Speakers Tackle Issues from Occupied Palestinian Territory to Language Parity, as Fourth Committee Continues General Debate
Delegates touched on a range of topics as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate today, with some calling for collective action to end Israel’s impunity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and others urging the United Nations to redouble its efforts to achieve true multilingualism, especially in the wake of the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Speakers also drew the Committee’s attention to issues on the United Nations decolonization agenda and related matters.
An observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on the issue of Israeli practices, reiterated that the Palestinian people must be able to realize their inalienable right to self‑determination and independence. “This right is not up for negotiation,” she stressed, adding that no people would ever willingly accept life under perpetual occupation and forsake their rights. Collective action — in line with international law and relevant United Nations resolutions — is the only way to make Israel want to end the occupation as much as others, she stressed.
Also speaking on that issue, the representative of Lebanon observed that the conflict in the Gaza Strip in May — the fourth since 2008 — has compounded and aggravated human suffering, leaving almost three quarters of Gaza’s population reliant on food assistance, shelter and health care support. He also noted the ongoing demolition and seizures of Palestinian‑owned buildings, as well as widespread violence and excessive use of force by Israeli forces and settlers, appealing to the international community to ensure those violations do not continue without accountability.
Qatar’s representative, detailing violations by Israeli forces that she said are inconsistent with international law and run counter to the goals of a two‑State solution, went on to highlight her country’s efforts to support the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Those include its allocation of reconstruction and cash assistance projects, among other initiatives.
The representative of Israel, responding to those comments in exercise of the right of reply, rejected those statements and noted that some countries continue to politicize the Palestinian agenda. Noting attempts to hijack yet another discussion of the Committee to propagate biased information against Israel, she described the Palestinian position as rejectionist and expressed hope that a more constructive, forward‑looking approach will be adopted instead. Israel remains a great partner for peace, she said, requesting the Palestinians to transform their culture of incitement into one of tolerance.
Meanwhile, some speakers highlighted the importance of enhanced multilingualism throughout the United Nations communications services and products. The representative of Côte d’Ivoire, speaking on behalf of the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, pointed out that the largest United Nations peacekeeping missions are located in French‑speaking countries, and that knowledge of French is therefore critical to fostering trust and better understanding of local contexts. Against that backdrop, he called on the Department of Peace Operations and the Department of Operational Support to take measures to fully incorporate multilingualism into peacekeeping.
Costa Rica’s representative noted that the COVID‑19 pandemic demonstrated that access to reliable, independent information is a basic human right and reiterated the value of multilingualism and the need to eliminate disparities between English and the other five official languages of the United Nations. Echoing that point, the representative of Spain warned of the damaging effects of disinformation campaigns and observed a trend towards monolingualism, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Also speaking today were representatives of Nicaragua, Jamaica, Timor‑Leste, Pakistan, Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, Cuba, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia.
Also speaking in the exercise of right of reply were representatives of the United Kingdom, India, Spain, Argentina, Pakistan and Iran.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Friday, 22 October, to continue its general debate.
LÉON KACOU ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire), speaking on behalf of the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, highlighted the benefits of multilingualism as well as COVID‑19’s negative impact on that critical value. Pointing out that the largest United Nations peacekeeping missions are located in French‑speaking countries, he said knowledge of French is therefore critical to fostering trust and buy‑in, as well as to better understanding of local contexts. Against that backdrop, he called on the Department of Peace Operations and the Department of Operational Support to take measures to fully incorporate multilingualism into peacekeeping. He further applauded work to make the contents of United Nations websites, social networks and other materials available in the Organization’s six official languages, and asked the Department of Global Communications to accelerate those efforts.
Noting that the various training programmes of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) should also be available in six languages, he called for a balanced approach to communications in the six official languages, pointing out that French is spoken on five continents and is a working language of the Secretariat. In that context, he welcomed the broadening of multilingual radio coverage, which underscores the important role played by traditional media in disseminating information on the United Nations in both official and local languages. Stressing that financial constraints should not obstruct the equality of the languages used at the United Nations, he welcomed the fact that Member States have put forward concrete proposals to resolve that issue.
JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said it is more important than ever to remove obstacles preventing people’s right to self‑determination, so all may be able to implement sustainable development models. Urging relevant United Nations bodies to step up their efforts in that regard, he went on to say the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara must be allowed to hold a self‑determination referendum as a decisive part of a peaceful solution. As for Puerto Rico, the island continues to exist under the yoke of colonialism and should not be treated as an exception in the decolonization process. He also expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people and emphasized the need for a sovereign Palestinian State with the same right to development as all States.
