Adapted from UN press releases and interviews with non self-governing territory representatives, experts and diplomats from UN member States who participated in the Seminar.
The United Nations (UN) Special Committee on Decolonisation held its annual regional seminar in Noumea, New Caledonia, from 18 to 20 May 2010. The seminar, hosted by the Territorial Government of New Caledonia in concurrence with France as the administering Power, was conducted within the framework of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010). It was chaired by Donatus Keith St. Aimee, the Chairman of the Special Committee.
This year marks the end of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, as well as the fiftieth anniversary of the General Assembly Decolonisation Declaration. A key objective of the seminar was to help the Special Committee assess progress made in the decolonisation process in today’s world, with a particular emphasis on the Pacific region.
In this connection, the participants heard the views of representatives of non self-governing territories so as to reconfirm the commitment of the international community towards achieving the decolonisation objectives in the remainder of the Decade and especially the chartering of the way forward. The deliberations served as a basis for conclusions and recommendations which will be considered by the Special Committee at its forthcoming substantive session in June and subsequently transmitted to the UN General Assembly.
Participants included a delegation of the Special Committee and other United Nations Member States; representatives from governments of the non-self-governing territories, administering Powers, organisations of civil society based in the Territories, as well as a number of experts from both the Pacific and the Caribbean regions.
The current membership of the Special Committee consists of the following 29 Member States: Antigua and Barbuda; Bolivia; Chile; China; Congo; Côte d’Ivoire; Cuba; Dominica; Ecuador; Ethiopia; Fiji; Grenada; India; Indonesia; Iran; Iraq; Mali; Nicaragua; Papua New Guinea; Russian Federation; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Sierra Leone; Syria; Timor-Leste; Tunisia; United Republic of Tanzania; and Venezuela.
In a message to open the Pacific Regional Seminar, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all involved to undertake “fresh and creative efforts” towards full implementation of decolonisation. In a message delivered by Laura Vaccari, Chief of the Decolonisation Unit of the of the UN Department of Political Affairs, the Secretary-General described Timor-Leste’s successful quest for independence and two referenda held in Tokelau as highlights of the preceding Decade. “Nonetheless, 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain on the [United Nations] list,” the Secretary-General said. “It is essential for the people concerned to understand the options regarding their political status and to be able to exercise their right to freely choose their future.”
Welcoming the seminar particpants, Special Committee Chairman Donatus St. Aimee (Saint Lucia) said that the Seminar was the last of the series planned for the Second Decade and as such was an important opportunity to assess the implementation of its mandate. He noted that the Seminar was being held in a Territory that was going through a challenging and complex process of determining its political future, in close cooperation with the administering Power, France. “The Special Committee regards the hosting of the Seminar as a significant manifestation of the improved cooperation between the administering Power and the [Special] Committee in advancing the decolonisation process in general and in the Pacific region in particular,” he said.
Welcoming participants on behalf of the Government of New Caledonia, President M. Philippe Gomes said all the Territory’s major political actors — the High Commissioner of France, the President and Vice-President of the Congress, and the Presidents of the Assemblies of the three Provinces — welcomed the holding of the Seminar in New Caledonia. He said New Caledonia’s current path towards self-determination had not been easy and that was one of the reasons why holding the Seminar in the Territory was important — so the Special Committee could confirm through first-hand discussions and exchanges the process and manner in which the process was taking place.
Also welcoming participants, the High Commissioner of France, representing the Administering Power, said that the support his country had provided for the event highlighted its commitment to the United Nations in the area of decolonisation. He expressed hope that the visit would help the Special Committee measure socio-economic progress in the Territory and the willingness of the community to build a common destiny based on shared values.
The two meetings held on Day 1 of the Seminar following the opening session focused on the resolution of the remaining challenges for Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Pacific — American Samoa, Guam, New Caledonia, Pitcairn and Tokelau.
DONATUS ST. AIMEE (St. Lucia), Special Committee Chairman, said in his keynote address that 50 years since the Declaration’s adoption, and after two Decades for the Eradication of Colonialism, the fact that 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained on the list suggests the need for “creative thinking” to move forward. “At this seminar we are going to assess the socio-economic and political developments in the Territories with a view to working out, in cooperation with the administering Powers and representatives of the Territories, a realistic, action-oriented programme of work on a case-by-case basis for the way forward in advancing the decolonisation process.”
