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Pacific Regional Seminar Concludes in New Caledonia with Discussion on Charting Way Forward

Pacific Regional Seminar Concludes in New Caledonia


with Discussion on Charting Way Forward


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

NOUMÉA, New Caledonia, 20 May 2010 — “Our task this morning is simple — to look at the way forward,” Donatus St. Aimee (Saint Lucia), Chairman of the Special Committee on Decolonization, said today as that body began the final session of its Pacific Regional Seminar on Implementation of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

Over the past three days, the Seminar heard experts, members of the Special Committee, representatives of Member States, Non-Self-Governing Territories, administering Powers, non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies begin to chart a way forward in the period after the Second International Decade on the Eradication of Colonialism, which ends in December.

The meeting ended with closing statements by the Chairman and the President of the territorial government, as the Special Committee adopted a resolution expressing thanks to the people of New Caledonia for their generosity in hosting a successful Seminar.

Participants then adopted amendments to the draft report to be presented for adoption by the full Special Committee.

Discussion on Way Forward

DONATUS ST. AIMEE ( Saint Lucia), Chairman of the Special Committee, noted the importance of nation-building as an essential prerequisite to successful self-determination.  He said economic and social development, as well as education about self-determination processes and options, should be in place before any decision on self-determination was taken.  “If this process hasn’t taken place before you exercise your right to self-determination, then you may spend an enormous amount of resources undertaking that task afterwards,” he cautioned.  “That is why sometimes it may not be a bad idea to have a period of reflection to see if all the people who live in the Territory are all on the same track and committed to that process.”

JOSEPH BOSSANO,observer from Gibraltar, said the real problem with the Territories remaining on the United Nations list was that, for many of them, neither full independence nor full integration with another State was a feasible option, which left only free association with another State as the only available one.  Given the many different forms that free association could take, it was worth asking how to define a form of free association that could demonstrate a Territory’s readiness for a full measure of self-government.  Citing the question of Gibraltar as an example, he concluded by arguing that, when it comes to Territories over which there was a sovereignty dispute, it was necessary to avoid “the controversial discussion about which link (with another State) and focus on the natureof the link, and whether the Territory is ready for such a link”.

The Chairman noted that a major problem was a lack of indicators and benchmarks to show what stage of the decolonization process a Territory had reached.  The Special Committee could begin thinking about that, he said.  While holding a referendum was one physical manifestation of progress towards decolonization, and the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) may be one manifestation of economic development, there may be a need for a more formal structure to allow the Special Committee to measure more accurately the readiness of a particular Territory and its people as they moved along the path to self-determination, he said.

HERY SARIPUDIN ( Indonesia) said that, since 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories were yet to be de-listed, his country fully supported the idea of a Third International Decade.  It should be a “decade of more work” rather than a “decade of continuing talk”, he said, adding that there was a need to consider establishing a comprehensive, pragmatic and realistic process for assessing self-determination processes and options, taking into account the specific circumstances of each Territory.

The Chairman noted that a great deal of discussion on decolonization focused on the political role of the administering Power which, while obviously important, should not be seen as the only facet of the process.  Encouraging private sector actors in a Territory to be good corporate citizens was also vital.  “If they don’t reflect a sense of goodwill, it makes the job of the administering Power and the local authorities much more difficult,” he said.  “If we can encourage the private sector to become good corporate citizens, and if the population can see that resources are being used for their benefit, then this contributes to a sense of trust and nation-building.”

CARLYLE CORBIN, an expert, said a number of good ideas had emerged from the present Seminar and previous ones, so there was no shortage of ideas on the way forward.  A Third Decade may be appropriate, but it should be a decade of “implementation” wherein the pursuit of decolonization was “renewed” rather than “reaffirmed” as usual.

EDWARD WOLFERS, an expert, said indicators could help place Territories on a scale of progress towards self-determination, rather than simply declaring a particular process had “failed”.  For example, Tokelau had not failed in the self-determination process; rather, the process had succeeded because the people had expressed their views in two referenda.  Furthermore, having benchmarks in place could help to measure not only political developments towards self-determination but also the socio-economic developments that could make a Territory stronger and better equipped for self-determination, he said.

DAVID WINDSOR ( Australia) noted his country’s support for the Nouméa Accord and the role that New Caledonia had begun to play in the Pacific Islands Forum.  Looking to the future more broadly, he said education and environmental issues would be critical for Non-Self-Governing Territories, particularly in the Pacific, adding that Australia provided scholarships for students from the Pacific, including those from Tokelau and New Caledonia, to study in fields including environmental and ecological studies.

