Territorial Integrity, Self-Determination Focus of Debates on Western Sahara, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Gibraltar, as Decolonization Seminar Continues
SAINT GEORGE’S, Grenada, 3 May – Participants expressed diverging views today over the manner in which Charter principles of the United Nations such as self-determination and territorial integrity apply to Western Sahara, the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)* and Gibraltar, as the Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization entered its second day.
On the question of Western Sahara, many speakers expressed support for the United Nations-facilitated political process that recently brought Morocco, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el Hamra and Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), Algeria and Mauritania together for round-table meetings in Geneva.
Papua New Guinea’s delegate was among the many participants who welcomed the inclusive political dialogue led by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara. Stressing the need for a realistic, practical and endurable solution based on compromise, he said the autonomy initiative proposed by Morocco holds promise for the people of Western Sahara.
However, the representative for Frente Polisario emphasized that the Special Committee’s continuing consideration of the Western Sahara question at the request of the General Assembly, testifies to the fact that the inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence is not negotiable.
Algeria’s representative reaffirmed the importance of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, stressing that his country remains fully committed, as a neighbouring State, to supporting efforts by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to attain a solution and to abide by whatever agreement is reached by two parties, Morocco and Frente Polisario.
Morocco’s representative stressed that his country never occupied the Territory, but reclaimed it through negotiations, adding that the autonomy proposal is a new opportunity that “must not slip through our fingers”.
As the Special Committee turned to another question, a participant from the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) said the United Kingdom has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Territory nor about the principle and the right of its inhabitants to self-determination. He recalled that Argentina’s attempt, within the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) in 2008, to remove the right of self-determination in “disputed” territories was defeated.
Argentina’s representative said the Malvinas Islands remain the object of an illegal occupation that began on 3 January 1833, when the United Kingdom used its forces to expel the legitimately constituted Argentine authorities. The United Nations did not consider the principle of self-determination to be applicable to this situation, he said, explaining further that none of the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly nor of the Special Committee accepts, expresses or supposes that such a principle can be applied by virtue of the specificity of the case. Moreover, in 1985, the Assembly expressly rejected two British attempts to incorporate the principle of self-determination into the draft resolution on the question of the Malvinas Islands, he added.
The former Chief Minister of Gibraltar said Spanish Gibraltar was attacked by a combined force of Dutch and English marines on 3 August 1704 and surrendered within 24 hours. Emphasizing that the Charter of the United Nations is not retrospective, he said the principle of territorial integrity enshrined in the document does not apply to a situation from 300 years ago.
Spain’s representative said the case of Gibraltar harms his country’s territorial integrity, recalling that resolution 2429 (XXIII) of 1968 “requests the administering Power to terminate the colonial situation in Gibraltar no later than 1 October 1969”.
Held under the auspices of the Special Committee, the theme for the 2019 Seminar is “Implementation of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism: accelerating decolonization through renewed commitment and pragmatic measures”. (For further information, see Press Releases GA/COL/3331 of 29 April and GA/COL/3332 of 2 May.) The Special Committee is formally known as the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
The General Assembly adopted the decolonization Declaration in 1960, subsequently proclaiming the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (1990 to 2000), as well as the Second and Third International Decades (2001-2010 and 2011-2020). More than 80 former colonies have gained independence since the creation of the United Nations, but 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain on the Special Committee’s list today.
These Territories are American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), French Polynesia, Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands and Western Sahara. The administering Powers are France, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States.
A participant representing the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) provided an overview of that agency’s activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories.
The Seminar will reconvene to conclude its work on Saturday, 4 May.
ROGER EDWARDS, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), described the islands as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, which supports the wishes of the inhabitants to remain a part of that country. The United Kingdom has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Territory nor about the principle and the right of Falkland Islanders to self-determination, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter and in United Nations human rights covenants, he emphasized. Their desire to maintain the status quo was amply demonstrated in the referendum of March 2013, when 99.8 per cent of those who participated, in a turnout of 92 per cent, voted to remain an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, he said, stressing that there can be no dialogue on sovereignty unless the Falkland Islanders so wish and unless they are directly involved in any such dialogue.
