12 June 2008

U.N Association of Virgin Islands Critiques UN Decolonisation Implementation

A representative of the United Nations Association of the Virgin Islands (UNAVI), in an address before the Special Committee on Decolonisation on 11th June, presented a measured analysis of the lack of implementation of the decolonisation mandate by the United Nations. The presentation was made by Attorney Juliette Chin on behalf of UNAVI President, Attorney Judith L. Bourne. It was the only statement made on the question of the United States Virgin Islands, and the only one from a Caribbean territory. A statement was also made by Sabina Flores Perez of Guam who addressed the implications of the continued and accelerated militarisation of that Pacific territory. The elected government of the US Virgin Islands was not represented for the second year in succession, having broken a long established precedent of annual presentations to the Special Committee on Decolonisation by a representative of that territorial government dating back to 1975.

The United Nations press release on the meeting can be found at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2008/gacol3177.doc.htm

Followng is the full statement of the United Nations Association of the Virgin Islands:


by JUDITH L. BOURNE, President
United Nations Headquarters
New York, NY.

11th June 2008
Mr. Chairman,

Please accept the compliments of The United Nations Association of
the Virgin Islands (UNAVI) to yourself and to the other distinguished members of the Special Committee. UNAVI is pleased once again to provide our perspective on the decolonization process. Due to the inability of our officers to be in New York at this time, this presentation is being read by a colleague, Attorney Juliette Chin.

UNAVI has contributed to the discussion in most of the Caribbean regional seminars up to 2006 as the only NGO in the US Virgin Islands which promotes political status development in our territory.

We are concerned about our removal from the group of NGOs normally invited to those seminars and hope that this is a mere oversight that can be corrected in 2009, and that our absence has nothing to do with any discomfort that may have been caused by the depth of our analysis regarding the failure of the UN to carry out its mandate.

Mr. Chairman,

The continued existence of sixteen territories on the UN list and the lack of substantive positive movement in this 21st century is a travesty of the purpose of this Committee, and is directly related to the lack of implementation of the decolonization mandate. Much of this is attributable to the indifference of some administering powers who sense that the member states are no longer interested in real decolonization.

But a significant part of it is due to the inaction of the United Nations system which has failed to carry out, or has inadequately carried out, the activities which this Committee has directed it to do in the annual resolutions.

One example is the resolution this committee adopted on May 27th of this year on Dissemination of Information on Decolonization. The resolution is essentially the same as other resolutions on this item since the beginning of the 1st International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism in 1992, with a few additions here and there. One of these additions is reference to the information leaflet on decolonization entitled “What the United Nations Can Do to Assist Non Self-Governing Territories.” This document gives the web addresses of some of the U.N. bodies and has nice color pictures. However, it gives no insight on which agencies provide the referenced assistance. The document is thus of questionable use, yet it is projected in your resolution as a major contribution to the dissemination of information on decolonization.

Further, you may recall that in 2007, the Department of Public Information, when queried, could give no indication as to whether the information which it says it disseminates has ever reached the territories themselves. DPI could not even confirm whether the UN Information Centres had a mandate to service the territories. In 2008, these questions remain unanswered. Yet again, the resolution you just adopted recognizes the role of the UN Information Centres in disseminating information to us.

This is but one of many examples of the disconnect between what the UN system says it does, and what actually gets done. Is there really any wonder why we continue to be non self-governing?

In the US Virgin Islands, the awareness among the people of the actual political status options available to them is virtually non-existent, despite decades of resolutions originating in this committee on the creation of education programs to heighten the awareness of these issues. The inability of this committee to require the UN departments to actually carry out committee decisions, is nothing short of tragic. What this inaction has fostered is the perception that the UN is impotent when it comes to decolonization, despite contrary statements from UNAVI. This has facilitated the political atmosphere which has found the US Virgin Islands and other United States - administered territories being told that the UN is no longer relevant to us, and that we are merely internal, domestic issues.

Indeed, an article published in the local on-line newspaper on the US Memorial Day celebrations held in the US Virgin Islands last month began with the statement “It's been almost 100 years since the territory became part of the United States”, and no one other than I, who wrote a letter to the editor in response, appeared to recognize that the statement was fundamentally incorrect.

How will this committee respond to these amazingly erroneous beliefs which are constant, often unstated, underlying premises in news stories, popular comments and political statements? Will this committee take issue with them in your resolution? Or will you simply ignore them?

This committee has referred to the current USVI Constitutional Convention as an aspect of our progress towards self-determination. Putting aside the fact that the US law authorizing the development of a local constitution clearly delimits its scope to the confines of our present colonial relationship, a recent exchange illustrates both the abdication of any responsibility by the administering power for the political education or political development of the territory and the lack of an informed consciousness within the territory.

As the USVI government has stated that it does not have the resources to fund the expenses of the Convention, the Governor requested technical assistance funding from the Office of Insular Affairs of the Department of the Interior of the administering power. The response came from an Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary and stated that “Because your drafting of a constitution is an exercise in self-government, we believe it important that the entire effort, including the financing, be accomplished locally...”

Firstly, the request was addressed by our Governor to a subdivision of the Interior Department rather than to the State Department, secondly; the response was in derogation of clear responsibilities of the administering power; and thirdly, this response was considered to be disappointing but not scandalous.

Clearly, a refusal to require that action be taken on the many valuable activities mandated in the annual resolutions is to turn aside from the stated purpose of this Committee. The United States itself responded in 2007 to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and acknowledged that there have been no changes in the political status of any of the US - administered territories. Is there a new purpose to simply legitimize status quo colonial arrangements as some new acceptable form of self-government, contrary to the real situation on the ground?

What happened to the case-by-case analysis which the committee adopted which would have provided detail on the current colonial arrangements?

What happened to the Plan of Implementation of the Decolonization Mandate endorsed by the General Assembly which called for much needed political analysis to be done by an independent expert?

What happened to the proposal by the distinguished ambassador of Dominica at the opening of the Special Committee in February to create a working group to deal with the small territories?

It appears that all of these proposals designed to actually carry out the decolonization mandate have been systematically blocked, while the status quo continues. Thus, in 2008, less than two years before the second decade ends, we have repetitive resolutions with no apparent prospect of implementation, with the cycle repeating itself over and over, year after year. And the United States Virgin Islands actually moves further away from activities and from a mind set that encourage self determination.

Mr. Chairman,

We note with interest the decision of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at its Seventh Session this May to convene an expert seminar on decolonization. UNAVI fully endorsed this approach to bring some expert analysis to these issues. Perhaps the conclusions of the Permanent Forum experts will provide this committee with much needed information on the dynamics of contemporary colonial arrangements.

Mr. Chairman,

The implementation of the decolonization mandate continues to require the full attention of UN member states. We in the territories who are committed to self-determination are deeply troubled that the UN appears to be ready to abandon the decolonization process at the end of this decade, declare victory, and move on. For our own sakes and in recognition of the many member states which emerged from colonialism, we appeal to you to demand that the UN system comply with your directives on decolonization.

I thank the committee for its time and attention.