Non-Self-Governing Territories Seek High Road for Greater Resilience, as 2023 Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization Opens
Stressing Need for Transformative Policy Responses, Delegates Discuss Strategies to Better Recover from Economic Damage of Pandemic, Climate Change
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
BALI, Indonesia, 24 May — A United Nations forum on decolonization opening here today has cautioned that top priority must be given to overcoming the many challenges facing the world’s 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories to avoid undoing much of the progress achieved towards sustainable development and self-determination.
A video message from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres urged a focus on “the aspirations and needs of the Territories on a case-by-case basis” — including innovative steps to “ensure the Territories have the resources and support they need to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), build resilience, and invest in their future”.
“New pathways for stronger cooperation between the Territories, administering Powers and key stakeholders” are needed to turn the tide on the many challenges the Territories are facing, the Secretary-General said, including “small islands on the frontlines of the climate emergency”.
Menissa Rambally (Saint Lucia), Chair of the United Nations General Assembly’s Special Committee on Decolonization, commonly known as the “C-24”, opened this year’s regional seminar and declared its main theme “Innovative steps to ensure the attainment of the SDGs in the Non-Self-Governing Territories”. Such pathways are crucial to recover from the impact of the pandemic on health care, education, and income that has been “far-reaching and unprecedented in the last 30 years”, she said.
Tri Tharyat, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Cooperation in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, noting it has been 15 years since Indonesia last hosted the seminar in 2008, asserted that since then: “the global landscape has seen many changes which profoundly impacted all regions”, including the Territories.
Warning that half the world was being left behind, he urged greater action for progress on the SDG targets in the Territories and beyond that have stalled or gone into reverse. “The focus of this year’s seminar on the innovative steps to attain SDGs is therefore timely,” upheld Mr. Tharyat, stressing the need for “constructive dialogue” to move the decolonization agenda forward in the run-up to the SDGs Summit.
Participants also heard from Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, in her video remarks to the opening session: “Independence is the inalienable rights of all nations”, stressing that “colonialism must be abolished in the world”.
Noting there is no “one size fits all” solution, she elaborated on some of the steps needed to achieve the goal, including strengthening dialogue between the Territories and the administering Powers through the Special Committee, devising innovative approaches to do so through greater involvement of United Nations specialized bodies and agencies, and committing to the aspirations, needs and well-being of the people of the Territories, on a case-by-case basis.
“Each Non-Self-Governing Territory is facing unique development challenges compounded by the pandemic,” she underscored. “We cannot leave people in the Territories behind in our recovery efforts and in our quest to achieve the SDGs”.
Held under the auspices of the Special Committee, this year’s seminar will also discuss ways to transformative pathways to advance the Fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2021-2030). The 29-member body 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.
At the outset of the discussions, the participants adopted the agenda (document PRS/2023/CRP.1) and provisional programme of work (document PRS/2023/CRP.2), as the Chair appointed the representatives of Côte d’Ivoire and Indonesia as Vice-Chairs, and the representative of Papua New Guinea as Rapporteur. The participants heard support for Venezuela’s interest to host the next Special Committee seminar in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2024.
The delegates also discussed the Special Committee’s role in strengthening cooperation and engagement with the administering Powers and relevant stakeholders, as they explored innovative steps to move the decolonization agenda forward.
Ms. Rambally thanked Indonesia for hosting the event in support of the decolonization cause. She drew attention to pertinent cross-cutting issues, including the effects of climate change and global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic on “the extremely fragile economies of the small island Territories”, which have highlighted the need for economic sustainability and diversification of their economic base. Moving on to another area of crucial support to the Territories, she emphasized the importance of data and statistics in planning and monitoring progress made on the SDGs. She mentioned, by way of example, the work of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) which, in the case of the British Virgin Islands, has focused on strengthening the capacity of the Territory on official statistics.