He expressed hope that the Seminar would give participants from Non-Self-Governing Territories the type of information and options available to make an informed choice. “Because it is not for the [United Nations] to determine the best outcomes,” he continued. “The [United Nations] is primarily concerned with whether choices are made freely by the people, based on appropriate information and understanding.” The Special Committee wished to listen closely to what the peoples concerned had to say, in the hope of offering proposals to the General Assembly, on a case by case basis, he said.
“Each [non-self-governing territory] still on the [United Nations] decolonisation list has a unique mix of circumstances, often involving quite complex political issues,” he said. “It is essential that ‘creative thinking’ that is sensitive to the circumstances is used by all concerned in addressing these issues, as there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.”
As an example relevant to the Pacific, he noted that the wishes of small island States needed to reflect their unique vulnerabilities in terms of survival in the modern world. “Today, major issues of sustainability — in economic, environmental and social terms — confront everyone, but especially smaller, more vulnerable societies,” he said.
The Chair noted that, in 2010, it was the responsibility of the Special Committee to bring those issues to the forefront, and the challenge for everyone was to think within the context of present realities and sustainable futures. The Seminar would assess the progress of decolonisation actions at the international level, measures undertaken by the United Nations in cooperation with the administering Powers, as well as the impact of developmental activities and programmes carried out by the Organisation’s specialized agencies and other bodies, as well as non-governmental organisations in the Territories.
“We also need to evaluate the Committee’s role in following the impact of the economic and social developments on the constitutional and political advancement of the [Non-Self-Governing Territories], as well as its efforts aimed at ensuring the full cooperation of the administering Powers in this matter,” he said. “I trust that after these deliberations we can come up with a plan for the way forward, as neither the work of the Special Committee nor the process of decolonisation end with this Seminar or with the Second Decade. There is clearly the need for additional work, focused work, if we are to come up with some success stories and move into the future,” he concluded.
Remaining Challenges in the Pacific Region
PHILIPPE GOMES, President of the Government of New Caledonia, opened the substantive discussion by recalling that the Territory had been close to civil war in 1986, before both sides had “resumed the thread of dialogue” and taken the chance to return to peace. The Matignon and Nouméa Accords had engaged the Territory’s people on the path of declared and assumed decolonisation, he said.
Describing New Caledonia’s “unique” process, he said it was based on several principles, including the recognition of the identity and legitimacy of both the original Kanak peoples and those who had come later from elsewhere. The process affirmed the complex history that all the people of New Caledonia shared, and brought them together around a common destiny. “We have a rendezvous with ourselves for a shared future,” the President concluded.
VICTOR TUTUGORO of the Political Bureau of the pro-independence Front de Libération National Kanak Socialistse (FLNKS) expressed his appreciation on behalf of the Territory’s indigenous peoples for bringing the Seminar to New Caledonia, and for the attention given by the United Nations since its addition to the decolonisation list in 1986.
He said that, in spite of efforts, achieving economic, social and community balance in New Caledonia remained a major challenge, pointing to many indicators showing that development in the provinces of Northern and Loyalty Islands lagged behind that of Southern Province. At the conclusion of the Second International Decade, it was worth considering an extension into a third Decade, given that the Kanak people, and others around the world, still needed the assistance of the Special Committee and the United Nations system to pursue decolonisation to its end.
There followed a general discussion on the decolonisation process in the Pacific, and New Caledonia in particular, with participants particularly focused on socio-economic issues.
The Chairman noted that the colonial legacy was often one of uneven development, with former colonial cities and centres often starting from a “higher base” of social and economic infrastructure development than surrounding districts, and thereby creating challenges for post-decolonisation administrations.
The importance of education also featured strongly in discussion, with several participants noting that it was not only a driver of economic development but also a mechanism for ensuring the protection of minority or indigenous languages and cultures.
In the context of New Caledonia, the President added that despite a free school system where graduation numbers were rising, indicators for Kanak students remained a challenge. He outlined a number of initiatives designed to better adapt the school system to social, cultural and geographical challenges, noting that education was one of the legislative competencies being transferred to the New Caledonia legislature.
Several experts and representatives of civil society presented papers on decolonisation processes underway worldwide including the Pacific territories of Guam and Pitcairn along with Gibraltar and various territories in the Caribbean region. in order to inform and enhance the Special Committee’s work in relation to New Caledonia and the Pacific more broadly.