He went on to state that, under the United Nations Charter, the United Kingdom, as the administering Power, ensures the political, economic and social advancement of Falkland Islanders while encouraging the development of self-government towards autonomy. The relationship between the Falkland Islands and the United Kingdom is very much a modern one, based on partnership, shared values and the right of the people to determine their own future, he said. Reminding the Special Committee that its mandate is based on the principle that any decolonization process would result in free association, integration or independence, he proposed a fourth option: any other political status as long as it is freely determined by a people. “I believe that in 186 years of peaceful settlement and development, Falkland Islanders have evolved into ‘a people’ with their own traditions, lifestyle and freedoms – freedom and a lifestyle that would be the envy of many.”
He went on to recall that there was an attempt by Argentina in 2008, within the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), to remove the right of self-determination in “disputed” territories, but this attempt was defeated. “Similarly, Argentina has argued that we are not ‘a people’ and so the fourth option does not apply to us, but there again, I have made my case very clearly that we are a people in our own right.” He asked the Special Committee to send a visiting mission to the Falkland Islands, to ignore the unjust and false claims advanced by Argentina and acknowledge the right of Falkland Islanders to be recognized as a people and, similarly, their right to self-determination.
JOSEPH BOSSANO, former Chief Minister of Gibraltar, addressed the views expressed by Spain’s representative regarding that country’s claim over Gibraltar and the Special Committee’s failure to deal with the rights of the Territory’s people of Gibraltar under the United Nations Charter and decolonization resolutions. Spain has been repeating the history of Gibraltar’s capture, but not too accurately, he said, noting that Spanish Gibraltar was attacked by a combined force of Dutch and English marines on 3 August 1704 and surrendered within 24 hours. However, the Charter is not retrospective to 1700, so the principle of territorial integrity enshrined in the document does not refer to a situation that occurred 300 years ago, he emphasized.
In 1964, the Special Committee concluded that the decolonization Declaration was fully applicable to Gibraltar, he continued, underlining that to place the Territory under Spanish rule, totally or partially, would contravene resolution 1514 (XV), which states that the subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, contrary to the Charter of the United Nations. Noting that Spain now offers a general proposal for joint sovereignty with the United Kingdom, he declared: “We are the Gibraltarians, the people of the colony, and our right is not up for sale.” There will not be another bilateral negotiation between Spain and the United Kingdom on the issue of sovereignty over Gibraltar, he said, reiterating the United Nations position that as long as there is one Territory left, the eradication of colonialism is not complete. “The day will come when we shall take our rightful place in the family of nations… when that comes, I trust, it will be with the support of Spain as a friendly neighbour.”
SIDI MOHAMED OMAR, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el-Hamra and Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), emphasizing that he speaks on behalf of the legitimate, United Nations-recognized representative of the people of Western Sahara, said the question is a straightforward and clear-cut issue of decolonization according to General Assembly resolutions. However, the decolonization process for Western Sahara was interrupted by Morocco’s military invasion and occupation of the Territory on 31 October 1975, an act deplored by the Security Council and the General Assembly, he recalled, reiterating that Morocco’s presence in Western Sahara is an illegal military occupation.
However, there is a new dynamic in place to advance the United Nations peace process, he noted, citing the first face-to-face meetings between the two sides in six years, in Geneva in December 2018 and March 2019. However, “our constructive engagement stands in stark contrast to the other party”, he said, adding that the Special Committee’s continuing consideration of the situation in Western Sahara, at the request of the General Assembly, testifies to the fact that the inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence is not negotiable.
MHAMED ABBA described himself as a Sahrawi native elected to the local council in municipal and regional elections held in September 2015 throughout all regions of Morocco, including the two regions of the Moroccan Sahara – Laayoune Sakia El Hamra and Dakhla Ouad Dahab. The Sahrawi there manage their own domestic affairs and budget, he said, adding that the Presidents of the two regions took part in the two Geneva round-table meetings, representing the Sahrawi population. Describing Morocco’s proposed autonomy initiative as the only option to resolve the dispute over Moroccan Sahara, he said it allows the regions to run their own local political affairs. Underlining that any solution must ensure total respect for Morocco’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, he said the two regions enjoy the full right to development, describing their progress as irreversible and sustainable. The ongoing social and economic development is largely benefiting the local population, he added.
