16 May 2008

U.N. Secretary-General Declares Decolonisation ‘Incomplete’

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has declared that “the monumental task (of decolonisation) is as yet complete.” In a message read on his behalf to a Pacific intergovernmental meeting of the Special Committee on Decolonisation which convened in Bandung, Indonesia from 15th to 17th May, the Secretary-General said that “colonialism has no place in today’s world,” and “urge(d) all administering powers to actively engage with the United Nations in discharging the U.N. mandate on decolonisation.” The Secretary General’s message went on to “encourage all parties to continue working together to complete the decolonisation process in every one of the remaining 16 non self-governing territories.”

As the statement from the Secretary-General was being read, it was reported that a group of students from West Papua were demonstrating outside the conference site in favour of the re-inscription of that territory on United Nations List of Non Self-Governing Territories.

Regional Meetings on Decolonisation

The annual intergovernmental meetings on decolonisation are held by the Special Committee on Decolonisation during alternating years in United Nations member countries in the Caribbean and Pacific regions, respectively. The sessions are funded through the UN regular budget and attended by a representative portion of UN member states of the Special Committee as chosen by the various regional groups. Participants also include representatives from some of the 16 territorial governments formally listed by the UN as non self-governing, along with several non-governmental organisations. Others are invited in their individual capacity, as identified by the U.N. Secretariat.

In the 1990s, representative groups from territories not on the U.N. list were permitted to observe the proceedings without directly participating. In recent years, however, this practice was ended at the behest of some administering powers who did not want any recognition of the colonial nature of territories under their administration. A number of these territories had been prematurely removed from the UN list in the past.

The rather unusual rules of procedure for these regional meetings provide that only the UN member states of the Special Committee are permitted to serve on the Drafting Committee which agrees the final report of the meeting based on the text provided by the Secretariat. In past conferences, this draft text has often omitted certain views considered adverse to the position of some member states. In some cases, recommendations have been included in the report on issues that were never discussed at the meeting. The report is ultimately adopted by the Special Committee at UN Headquarters where the text is discussed, and often further amended by UN member states who may or may not have attended the regional meeting.

These meetings were originally conceived as part of the Plan of Action (POA) of the First International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (1991-2000) adopted by the UN General Assembly. The sessions were meant as a good faith effort to bring all of the parties to the table for frank and open discussions aimed at accelerating the decolonisation process. The meetings were also an activity contained in the POA of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, which was identical to the POA of the first International Decade, because of the limited implementation of the earlier recommendations.

An assessment on the POA of the First International Decade, and a mid-term review of the Second International Decade were presented by an international expert at previous regional meetings of the Special Committee. These assessments were published by the journal Overseas Territories Report, and are available upon request to: overseasreview@yahoo.com.

The meeting venue of Bandung was the site of the formation of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) which served to intensify and organise the global effort to end colonialism in most of Africa, and Asia, and major parts of the Caribbean and Pacific. Amid the lack of implementation of UN General Assembly decolonisation resolutions, it was hoped that the historical importance of the venue would serve to stimulate an otherwise dormant UN system to undertake methods to re-start a “stalled” decolonisation process, as it has been characterised by the UN Office of International Oversight Services (OIOS).

Concerns have been expressed, however, that the “repetition of process,” which characterises the contemporary UN treatment of the matter, would contribute to UN “decolonisation fatigue” leading to what many fear as an attempt to legitimise the present colonial arrangements, for expediency. The aim of this approach is said to be the ultimate removal of the territories from the UN list – not by achieving a full measure of self-government, but rather by changing the definition of self-government. Sadly, the UN continues to skillfully avoid undertaking the case-by-case review process for each territory – a mechanism annually adopted by the UN General Assembly - to assess the dynamics of the present colonial arrangements in each territory.

Amid the limitations, some participants in past regional decolonisation sessions have succeeded in inserting some provisions that reflect contemporary decolonisation concerns in the meeting report. The 2006 Pacific Decolonisation Meeting had relevant provisions to this effect:

As long as administering powers exercise unilateral authority to make laws and other regulations affecting the Non Self-Governing Territories without their consent, pursuant to such methods as legislation, orders in council and other methods, a territory should not be considered self-governing.

There is no alternative to the principle of self-determination which is also a fundamental human right.

The inalienable rights of the people of the Non Self-Governing Territories must be guaranteed by the United Nations and the Special Committee in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations, and Resolutions 1514 (XV) and 1541 (XV) of 15 December 1960.

The UN should develop a programme to disseminate information with the aim of raising public awareness in the territories in order to heighten people’s understanding of the legitimate political status options available to them in accordance with the relevant United Nations resolutions, including the 1960 (Decolonisation) Declaration.

All Non Self-Governing Territories should be given access to relevant United Nations programmes in the economic and social sphere, including those emanating from the plans of action of the major summits and conferences, in furtherance of capacity-building and consistent with the necessary preparation for the attainment of as full measure of full internal self-government.