DENIESE AVA‑LOU SEALEY (Jamaica), associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, CELAC and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said she would not have imagined that the issue of decolonization would feature prominently in discussions at the United Nations in 2021. Nevertheless, the Caribbean remains one of the few colonized regions in the world. As a beneficiary of decolonization, Jamaica has consistently supported the United Nations efforts to end colonization, but greater momentum in that process is needed. To that end, she called on the pertinent administering Powers to initiate the necessary internal reforms and adopt the requisite measures to facilitate the decolonization of each of the Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, accounting for their specific situations. She also reiterated the 1998 call by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) for the necessary measures to facilitate associate members — including Non‑Self‑Governing Territories — to participate in the special sessions of the General Assembly and in the work of the Economic and Social Council.
ALYA AHMED SAIF AL‑THANI (Qatar) said a resolution of the Middle East issue can only be achieved based on international law and the Arab Peace Initiative. There is an urgent need to end the occupation of all occupied Arab territories, including Lebanese territories and the Syrian Arab Golan. Noting the need to ensure the right to self‑determination of the Palestinian people on the basis of a two‑State solution, she emphasized that the holy sites cannot be altered. Detailing violations by Israeli forces that are inconsistent with international law and run counter to a two‑State solution, she highlighted her country’s efforts to support the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, including its allocation for reconstruction and cash assistance projects. Underlining the important services provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), she noted that Qatar will continue providing support to the Agency. Turning to decolonization matters, she noted Morocco’s realistic proposal on the Western Sahara, expressing hope that the draft resolution to be considered by the Committee will help facilitate a settlement that achieves peace, stability and cooperation in the region.
KARLITO NUNES (Timor-Leste), recalling that his country was once on the United Nations list of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, expressed support for the rights of the Sahrawi and Palestinian people to self‑determination and independence, and for the permanent sovereignty over their natural resources. He went on to express concern over escalating tensions in the Western Sahara during November and December 2020, for which he credited the breach of the 1991 ceasefire agreement by Morocco. However, he welcomed the recent judgment of the General Court of the European Union concerning agriculture and fishing agreements in the Western Sahara. Turning to peacekeeping operations, he said his country is committed to complying with the Secretary‑General’s zero‑tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and will ensure that all Timorese personnel deployed to peacekeeping missions will be subject to gender‑sensitive predeployment training programmes to ensure their appropriate behaviour on the ground.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, emphasized the need to protect peacekeepers and welcomed the use of modern technology to strengthen camp security, monitor convoy movements and provide troops with telemedicine care. The Security Council has not been able to develop political strategies for conflict resolutions in many instances, he said, including in the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. In fact, the Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir is one of the worst examples of colonialism, he said, noting that some 900,000 Indian occupation soldiers have imprisoned Kashmiri leadership, carried out illegal detentions, suppressed protests, locked down the Internet and prevented observers from entering the region. Since its illegal attempt to annex the area, India aims to achieve its ominous “final solution” by seeking to change the demographics of the region, providing fake domicile certificates to Hindu outsiders. “This surely amounts to genocide,” he stressed, calling for action by the Security Council that would enable the people of Kashmir to exercise their right to self‑determination.
RICARDO DE SOUZA MONTEIRO (Brazil), stressing that the Special Committee on Peacekeeping is the most suitable organ to discuss all aspects concerning peacekeeping operations, stressed the need for clearly defined mandates based on realistic assessments. Also pointing out that special political missions are typically mandated by the Security Council but funded from the United Nations regular budget, he said that distortion enhances the imbalance between decision‑making by a few and dilution of costs among the many. Such an “obvious inconsistency” should serve as an argument for the United Nations wider membership to engage more actively in discussions about special political missions. Reiterating Brazil’s support for the legitimate rights of Argentina over the Malvinas Islands*, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, he described them as a “special and particular colonial situation” because their British population and their descendants were brought under illegal occupation. The principle of self‑determination does not apply in that case, he stressed, calling instead for the application of the principle of territorial integrity.