EDWARD P. WOLFERS, Expert from Australia, described the concepts of self-determination and decolonisation as close in meaning but not interchangeable. Discussing the history of the decolonisation process in the Pacific, he drew particular attention to the “home-grown” peculiarities of constitution-making in Samoa and Papua New Guinea, noting that those processes did not owe their authority to the laws of the former colonial Power. Rather, they embodied the exchange of experiences and ideas, involving as they did various forms of regional cooperation and collaboration. In conclusion, he made a number of recommendations relating to clarifying the role of self-determination in achieving decolonisation and providing greater transparency and accountability in all aspects of the process in order to ensure that the relevant information reached the people in the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories.
SARIMIN JACQUES BOENGKIH of the Agence Kanak de Developpement said that, with the transfer of power, New Caledonia could exercise some level of self-governance. With the Territory on a path to becoming an independent State, it needed good governance as well as educational programmes focusing on raising public awareness among the indigenous peoples. He underlined that New Caledonia was eligible for assistance from United Nations agencies, and requested their help with economic and social development.
YOKO ORYU, an Expert from Japan, provided a comparative analysis of the decolonisation processes in the French overseas departments in the Caribbean and that of New Caledonia, stressing that the growing prominence of the issue in the latter Territory was creating increasing discussion in the international community.
HOPE A. CRISTOBEL of the Guahan and Chamorro Studies Association, deplored the situation of Guam’s Chamorro people who had been dispossessed of their land and were losing their identity as a result of a United States military build-up in the Territory. She proposed that the Special Committee give the utmost priority to Chamorro self-determination, in conformity with the relevant United Nations documents.
HERBERT FORD of the Pitcairn Islands Study Centre recounted the recent transformations and current challenges facing the people of Pitcairn, including the restructuring of its governance system and the provision of human rights protections under a new constitution, ratified in March 2010. He said the independence option was hardly possible for Pitcairn in light of its dependence on supplies from New Zealand and its subsistence on garden produce and fishing. He highlighted as possible ways forward for Pitcairn the other self-determination options of United Nations trusteeship, or retaining a connection with New Zealand similar to that administering Power’s relationship with Tokelau.
CARLYLE CORBIN, Independent Expert from the Caribbean (US Virgin Islands) presented “An Analysis of Implementation of the United Nations Decolonisation Mandate during the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010) and Future Strategies for Completion.” The analysis was a follow-up to Dr. Corbin’s “Mid-Term Assessment of the Level of Implementation of the Plan of Action of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2005) presented to the UN Caribbean Regional Seminar in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2005. He had done the initial assessment of the implementation of the decolonisation mandate of the first International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (1991-2000) in presentations to the Pacific Regional Seminar in the Marshall Islands, and to the Caribbean Regional Seminar in Cuba in 2001, respectively.
In the paper, he outlined the legislative authority for the two international decades which were designed to focus attention on implementing the decolonisation mandate. In this connection, he alluded to the actions called for in the decolonisation resoluitions of the UN General Assembly and of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) during the two decades, along with the recommendations of the representatives of nthe territories offered at the regional seminars during the period.
He emphasized the importance of disseminating information and the potential role that United Nations information centres could play in that regard. He recalled that the UN General Assembly had recognised self-determination as a human rights issue, and had advocated for collaboration between the Special Committee and relevant United Nations bodies including the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, among others. He said the Seminars were possibly the most important outcomes of the two Decades since they allowed a cross-fertilization of ideas. He also called attention to the disconnection between United Nations resolutions requiring action on decolonisation, and the budgetary and resource allocations needed to ensure implementation of those resolutions.
On future strategies, he called for a new decade which would focus non implementation of the excellent actions already adopted by the international community with an updated plan of action based on the involvement of the wider UN system of organisations which all have a role to play. He also supported a more consistent role of outside actors, including the designation of an Independent Expert/Special Rapporteur, similar to the methodology of the Human Rights Council, who would undertake critical analyses of the situation on the ground in the individual territories. He noted that the Expert would dialogue with the members of the Special Committee in an interactive dialogue similar to that utilised by the Third Committee of the General Assembly.
JOSEPH BOSSANO, Opposition Leader of Gibraltar, also raised the issue of disseminating information on decolonisation, saying it was insufficient to adequately advance the process unless it was supported by dialogue among all parties. He said the Special Committee could play a more consistent role in following up on the issues and concerns raised at the Seminars.
The Special Committee continued its deliberations on Day 2 with discussions on challenges in the Pacific, Caribbean and elsewhere, as well as the broader role of the United Nations in the decolonisation process.
TOGIOLA TULAFANO, Governor of American Samoa, made the first presentation of the day, recalling that, in the past, the Territory had requested the Special Committee to remove it from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories because its “unincorporated” and “unorganized” status was akin to that of a self-governing Territory. While it held the same position today, the time had come for a more definitive work plan to force a more collaborative approach between the Territory and the administering Power, the United States, in moving forward on issues of political status, local autonomy, self-governance and economic development.
