04 March 2009

The Unfinished Decolonisation Agenda for 2009

An Editoral

The international community has reached the penultimate year of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. Yet, the process of decolonisation in the remaining territories remains un-filled. The United Nations must continue to play its statutory role in making recommendations to the General Assembly for the full implementation of the decolonisation mandate contained in Article 73(b) of the Charter.

This article requires that countries which administer territories must promote full self-government. To this end, innovative means must be devised to expand the information available to the territories on the legitimate political status options available to them. The information deficit in the territories and at the United Nations continues as a significant impediment to the realisation of the right to self-determination by the peoples of these territories.

It is favourably acknowledged that internal reforms have been enacted in several territories, particular in some of the United Kingdom – administered dependencies in the Caribbean. It should be emphasized, however, that the delegation of some authorities resulting from the reform process was not intended to change the dependency political status. The U.N. must, therefore, focus attention on the intricacies of such constitutional adjustments which must be must be reviewed in detail, lest they be successfully projected as some sort of legitimate power sharing arrangement. Accordingly, the information and analysis available to the U.N. on these issues must be significantly enhanced in order that a more comprehensive picture of the contemporary dependency dynamic is clearly understood.

U.N. Member states have spoken clearly on these issues over the years. The regional statements of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to the U.N. Fourth Committee for at least a decade have continued to emphasize the need for innovative measures to increase the chances of success in implementing the decolonisation mandate. In this regard, the General Assembly in 2006 endorsed by resolution the Programme of Implementation (POI) first proposed by a former Caribbean chair of the Special Committee on Decolonisation. This Programme identified the role of the wider United Nations system and other relevant actors in implementing the mandate of the first and second international decades for the eradication of colonialism.

Had this Programme been operationalised as intended by the General Assembly, a number of mandated activities would have been completed, and the awareness of member states of the situation on the ground in the territories significantly enhanced. These activities include the analytical studies and analyses on the evolution of self-government in each territory, the case-by-case work plan, the reports on implementation of decolonisation resolutions, and the introduction of Special Mechanisms.

The U.N. must therefore endeavor to facilitate the implementation of these innovative actions called for by the General Assembly. Otherwise, progress will remain limited, with the U.N. technically satisfying its responsibility to review the situation in the territories, while not bringing about decolonisation, in earnest. In fact, since the independence of Namibia at the beginning of the 1990s, only one territory – Timor Leste – has gained the full measure of self-government – through independence. Most of the other territories continue to suffer from a lack of information as to whether the other legitimate political status options of political Integration and Free Association are even available to them, despite the consensus resolutions of the General Assembly which annually confirm their relevance to all of the territories.

The 2009 Organisational Session of the Special Committee on Decolonisation convened on 27th February under the chairmanship of Indonesia. One year before, several Caribbean delegations proposed the establishment of an open-ended Working Group to examine the situation in the small island territories, in particular, where there are no issues of sovereignty dispute which have overshadowed the U.N. deliberations. The predictable “budgetary implications” argument short-circuited this innovative proposal, however. This is a tactic often employed by the U.N. bureaucracy to stymie innovations proposed by member states, where no new financial resources are required, or the re-ordering of existing resources. The majority block of developing countries, the Group of 77 and China, reminded the U.N. system in 2008 that it is only the member states through the Fifth Committee can determine “budgetary implications.”

Thus, the U.N. General Assembly has repeatedly adopted innovative recommendations which would facilitate the decolonisation process in the territories, and designed to increase the understanding of member states of the situation in the territories. It is regrettable that these innovations appear to have no chance of being carried out.

2010 will be the final year of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. It is clearly obvious that a third decade is in order, but it would only be successful if the modus operandi is totally revamped.

United Nations Press Release
Special Committee on Decolonization
1st Meeting (PM)


The Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was set to end in 2010, but the decolonization process was “unfinished” and required closer cooperation between the administering Powers and the 16 remaining Non-Self Governing Territories to bring about a successful conclusion, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today in a message to the Special Committee on Decolonization.