MARITZA CHAN VALVERDE (Costa Rica), associating herself with CELAC and the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana, called upon the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom to resume as soon as possible negotiations on the existing sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, with the aim of finding a peaceful solution to that long‑standing dispute. On the issue of Western Sahara, she urged the parties to respect the ceasefire and resume negotiations with no conditions and in good faith under the auspices of the Secretary‑General and his envoy. Turning to the issue of information, she aligned herself with the statement on behalf of the Group of Friends of Spanish, noting that the COVID‑19 pandemic demonstrated that access to reliable, independent information is a basic human right. She further reiterated the value of multilingualism and the need to eliminate disparities between English and the other five official languages of the United Nations. She added that successful peacekeeping missions require a balance between mandates and operative resources, and called for peacekeeping mandates that are coherent, sequenced and achievable, as well as supported by adequate and predictable funding.
SALIM SALIM (Kenya), noting that his country understands all too well the ramifications of colonization, appealed to all stakeholders to invoke political compromise for the improvement of human rights and the prosperity of the people in the 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories. Stressing the continued urgency of achieving a just, peaceful and lasting solution to the question of Western Sahara, he emphasized that it should provide for the inalienable rights of the Sahrawi people to self‑determination. Likewise, he said that a durable solution to the question of Palestine can be achieved only through the establishment of a Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel, within mutually agreed borders. Noting with regret UNRWA’s continued financial difficulties, he called upon the international community to lend its support. On the question of peacekeeping operations, he called for a greater understanding of the operational environment and better cooperation with regional security mechanisms, noting that Kenya’s Humanitarian Peace Support School — the first of its kind — recently underwent training with various United Nations departments.
YASSI MAXIMIN BROU (Côte D’Ivoire) expressed support for the political process being carried out in the Western Sahara and stressed that a fair and lasting settlement to the dispute is vitally important to ensure greater cooperation between States in the Arab Maghreb Union. Voicing support for the autonomy initiative proposed by Morocco, he said it reflects on the specificities of the region. He went on to cite the high voter turnout during the Territory’s general elections in September and expressed satisfaction with the area’s new development model. Turning to United Nations peace operations, he said preventative diplomacy should lie at the heart of the Organization’s work and emphasized that lasting peace is only possible when women are fully engaged at every level of conflict resolution. Peacekeeping mandates must be well defined and achievable, with enhanced cooperation between United Nations missions and country teams. As for the work of the Department of Global Communications, he stressed that disinformation is one of today’s greatest threats, especially as it relates to the COVID‑19 pandemic and vaccine hesitancy. In that context, he welcomed the Department’s initiatives to combat disinformation.
MATHU JOYINI (South Africa), associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said her delegation would not be represented at the United Nations if it were not for the efforts of the Decolonization Committee. Calling on the international community to ensure that the long‑pending United Nations‑mandated self‑determination referendum on Western Sahara takes place, she voiced concern over the breach of the ceasefire agreement and resumption of hostilities in November 2020. Also calling for the complete decolonization of Mauritius, she stressed that the Chagos Archipelago belongs to the people in whose land and continent it is located. Reaffirming South Africa’s support for the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self‑determination, she said Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are daily subjected to laws and practices engineered to impede them from participating in the political system that determines their future. Voicing support for the Secretary‑General’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative, she highlighted the complex political and security environments in which peacekeepers are deployed.
YUSNIER ROMERO PUENTES (Cuba) urged the international community to develop a multilateral mechanism to eradicate colonialism in the 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories. Drawing attention to the situation of Puerto Rico, whose free association status renders it a “North American possession”, he noted that the Puerto Rican people are prevented from taking sovereign decisions to meet their own needs and define their own future. On the question of Western Sahara, he supported the right of the people to self‑determination in line with the United Nations Charter, international law and relevant resolutions. He went on to express his country’s support for the legitimate rights of Argentina over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas. He also commended the work of UNRWA and its personnel, describing the United States’ recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter, international law and Security Council resolutions. On new information and communication technologies, which should be within reach of all countries without discrimination, he noted that progress in that area is impossible for Cuba due to unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States.
