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Eleven Non-Self-Governing Territories Enjoy ‘Historic’ Representation, as 2022 Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization Opens

Secretary-General Urges Tangible Support for Their Transition into Green Economies, as Chair Reports Rise over Previous Attendance

CASTRIES, Saint Lucia, 11 May — The 2022 Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization opened here today with “historic” representation for 11 of the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories that remain on the United Nations list.

“It would be remiss of me not to also highlight the historic participation of the Territories in this year’s Seminar,” said Keisha Aniya McGuire (Grenada), Chair 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.  She noted that their 2022 attendance rose by two over the previous record.

Such strong participation is not only welcome but is also a clear illustration that the decolonization agenda remains of paramount importance in the community of nations, she continued.  She went on to note that in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2010, Saint Lucia chaired the Special Committee and successfully guided its work.

Prime Minister Philip Joseph Pierre, noting that 43 years have passed since Saint Lucia’s independence, declared:  “During those four decades we have given honour to our act of self-determination by growing and protecting our democracy.”  He noted that general elections have been held freely and fairly, in accordance with the electoral calendar established by the Constitution.

The Prime Minister, who also holds the Finance, Economic Development and Youth Economy Cabinet portfolios, noted that the will of the people has regularly changed Governments as the people have so desired.  “But decolonization for us has to be more than raising the flag of independence,” he said, emphasizing that it must mean his Government will be making the teaching of African and Caribbean history an integral part of the school curriculum.

He went on to recall that in 1999, Saint Lucia hosted, for the first time, a Caribbean Regional Seminar, which produced important recommendations for the consideration of Member States.  Stressing that the United Nations has an important statutory role to play in the future development of the Territories, he said the successful decolonization of more than 80 Territories since the Second World War reflects the effectiveness of that historic role.  However, the international community is witnessing a period of “decolonization stagnation”, he pointed out.

Ironically, he noted, the Seminar is taking place during a governance crisis in the British Virgin Islands, in which the United Kingdom has indicated its intention to impose direct rule.  It is ill-advised to impose direct colonial rule, he said, cautioning that the history of such impositions in the Caribbean has never delivered the desired result.  There is, therefore, much work ahead, some of it quite complex, if there is to be a successful decolonization for the remaining Territories.

Expressing his fervent hope that the recommendations to emanate from the Seminar will be integrated, to the extent possible, into the decolonization resolutions, he said the accompanying financial and professional resources should be made available for implementation of those texts.  He went on to encourage participants to take the time to enjoy their visit to Saint Lucia, the land of the two Pitons, the birthplace of two Nobel Laureates, and an island noted for rich, vibrant culture and traditions.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in his video message:  “Coming from a former colonial Power, I sadly know that a straight line can be drawn from yesterday’s conquests and today’s challenges faced by Non-Self-Governing Territories.”  They are particularly vulnerable because of persistent challenges that pre-date the pandemic, such as stretched health systems, economic woes and the real-time devastation of climate change, especially rising sea levels, he emphasized.  The global community must build avenues of support from which the Territories can invest in sustainable recovery from the pandemic — this year’s theme, he pointed out — stressing the need for tangible support to help the Territories transition into green economies.

Held under the auspices of the Special Committee on Decolonization, the Seminar’s theme is “Advancement of the Non-Self-Governing Territories through the coronavirus disease (COVID‑19) pandemic and beyond”.

The Seminar held a discussion on the Special Committee’s role in defining challenges and opportunities of the Fourth International Decade and in promoting actions conducive to sustainable development in the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Ms. McGuire (Grenada), Chair of the Special Committee, said the impacts of the COVID crisis are affecting efforts to realize the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.  That is also the case for the Territories, she added.  “Nothing seems more appropriate than to reflect on these aspects in the homeland of Willian Arthur Lewis, who, in 1979, won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his contributions in the field of economic development.”  She went on to state emphasize that the Special Committee has a clear mandate from the General Assembly to continue to examine the political, economic and social situation in the Territories.

Indonesia’s representative asked how many more international decades it will take to decolonize the remaining Territories, insisting that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.  He announced that his country will host the next regional seminar.

Sierra Leone’s representative drew attention to the multidimensional impacts of COVID-19, while stressing the need for innovative ways to implement the decolonization mandate.  The regional seminars are one effective means to do so, he said.

Timor-Leste’s representative, while expressing his delegation’s great pride in being a success story of decolonization, pointed out that 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain, and the Special Committee has a special responsibility in that process.

Tunisia’s representative welcomed the Seminar’s agenda, as well as the contribution of the United Nations Secretariat, saying the global challenges posed by COVID-19 require inclusive solutions and underscoring the importance of cooperation and dialogue.