The representative of Venezuela bemoaned that after 60 years, decolonization was still ongoing. He pointed out this was compounded by the multifaceted crises impacting the Territories, which not only undermine past achievements, but also moves them farther away from the 2030 Agenda goals, in addition to their vulnerability and struggle for inalienable rights to self-determination. He said he hoped that this Fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism will be the last, and offered to host the 2024 seminar in Caracas, Venezuela.
The representative of Cuba concurred its support for Venezuela’s hosting of the Caribbean chapter of the seminar, citing that the decolonization process should be considered as one of the most significant transformations of the twenty-first century. He reaffirmed his country’s support to end colonialism, saying any delay to the cause will undermine peace and security and efforts to end the suffering of the people. He commended the relevance of the Special Committee’s work, which will mark its sixty-third year this November.
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire noted with concern that even after three years of the Fourth Decade being declared, many Territories continue to face a myriad of challenges, underscoring the pandemic’s impact on tourism and budget, and called on administrating Powers to increase support on technology, education, health, gender equality and climate adaptation. The representative was optimistic the seminar recommendations will enrich SDGs progress and SDG Summit discussions later this year.
The representative of Indonesia spelled out that the “task ahead remains challenging” with 17 Territories remaining on the list, but possible with “new impetus” and momentum. Perseverance, political will, and willingness to engage constructively are crucial to the dialogue. Apart from being the primary vehicle for the decolonization process, the forum must also serve to promote careful, balanced development in the Territories, prioritizing economic and health resilience.
Meanwhile, the representative of Papua New Guinea noted the excellent level of representation at this year’s seminar, marking its first return to the Pacific region after nine years of hiatus. Thanking the trust shown towards his rapporteur role, he identified six possible areas to help the Territories deliver on the SDGs, including better leveraging the ongoing United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting processes on the decolonization agenda, and initiating an SDGs Implementation Matrix or scorecard from administering Powers as integral part of the transmission of information under Article 73 e of the United Nations Charter. He also asked about the role of the Special Committee in lending support to the Territories on SDGs implementation.
Other speakers who took the floor included the representative of Syria, who welcomed the proposal of Venezuela to host the 2024 seminar.
The representative of Nicaragua reiterated the need to accelerate the pace of decolonization for the common good of nations as an opportunity to give way to the new international architecture.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said that political colonialism should not only be uprooted, but also its impact of “social, cultural, and economic exploitation” alleviated, in what she described as “a final solution to sovereignty disputes that have remained unresolved for far too long”. She also expressed full support for Venezuela’s interest in hosting the next Special Committee seminar in 2024 in Caracas.
Similarly, the representative of the Russian Federation supported the Caribbean seminar in 2024 and maintained the Russian Federation’s unwavering commitment towards the decolonization process and relevant resolutions, reiterating against it being used to interfere by certain States.
Citing pending challenges and delayed results towards full decolonization, Bolivia’s representative asserted the correlation between achieving self-determination and the well-being and SDGs attainment in the Territories.
The representative from Chile thanked the former chair of the Committee from Grenada and expressed his country’s support to Venezuela’s offer to host the 2024 decolonization seminar.
In turn, Argentina’s representative also echoed his support.
The representative of Congo declared the Fourth Decade “a crucial moment” to put innovative measures in place and reduce the “glaring gap” in SDG indicators accentuated by the pandemic, from across industrialized countries to Non-Self-Governing Territories. The economies of the Territories, their health systems, and educational institutions remain very fragile, he said, given their high level of indebtedness, limited budgetary leeway and high exposure to climate change and extreme metrological phenomena.
The delegates then followed through with discussions on the theme “Political developments in the Non-Self-Governing Territories: In the Pacific region”.
Mickael Forrest, member of the Government of New Caledonia, said the country was about to take a historic step towards emancipation in light of the Nouméa Accord, saying his Government welcomed the backing of the administering Power involving the United Nations through the decolonization process. Citing the seminar’s theme, he described sustainable development as responsible development, respectful of the needs of future generations, and guaranteeing a freer and more prosperous future. He said his country’s representation within the Melanesian Spearhead Group was a real asset for the development of a sustainable and concerted development strategy for the region with its anchoring in the Melanesian arc and called on the Pacific Islands to respond together to the global challenges they face, including poverty, inequality, access to water, energy, and consolidation of peace and justice.