The representative of Spain said the question of Gibraltar harms his country’s territorial integrity, and as the sole colony existing in Europe, is a vestige of the dynastic conflicts of the old regime on the continent. Emphasizing that Spain never ceded the isthmus linking the Rock to the peninsula to the United Kingdom, he said the General Assembly, through resolution 2070 (XX) of 1965, invited Spain and the United Kingdom to initiate talks without further delay. Resolution 2353 (XXII) of 1967 urges decolonization according to the principle of territorial integrity while condemning the “referendum” organized by the administering Power on 1 September 1967, he recalled. Resolution 2429 (XXIII) of 1968 “requests the administering Power to terminate the colonial situation in Gibraltar no later than 1 October 1969”. Every year, he noted, the conclusions of the reginal seminar recall the need to put into practice the United Nations appeal that Spain and the United Kingdom hold talks.
The representative of Argentina said the Malvinas Islands remain the object of an illegal occupation that began on 3 January 1833 — 186 years ago, when, by an act of force, the United Kingdom expelled the legitimately constituted Argentine authorities, preventing their return and proceeding to populate the Islands with settlers from the British Isles. Since that date, the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas are the object of a sovereignty dispute, recognized by the Organization in resolution 2065 (XX) of 1965, in which it also established the way disputes must be resolved: bilateral negotiations between the Argentine Republic and the United Kingdom, taking into account the interests of the population.
Pointing out that the Special Committee annually urges the two parties to resume bilateral negotiations for a peaceful solution, he said the United Nations did not consider the principle of self-determination to be applicable to the situation, and none of the resolutions of the General Assembly nor of the Special Committee accepts, expresses or supposes that such a principle can be applied by virtue of the specificity of the case. Moreover, in 1985, he recalled, the Assembly expressly rejected two British attempts to incorporate the principle of self-determination into the draft resolution on the question of the Malvinas Islands. He went on to express regret that, despite the renewed bilateral relationship, the United Kingdom continues unilateral actions in the disputed area, including the exploration and exploitation of renewable and non-renewable natural resources. Argentina remains willing to find a peaceful and definitive solution through the resumption of negotiations with the United Kingdom, he said.
The representative of Cuba said that the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas Islands must be resolved through negotiations, expressing her delegation’s support for Argentina. The Malvinas Islands are and will always be Argentine, she stressed. Describing Latin America as a region of peace, she cautioned against any militarization of the South Atlantic, urging the United Kingdom to resume talks with Argentina.
The representative of Nicaragua expressed support for the efforts of Non-Self-Governing Territories, including Western Sahara, as well as the progress made in the cases of French Polynesia and New Caledonia. “We cannot wait for another decade to end colonialism,” he emphasized.
The representative of Syria expressed full support for Argentina’s position, stressing that the right to self-determination must not be used to undermine that country’s territorial integrity. Opposing as “not appropriate” the idea of sending a visiting mission to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), he noted that the Special Committee has approved 35 draft resolutions by consensus but none have been implemented. Syria calls for their implementation, in particular by the United Kingdom, he said.
The representative of Timor-Leste welcomed the political process under way in Geneva and expressed hope that the next round-table meeting will generate substantial results. Timor-Leste and Western Sahara share similarities, but the latter country’s people have been able to exercise their right to self-determination while those of Western Sahara have not, he noted.
The representative of Chile urged the resumption of bilateral talks over the sovereignty of the Malvinas Islands, also recalling that the General Assembly called upon the parties to refrain from taking unilateral actions while the dispute exists. The Special Committee cannot send a visiting mission to a Territory under a sovereignty dispute, he emphasized.
The representative of China said he supports Argentina’s position on the Malvinas Islands.
