Opening Special Decolonization Committee’s Annual Session, Secretary-General Stresses Voices, Concerns of Non-Self-Governing Territories Must Be Heard ‘Loud and Clear’
Committee Members Elect Bureau, Approve 2023 Workplan as Incoming Chair Rallies Delegates to ‘Take Innovative Steps’
Encouraging deeper collaboration and constructive dialogue to expedite the end of colonialism, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said ensuring the aspirational needs of small island territories under the purview of the Special Committee on Decolonization are met is a global responsibility.
“The concerns of the Territories are varied, and we must ensure their voices are heard loud and clear,” he asserted, adding that “accelerating the decolonization agenda is a collective endeavour”. In a statement delivered by Assistant Secretary-General Miroslav Jenča, the Secretary-General opened the 2023 session of the 24-member body, known formally 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.
Today, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain under the Special Committee’s purview. Most are small islands exposed to rising sea levels and are particularly vulnerable to climate disasters. “They are at the frontline of climate emergency,” he said, adding that the global community must ensure that these territories have the requisite resources and support to build resilience and invest in their future.
Commending the Special Committee’s commitment to the right to self-determination and the complete elimination of colonialism, he encouraged greater cooperation with actors relevant to its work. Also reiterating his personal commitment to the work of the Special Committee, he stressed that the liberation movements in Portuguese colonies not only secured their own long-overdue independence, they have also contributed decisively to the democratic revolution in his own country.
The Special Committee went on to elect by secret ballot Menissa Rambally (Saint Lucia) as its Chair for 2023. She obtained 14 votes, over Diego Pary Rodríguez (Bolivia), who garnered 13 votes.
Following her election, Ms. Rambally recalled that the regional seminar — held in Saint Lucia last May — spurred the discussions that fed into the fruitful outcome of the Special Committee’s June 2022 substantive session. A significant number of petitioners and representatives of as many as 13 of the 17 remaining Territories engaged with the Special Committee, enriching its consideration of their situations and the decolonization issue as a whole. Also in 2022, during the General Assembly’s seventy-seventh session, both its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) and plenary successfully adopted the resolutions forwarded by the Special Committee.
The new bureau for the 2023 session will complete the round of informal dialogues begun in 2022 with the administering Powers and stakeholders, she said. Noting that the work of the Special Committee will continue so long as there remain Non-Self-Governing Territories on its list, she said the body will address the needs and situation of each Territory on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the Territory’s particular circumstances. “In this engaging spirit, let us seek to initiate innovative steps” for the current session, she said.
At the outset of the meeting, the Special Committee elected its Bureau by acclamation, re‑electing Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta (Cuba), Arrmanatha Christiawan Nasir (Indonesia) and Alhaji Fanday Turay (Sierra Leone) as Vice-Chairs. Bassam Sabbagh (Syria) was elected as Rapporteur.
Members also approved the document “Organization of work: relevant resolutions and decisions of the General Assembly" (document A/AC.109/2023/L.1), as well the Special Committee’s tentative work programme and timetable (document A/AC.109/2023/L.2), with the understanding that it may be revised as necessary closer to or during the resumed substantive session in June.
Other procedural matters addressed today included the venue for the 2023 Pacific regional seminar. The Committee accepted the offer of the Government of Indonesia to host the seminar in Bali from 24 to 26 May 2023.
After their re-election to the Bureau, the representatives of Syria, Indonesia and Sierra Leone took the floor to express their commitment to ending colonialism. The representative of Nicaragua also spoke, expressing concern about the announcement pertaining to the reduction in the Special Committee’s budget, which would affect its ability to carry out its mandate, adding: “We all know that, at the United Nations, resources are used for other matters less important than the self-determination of peoples still living under the yoke of colonialism.” Also speaking were the representatives of Iraq, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea and Bolivia.
The Special Committee will reconvene on 20 March to consider the guidelines and rules of procedure of the 2023 Pacific regional seminar.