Cuba’s representative emphasized it is time to strengthen decolonization efforts during the Fourth International Decade, expressing her delegation’s unshakable commitment and encouraging multilateralism.

Dominica’s representative asked the Secretary-General to provide resources for the Plan of Action and challenged the United Nations to be bold and decisive in its cause, emphasizing the need to devote the same level of energy to help the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories suffering decades of colonial rule as to those suffering in the Ukraine war.

Chile’s representative noted that the Chair’s efforts propel Grenada at the United Nations.

Bolivia’s representative said decolonization is an area that has seen the greatest progress and called for unity to help the Territories in the post-pandemic period.

Venezuela’s representative said the Seminar’s discussions should yield a realistic analysis of the situation in the Territories in the pursuit of a world free of colonialism.

Papua New Guinea’s representative saluted Saint Lucia’s hosting of two seminars and chairing of the Special Committee six times, saying he is honoured to serve as Rapporteur.  He said it was incumbent upon the Committee that people of the Territories do not fend for themselves at this time of pandemic.

The Seminar then held a discussion on perspectives of the administering Powers, the Non-Self-Governing Territories and other stakeholders, on the theme “Political developments in the Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Pacific region”.

Engel Raygadas, Deputy Permanent Secretary for International, European and Pacific Affairs of French Polynesia, noted the political divide that has existed for the last 40 years between those in favour of broad autonomy within the French Republic, and those seeking independence.  The autonomist parties in favour of a strong partnership with France have won all the elections, except in 2004, he recalled.  In 2013 and 2018, they again won the general elections by a wide margin, which gives a good indication of public opinion, he said, adding that during the 2018 vote, French Polynesia hosted an observation mission from the Pacific Islands Forum which testified to the transparency of the electoral process.

Melvin B. Won Pat-Borja, Executive Director of the Commission on Decolonization of Guam, pointed out that the  working paper on that Territory makes no mention of its recent engagement with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority rights, who visited Guam in November 2021.  He said the Special Rapporteur’s findings highlight the significant lack of indigenous and minority rights and protections for the Territory’s colonized Chamoru people, for whom the experience is compounded by the administering Power’s selective application of domestic law.  That serves to prolong Guam’s colonial status, he added.  The findings also highlight the administering Power’s historical and ongoing wrongdoing in hindering and obstructing the exercise of self-determination by allowing uncontrolled immigration, he noted, saying the Commission on Decolonization of Guam will pursue a referral to the International Court of Justice.  It will request that the Special Rapporteur’s findings be referenced and included in any documents pertaining to Guam put forth by the Special Committee, he added.

Mickael Forrest, member of the government of New Caledonia, said that since the Territory’s re-inscription on the list in 1986, the Special Committee has regularly accompanied it by sending missions and electoral observation teams with the objective of finding a political solution between the administering Power and all the stakeholders of the Nouméa Accord.  Describing how COVID-19 impacted the lives of New Caledonia’s people, he acknowledged the support of the administrating Power in reducing transmissions.  New Caledonia’s actions have created inequalities in the population, disproportionally affecting the Kanak people, he emphasized, pointing out that about 56 per cent of them abstained from voting in the third referendum.  The United Nations could play an essential role in determining the most judicious ways to decolonize New Caledonia, he stressed.

Michael Lujan Bevacqua, expert, said important work has been taking place in recent years to create educational resources and programmes to support a robust campaign around the Territory’s decolonization.  However, the administering Power’s apathy remains a looming challenge, he noted, emphasizing that consistency and engagement from the United States are missing.  Whereas the administering Power has provided funding to support political development and self-determination, he added, at the same time, it seeks to attack the very existence of Guam’s indigenous people through lawsuits aimed at taking away their right to hold a plebiscite on their preferred political status.

John Connell, expert and Professor at the University of Sydney, gave an overview of his examination of the experience of COVID-19 in six Pacific Non-Self-Governing Territories — Guam, American Samoa, Pitcairn, Tokelau, French Polynesia and New Caledonia.  The Territories lacking the authority to make decisions on border control and other emergency measures were more largely impacted by the pandemic, he said.

France’s representative said the Secretary-General transmitted to Paris the report of the United Nations electoral panel of experts for the third referendum in New Caledonia, held on 12 December 2021.  The report is not public yet, she said, adding that it will be transmitted to the various stakeholders in New Caledonia for the sake of transparency.  Noting that the outcome of three referendums is consistent, she emphasized that a majority of the electorate wish to remain with France.

Papua New Guinea’s representative pointed out that only 44 per cent participated in the third referendum and called for a more inclusive process.  He proposed that the Special Committee request the dissemination of information and data by the administrating Power regarding the impacts of COVID on the third referendum.