STEVE MCFIELD, from the Cayman Islands, agreed with previous speakers that a nation-building process must take place for the exercise of self-determination to be successful.  Outlining the history of the Cayman Islands under various forms and degrees of colonial administration, he said that, due to careful and forceful negotiation among the people and with the administering Power, the Territory now had “one of the best arrangements” in the world.

HOPE A. CRISTOBEL of the Guahan and Chamorro Studies Association said it was a shame that after two international decades, Guam was now feeling the effects of “hyper-militarization” by its administering Power.  Rather than merely looking at Territories that had made progress towards decolonization, it was important to ask why some had actually regressed in recent years.  She also noted that information provided to and by the Special Committee should be gleaned from sources other than the media, which may be biased towards administering Powers.

FADEL KAMAL of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) said that in order to move forward one must reflect on the Special Committee’s history and mandate, of which there was much to be proud.  The voice of those that the Special Committee had been established to help must always be heard, including through self-determination referenda, when the people were ready and willing, and when the possible outcomes would be sustainable.  He said he agreed with the idea of a third international decade and supported the role of the Seminars.  Hopefully, there would be more opportunities in the future for representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories to share their views, answer questions and engage in discussion.

ROBERT G. AISI ( Papua New Guinea)said there were lessons to be learned from the Special Committee’s past successes and failures, and there was also a case for taking some time to assess the Second Decade before launching straight into a third.  He also agreed that the Special Committee could use the Seminars in a more strategic way to listen more closely to experts and representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories, who may not have the opportunity to provide information at other times.

TOGIOLA TALALELEI A. TULAFONO, representing American Samoa, suggested that the Special Committee focus more closely on whether the decolonization process was helping the socio-economic status of the Territories’ respective peoples, rather than simply focusing on political and administrative aspects.  Many smaller independent States were continually in need of support and “without their own resources, they are literally economically colonized in many ways”, he noted, suggesting that a way forward for the Special Committee could be to make the economic situation just as important as the political one.

GEORGINA BONIN of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said there seemed to be no consistent representation from United Nations agencies at the regional Seminars, pointing out that some agencies may have experiences and expertise that could be useful to share at future Seminars.

Presentation of the Draft Report

The Chairman noted that all participants had made valuable contributions, with many of their suggestions laying down challenges of thinking and method for the Special Committee.  “You have thrown down the challenges and we have given an undertaking to respond,” he added.  The Seminar’s conclusions and recommendations would be refined in light of the morning discussions for consideration at the Special Committee’s next substantive session in New York in June, he said.

Closing Statements

PHILIPPE GOMES,President of the government of New Caledonia, said the Territory had been honoured to host the Seminar, and expressed hope that its current institutional transformation gave an interesting example for participants from other Territories.  He expressed admiration for the very high level of debate, which had been “animated and passionate, enriching and productive”, and for the participants who had shared and exchanged information, principles and inspiration.

Even though decolonization for each Territory was pursued on a case-by-case basis, he said, the experience of others was always enriching, “feeding our thoughts and allowing us to think about other methods than we may originally envisage”.  The Seminar had served as a useful conduit for information on the populations of Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said, noting that that was one of the Special Committee’s main aspirations.  It was also a reminder that the building of nations was needed before self-determination could be successful.  That was how New Caledonia had approached the issue — by becoming one people with their own destiny in their own hands, he said.

Chairman ST. AIMEE ( Saint Lucia), in his closing statement, thanked the Government, administering Power, and people of New Caledonia for their hospitality, generosity and warm welcome.  He praised the representation and input from a wide range of stakeholders within the Territory.  “This makes me very positive about New Caledonia’s future,” he added.

He also praised participants in the Seminar for the constructive manner in which discussions had taken place, and for the wealth of ideas and insights that would be taken up in the Seminar’s conclusions and recommendations.  He particularly thanked representatives of the media, saying their work was a key vehicle through which the Seminar’s message would be disseminated, particularly to the people of New Caledonia.  “You have a responsibility to carry that message and help the decision-making process by letting the people know that their fate is in their own hands,” he said.

Noting that positive contribution by the UNDP representative, he expressed hope that more United Nations agencies, particularly those involved in such areas as food, agriculture, fisheries and the environment, would “come to the table” to share their experience and expertise with Non-Self-Governing Territories.  If positive and constructive discussions continued among Non-Self-Governing Territories, administering Powers, Member States, non-governmental organizations and experts, each Territory would make the right decision about its future when the time came, he said.

The Seminar closed with the adoption of a resolution, by acclamation, expressing the Special Committee’s appreciation to the government and people of New Caledonia.

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For information media. Not an official record.