He noted the affinity of the Territory’s people with the administering Power, manifested in a significant number of American Samoans serving in the United States armed forces. He also emphasized that the territory exercised control over its own immigration and customs (unlike other non self-governing territories under US administration). However, there was cause for worry that control over these two administrative competencies could be taken away by the US through “federalisation.” He cited the example of US “federalisation” of immigration and labour controls previously exercised by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
[The CNMI is a US – administered non self-governing territory in the Pacific which is not on the UN list, but whose weakened autonomy would place it below the threshold of full internal self-government. – OTR]
The American Samoa governor also commented on the unilateral application of US federal minimum wage laws to the territory which have caused serious, perhaps irreparable, economic damage. He lamented that the absence of federal technical assistance and expertise to help American Samoans truly understand the effect of federal laws on the Territory’s economy and its form of government further exacerbated the situation.
Those issues could be resolved by applying a clearly specified, consistent principle as to how the Territory would be treated in the future, he said. To that end, a constitutional committee was preparing proposals to be taken up by the Territory’s Constitutional Convention in June. He expressed hope that the questions of self-governance, self-determination and increased local autonomy would be at the top of the list. He also stressed the importance of providing assistance and training on issues critical to the Pacific region. In that connection, he requested the Special Committee to make visit American Samoa during its Constitutional Convention.
FAIPULE KURESA NASAU, Ulu of Tokelau said the outcome of the second referendum on free association with New Zealand, which had not met the two-thirds majority, may have been the result of concerns that self-determination might have meant severing ties with the Government and people of New Zealand, which Tokelau did not want to do. Remaining on the list of non self-governing territories, Tokelau was very conscious of its right to self-determination and aspired to return to that issue in the near future, he said. For the time being, however, self-determination considerations must take second place to the pressing needs of economic development, he said, expressing hope that the upcoming negotiations on the next economic support arrangement would conclude successfully and help address those needs.
DAVID PAYTON, Director, Office of the Administrator of Tokelau (New Zealand), elaborated on the Territory’s situation, stressing his country’s commitment to delivering quality services and infrastructure, including transport, power, education and health. Highlighting the difficulty of delivering services to Tokelau due to its remoteness and small population of less than 1,500 people, he asked how the principles of equity and viability could be applied to the process of decolonisation.
He said there was a need to think hard about how to proceed in Tokelau, bearing in mind the difficult situation in which Niue now found itself following its move to free association with New Zealand several years ago. “It is likely to be necessary for Tokelau’s leaders to make hard decisions and set priorities that will require some preferred activities to be set aside,” he said. He said that finding the right balance will determine the well-being of Tokelau and its people. “Decolonisation will be a factor in this dynamic process, but only a small part of it,” he concluded.
STEVE MCFIELD, representative of the Cayman Islands, said a new Constitution had been formally promulgated in November 2009, establishing the post of Premier for the fist time, among other changes. The Constitution had been approved by a large majority in a special referendum. As affirmed during the general elections of May 2009, the territorial government had no popular mandate to pursue full political independence, he said, adding that its attendance at the Seminar should be seen as an attempt to make its position clear and distinct.
CARLYLE CORBIN, Independent Expert, presented a paper on “Challenges to the Attainment of Full Self-Government for Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories under United States Administration.” He said that there were important similarities to be taken into account among the dependency governance models among the Caribbean and Pacific territories under US administration. In this connection, he made reference to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, and American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific.
Discussing the US Virgin Islands, he said that a 1993 referendum on political status options had provided “an excessive number of seven alternatives” which had contributed to a lack of clarity on the part of the electorate resulting in the failure to achieve the required 50 per cent of registered voters, with the territory reverting to the status quo by default. More recently, a Constitutional Convention had produced a draft constitution in 2010 which was “not designed to address the colonial status nor provide any serious devolution of authority” as was the case with the 1993 political status process. He advised that the proposed constitution was presently under consideration of the US Congress for approval.
Highlighting the importance of education in the decolonisation process, he said other measures currently before Congress included a bill on funding educational programmes on political status options in American Samoa, Guam and the US Virgin Islands, as well as a referendum measure for Puerto Rico.