Under the United Nations Charter, administering Powers had a special obligation to bring territories under their administration to an appropriate level of self-government.

“I encourage you to follow the example of New Zealand and Tokelau, whose partnership had shown what close cooperation could achieve,” Mr. Ban said in a message delivered by Shaaban M. Shabban, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Management, to the opening of the 2009 session of the body formally known as the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Granting of the Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

Administering Powers had a special obligation under the United Nations Charter to bring territories under their administration to an appropriate level of self-government and, as such, the Secretary-General called for a renewed commitment to “bring our collective efforts to a successful conclusion”. He thanked the Special Committee for its work and encouraged its members to continue their “pragmatic and realistic approach, taking into account the specific circumstances of each territory”.

In his opening remarks, Marty M. Natalegawa ( Indonesia), who was re-elected Chairman, said: “If the Special Committee is to maintain its relevance, not least for the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, it is incumbent upon all of us to take a good hard look at the way in which we go about our annual business”. He urged the body to revive the spirit of decolonization, retool its methods of work and hone its capacity to engage with concerned parties in an innovative manner.

The Committee should not overlook the “many practical, tangible, smaller steps” it could pursue to rejuvenate its work, he said, adding that “every single effort counts and will contribute as a stepping stone”. As the Committee prepared to formulate draft resolutions on decolonization later this year, it was important to encourage the active participation of all stakeholders, including administering Powers.

Equally important was the need to obtain feedback on the 16 working papers on the Non-Self-Governing Territories to ascertain their accuracy, relevance and comprehensiveness. “Much has been said about the need to think outside the box. It is about time to put this into practice,” he said, pointing to the Committee’s need to adapt to prevailing circumstances, which were often testing.

He explained that one of the Special Committee’s immediate priorities was the holding of a seminar on decolonization, likely to be convened in the middle of May. The Government of Saint Kitts and Nevis had offered to host the Caribbean regional seminar, which he hoped would see the active participation of Committee members, administering Powers and territorial Governments.

Later in the meeting, he said the Special Committee would need to hold a formal meeting, tentatively scheduled for 18 March, to officially accept the timely offer of Saint Kitts and Nevis and to endorse the seminar’s agenda, rules of procedure, composition of the Special Committee’s official delegation, and lists of experts, non-governmental organizations and other participants.

Mr. Natalegawa congratulated all other Bureau members who assumed their duties today and thanked the delegation of Congo for having served as Vice-Chair from 2004 to 2008He also welcomed the delegation of Ecuador as the newest member of the Special Committee.

Pledging to work constructively with the Chair and Bureau to advance the Committee’s work, the representatives of Sierra Leone, Congo, Cuba, Papua New Guinea, Syria and Ecuador each expressed their ongoing commitment to the objective of ending colonialism.

“Out of the work of this Committee were born many countries who are active Members of the United Nations,” the representative of Papua New Guinea said, urging the Committee not to forget the 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories that had not yet been decolonized.

The United Nations must decide what was needed to live up to the General Assembly’s resolution of 1960, 1514 (XV) -- the Declaration on Decolonization -- especially with the Committee’s fiftieth anniversary approaching in 2010. He paid tribute to the administering Powers that had rendered assistance to the Committee over the years, highlighting the Government of New Zealand, in particular, for its cooperation and support on the status of Tokelau.

Ecuador’s representative agreed with others that time was pressing, and welcomed the Chair’s invitation for members to exchange opinions among themselves and to forge a closer relationship with administering Powers.

Also speaking today was the representative of Saint Kitts and Nevis, who thanked others for supporting his country’s offer to host the decolonization seminar.

In other matters, the Special Committee approved its organization of work for the year (documents A/AC.109/2009/L.1 and 2). As for the rest of the Special Committee’s Bureau, Adelardo Moreno Fernandez ( Cuba) and Rupert Davies ( Sierra Leone) were elected as Vice-Chairmen, and Bashar Ja’afari ( Syria) was re-elected as Rapporteur.

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