Delegates Urge Administering Powers to Take Necessary Steps for Rapid Self-Determination, as Fourth Committee Begins Decolonization Debate
President of General Assembly Highlights Commitment to Ensuring Full Independence for All Colonial Countries, Peoples
Delegates called upon administering Powers today to take the necessary steps to attain the rapid decolonization of the 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) began its general debate on that topic.
El Salvador’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), expressed solidarity with the Non‑Self‑Governing Territories of that region that recently suffered the effects of natural disasters. The small island Territories of the Caribbean and the Pacific constitute the majority of such Territories, he noted, calling for the sustained and balanced growth of their fragile economies. He added that the administering Powers should not thwart their efforts towards self-determination. CELAC also called for the resumption of negotiations between Argentina and the United Kingdom for a peaceful solution to the dispute over the Malvinas* Islands, he said.
Agreeing, Brazil’s representative expressed support for efforts by the two parties in terms of practical arrangements to safeguard sovereignty. However, he expressed concern over infringements of multilateral agreements, including General Assembly resolutions, and called upon the United Kingdom to end unilateral actions to explore and exploit the natural resources in areas subject to the sovereignty dispute.
Earlier, the Rapporteur of 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 on Decolonization — presented that body’s report for the Committee’s consideration. He recalled that during the Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization held in May, the Special Committee focused on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the social, economic and environmental challenges facing Non-Self-Governing Territories.
The Chair of the Special Committee also recalled the Seminar, noting that participants discussed meeting the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals in the Territories in light of their particular vulnerability to natural disasters and environmental degradation.
Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, also addressed the Committee, highlighting her commitment to ensuring the full independence of all colonial countries and peoples. “Not doing so goes against the ideas we aspire to, risking conflicts, jeopardizing peace and security and hampering the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly for those who would be left behind,” she said.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates also highlighted the situation in Western Sahara, with South Africa’s representative describing that Territory as one of the regrettable relics of history, and a painful thorn in the side of Africa’s re-awakening. Resolving the long-standing impasse requires sincere and uninhibited negotiations between Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, he emphasized.
Also speaking today were representatives of Uruguay (on behalf of the Southern Common Market, or MERCOSUR), Argentina, Guatemala, Cameroon, Ecuador, Mozambique, Paraguay, Chile, Trinidad and Tobago, Bolivia, United Republic of Tanzania, Grenada and Guinea.
Representatives of the United Kingdom and Argentina spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 October, to continue its debate on decolonization.
Introduction of Reports
Beginning its annual general debate on decolonization issues today, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) had before it the following documents: report of the Secretary-General on information from Non‑Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73 (e) of the Charter of the United Nations (document A/73/64); report of the Secretary-General on Economic and other activities that affect the interest of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories (document A/73/23); report of the Secretary-General on Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples by the specialized agencies and the international institutions associated with the United Nations (document A/73/70); reports of the Secretary-General on Offers by Member States of study and training facilities for inhabitants of Non-Self-Governing Territories (document A/73/73); and the report of the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples for 2018 (document A/73/23).
In addition, members had before them requests for hearing by the Committee, submitted by petitioners from Non-Self-Governing Territories and contained in (documents A/C.4/72/2, A/C.4/72/3, A/C.4/72/4, A/C.4/72/5, A/C.4/72/6 and A/C.4/72/7).
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), Rapporteur of the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, presented that body’s report (document A/73/23). He said it contains 13 chapters and two annexes on specific themes, including the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, and economic and other activities affecting the peoples of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, among others. During the Pacific Regional Seminar in May, he recalled, the Special Committee ‑ also known as the Special Committee on Decolonization – focused on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the social, economic and environmental challenges facing Non-Self-Governing Territories. During its main June session, it approved all its draft resolutions and decisions by consensus. Presenting the recommendations contained in the report, he noted that a self-determination referendum will be conducted in New Caledonia on 4 November. In March, the Special Committee dispatched a visiting mission to the Territory to assess implementation of the Nouméa Accord, including preparations for the upcoming referendum, he said.