Other Non-Self-Governing Territories
FADEL KAMAL, Representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) speaking on the question of Western Sahara, said it was regrettable that the fiftieth anniversary of the Decolonisation Declaration, and the end of the Second International Decade, had passed by without the Saharawi people exercising their right to self-determination. “The Saharawi people rightly feel that their legitimate aspirations have been overtaken by political expediency and a meek United Nations system that is seemingly unwilling or unable to deliver on its promise,” he said.
He said the United Nations must ensure that Morocco abided by its obligations to respect the basic human rights of Saharawis, and should consider options for international administration of the natural resources and associated revenues of Western Sahara pending a political solution. He suggested further that the Special Committee send a delegation to Western Sahara to assess the situation, as part of a renewed effort to monitor the decolonisation process and implement the Organisation’s “sacred trust” to the Saharawi people. “It is clear that the only viable solution to the question of Western Sahara is to ensure that the Saharawi people have the opportunity to decide freely and democratically their future […] through the organisation of a free, fair and transparent referendum under the auspices of the United Nations,” he concluded.
KHADDAD EL MOUSSAOUI, Vice-President, Royal Advisory Council on Saharan Affairs (Morocco), presented an outline of the “Moroccan Initiative for negotiating an autonomy status of the Sahara region”, saying it “guarantees to the people of Western Sahara, their position and role, without any discrimination or exclusion, to freely play in organs and institutions that provide exclusive democratic management of the Western Sahara internal affairs, through autonomous legislative and executive powers, and resources financial control […]. Morocco also guarantees them active participation in the economic and socio-cultural areas within a sovereign Kingdom.”
He said the other parties to the dispute over Western Sahara had adopted a “radical attitude”, noting in particular a “narrow interpretation of the principle of self-determination”. In that respect, and in hopes of seeing the political process continue in peace, Morocco wished to see the other parties engaging in intense and substantial negotiations. Reaffirming Morocco’s attachment to the process of negotiations and its support for the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, he restated his country’s “determination to pursue its commitments aiming at achieving a political negotiated solution on the basis of the ‘Moroccan Autonomy Initiative.”
MOHAMED SOFIANE BERRAH (Algeria), began his presentation by underscoring the importance of reminding the Special Committee of its raison d’etre — monitoring the implementation of the Declaration and assisting Non-Self-Governing Territories as they pursued any of the three self-determination options (independence, free association and integration – OTR). Today, colonialism appeared to have lost its “character of despicability”, he said, recalling that United Nations resolutions condemned colonialism while the goal of the Special Committee was to eradicate it. Any socio-economic benefits that colonisation may have bought to the peoples of the Territories should not justify the fact of colonisation itself, he stressed.
On the question of Western Sahara, he said it was only fair that the Territory’s people enjoy international protection. That could be achieved by extending the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to include human rights monitoring and reporting.
He went on to say that the process of negotiations over Western Sahara “cultivates hope for a peaceful solution”, emphasizing, however, that dialogue was not an end in itself and must lead to conclusions and results if peace was to be achieved in the region. In light of major ongoing challenges, Algeria would support the idea of a Third Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, in hopes that it would help bring about an end to decolonisation once and for all.
EMMA EDWARDS, Member, Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) recalled that the islanders had repeatedly expressed their firm view that “we are content with our current relationship with Britain”, noting that, for a variety of reasons, the options of full independence, free association or integration with an independent State were not suitable for the Territory. “We are happy with the status quo, and do not like being told by others what to do.” The Falkland Islands were currently not ready for independence, “but we do express our right of self-determination […] with almost all of the people of the Falkland Islands wishing to remain and enjoy our British Overseas Territory status.”
Outlining aspects of the “healthy democracy” enjoyed by the Territory, she said they included elections in November 2009, and a new Constitution, which had entered into force in January 2009, and enhanced local democracy, established a greater degree of internal self-government and provided mechanisms for transparency and accountability. While the Territory’s small economy “took a hit” during the financial crisis, it remained strong, she said, citing a number of programmes and initiatives in the areas of transport, telecommunications, energy production, health care and education which benefited the islanders.
MARIA FERNANDA CANAS (Argentina) said that, although her country had consistently supported the applicability of the self-determination principle to peoples under colonial rule, that was not the case in the “Question of the Malvinas Islands,” which affected the territorial integrity of Argentina. “This question refers to the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, and clearly differs from traditional colonial cases,” she emphasized.