AGUSTÍN SANTOS MARAVER (Spain), associating himself with the European Union, recalled that Gibraltar was occupied and subsequently retained by the United Kingdom without territorial jurisdiction. He went on to cite several examples of occupation, including the temporary camps installed during the yellow fever epidemic that were later made permanent and the construction of a landing strip on the isthmus that was used for military purposes. Gibraltar is not merely a case of territorial occupation, but also one that sees the occupation’s negative impacts on the Territory’s economy, including through a distorted tax regime. For over half a century, the General Assembly has reiterated the need to begin negotiations between the parties to resolve the dispute, but to no avail. He noted several positive engagements between Spain and the United Kingdom, including an international agreement on taxation to protect the financial interests of Gibraltar when the United Kingdom left the European Union. Turning to information matters, he warned of the damaging effects of disinformation campaigns and expressed support for the Department of Global Communications’ initiatives, while also warning of a trend towards monolingualism, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic and the rise of remote work.
MOHAMMAD ALI JARDALI (Lebanon) highlighted the importance of United Nations peace operations, recalling that in resolution 2591 (2021) the Security Council authorized the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to take temporary and special measures to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces with additional non‑lethal material and logistical support, a timely response to the country’s economic crisis. Turning to the work of UNRWA, he noted that Palestine refugees are becoming more reliant on the Agency for basic services and education, and the Agency requires predictable and stable financing. As for the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he observed that the conflict in Gaza in May — the fourth since 2008 — has compounded and aggravated human suffering, leaving almost three quarters of Gaza’s population reliant on food assistance, shelter and health care support. He also noted ongoing demolition and seizures of Palestinian‑owned buildings, as well as widespread violence and excessive use of force by Israeli Forces and settlers, appealing to the international community to ensure those violations do not continue without accountability.
FEDA ABDELHADY‑NASSER, Deputy Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, said UNRWA continues to create a safety net for the most vulnerable and marginalized Palestine refugees, providing indispensable education, health, relief, social and protection services, as well as emergency assistance against the backdrop of cycles of crisis and a global pandemic. Turning to the issue of Israeli practices and settlements, she said the long‑standing Israeli occupation is illegal and must end, and the Palestinian people must realize their inalienable right to self‑determination and independence. “This right is not up for negotiation,” she stressed, adding that no people would ever willingly accept life under perpetual occupation and forsake their rights. Collective action — in line with international law and relevant United Nations resolutions — is the only way to make Israel want to end this occupation as much as others, she stressed, citing legal action in the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, as well as other lawful countermeasures to confront Israeli violations and compel compliance with the law.
PETER MOHAN MAITHRI PIERIS (Sri Lanka), recalling the establishment of his country’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Council in 2015, noted that Sri Lanka uses depleted uranium in medical, agricultural and industrial applications and closely collaborates with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verification team. Noting that exponential use of technology has given rise to emerging new security issues, he endorsed the peaceful application of technological developments in outer space, which Sri Lanka is committed to protect. On the issues of mines, he commended the United Nations for taking action to mitigate the threat of improvised explosive devices and ensure a world free from the threat of landmines. Sri Lanka once had half a million landmines strewn in conflict areas, but it has cleared 90 per cent of them, and is ready to share best practices with other countries. As a long‑standing contributor to peacekeeping, Sri Lanka also played a role in transforming traditional peacekeeping missions into complex, multidimensional operations, thus strengthening global security, he said.
YOSEPH KASSAYE (Ethiopia), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said it is regrettable that there are still 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories that have yet to exercise the right to self‑determination. Ethiopia believes the full implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples requires immediate action. Voicing support for the right of the people of Western Sahara to self‑determination, he called on the parties to resume direct negotiations and pursue an African solution to that matter. As one of the top troop‑contributing countries to United Nations peacekeeping, Ethiopia stands committed to fulfilling its obligations on that front. He also expressed support for calls to allocate adequate resources to peacekeeping missions, adding that missions must match mandates, not the other way around. In addition, the importance of synergies between the African Union and the Security Council cannot be overemphasized to ensure the effectiveness of peacekeeping missions, he said.
Right of Reply
The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, reaffirmed his country’s sovereignty over Gibraltar. Stressing that Gibraltar is a separate territory recognized by the United Nations and included since 1946 in the Organization’s list of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, he said it enjoys the rights accorded to it under the United Nations Charter. The people of Gibraltar enjoy the right of self‑determination, he said, adding that his Government will not enter into arrangements whereby they would pass under the sovereignty of another State. Also adding that there can be no doubt about his country’s sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), he said there can be no dialogue on sovereignty unless the Falklanders so wish. Reaffirming British sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, he said that Mauritius has never held sovereignty over that territory.