MARÍA FERNANDA ESPINOSA GARCÉS (Ecuador), President of the seventy-third session of the General Assembly, said that while the work of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) is perhaps the most disparate, all-encompassing and dynamic, “the decolonization agenda remains incomplete”. Highlighting her commitment to ensuring the full independence of all colonial countries and peoples, she said “not doing so goes against the ideas we aspire to ‑ risking conflicts, jeopardizing peace and security and hampering the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly for those who would be left behind”.
She went on to call attention to the despair and suffering resulting from the stalled process to address the Palestinian question. The current financial gap facing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is a source of concern, she said, thanking those countries that stepped in to fill the Agency’s immediate needs and to get children back in school. However, long-term solutions are needed to avoid social, economic and security‑related fallout, she emphasized.
Turning to peacekeeping, she noted that the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) recently wrapped up its mandate. Stressing that it is essential to focus attention on prevention, peacebuilding and addressing the root causes of conflict, she said the ever-changing landscape of peacekeeping operations requires vigilance in safeguarding peacekeepers’ lives, particularly by investing in intelligence gathering and sharing equipment and skills.
Regarding outer space, she stressed the need to recognize the potential for peaceful collaboration in that realm. “Rarely have we seen such interest, such investment, in reaching to the stars,” she said, citing the strong sense of momentum to harness the potential of space exploration. Discussions around preventing an arms race in outer space are not premature, she observed, encouraging Member States to maintain positive momentum and continue dialogue on such issues with mutual respect.
WALTON ALFONSO WEBSON (Antigua and Barbuda), Chair of the Special Committee on Decolonization, reported that representatives and petitioners from Non‑Self‑Governing Territories participated in the Pacific Regional Seminar and its session in June. The Seminar focused its discussions on meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in the Territories, with participants stressing the importance of addressing the various challenges confronting them, especially in light of their vulnerability to natural disasters and environmental degradation.
He went on to state that the Special Committee dispatched a visiting mission to New Caledonia in March, with the cooperation of France. The mission sought to gather first-hand information on the situation in that Territory and to support its preparations for its November self-determination referendum. Underlining that progress on decolonization requires engagement by all relevant actors, especially administering Powers and the Non-Self-Governing Territories, he declared: “We need to work together to make palpable progress in implementing the Declaration on Decolonization.” Effective interaction and regular dialogue in that regard should be nurtured and encouraged, he added.
RUBÉN ARMANDO ESCALANTE HASBÚN (El Salvador), speaking on behalf of CELAC, said the decolonization process constitutes one of the most outstanding tasks in the history of the United Nations, but work remains to be done. He called upon the administering Powers to take the necessary steps to attain the rapid decolonization of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. Commending the Grenada’s hosting of the 2018 Pacific Regional Seminar in May, he urged the Department of Public Information to keep its website on decolonization up to date in all six official languages United Nations, and to ensure an appealing design to enhance the message.
Reaffirming CELAC’s position regarding the Malvinas Islands he called for the resumption of negotiations between Argentina and the United Kingdom to find a peaceful solution to the dispute over the Territory. On the question of Puerto Rico, he reiterated that Territory’s right to self-determination as per the relevant United Nations resolutions. He went on to express solidarity with Non-Self-Governing Territories of the Latin American and Caribbean region that suffered the consequences of natural disasters recently and called upon relevant United Nations organizations to provide them with all necessary assistance to help their recovery.
As for the small island Territories of the Caribbean and the Pacific, which constitute the majority of Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said it is necessary to facilitate the sustained and balanced growth of their fragile economies, adding that administering Powers should not thwart their efforts towards self-determination. CELAC is therefore concerned about the situation in Turks and Caicos, he said, calling for democratic and representative governance in that Territory. Concerning Western Sahara, he reaffirmed all resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council on that issue, adding that CELAC trusts multilateral efforts to promote more intense and substantive negotiations will continue under the Secretary-General’s auspices.