Recalling that the United Nations had rejected the applicability of the self-determination principle to the Malvinas question, she said the UN classified it as a “special and particular” form of colonialism constituting a sovereignty dispute to be resolved by negotiations between Argentina and the United Kingdom, taking into account the interests of the islanders. “We have committed ourselves to taking into account their interests,” she said, adding that Argentina would do that by enshrining a commitment to their way of life and interests in the Constitution and calling on the United Kingdom to resume negotiations to solve the dispute. “The Argentine commitment to recover the Islands […] is not some sudden passion but a long-sustained national concern that stretches back more than 177 years,” she concluded.
CARLOS ARAGON DE LA SERNA (Spain) said: “I regret to inform the participants in this Seminar that […] we unfortunately cannot provide the Special Committee with any good news regarding the decolonisation of Gibraltar.” Arguing that Gibraltar’s new Constitutional Order of 2006 did not entail any change in its international status, he noted that “colonialism by consent does not mean that the resulting political arrangements are any less colonial”, and that the new constitutional text did not affect the legal validity of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. “My Government is therefore opposed to any attempt to see Gibraltar removed from the UN list of territories that are undergoing the decolonisation process,” he said.
United Nations doctrine rightly led the Special Committee to differentiate between Non-Self-Governing Territories subject to a decolonisation process where there was a dispute over sovereignty, such as Gibraltar, and those where there was no such dispute. Further, he said, “the mandate of the United Nations […] invites the United Kingdom and Spain to find a negotiated solution taking into account the interests of the population of the colony.” Despite Spain’s willingness, he said, “the United Kingdom has consistently ignored our appeals to resume conversations to find a definitive solution to the question of Gibraltar”.
JOSEPH BOSSANO, the Opposition Leader of Gibraltar, said the territorial government did not attend the Special Committee’s Seminars because it considered itself already decolonised. One of the Seminar’s main aims was to hear the views of non-self-governing peoples, he said, calling for more time to be given to their representatives rather than Member States. The Seminar was an opportunity for the Special Committee to reach out to those people without the filter of the administering Power. Discussing the historical basis of the dispute over Gibraltar, he said the Treaty of Utrecht had been signed in 1713, and he suggested it was time that Member States considered new ideas and solutions that would reflect the current world.
Role of United Nations System
SALA GEORGINA BONIN, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Multi-Country Office, Samoa, began by outlining the agency’s work in supporting the self-determination process in Tokelau, part of its broader work supporting Tokelau under a special relations agreement signed with New Zealand in the 1980s. She said the main areas of UNDP’s support for Tokelau’s self-determination included governance-reform initiatives to help the Territory’s home-grown government structure and direct assistance for the first and second referendums on the Treaty of Free Association with New Zealand in 2006 and 2007.
Following the referendums, New Zealand and Tokelau had agreed to a “pause” on that front, opting to focus on other development priorities and the Millennium Development Goals, she said, noting that UNDP continued to provide assistance under its Country Programme Action Plan on issues relating to equitable economic growth and poverty reduction, good governance and human rights, crisis prevention and recovery, sustainability, environmental management and the cross-cutting issue of gender equality.
CARLYLE CORBIN, Independent Expert, presented a paper entitled “The Role of the United Nations System in Providing Developmental Assistance to the Non self-governing territories.” He focuses attention on the importance of participation by Non-Self-Governing Territories in the work of the United Nations system, noting that it was critical in developing their readiness to assume the powers of self-government. That was especially true because many of the Territories’ economies required a heightened measure of human resource development in relation to their engagement in the globalised economy. He emphasised that the UN mandate for assistance to the territories from the UN system dated back to 1946 with resolutions of the UN General Assembly routinely adopted but unevenly implemented.
He noted that virtually all Non-Self-Governing Territories, in the Pacific and Caribbean regions, were associate members of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), respectively. He also pointed out that by virtue of this associate membership these territories were also provided observer status in major United Nations conferences and special sessions in the social and economic sphere.
He pointed out that many United Nations programmes, funds and specialized agencies allowed some form of participation through membersdhip, associate membership or observer status, while other UN bodies did not, noting that participation by the Non-Self-Governing Territories “has not fully become standard United Nations practice”. In particular, he said the Economic and Social Council should revisit the resolution it had earlier declined to approve, which called for the Territories to participate directly in its functional commissions in areas such as statistical analysis, sustainable development and other socio-economic related areas relating to their ongoing development processes. “The absence of a role […] in the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development is especially glaring, given that the issues of the vulnerabilities of small island States are considered in that body,” he concluded.
