03 August 2009

Support to Territories from UN System

Action on Resolution on Support to Non-Self-Governing Territories by the specialised agencies and international institutions associated with the United Nations

Excerpts from UN Press Release
1st August 2009

In a resolution on Support to Non-Self-Governing Territories by the specialized agencies and international institutions associated with the United Nations (E/2009/L.26), adopted by a vote of 25 in favour, none against, and 22 abstentions, the Council recommends that:

All States intensify their efforts within the specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system of which they are members to ensure the full and effective implementation of the (Decolonization) Declaration contained in General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), and other relevant resolutions of the United Nations;

Requests the specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system and international and regional organizations to examine and review conditions in each Non-Self-Governing Territory so that they may take appropriate measures to accelerate progress in the economic and social sectors of those Territories;

Urges those specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations system that have not yet provided assistance to Non-Self-Governing Territories to do so as soon as possible;

Requests the specialized agencies and other organizations and bodies of the United Nations system and regional organizations to strengthen existing measures of support and to formulate appropriate programmes of assistance to the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories, within the framework of their respective mandates, in order to accelerate progress in the economic and social sectors of those Territories;

Requests the administering Powers concerned to facilitate, when appropriate, the participation of appointed and elected representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories in the relevant meetings and conferences of the specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system, in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions and decisions, including the resolutions and decisions of the General Assembly and the Special Committee, on specific Territories, so that they may benefit from the related activities of those agencies and organizations.

The result of the vote was as follows:

In favour (25): Algeria, Barbados, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, China, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Against (0):

Abstentions (22): Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malawi, Morocco, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States.

JOHN SAMMIS (United States) said with regard to the resolution before the Council, he said this was essentially the same one that had been considered several times in the past by the Council. Each time it had come up, the United States had called for a vote and abstained, as have a number of other countries. They would do so again today. They found themselves in this position despite agreeing in principle that the UN funds, programmes and specialized agencies could usefully provide support to territories that were not United Nations members, so long as the domestic laws and policies of a territory’s administering power allowed such UN support. It was the responsibility of the administering power to decide the nature of the participation in the United Nations, if any, of its territories. Under the Constitution of the United States, the federal Government had sole responsibility for the conduct of United States foreign relations, which included the foreign relations of United States territories. They were concerned that the proposed language of this resolution infringed upon these internal constitutional arrangements of the United States, and therefore could not support the resolution as it stood now.

JAKOB STROM (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the European Union also called for a vote on resolution L.26. The United Nations system provided support to Non-Self-Governing Territories. Regrettably, the resolution was loaded with political content, and diverted attention from the noble objective. The European Union would abstain from the resolution, as it did not fall within the purview of the Council. Time had not allowed a collective reformulation of the resolution at this session, but the spirit of the meeting would inform consultations when time permitted.

TONY FAUTUA (New Zealand) said New Zealand had first hand experience with specialized agencies as related to non-self governing territories. New Zealand was pleased to recognize the Taukalow peoples, and the achievements made thus far, and in this regard they would support the draft resolution.

ALEXANDER PANKIN (Russian Federation) said the Russian Federation would abstain on voting for this resolution. Russia had consistently supported deleting this agenda item on the granting of independence to colonial territories and peoples. Economic questions to do with helping vulnerable peoples should be considered in another context. Politicisation of the Council's work would not help with its main function, which was coordinating United Nations activities in economic and social spheres.

DONATUS ST AIMEE (Saint Lucia) said a couple of issues had been raised in the discussion, including sovereignty. Saint Lucia felt that self-determination did not imply independence. The question of whenever (Resolution) 1514 was mentioned did not in itself mean that the Council was advocating this, and this was the difficulty that some delegations had. The very title of the resolution probably gave the impression that independence was the focus of the resolution - and this was incorrect, the focus was encouraging administrative powers to collaborate with the United Nations, and to encourage the non-self-governing territories to ask for help from the United Nations system. Saint Lucia would vote in favour of the resolution. It was unfortunate that a vote was required, but hopefully this would be remedied next year.