Naïa Wateou, expert, said New Caledonians expressed their wish to remain within the French Republic and emphasized that their will must be respected.  Rejecting an attempt to change the situation “when the outcome of the votes does not suit you”, she deplored the boycott and insisted the vote was held properly and legitimately.

Dimitri Qenegei, expert, warned that the Nouméa Accord is in jeopardy.  The administering Power has reoriented to a colonial method and President Emmanuel Macron of France made a unilateral decision to conduct the third referendum, he stressed.

France’s representative, inviting the Special Committee to dispatch a visiting mission to New Caledonia, expressed her country’s readiness to cooperate with the United Nations on COVID-19 statistics.  She went on to emphasize that COVID did not stop the proper conduct of the third referendum.

Robert Kapoeri, expert, said New Caledonia consists of three provinces, two of which are in the hands of the pro-independence population.  The Kanaks experienced difficulty going to the polls due to lockdown and other pandemic-related restrictive measures, he noted, adding that the boycott meant that voters were even more heavily affected.

Ms. Wateou emphasized that the pandemic could have been worse without the support of France, including its establishment of 60 vaccine sites.  New Caledonia and France complement each other’s efforts to stop the virus, she said.

Mr. Qunegei stressed that the Kanaks do not accept re-colonization and called for efforts to bring the colonial Power to reason.

Joseph Bossano, former Chief Minister of Gibraltar, urged the Special Committee to consider creating guidelines or minimum standards in percentage terms for the participation of indigenous peoples in a vote.

Mr. Raygadas emphasized that the Pacific Regional Seminar should be held in the Pacific so that participants can see the reality of Oceania and the Pacific first-hand.  With Indonesia unable to host the Seminar, other countries in the Pacific should have stepped up, he insisted.

Mr. Forrest said life in New Caledonia is returning to normal and emphasized the need to see what the territorial government is doing.

The Seminar then heard a discussion on perspectives of the administering Powers, the Non-Self-Governing Territories and other stakeholders under the theme “Political developments in the Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Caribbean region”.

Kenneth Hodge, Minister for Home Affairs, Immigration, Labour, Information and Broadcasting and Physical Planning of Anguilla, said that Territory’s constitutional history dates back to the 1960s, when the United Kingdom attempted colonization in the Caribbean by creating the West Indies Federation in 1958.  When that disintegrated, Anguilla was joined with Saint Kitts and Nevis to form the so-called tristate in association with the United Kingdom, he recalled.  It had a semi-independent constitution and enjoyed full internal self-government, with the administering Power overseeing external defence and foreign affairs, he said.  However, Anguillans quickly demonstrated their dissatisfaction with associated statehood, he added.

Based on the consultations from the 2017 Constitutional Committee, the two main public demands for constitutional reform were to improve democracy and standards in public life, he said, recalling the proposal to increase the number of elected members in the House of Assembly.  In November 2019, a team from the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office visited Anguilla to undertake negotiations on a new constitution, he said, emphasizing that Anguillans are committed to forging the next steps forward in creating their own destiny by formulating a charter that sets the path towards realization of their dreams.

Benito Wheatley, Special Envoy of the Premier of the British Virgin Islands, said the past 14 days have been a rollercoaster ride.  “We were shocked” by the arrest of the former Premier and Minister for Finance in Miami on 28 April, he added, expressing disappointment and embarrassment at his actions, revealed in United States courts.  The commission of inquiry report, scheduled for release in June, was published the day after the former leader’s arrest, which threw an already grieving society into a tailspin, he said.  It also strengthened calls in certain quarters for the imposition of direct rule on the people of the British Virgin Islands, as recommended by the commission of inquiry report, and increased pressure on the United Kingdom to take on that undesirable course of action.

The United Kingdom’s Minister for Overseas Territories said she visited the British Virgin Islands on 2 and 3 May, adding that the political discussion was frank, open and constructive.  Expressing grave concern about governance issues, she said the sentiment against direct rule is not only strong in the British Virgin Islands, but also across the Caribbean, where Governments and people genuinely want to see the United Kingdom break with its past and stand up as a champion of freedom and democracy.  However, no decision has been made on whether direct rule should be imposed, she stated, stressing that the Territory’s new government of national unity has pledged to work for the people’s best interests and to undertake reforms.

John J. Malcolm, Deputy Speaker of the Turks and Caicos Islands House of Assembly, warned that the British Virgin Islands faces the looming and inevitable suspension of parts of their constitution, emphasizing:  “This is a digression from the noble ideals of advancing to self-determination for the people of that Territory.”  Recalling his own Territory’s similar experience, he said parts of its constitution were suspended on two occasions, in 1986 and 2009.  Now the same scenario is being played out in another Non-Self-Governing Territory.  “This is a set-up to impose direct rule from London, it is a set-up that results in a setback in our progress towards self-determination,” he declared.