The final day of the seminar focused on the way forward. DONATUS ST. AIMEE ( Saint Lucia), Chairman of the Special Committee, noted the importance of nation-building as an essential prerequisite to successful self-determination. He said economic and social development, as well as education about self-determination processes and options, should be in place before any decision on self-determination was taken. “If this process hasn’t taken place before you exercise your right to self-determination, then you may spend an enormous amount of resources undertaking that task afterwards,” he cautioned. “That is why sometimes it may not be a bad idea to have a period of reflection to see if all the people who live in the Territory are all on the same track and committed to that process.”
JOSEPH BOSSANO, Opposition Leader of Gibraltar, said the real problem with the Territories remaining on the United Nations list was that, for many of them, neither full independence nor full integration with another State was a feasible option, which left only free association with another State as the only available one. Given the many different forms that free association could take, it was worth asking how to define a form of free association that could demonstrate a Territory’s readiness for a full measure of self-government. Citing the question of Gibraltar as an example, he concluded by arguing that, when it comes to Territories over which there was a sovereignty dispute, it was necessary to avoid “the controversial discussion about which link (with another State) and focus on the nature of the link, and whether the Territory is ready for such a link.”
The Chairman noted that a major problem was a lack of indicators and benchmarks to show what stage of the decolonisation process a Territory had reached. The Special Committee could begin thinking about that, he said. While holding a referendum was one physical manifestation of progress towards decolonisation, and the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) may be one manifestation of economic development, there may be a need for a more formal structure to allow the Special Committee to measure more accurately the readiness of a particular Territory and its people as they moved along the path to self-determination, he said.
HERY SARIPUDIN ( Indonesia) said that, since 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories were yet to be de-listed, his country fully supported the idea of a Third International Decade. It should be a “decade of more work” rather than a “decade of continuing talk”, he said, adding that there was a need to consider establishing a comprehensive, pragmatic and realistic process for assessing self-determination processes and options, taking into account the specific circumstances of each Territory.
The Chairman noted that a great deal of discussion on decolonisation focused on the political role of the administering Power which, while obviously important, should not be seen as the only facet of the process. Encouraging private sector actors in a Territory to be good corporate citizens was also vital. “If they don’t reflect a sense of goodwill, it makes the job of the administering Power and the local authorities much more difficult,” he said. “If we can encourage the private sector to become good corporate citizens, and if the population can see that resources are being used for their benefit, then this contributes to a sense of trust and nation-building.”
CARLYLE CORBIN, Independent expert, said a number of good ideas had emerged from the present Seminar and previous ones, so there was no shortage of ideas on the way forward. A Third Decade may be appropriate, but it should be a decade of “implementation” wherein the pursuit of decolonisation was “renewed” rather than “reaffirmed” as usual.
He made reference to the points raised by the Chairman on the need for indicators and benchmarks to assess the level of self-government, and recalled that the indicators had been set forth in the Annex to Resolution 1541 (XV) which outlines the minimum standards for self-government. In this connection, he advised that these standards provided for the necessary parameters under which a number of political models could be judged with the critical stipulation that they meet the objective of full political equality. He made reference to models such as Greenland and Faroe Islands in autonomous arrangements relationship with Denmark; the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau in free association with the US; the Cook Islands and Niue in association with New Zealand; and the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba as autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
He emphasized that these models should be studied by the Special Committee so as to better inform the people of the territories of how the legitimate options available to them actually operate in practice. He also recalled that the Special Committee had been presented with a self-governance index as early as the 2000 seminar in Majuro, and that the case-by-case review of each territory which was to have been undertaken pursuant to UN resolutions had not been operationalised. Under these conditions, it would be difficult to assess whether any of the remaining territories met the international standards of full self-government, and whether changes in some autonomous arrangements rendered the models less than fully self-governing.
EDWARD WOLFERS, an Expert, said indicators could help place Territories on a scale of progress towards self-determination, rather than simply declaring a particular process had “failed”. For example, Tokelau had not failed in the self-determination process; rather, the process had succeeded because the people had expressed their views in two referenda. Furthermore, having benchmarks in place could help to measure not only political developments towards self-determination but also the socio-economic developments that could make a Territory stronger and better equipped for self-determination, he said.
DAVID WINDSOR ( Australia) noted his country’s support for the Nouméa Accord and the role that New Caledonia had begun to play in the Pacific Islands Forum. Looking to the future more broadly, he said education and environmental issues would be critical for Non-Self-Governing Territories, particularly in the Pacific, adding that Australia provided scholarships for students from the Pacific, including those from Tokelau and New Caledonia, to study in fields including environmental and ecological studies.