LUIS HOMERO BERMÚDEZ ÁLVAREZ (Uruguay), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said the situation in the Malvinas Islands is a dispute over sovereignty. Reaffirming the MERCOSUR position on support for the legitimate rights of Argentina, he emphasized the regional interest relating to the prolonged dispute there within the framework of the bloc’s fiftieth session, stating that the dispute will require a solution as soon as possible and in line with relevant United Nations decisions. MERCOSUR rejects unilateral actions and decisions relating to that Territory, he said, adding that Argentina is fully prepared to resume negotiations with the United Kingdom.
Speaking in his national capacity, he said the accomplishments already made on this issue should invigorate the international community to continue efforts to eradicate colonialism. Regarding Western Sahara, he reiterated his delegation’s support for that Territory’s people and their right to self-determination, a goal that cannot be achieved without consulting those people, he emphasized. Uruguay recognized the positive efforts of the African Union and the Secretary‑General in supporting the process there, and welcomed the resumption of talks between the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente POLISARIO) and Morocco. As for the situation in the Malvinas Islands, he expressed solidarity with Argentina’s rights to sovereignty over that Territory. In closing, he said the international community must not continue to tolerate colonial debates and called upon Member States to put a quick and unconditional end to colonialism in all its forms.
MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina), associating himself with CELAC and MERCOSUR, said that while colonized peoples have the right to freely decide their political status and future, the principle of self-determination is not absolute. As stated in General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), the principle of self-determination should not be used as a pretext to break up the territorial integrity of existing States, he emphasized. As such, it is important to understand the special particular situation of the question of the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas. That matter constitutes a dispute with the United Kingdom, originating in 1833. Calling attention to General Assembly resolution 2065 (XX), he emphasized that the sovereignty dispute can only be resolved through discussions between the parties. For almost two decades, Argentina and the United Kingdom maintained substantive negotiations, he said, recalling that the United Kingdom accepted recognition of Argentina’s sovereignty over the Territory, but unfortunately never acted on that agreement. Since then, the United Kingdom has not heeded the international community’s calls for negotiations, he added. Calling upon that country’s Government to put an end to unilateral actions in the area, he reaffirmed Argentina’s inalienable rights to sovereignty and its adherence to the peaceful settlement of disputes.
JORGE SKINNER-KLEÉ ARENALES (Guatemala) described the dispute over the Malvinas Islands as unique, explaining that Argentina, which has a legitimate sovereignty claim over the Territory, was prevented from populating the islands while the occupying Power populated it instead. The result was the colonization of the Territory but not the population, he said, pointing out that the right to self‑determination should therefore not apply and citing United Nations resolutions to that effect. He went on to applaud Argentina’s willingness to participate in negotiations with the United Kingdom and called upon the latter also to join the discussions. The parties should demonstrate their political willingness to develop a climate that will encourage dialogue, he stressed. Regarding Western Sahara, he said a resolution of the dispute there will be important for the entire region.
The Chair then invited comments on the requests for hearing by petitioners.
The representative of Cameroon, citing requests for hearings on the question of Western Sahara, said concern has been expressed about two individuals on the list of petitioners issued by the Chair on 3 October. Serious and tense consultations are under way among States concerned about that issue, he added, asking that the consultations continue so that a decision can be taken on the issue with complete knowledge of the facts.
The Chair approved the request for more time to complete the informal consultations on the petitioners Samuel Ikome Sako of Africa Solidarity for Sahrawi and Martin Ayong Ayim of Living Stories and Memories, listed in the requests for hearings on Western Sahara as numbers 60 and 61 in document A/C.4/73/7. The Committee will take up those two requests later in the week following the informal consultations, he added.
MARIO ZAMBRANO ORTIZ (Ecuador), endorsing the statements of CELAC and MERCOSUR, said that colonialism in the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories makes it difficult for their peoples to develop economically and socially. He reiterated his delegation’s support for all efforts by the Special Committee on Decolonization in Western Sahara and welcomed the resumption of talks between Polisario and Morocco. It has been more than five decades since the adoption United Nations resolution 2065 (XX), yet the matter remains outstanding, he said, emphasizing that the only way to resolve the situation in the Malvinas Islands ‑ which is a particular case ‑ is through the resumption of bilateral negotiations, in accordance with international law and the relevant United Nations resolutions. He went on to reiterate his delegation’s support for Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination, underlining that the existence of colonialism is incompatible with the United Nations Charter.