John Connell, expert, gave an overview of how the COVID-19 pandemic has underlined tensions between resilience, vulnerability and dependence in the Territories, adding that only fragmentary data exists on SDGs in the Territories at present. “It could be valuable for the C-24 to commission such a report covering this,” he said, covering data collection, practical progress and whether the present SDGs are appropriate for small Territories, or to focus more on certain key factors.
France’s representative described the meeting between the Chair and France’s Minister of Interior and Overseas in New York last week as a sign of “deep commitment and transparency” towards New Caledonia, which has made progress on the SDGs with significant support from France. This includes improving the education and health sectors, along with 2 billion Euros that will help scale up capacities on energy transition. The representative noted that an audit of the Nouméa Accord will be available at the Special Committee’s June session.
The representative of Fiji said the seminar’s SDGs agenda was timely, referring to the 10 United Nations resolutions adopted by Asia-Pacific countries at the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Commission Session last week, with several of them pointing to the unique challenges faced by small island Territories from climate change, geopolitical tensions, and economic headwinds.
The Melanesian Spearhead Group stated that the Front de libération nationale kanak et socialiste — or the FLNKS — was one of its members, and noted support to free New Caledonia and its indigenous Kanak people from the shackles of colonialism, describing their yearning for full sovereignty and independence as still far from settled. The question was then raised about the circumstance and validity in which New Caledonia’s third referendum was conducted in December 2021 during height of the pandemic, when over 56 per cent of voters were absent.
The seminar further discussed perspectives on the theme “Addressing challenges posed by the pandemic undermining progress towards the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals” and “Building resilience in the Non-Self-Governing Territories: key lessons and recommendations”.
Vivi Yulaswati, expert and Indonesia’s Deputy Minister for Marine and Natural Resources Affairs in the Ministry of National Development Planning, said the global economic crisis, coupled with impacts from climate change and the pandemic, have posed tremendous challenges especially for the Territories due to their location, economic scale, population, and limited access to international resources. “Many development issues have become more complex, such as efforts to localize SDGs, widened SDGs financing gap, and data collection” and “this has also contributed to the progress of their decolonization process”, she explained. To build a resilient and inclusive development, the international community can partner with the Territories, share good practices suitable to their conditions, and make use of available development cooperation schemes, such as through South-South and triangular cooperation.
The representative from Indonesia said by increasing triangular or multistakeholder partnership and strengthening resilience among administering Powers, United Nations Member States, civil society, and the private sector — including through capacity-building, technology transfers, and financing mechanisms — these strategies can enhance the Territories’ ability to balance the development agenda and their economic recovery.
Meanwhile, the representative of Chile highlighted that for the first time in three decades, the world has seen consecutive years of setbacks in the Human Development Index indices and concurred that a participatory cost-cutting approach to policy measures was key to reversing the trend. He said his country will seek to share its strategy at the High-level Political Forum in July this year and make it available to the Territories.
Saint Lucia’s representative outlined the importance of the SDGs towards full decolonization as a means for capacity-building in preparation of assumption of power and recalled the known benefits of the “One UN” system, including through its agencies, funds and programmes and regional commissions, to several Territories, even those with direct linkages.
Carlyle Corbin, expert, expressed his concern over the impact of the typhoon in Guam, in addition to his question with regard to the participation of the Territories in the SDGs Summit in September.
South Africa’s representative said the momentum to resolve the issue between New Caledonia and France must be preserved, adding that the “end goal of the C-24 was to end the need for C-24”. He encouraged all sides to move forward on ending colonialism in the spirit of compromise.
Naïa Wateou, expert, observed the lack of clear political direction and fiscal and economic measures to help New Caledonia, and noted the transitional measures until the end of the Nouméa Accord which excluded more than 40,000 people from the electoral body. She appealed for the future status of New Caledonia, built on the foundation of all Caledonians, their values and their common outlook.