Some of this language is later contained in the General Assembly resolutions. The 2007 Caribbean Decolonisation meeting for the Caribbean held in Grenada included similar provisions, identical in most cases with 2006 (and earlier). There were also a few new “qualifying” considerations which appear to have been inserted to support attempts at the legitimisation of “colonialism by consent,” or “voluntary colonialism.” These qualifiers included:

• Reference to the “view of some meeting participants on the need to consider the adoption of new thinking on decolonisation within the context of the current global realities.”

• Reference to what was described as “the array of legitimate transitions to self-determination, provided that the people of a territory have the opportunity to make a full and informed choice.”

This language is vague enough to be rendered meaningless, but there is no doubt as to the intention of its inclusion. It will be interesting to see whether the recommendations from the 2008 seminar will also contain these references, or whether the spirit of Bandung will generate recognition of the significance of their negative implications. A full analysis of the recommendations of the Bandung decolonisation meeting is forthcoming upon its conclusion.

11 May 2008

U.N. Indigenous Forum Adopts Decolonisation Agenda

The United Nations (U.N.) Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) at its Seventh Session held in New York ended its two-week session on 2nd May 2008 with the adoption of recommendations to implement the U.N.’s dormant decolonisation agenda. These recommendations were based on the conclusions of the half-day discussion on the Pacific region where a host of non-governmental organisations expressed concerns for the lack of implementation of the United Nations decolonisation mandate, and offered solutions to jump-start the process.

Relevant Recommendations on Decolonisation adopted at the Seventh Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

• The Permanent Forum recommends that an expert seminar be held, without financial implications, and invites the participation of the Committee on the Elimination of racial Discrimination and the Special Committee on Decolonisation to examine the impact of the United Nations decolonisation process on indigenous peoples of the non self-governing territories which are now or have been listed on the United Nations list of Non Self-Governing Territories. The Permanent Forum requests that independent experts and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples be invited to participate in the seminar. Furthermore, the Forum requests that indigenous peoples under non self-governing territories status also be invited.

• The Permanent Forum expresses its concern for the human rights of indigenous peoples in the non self-governing territories in the Pacific region and calls on the Human Rights Council to designate a Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Indigenous Peoples of those Territories.

• The Permanent Forum invites the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples to examine and report on the situation of the human rights of indigenous peoples in non self-governing territories of the Pacific region and urges relevant States to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur for that purpose.

• The Permanent Forum invites the Chairman of the Special Committee (on Decolonisation) to report on the decolonisation process within the Pacific region to the Permanent Forum at its eighth session in 2009.

The momentum of the successful Pacific initiative leading to the adoption of the Permanent Forum recommendations was given great impetus following the adoption by the by the United Nations General Assembly on 13th December 2007 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 3 of the Declaration confirmed that “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination (and) by virtue of that right freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Article 4 of the Declaration indicates that in exercising this right, indigenous peoples “have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters related to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.”

Pacific Position

An extensive paper presented to the Seventh Session of the Forum by Mililani Trask, Director of the Indigenous World Association and a coalition of Pacific indigenous organisations, expressed the dilemma faced by indigenous peoples over United Nations reluctance to enact the measures its General Assembly had adopted for decades in the areas of self-determination and decolonisation. The paper, which was also endorsed by a number of Caribbean indigenous organisations, was published in its entirety in the May edition Overseas Territories Report (OTR), and can be obtained from OTR at overseasreview@yahoo.com.

In her statement, Director Trask pointed out that ‘international law concedes that the peoples of the non self-governing territories are denied the most important of all human rights, the right of self-governance,” and that (U.N. member) “states were to assist these peoples in attaining a full measure of self-government.” She recalled that since the Cold War ended, only on non self-governing territory (Timor Leste) had achieved this full measure of self-government, and that a number of territories “remain in a state of political disenfranchisement as colonies of the Administering States.” In this connection, Trask listed Guam and American Samoa under United States administration, Kanaki – New Caledonia under French jurisdiction, Pitcairn under United Kingdom control, and Tokelau under New Zealand supervision as indications of the existing colonial arrangements formally recognised by the United Nations. Also recognised by the U.N. are the Caribbean colonial territories including the U.S. Virgin Islands under U.S. administration, and Bermuda, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla under United Kingdom jurisdiction.

Trask also made reference to territories such as French Occupied Polynesia, Easter Island, Hawaii and Alaska which had been removed from UN list of non self-governing territories, but whose situation nevertheless had been raised both in the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and in the Human Rights Council. She made specific reference to the failure of the U.N. Decolonisation Committee to respond to requests from the CERD for information related to racism in the territories “for 19 consecutive years,” and commented that “it appears that we are dealing with a situation of institutionalized racism.”