The representative of Papua New Guinea expressed satisfaction with the inclusive participation from Western Sahara and by the positive efforts of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Frente Polisario. Morocco’s autonomy initiative holds promise for the people of Western Sahara, he said, stressing the need for a realistic, practical and durable solution based on compromise.
The representative of Congo welcomed efforts by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, including the round-table meetings, expressing support for the primacy of the United Nations-facilitated process.
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire also expressed support for United Nations efforts, including those of the Security Council and the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, and commended Morocco’s investment.
The representative of Grenada expressed support for the political process facilitated by the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy to find a mutually acceptable solution to the question of Western Sahara based on compromise. Morocco’s autonomy initiative is a viable proposal, he added.
The representative of Dominica said his delegation lends its full support for the work of Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, including the convening of the round-table meetings.
The representative of Saint Lucia also expressed support for Morocco’s autonomy plan.
The representative of Saint Kitts and Nevis echoed the views of Papua New Guinea’s delegate, saying his country’s Government also views Morocco’s autonomy initiative as a “good basis” for compromise.
The representative of Antigua and Barbuda expressed support for the ongoing political process, while stressing the need for Argentina and the United Kingdom to resume negotiations.
The representative of the Russian Federation stressed his delegation’s long-standing position that a solution must be found through dialogue, expressing concern over possible militarization of the South Atlantic. The Russian Federation is encouraged by the positive momentum for direct dialogue in all three situations discussed today – the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Gibraltar and Western Sahara.
The representative of Cuba expressed support for the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination. It is pivotal to implement all United Nations resolutions, both from the General Assembly and the Security Council, including one against the illegal exploitation of natural resources, she stressed.
The representative of Algeria recalled that Western Sahara has been occupied by Spain and subsequently by Morocco. Frente Polisario is the representative of the people of Western Sahara and should participate in the search for a solution, he emphasized. The international community has spared no efforts to end the suffering of Western Sahara since 1975, but there have been three missed opportunities: in 1991, when the United Nations called a referendum, but procrastination made it impossible to hold as scheduled; in 1997, when James Baker invited the two sides to Houston, Texas, in the hope they would agree to the organization of a free and fair referendum, but the creation of obstacles caused the plan to fail; and in 2003, when Mr. Baker presented a peace plan approved by the Security Council, accepted by Frente Polisario but rejected by Morocco. Affirming the importance of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, he said Algeria remains fully committed, as a neighbouring State, to supporting the efforts of the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to reach a solution and to abide by whatever agreement is reached by Morocco and Frente Polisario.
The representative of Honduras noted that decolonization is moving forward very slowly, stressing the need to deploy greater efforts. Honduras supports Argentina’s sovereign rights over the Malvinas Island, he said, adding that colonialism is a crime that must be eradicated.
The representative of Morocco said history is one thing many delegations overlooked today. Going back 30 or 40 years is not sufficient, he said, adding that the history of Sahara did not begin in 1963 or 1975. When Spain occupied Sahara in 1875, they claimed that nobody lived there and the land did not belong to anyone. However, the International Court of Justice ruled that there was an administration and authority established by Morocco. Algeria’s force entered Sahara, he said, emphasizing that Morocco never occupied the Territory, but only reclaimed it through negotiations. He went on to cite a missed opportunity that Algeria’s representative did not mention – a Baker plan accepted by Morocco but rejected by Algeria and Frente Polisario. After all the Baker plans failed, the United Nations called for a political solution under its own auspices, he recalled. With Morocco’s autonomy proposal on the table, there is a new opportunity, which “must not slip through our fingers”, stressing that a solution is “within our grasp”, and Morocco is committed to the political process.
The representative of Venezuela registered his delegation’s satisfaction with the two round-table meetings and emphasized that a just solution should be in accordance with the United Nations Charter and United Nations resolutions, regardless of history.
The representative of Algeria said that his counterpart from Morocco employs the discourse of hatred and is selective when discussing history.
The representative of Morocco said there was no census about the population in the camps, but only an assessment.
Mr. BOSSANO, responding to the representatives of the Russian Federation and Timor-Leste, said optimism for direct negotiations does not exist in Gibraltar’s case.