The representative of India, responding to the statement delivered by the representative of Pakistan, said the latter country is a globally recognized hub for terrorism, with an established State practice of hosting and supporting terrorists. Pakistan is the biggest destabilizing force in the world today, she said, adding that the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir was, is and will always be an integral part of India.
The representative of Israel rejected statements made about her country, noting that some countries continue to politicize the Palestinian agenda. Noting attempts to hijack yet another discussion of the Committee to propagate biased information against Israel, she described the Palestinian position as rejectionist and expressed hope that a more constructive, forward‑looking approach will be adopted instead. Israel remains a great partner for peace, she said, requesting the Palestinians to transform their culture of incitement into one of tolerance.
In response to the statement made by the representative of Lebanon, she drew attention to the actions of Hizbullah, describing the group as a real threat to stability in the Middle East, which Lebanon does not attempt to disarm.
The representative of Spain noted that the decolonization of Gibraltar should be resolved through bilateral negotiations between Spain and the United Kingdom as has been recommended by the General Assembly. He further noted that the Assembly has been clear in denying the existence of an alleged right to self‑determination of the inhabitants of Gibraltar, stressing that his country rejects attempts by the administering Power to claim that there is no colonial link. Spain does not recognize any rights for the United Kingdom regarding Gibraltar except those set out in article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht, he said, adding that Spain has no doubts about the limits of its territory, and thus about its sovereignty over the waters adjacent to Gibraltar. Noting that the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union rendered negotiations between that country and Spain bilateral, he reiterated Spain’s willingness to reach an agreement on the implementation of a new mechanism for regional cooperation.
The representative of Argentina stated that the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas are an integral part of Argentina and are illegally occupied by the United Kingdom as recognized by international organizations. Recalling 10 General Assembly resolutions, which recognize the existence of a sovereignty dispute, he noted that these documents urged the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom to resume negotiations so as to find as soon as possible a peaceful lasting solution to the dispute. Turning to the consultative opinion of the International Court of Justice, he said it ascertained the crucial role of the General Assembly in supervising the implementation of resolutions and tasks of the administrative Powers to ensure that the decolonization process was fully completed. Noting that the rule of self‑determination does not apply in the case of populations which are not peoples, he reaffirmed his country’s legitimate rights of sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas as an integral part of the national Argentinian territory.
The representative of Pakistan, reacting to the statement delivered by the representative of India, said that drawing attention to the continued Indian colonization of Jammu and Kashmir is not a waste of the Fourth Committee’s time. Noting that the territory’s disputed status is well known, he added that India continues to present false narratives on that front. Instead of branding the just struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir as terrorism, he said, India needs to introspect on the real reasons behind the mass resistance in the occupied territory.
The representative of Iran said Israel continues to violate the fundamental rights and dignity of the Palestinian people and other Arabs living under its occupation. Stressing that Palestinians’ rights to self‑determination have been negated, he added that as the international community focuses on mitigating the consequences of COVID‑19, the Israeli regime continues to exploit the current period to accelerate its illegal settlement activities and entrench its military occupation.
The representative of the United Kingdom, taking the floor a second time, stressed the modern relationship between Gibraltar and his country. Emphasizing that Gibraltar has a vigorous parliamentary democracy of its own, he refuted the allegation that the United Kingdom illegally occupied the isthmus and the surrounding waters. Regarding the statement by the representative of Argentina that the right to self‑determination does not apply to the people of the Malvinas Islands, he said that, prior to 1833, there was no indigenous or settler population on the islands. No civilian population has ever been forcibly removed and several families have now been living on the islands for nine generations, he stressed.
The representative of Spain, responding to the comments made by the representative of the United Kingdom, noted that in 1713, Spain ceded the city and castle of Gibraltar, along with the port’s defensive walls, through the Treaty of Utrecht, giving up territorial jurisdiction of any kind. He further added that there is no British right to the adjacent waters.
The representative of Argentina voiced regret over the erroneous interpretation of facts by the representative of the United Kingdom, which are used to justify the latter’s illegal usurpation. He noted that the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas were subject to Spanish dominion since the colonial epoch in America, which was recognized by the other colonial powers, including the United Kingdom. Detailing other historical facts, he stressed that the principle of self‑determination is not applicable because there is no objective subject for such a right. Noting that the General Assembly also supported that view, he said that organ, by a broad majority, rejected a proposal by the United Kingdom to incorporate the concept of self‑determination into a resolution on the matter.
* 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).