The Pacific statement went on to recount the different U.N. bodies which have ignored the legislative mandate from the General Assembly on decolonisation including the Special Committee on Decolonisation, various specialised agencies and technical organs, and other U.N. bodies. A plan of implementation to this effect had even been endorsed repeatedly by the U.N. General Assembly, but its implementation has been ignored by the wider U.N. system, giving substance to the adage that “all U.N. resolutions are equal, but some resolutions are more equal than others.” The Pacific statement recalled that “for ten years, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) had repeatedly requested that the (U.N.) Secretariat of the Special Committee produce reports related to the implementation of the U.N. decolonisation resolutions,” pursuant to repeated resolutions of the General Assembly. The statement went on to recount in detail the many failures of the U.N. system to live up to its international obligations.

The Pacific statement also brought to the attention of the meeting that the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) had adopted in 2004 a recommendation which “request(ed) the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples (to) undertake a study on the United Nations decolonisation process and the Special Committee on Decolonisation to assess its historical and current impact on the human rights of indigenous peoples of the non self-governing territories.”

The 2004 recommendation of the Permanent Forum also “request(ed) the U.N. Secretary-General to undertake a mid-decade review on the Second Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism to determine whether substantial progress (had) been made in achieving the goals of the Second Decade and to identify proposals for addressing obstacles in achieving (those goals).” Similar to the recommendations in the UN General Assembly resolutions, these decisions of the Permanent Forum have not been undertaken.

Other statements supported the concerns expressed by Ms. Trask. Speaking on behalf of the Pacific Caucus, Malia Nobrega, a member of the Indigenous World Association, Na Koa Ikaika o ka Lahui Hawaki’i and the Waikiki Hawaiian Civic Club focused considerable attention on human rights issues. In this connection, she noted that “much of the human rights deprivations in the Pacific (loss of cultural integrity, inability to protect our ancestor’s remains, alienation from traditional lands, etc.) are inextricably linked to our international personalities as non self-governing territories (both presently and formerly listed NSGTs).”

Ms. Nobrega ermphasised that “the human rights ‘situation’ in these territories is abhorrent and serves as the most powerful challenge to U.N. legitimacy.” She expressed deep concern that “the U.N. engages in ‘colonial accommodation,’ as it is well known that the Special Committee on Decolonisation remains at best lamentably ineffective and at worst an active participant in the systematic denial of the indigenous peoples of the non self-governing territories to the most basic human right of self-determination.”

Kai’opua Fyfe, Director of the Koani Foundation, also addressed the Permanent Forum on behalf of the Hawai’i Caucus and Affiliated Organisations on the same matter. Director Fyfe began with emphasizing that the objective of his presentation was to “overcome the obstacles that have blocked progress in achieving the goals of the Second Decade of Eradicating Colonialism, particularly as they applied to Hawai’i Ka Pae’ Aina.” He proceeded with a chronology of events related to the history of the annexation of Hawai’i including its placement on the U.N. list of non self-governing territories in 1946, and the events which led to the removal of the territory from the U.N. list in 1959 – one year before the adoption by the U.N. General Assembly of the landmark Decolonisation Declaration. The presentation favoured the re-inscription of Hawai’i to the U.N. list of non self-governing territories. Reference was also made to U.S. Public Law 103-150 of 1993 in which the U.S. officially apologized for its 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, and to the shadow report on the violation of human rights of Native Hawaiians submitted to the 86th Session of the Human Rights Committee “refuting assertions by the USA that it had fulfilled its international obligations regarding the Kingdom of Hawai’i.”

Director Fyfe advised that the Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations and recommendations on the adherence to the right to self-determination under Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) expressed “regret that it had not received sufficient information on the consequences on the situation of Indigenous Hawaiian Peoples for the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii which resulted in the suppression of the inherent sovereignty of the Hawaiian people.” He also made reference to the petition of the Koani Foundation presented to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on the recommendation of the experts of the Human Rights Committee.

Yet another statement from the Pacific was presented by Julian Aguon on behalf of the Indigenous Chomoru People’s Nation and Affiliated Indigenous Chomoru Organisations. Mr. Aguon’s presentation forces on the impact of the United States military build-up in Guam following the closing of the operations in Okinawa, Japan. Aguon argued that the “massive military expansion exacts devastating consequences on (the Chamoru people…who already suffer the signature maladies of a colonial condition.” He went further to explain that “this aggressive militarization of our homeland endangers our fundamental and inalienable right to self-determination, the exercise of which our administering power, the United States, has strategically denied us – in glaring betrayal of its international obligations under the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; UN General Assembly Resolution 1514, to name but some.”

He also made reference to the fact that representatives from Guam had come to the UN Headquarters in New York “year after year, at great personal cost, appealing to the UN to follow through with its mandate,” (but after) almost thirty years of testimony, (there had been) nothing to show for it.” He went on to say that “the failure of the U.S. to honour its international obligations to Guam and her native people, the non-responsiveness of the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation to our rapid deterioration and the overall non-performance of relevant US and UN Decolonisation organs and officials combine to carry our small chance of survival to its final coffin.”

Focus now shifts to the implementation of the Permanent Forum recommendations.