Needed: Modernisation of Resolutions

Overseas Territories Review Commentary

The adoption by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the resolution on support to the non self-governing territories by the wider UN system is one of the most important areas of UN focus on the territories because it is intended to build their technical capacity as they evolve toward full self-government. The resolution in 2009 was introduced by the Representative of St. Kitts and Nevis, a member of ECOSOC.

If the territories are not prepared for self-government, it is less likely that they would be able to assume the powers necessary to run their own affairs, and more likely that they would remain in the political periphery of non self-governing status. A similar resolution is adopted by the General Assembly, with the voting pattern virtually identical. It is sad that these resolutions do not enjoy unanimity, and it remains puzzling why the member states have not been able to arrive at a consensus on the language.

It is clear that modernisation of the language of this resolution on support to the non self-governing territories from the UN system would go a long way in addressing the concerns of those member states which do not appear to object to the principle of UN support to the territories, but disagree with the political nature of some of the language in the text, causing them to abstain year after year.

An approach to modernising the resolution has been repeatedly recommended to the relevant UN committees and seminars by independent experts for well over a decade. These and other expert recommendations are welcomed by member states at the time they are made, but are subsequently overlooked behind closed doors when the text of the resolution is being prepared. Thus, the default position of retaining the previous year’s language, over and over again, with the same voting pattern, continues to prevail. Further, the actions called for in the resolution are effectively ignored by the very UN agencies who are to provide the relevant support.

This scenario is a classic example of bureaucratic reluctance to implement proposed solutions which could have solved this problem years ago. It is not surprising, and certainly should be embarrassing, that when ECOSOC takes up the issue, none of the specialised agencies and other UN institutions make presentations on such an agenda item which deals directly with their work. It is sad that, year after year, only a small fraction of the UN agencies respond to the request by the UN Secretary-General for information on their assistance programmes for the territories. Even agencies which provide assistance to the territories are reluctant to reply to the request for information because of the perceived political nature of the text.

The Need for Modernisation

The objections of the various member states to the resolution on assistance to the territories from the UN system are virtually identical to their objections for over a decade. Thus, the US representative continues to articulate to ECOSOC that any assistance to, or participation in, UN programmes for the non self-governing territories must be confirmed by the UN member State which controls the foreign relations of the territories concerned. This is a but a re-statement of the practice which is already in place, and has always been a requirement of the rules of procedure of any UN agency which provides for assistance or participation for these territories. The resolution, even in its present form, makes this clear.

A second objection by the US representative suggests that the resolution somehow “infringes upon” the internal constitutional arrangements of the United States. Yet, the longstanding US practice provides the delegation of authority to the territories, on a case by case basis, to participate in international organisations and activities.

In virtually all cases, it is only the state which controls the international relations of the territory which can make a request for the affiliation of the territory in any given UN body. If the delegation of authority is freely given by the administering power to the territory to participate in a given international organisation or activity, how can it be, at the same time, an infringement on the administering power’s control?

The arguments of the European Union and the Russian Federation have substantive merit as these states have always objected to the inclusion of language deemed political in nature in resolutions focused on economic and social development. Their respective positions could be similarly addressed in a proper consultation aimed at a consensus. This was called for by the St. Lucian Ambassador following the vote on the resolution, and it is hoped that the Caribbean and Pacific member states – the two regions to which the majority of the territories belong – would support this strategy at the upcoming session of the UN Fourth Committee where the same agenda item will be addressed.

It is recalled that this “repetition of process” which characterises UN consideration of support to the non self-governing territories was reviewed one year ago by OTR. The same conclusion applies now, as it did then: (http://overseasreview.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html)

“…in any case, without a more comprehensive picture of the level of territorial participation in the UN system, the UN’s 2009 consideration of this issue promises to be “déjà vu all over again,” with the same re-statements from the same countries, with the same language in the resolution and the same limited information in the Secretary-General’s report. This does little to further the development process of the territories for which this exercise is designed to assist.”

However, there may be grounds for some optimism. Several strategic recommendations emerging from the Caribbean Group may provide the necessary environment for consultation and compromise, and ultimate consensus on the resolution related to support to the non self-governing territories from the UN system.

OTR will continue to follow the issue during the next session of the UN General Assembly which convenes in September.

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