Roch Wamytan, also an expert, in turn, solicited the support of the Special Committee in the case brought before the International Court of Justice, to enable the people of New Caledonia to choose for themselves following the 2021 referendum, and asked the United Nations to employ the role as mediator, to ensure free and fair negotiations. He said the resilience of the Territories was being crudely tested, with social cohesion, gender equality and well-being of the people crucial for full sovereignty.
Speaking on behalf of the Front de libération nationale kanak et socialiste, Magalie Tingal, another expert, associated herself with the Kanak women in their effort to end colonialism in the Territory. She claimed that 37 years onwards, the people continue to suffer, as France has still not fulfilled its role. She upheld that the FLNKS was taking the case to the International Court of Justice as announced in New York and counted on the Court to provide its advisory opinion, convinced that any recognition received would strengthen the legitimacy of their peaceful struggle and advance the cause of the Kanak people to decide their own future.
Julien Boanemoi, expert, asserted the decolonization process in New Caledonia was a risk of “backtracking”, but by engaging in the process, the international community could help ensure the Kanaks fulfil their project as people. He said after 30 years of the Nouméa Accord, France today does not fulfil its obligations as administering Power, and claimed that it was engaging in a modern version of colonization.
As a final agenda item for Day 1 of the seminar, the participants explored the theme “Political developments in the Non-Self-Governing Territories: In the Caribbean region”.
While acknowledging the United Nations decolonization framework was still highly relevant to the Caribbean where the process remains incomplete, the representative of the British Virgin Islands put forward five requests to the Special Committee. They include: a Special Committee visiting mission to the Territory in 2023, the assistance of the relevant United Nations departments to assist the territorial Government with a local education campaign on the options for achieving a full measure of self-government, as well as on resource mobilization.
He thanked the assistance received to date from ECLAC, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and the Resident Coordinator’s Office in Barbados, but more support is needed. He also urged the United Nations to redouble its efforts to implement the annual United Nations resolutions on the Question of the British Virgin Islands adopted at the United Nations General Assembly, and to officially share the self-governance assessment completed by Independent Governance Expert Dr. Carlyle Corbin with the members of the Special Committee ahead of the Committee’s substantive session in June in New York.
Carlyle Corbin, expert, offered his insight on preparation for the full measure of self-government, giving a comparison of selected Pacific and Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories.
The representative of Saint Kitts and Nevis meanwhile pointed out that the Fourth Decade will soon approach its midpoint. The principle of absolute political equality must continue to be the guiding standard for former colonies, also in view of overcoming contemporary colonialism. Currently, seven of 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain in the Caribbean, with five enjoying associate membership in regional bodies and Montserrat enjoying full membership.
Martha Quiñones Domínguez, expert, added that most small island developing States and Territories in the Caribbean were dealing with challenges to SDGs 7, 13 and 14. The fragility of their ecosystems will require innovative ways for SDG implementation that protect local economic and social rights, achieve stable development and reduce environmental instability. Eradication of colonialism and support to aspiration of people living under colonialism must be led directly by the people going through the transition themselves, not a copy of external models. Moreover, administering Powers need to provide funding rather than debt. This will help facilitate adaptation to climate change and projects dealing with climate. These funds are vital to avoid the “debt trap” that enslaves economies from achieving viable development such as Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, the representatives from Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, Syria and Nicaragua expressed deep solidarity to the people of Puerto Rico for their right to self-determination, reflecting on centuries of colonialism, as a colony of the United States for 125 years. This has hindered Puerto Rico’s ability to deal with its social and economic challenges.
Also contributing perspectives to the floor were the representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Fiji and Saint Lucia, who encouraged sustained momentum on the decolonization agenda.
Since the birth of the United Nations, more than 80 former colonies comprising some 750 million people have gained independence.
At present, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories across the globe remain on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, home to nearly 2 million people, remain under the purview of the Special Committee.
The Territories include: 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.
The Seminar will reconvene on Thursday, 25 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).