STEVE MCFIELD, from the Cayman Islands, agreed with previous speakers that a nation-building process must take place for the exercise of self-determination to be successful. Outlining the history of the Cayman Islands under various forms and degrees of colonial administration, he said that, due to careful and forceful negotiation among the people and with the administering Power, the Territory now had “one of the best arrangements” in the world.
HOPE A. CRISTOBEL of the Guahan and Chamorro Studies Association said it was a shame that after two international decades, Guam was now feeling the effects of “hyper-militarisation” by its administering Power. Rather than merely looking at Territories that had made progress towards decolonisation, it was important to ask why some had actually regressed in recent years. She also noted that information provided to and by the Special Committee should be gleaned from sources other than the media, which may be biased towards administering Powers.
FADEL KAMAL of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) said that in order to move forward one must reflect on the Special Committee’s history and mandate, of which there was much to be proud. The voice of those that the Special Committee had been established to help must always be heard, including through self-determination referenda, when the people were ready and willing, and when the possible outcomes would be sustainable. He said he agreed with the idea of a third international decade and supported the role of the Seminars. Hopefully, there would be more opportunities in the future for representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories to share their views, answer questions and engage in discussion.
ROBERT G. AISI ( Papua New Guinea) said there were lessons to be learned from the Special Committee’s past successes and failures, and there was also a case for taking some time to assess the Second Decade before launching straight into a third. He also agreed that the Special Committee could use the Seminars in a more strategic way to listen more closely to experts and representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories, who may not have the opportunity to provide information at other times.
TOGIOLA TALALELEI A. TULAFONO, Governor of American Samoa, suggested that the Special Committee focus more closely on whether the decolonisation process was helping the socio-economic status of the Territories’ respective peoples, rather than simply focusing on political and administrative aspects. Many smaller independent States were continually in need of support and “without their own resources, they are literally economically colonized in many ways”, he noted, suggesting that a way forward for the Special Committee could be to make the economic situation just as important as the political one.
GEORGINA BONIN of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said there seemed to be no consistent representation from United Nations agencies at the regional Seminars, pointing out that some agencies may have experiences and expertise that could be useful to share at future Seminars.
Presentation of the Draft Report
The Chairman noted that all participants had made valuable contributions, with many of their suggestions laying down challenges of thinking and method for the Special Committee. “You have thrown down the challenges and we have given an undertaking to respond,” he added. The Seminar’s conclusions and recommendations would be refined in light of the morning discussions for consideration at the Special Committee’s next substantive session in New York in June, he said.
PHILIPPE GOMES, President of the Government of New Caledonia, said the Territory had been honoured to host the Seminar, and expressed hope that its current institutional transformation gave an interesting example for participants from other Territories. He expressed admiration for the very high level of debate, which had been “animated and passionate, enriching and productive”, and for the participants who had shared and exchanged information, principles and inspiration.
Even though decolonisation for each Territory was pursued on a case-by-case basis, he said, the experience of others was always enriching, “feeding our thoughts and allowing us to think about other methods than we may originally envisage”. The Seminar had served as a useful conduit for information on the populations of Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said, noting that that was one of the Special Committee’s main aspirations. It was also a reminder that the building of nations was needed before self-determination could be successful. That was how New Caledonia had approached the issue — by becoming one people with their own destiny in their own hands, he said.
Chairman DONATUS ST. AIMEE ( Saint Lucia), in his closing statement, thanked the Government, administering Power, and people of New Caledonia for their hospitality, generosity and warm welcome. He praised the representation and input from a wide range of stakeholders within the Territory. “This makes me very positive about New Caledonia’s future,” he added.
He also praised participants in the Seminar for the constructive manner in which discussions had taken place, and for the wealth of ideas and insights that would be taken up in the Seminar’s conclusions and recommendations. He particularly thanked representatives of the media, saying their work was a key vehicle through which the Seminar’s message would be disseminated, particularly to the people of New Caledonia. “You have a responsibility to carry that message and help the decision-making process by letting the people know that their fate is in their own hands,” he said.
Noting that positive contribution by the UNDP representative, he expressed hope that more United Nations agencies, particularly those involved in such areas as food, agriculture, fisheries and the environment, would “come to the table” to share their experience and expertise with Non-Self-Governing Territories. If positive and constructive discussions continued among Non-Self-Governing Territories, administering Powers, Member States, non-governmental organisations and experts, each Territory would make the right decision about its future when the time came, he said.
The Seminar closed with the adoption of a resolution, by acclamation, expressing the Special Committee’s appreciation to the government and people of New Caledonia and expressing thanks to the people of New Caledonia for their generosity in hosting a successful Seminar.