FREDERICO SALOMÃO DUQUE ESTRADA MEYER (Brazil) stressed that, because of the special and particular situation of the Malvinas Islands, the principle of self-determination should not be invoked in that regard. The islanders were introduced through an illegal occupation, he noted, calling upon the parties to resume negotiations. Brazil supported efforts by Argentina and the United Kingdom in terms of practical arrangements to safeguard sovereignty and the constructive steps taken in that context. He expressed concern, however, over infringements of multilateral agreements, including General Assembly resolutions, and called upon the United Kingdom to put an end to unilateral acts of exploration and exploitation of natural resources in the areas subject to the sovereignty dispute. In the spirit of solidarity, he emphasized, Brazil does not authorize the use of its ports and airports by ships or aircraft destined for the Malvinas Islands, which could imply unilateral changes in the dispute. The resumption of negotiations is the only viable way to resolve the question of the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, in accordance with the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and various resolutions of the General Assembly, he said.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said it is deeply regrettable that while many countries are grappling with advanced issues like the implications of the fourth industrial revolution and of artificial intelligence, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories still face the primary challenge of exercising their right to self‑determination. This is unacceptable 73 years after the establishment of the United Nations, and five decades after the adoption of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), which strongly condemns the subjugation of peoples through colonialism, he emphasized. The situation in Western Sahara remains one of the regrettable relics of history, and a painful thorn in the side of Africa’s re‑awakening, he added. Welcoming the judgements by the European Union’s Court of Justice and South Africa’s High Court in upholding Western Sahara’s the sovereignty and ownership of its natural resources, including in its territorial waters, he said resolving the long-standing impasse requires sincere and uninhibited negotiations between Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
ANTÓNIO GUMENDE (Mozambique) called on the international community to renew its commitments to the resumption of negotiations on a two-State solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, adding that Mozambique supports initiatives by the United Nations and other global bodies aimed at reaching a sustainable and acceptable settlement. He said it is regrettable that almost three decades have lapsed since the unanimous adoption of the landmark Security Council resolution 690 (1991) established the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), there is not much progress. The international community must redouble its efforts to afford the people of Western Sahara their universally accepted right to freely express their will on the self-determination of their Territory, he stressed.
JULIO CÉSAR ARRIOLA RAMÍREZ (Paraguay), associating himself with CELAC and MERCOSUR, noted that colonialism remains a reality, as demonstrated by the situation of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. “This is a complex question,” he said, adding that the rights of indigenous peoples should be protected over those of people imposed on the Territories by colonization. Regarding the Malvinas Islands, he expressed support for Argentina’s sovereignty claim and called for the resumption of negotiations between the parties to the dispute. Paraguay is satisfied with the willingness of Argentina’s Government to pursue all possible solutions to the dispute, and with its constructive attitude in that regard, he added.
MILENKO ESTEBAN SKOKNIC TAPIA (Chile), associating himself with CELAC and MERCOSUR, said the work of the Special Committee on Decolonization has borne fruit, but several tasks remain outstanding. Chile called upon the administering Powers to adopt the measures necessary to transmit adequate information on the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories. Noting that his country’s actions are guided and inspired by international law, he said it supports processes intended to arrive at negotiated solutions. Emphasizing that the issue of the Malvinas Islands is a sovereignty dispute, he expressed support for Argentina’s position in that regard, and called upon both parties to the dispute to resume negotiations as soon as possible and arrive at a solution, in accordance with United Nations resolutions, especially General Assembly resolution 2065 (XX).
