United Nations Press Release
Sixty-fifth General Assembly
65th Meeting (AM)
Decolonization ‘Remarkable but Incomplete’ Chapter in United Nations History, Says
Secretary-General, Spurring Action at Commemoration of Decolonization Declaration
Decolonization was a remarkable but incomplete chapter in the history of the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said today as he marked the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples by calling on the international community to remain committed to making good on its promise to end colonialism, once and for all.
“The process of decolonization is not complete. There are 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories on the list of the Special Committee on Decolonization,” the Secretary-General said in his opening remarks, underscoring the United Nations commitment to fulfilling the Declaration’s promise. At the same time, he said that finishing the job would require a continuing dialogue among the administering Powers, the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, and the peoples of those Territories.
He said that heeding the lessons of decolonization’s past could help chart the way forward on “a long road, beset by new challenges”, and urged stakeholders to remember that five decades of success had been achieved because of commitment, persistence, solidarity and an understanding that independence was part and parcel of global interdependence.
“These are qualities we must bring to the consolidation of independence. The building of new politics is just as big a struggle, and must continue in order to forge strong, self-reliant States,” he declared. Calling for new ways of thinking and broad alliances to meet emerging challenges, he said: “Decolonization re-made the world — in our minds and on the ground. It showed the tremendous power we have to shape the world for the better. Let us continue to build on that remarkable achievement, and realize in full, the spirit of the Declaration whose anniversary we mark today.”
Assembly Vice-President Sylvie Lucas (Luxembourg), speaking on behalf of President Joseph Deiss, said that at the dawn of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, subjecting peoples to alien domination and exploitation was a denial of human rights. Since 1945, more than 80 former colonies had become independent, joining the United Nations as sovereign States, and she extended a special greeting to those nations today. “The Assembly has played a vital role in this historic development,” she said, calling the Declaration’s adoption and the establishment of the Special Committee “decisive steps”.
However, “we have yet to turn the page on colonialism one and for all”, she said, noting that 16 Territories remained on the list and expressing hope that the Third International Decade would mobilize the energy needed to close the chapter. Towards that goal, the Special Committee should continue to promote cooperation with the administering Powers and, in consultation with the peoples of those Territories, develop innovative, tailored approaches to ensure the right to self-determination.
Pedro Núñez Mosquera (Cuba), Vice-Chairman of the Special Committee, said that policy-making body, which also monitors implementation of the Declaration, had been permanently examining the situations in the Territories of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos, United States Virgin Islands, and Western Sahara, as well as the question of Puerto Rico.
Several resolutions had been adopted, aimed at the full exercise of the inalienable rights of the inhabitants of those Territories to self-determination. Noting that fewer than 2 million people inhabited those Territories, he said that the Special Committee was of the view that the decolonization process could only be addressed within the context of current realities and a sustainable future.
To that end, he encouraged the international community to find creative ways to resolve the difficulties associated with the process, paying closer attention to the social and economic needs and the interests of the peoples in the Non-Self-Governing Territories. “Each Territory represents a unique set of circumstances, often involving quite complex political issues, the solution of which requires significant international cooperation, including close reliance on neighbouring and long-established relationships,” he added.
Overall, the slow progress was a reflection of a lack of political will, he said, stressing that a constructive relationship with the administering Powers was indispensable for the full implementation of the Declaration. For its part, the Special Committee intended to enhance its cooperation with the administering Powers and consultation with the peoples of the Territories towards developing case-by-case approaches. “I am confident that, together, we will find a way to address the challenges ahead in a most efficient and pragmatic manner, thus expediting the process of decolonization in the years to come,” he said.
Calling the Declaration the “magna carta” of decolonization, Jorge Valero ( Venezuela), on behalf of Latin American and Caribbean States, said that those subject to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation were entitled to be consulted and freely express their opinion about their condition. The Declaration, and all it represented, held particular importance in his region, given its role in movements that had led to achievement of independence by the 14 Caribbean States.
But eight of the remaining 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories were in his region, and he encouraged the Special Committee to work until they were decolonized. In particular, he urged resumed talks between Argentina and the United Kingdom to find a peaceful solution to the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich islands.
Gérard Araud (France), speaking on behalf of the Western European and Other States, said it was essential for the peoples of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories to understand the options for their political status and to exercise their right to freely choose their future. It was important to remember that the world had grown more interdependent and complex in the last 50 years. Addressing political freedom was linked to issues of climate change, sustainable development, poverty eradication and gender equity, among others. Fresh, creative efforts must be undertaken to match individual and collective expectations.
Recalling that many Asian States had co-sponsored the 1960 resolution that contained the Declaration, Singh Puri ( India), on behalf of the Asian States, noted that, today, the majority of the United Nations membership comprised former colonies. “This is clearly a measure of the success of the historic struggle against colonial rule,” he said. It should be a common endeavour to work with the people of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories to realize what they perceived to be in their best interest, using a “judicious mix” of urgency and sensitivity.
Milorad Šćepanović (Montenegro), speaking on behalf of the Eastern European States, said the Declaration was not only an expression of overwhelming support for those struggling for liberation in colonial territories, but over the past 50 years, it had become a “dynamic and vigorous tool” that could spur implementation of the Charter’s provisions on Non-Self-Governing Territories.
Indeed, it could be said that decolonization was one of the Organization’s most significant achievements, particularly as many of the current Member States were themselves once Non-Self-Governing Territories, now called on to observe the anniversary of the historic Declaration and acknowledge the urgency of eradicating colonialism once and for all, he said. Today’s commemoration was an opportunity, not only to look back at the Organization’s successes in that area, but to look ahead and reiterate an unwavering commitment to fulfil its objectives.
Editor's Note: Under the United Nations General Assembly rules governing such commemorative sessions, speakers are to include the representatives of the respective regional groups along with the host country. As per established practice, the Chairman of the Decolonisation Committee is also provided the opportunity to address the session on behalf of the Committee. The United States, as the host country, did not address the Assembly to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Decolonisation Declaration even as it administers three territories recognised under international law as non self-governing, namely American Samoa, Guam and the US Virgin Islands under Article 73 of the UN Charter , along with 'unlisted' Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. France, which administers New Caledonia and 'un-listed' French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, et al addressed the Assembly on behalf of the Western European and Other States. It is to be noted also that Africa was the only regional group which did not address the Assembly owing to an apparent logistical issue.