assistance for the first and second referendums on the Treaty of Free Association with New Zealand in 2006 and 2007.

Following the referendums, New Zealand and Tokelau had agreed to a “pause” on that front, opting to focus on other development priorities and the Millennium Development Goals, she said, noting that UNDP continued to provide assistance under its Country Programme Action Plan on issues relating to equitable economic growth and poverty reduction, good governance and human rights, crisis prevention and recovery, sustainability, environmental management and the cross-cutting issue of gender equality.

Mr. CORBINthen made a presentation on the importance of participation by Non-Self-Governing Territories in the work of the United Nations system, noting that it was critical in developing their readiness to assume the powers of self-government.  That was especially true because many of the Territories’ economies required a heightened measure of human resource development in relation to their engagement in the globalized economy.

He noted that virtually all Non-Self-Governing Territories, in both regions, were associate members of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).  They were also afforded the opportunity to participate as observers in major United Nationsconferences and special sessions in the social and economic sphere.

Many United Nations programmes, funds and specialized agencies allowed some form of participation while others did not, he said, noting that participation by the Non-Self-Governing Territories “has not fully become standard United Nations practice”.  In particular, he said the Economic and Social Council should revisit the resolution it had earlier declined to approve, which called for the Territories to participate directly in its functional commissions relating to their ongoing development processes.  “The absence of a role […] in the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development is especially glaring, given that the issues of the vulnerabilities of small island States are considered in that body,” he concluded.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.