VLADIMIR KURT SEAN BUDHU (Trinidad and Tobago) acknowledged the accomplishments of United Nations decolonization efforts, including those on behalf of his own country, but described the current state of the process as virtually inert, with only two years of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism remaining. Noting that little progress has been made on the 17 Non‑Self-Governing Territories, he went on to affirm his delegation’s support for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara and welcomed Security Council resolution 2414 (2018) on the continuation of negotiations under United Nations the auspices. Trinidad and Tobago urged Member States to achieve the outstanding goal of eradicating colonialism because a world in which “no one is left behind” cannot be realized if colonialism continues to exist, he stressed.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, CELAC and MERCOSUR, called upon all administering and occupying Powers to begin the process of decolonization. He expressed support for the right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination. Recalling also that the United Nations has been calling on the United Kingdom and Argentina to resolve their dispute over the Malvinas Islands since 1965, he noted that the United Kingdom has not respected any of those requests. Western Sahara should revert to its status as sovereign Argentine territory, he emphasized. Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied lands and for an end to colonial practices against the Palestinian people. Bolivia is committed to a solution that will lead to the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, he reiterated, calling for direct negotiations between the parties, conducted realistically and in a spirit of compromise.
MODEST JONATHAN MERO (United Republic of Tanzania) reaffirmed his country’s support for the aspirations of peoples under colonial rule to exercise their right to self-determination, including independence. Noting that colonialism in any form is incompatible with the United Nations Charter and relevant General Assembly resolutions, he called upon administering Powers to take steps for the prompt decolonization of the Territories under their administration, in accordance with Article 73 of the Charter. All parties must demonstrate the political will and commitment to that end, he added. Noting that the issue of self-determination for Western Sahara has entered a new direction with Morocco rejoining the African Union, he said that development presented a renewed opportunity for the United Nations and the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to work with the newly established African Union Troika mechanism to address the Western Sahara issue.
KEISHA ANIYA MCGUIRE (Grenada) said the Fourth Committee’s work is of utmost significance to her country, a former colony. Calling for goodwill and dialogue in its quest to fulfil the decolonization agenda, she said that while there is much work to be done, she is encouraged by the progress made through development initiatives in certain Non-Self-Governing Territories, including New Caledonia. She expressed support for Security Council resolution 2414 (2018), emphasizing the need to make progress towards a durable compromise-based solution to the question of Western Sahara. A just resolution must entail bringing all relevant parties, including neighbouring States, to the table, she added.
CHEICK AHMED TIDIANE CAMARA (Guinea) reaffirmed his delegation’s position on Western Sahara and its support for a construction solution based on consensus and political dialogue. Guinea supports the Secretary-General’s initiatives, led by his Special Envoy, for a peaceful settlement based on cooperation between the parties, he said, welcoming Morocco’s recent efforts, including its initiative for the autonomy of local populations. Guinea will spare no effort in its contributions to lasting peace in Western Sahara.
Right of Reply
The representative of the United Kingdom said his country has no doubt about the sovereignty about the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)* and the population’s right to self‑determination, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Recalling that 99.8 per cent of that population voted to remain part of the United Kingdom in the 2013 referendum, he said that result sent a clear message of their wishes. Argentina denies that fundamental human rights apply to the people of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), he said. Emphasizing that no civilian population was expelled in 1833, he said Argentina’s territorial borders did not extend to the islands until half a century later, by which time the population had lived there for two generations. The United Kingdom never implanted the population there, he reiterated, underlining that the legitimacy of Argentina’s claims are without foundation since the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) have never formed a part of that country’s sovereign territory.
The representative of Argentina reiterated the statement by his country’s President describing the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas as an integral part of Argentine territory. The dispute between the two countries is one of sovereignty and has been recognized by numerous international organizations, he said. Recalling that the Special Committee on Decolonization has expressed its views many times, he said the most recent time was by adopting a declaration in June calling upon the parties to resume negotiations. He expressed regret over the historically inaccurate version of events presented by the United Kingdom and invited that country to resume discussions as soon as possible in order to find a resolution to the dispute. Reiterating that the illegitimate referendum vote was a unilateral action by the United Kingdom that did nothing to resolve the situation, he said it did not change the meetings held in the Fourth Committee since that vote. To allow the British citizens of the Malvinas to be the arbiters of the outcome there does not resolve the issue, he emphasized. Furthermore, the Territory has no population in the eyes of international law, he said, reaffirming his country’s legitimate claim of sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands.
* A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).