LUIS VERNET, expert, said that as a great-great-grandson of the first Argentine Governor of the Malvinas Islands, the decolonization issue has always caught his attention. Noting that the history of the sovereignty dispute dates back to 1833, when the United Kingdom illegally occupied the Islands by force, he said General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) established the two basic guiding principles on decolonization – one, the principle of self-determination, and the other, territorial integrity.
Today, there are slightly more than 2,800 people living in the Malvinas Islands, not counting the military or civilian staff at the Mount Pleasant base, he said. Of that total, only 43 per cent were born on the Islands, many of them descendants of those who occupied them after the Argentine population was forcibly expelled. The great majority of those not born on the Islands are British nationals, he said, emphasizing the importance of knowing the origins of the population to understand why applying the self-determination principle is not appropriate in this case. The view that, in the exercise of their right to self-determination, the inhabitants of the Malvinas Islands chose to remain a “British overseas territory” in 2013 would be absurd because British citizens chose to remain British, he pointed out. He said that he is not even allowed to visit the Territory.
Mr. OMAR posed questions to Morocco’s representative, saying the United Nations never recognized that country’s sovereignty over Western Sahara and no Member State does.
The representative of Morocco said the United Nations never denied his country’s right to claim sovereignty either, and many countries recognize its sovereignty over Western Sahara in the joint communiqués it signed with them.
Mr. EDWARDS said Mr. Vernet’s claim that he cannot visit the Territory is false, adding that, like many Argentine citizens, he is more than welcome to visit.
DENISE BLACKSTOCK, Liaison Officer, Subregional Office for the Caribbean, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said the Office covers 22 countries of the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean, including six Non-Self-Governing Territories: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos Islands. The UNFPA Office for the Pacific in Suva, Fiji, covers Tokelau. UNFPA provides technical and financial assistance to advance legislation, policies and programmes for maternal and child health; reduce adolescent pregnancy; prevent and respond to HIV; prevent sexual violence; and provide comprehensive education on sexuality. In 2018, Anguilla completed a sexual and reproductive health policy to comprehensively address its population’s needs, she said. The Subregional Office is currently finalizing a sexual and reproductive health legislative review for the 22 countries, including all Non-Self-Governing Territories, in order to identify gaps in the people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.
She went on to state that UNFPA also supports efforts by Governments to procure reproductive health commodities and provides technical assistance for logistics, forecasting and management to prevent stock-outs. Health providers in Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos Islands have received training on contraceptive technology and teratology, she noted. UNFPA works to strengthen the capacity of national statistical offices to generate disaggregated data in monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals and to inform national policy and programme planning, including in emergency contexts, she said, pointing out that between 2017 and 2018, UNFPA implemented approximately $600,000 in emergency responses to the Caribbean countries impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The Turks and Caicos Ministry of Health received reproductive health kits in 2018 to address the needs of the affected population, she added.
The representative of Sierra Leone asked about the participation of the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories and the role of administering Powers in planning programmes.
The representative of Fiji asked how young people are involved in programmes for Non-Self-Governing Territories.
Ms. BLACKSTOCK said that existing political will in the Territories allows UNFPA to work with relevant ministries advance programmes. Young people participate through youth advisory groups, which include representatives from Non-Self-Governing Territories.
WILMA REVERON-COLLAZO, expert, asked how Puerto Rico can access UNFPA services.
Ms. BLACKSTOCK said the UNFPA office in Panama covers Spanish-speaking countries in the Caribbean.
JUDITH BOURNE, expert, asked how the United States Virgin Island can access UNFPA services.
Ms. BLACKSTOCK said she lacked sufficient information on the issue but will find out how the Territory can do so.
The representative of Sierra Leone asked whether other United Nations entities are present at the Seminar and requested that the representative of UNFPA elaborate on the challenges of delivering services to the Territories.
The Chair of the Special Committee said all United Nations agencies were invited but due to prior commitments and scheduling conflicts, only UNFPA was able to attend.
Ms. BLACKSTOCK said that, as with most United Nations agencies, UNFPA faces funding challenges and its lack of a physical presence impacts its ability to provide support.
* 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).