When it comes to the advancement of decolonization in the Turks and Caicos, the overarching problem is fear of the unknown, which is unfounded, he said, stressing that many other countries in the region have successfully undertaken the decolonization process.  He quoted one of his consultants who said the Turks and Caicos people are unprepared for self-determination because insufficient progress has been made in training them to assume key public service and private sector positions.  He went on to underline that the Turks and Caicos have come a long way since the ‘80s and ‘90s in accomplishing that.  The public service is undergoing a radical transformation, recruiting scores of university-trained young people and returnees armed with degrees, he said.

Carlyle G. Corbin, international adviser on governance and Senior Analyst at the Dependency Studies Project, said that 13 of the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories recognized by the General Assembly as not having achieved the full measure of self-government are in the Caribbean and the Pacific, noting that the United Kingdom and the United States are the principal administering Powers in that region.  France and the United States are the main administering Powers in the Pacific, he said, adding that the region’s Territories are administered through a variety of arrangements entailing unilateral authority with degrees of reversible delegated power extended to the elected territorial governments.

He went on to state that a plethora of decolonization resolutions followed the General Assembly’s inscription of the Territories by resolution 66 (I)of 1946.  Their implementation can be examined within three periods — engagement from 1946 to 1960, acceleration from 1960 to 1990, and deceleration thenceforward, he said, explaining that the slowdown is attributed to certain geostrategic changes at the end of the cold war and the related diminishing of decolonization as a United Nations priority.

Wilma E. Reveron Collazo, expert, said COVID-19 has had a severe economic and social impact on the Territories and delayed the self-determination agenda.  Even before the pandemic, the Caribbean Territories faced difficulties, including the impacts of hurricanes Irma and María in 2017, and the political crises in the region, she added.  Recovery from the pandemic must lead to transformation of the economic model, the strengthening of democracy, the guarantee of human rights and sustainable peace, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she emphasized.  The lack of sovereignty to make decisions on strategic matters, such as control of air and maritime spaces and the freedom to enter commercial relationships so as to acquire much-needed items to address COVID, revealed the limitations of political relations with the administering Power, she said, pointing out that the territorial government of Puerto Rico could not even make the decision to close the airports and prohibit the entry of cruise ship tourists.

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda expressed support for the objection of the British Virgin Islands to the recommendation of direct rule by the administrating Power.  “The imposition of direct rule, and the history of such impositions in the Caribbean, was never intended to deliver democratic governance or to be an instrument of economic and social development of our countries and peoples,” he emphasized, pointing out that such an action would be inconsistent with resolution 1514 (XV) of 1960.

Grenada’s representative underscored the roles of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in supporting efforts for the political, constitutional and socioeconomic advancement of the Territories in the region, also reiterating his delegation’s support for the opposition of the British Virgin Islands to suspension of parts of the constitution and restoration of direct rule.

Sidi Mohamed Omar, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el-Hamra and Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), warned against the dangerous logic that indigenous peoples needed colonial Powers to become civilized.

Cuba’s representative emphasized that the United States cannot take away Puerto Rican people’s identity, noting that their economic situation has deteriorated since last year.  Cuba affirms their right to self-determination in line with resolution 1514 (XV) of 1960, he reiterated.

Venezuela’s representative said the political subordination of Puerto Rico to the United States prevented its people from making sovereign decisions, adding that no significant progress has been made due to lack of action by that country’s Government.

Bolivia’s representative urged Puerto Rico’s administering Power to enable the Territory to assert its full independence.

Mr. Bossano brought up the issue of “modern partnerships” between the Territories and the administrating Powers.

Mr. Raygadas cautioned against generalizing about the situation in the 13 Territories mentioned by Mr. Corbin, urging a case-by-case approach to the unique situation in each Territory.

Mr. Wheatley emphasized that “modern partnerships” do not equate to decolonization.

Mr. Forrest underscored the involvement of the Special Committee in New Caledonia, evaluating every Territory on a case-by-case basis.

In 1960, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, 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 their independence since the creation of the United Nations, but 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain under the Special Committee’s purview.

The Non-Self-Governing 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.

In other business, the Seminar adopted its agenda (document PRS/2022/CRP.1) and provisional programme of work (document PRS/2022/CRP.2).  The Chair appointed Menissa Marcelle (Saint Lucia) and Gbolié Desiré Wulfran Ipo (Côte d’Ivoire) as Vice-Chairs, and Fred Sarufa (Papua New Guinea) as Rapporteur.

The Seminar will reconvene on Thursday, 12 May, to continue its work.


* 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).

For information media. Not an official record.