24 June 2010

Governance Expert Analyses Implementation of Decolonisation Decade


Dr. Carlyle Corbin
Independent Advisor on Governance
Statement to the Special Committee on Decolonisation
United Nations Headquarters
New York, N.Y.
23rd June 2010

on agenda items:
• Implementation of the (Decolonisation) Declaration

• Implementation of the (Decolonisation) Declaration by the Specialised Agencies and International Institutions Associated with the United Nations


Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Special Committee on Decolonisation, I appreciate this opportunity to address you on issues related to the implementation of the Decolonisation mandate during the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010).  

I. Implementation of Decolonisation Resolutions

Mr. Chairman,

At the regional seminar in Noumea, I presented a paper on the "Implementation of the Declaration Mandate during the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism," and proposed some future strategies for the completion of the mandate. I had presented previous independent analyses of the first International Decade which ended in 2000 at the Pacific Regional Seminar in Majuro, Marshall Islands; and a mid-term review of the second IDEC at the Caribbean Regional Seminar in Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The 2010 analysis examined the decolonisation resolutions of the General Assembly during the decade, as well as the recommendations of the Caribbean and Pacific regional seminars which emerged as the most successful exercise during the decade. The analysis explored the level of implementation of the actions called for by the wider United Nations system, including the Special Committee, the administering Powers and relevant intergovernmental organisations, consistent with recognised international standards.  I would like to highlight some of the key issues identified in the analysis covering the period 2001-2010:

• The UN General Assembly called for the intensification of information on decolonisation to the territories, including through the UNICs, the need for political education programmes in the territories, and UN supervision or observation of self-determination processes in the territories. Only Tokelau was supported by a UN information programme during the period, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Electoral Affairs Unit.

• The Assembly reiterated its longstanding call to examine the compliance with the inalienable right of the people of the non self-governing territories to ownership, permanent sovereignty, control and disposal of their natural resources, including land and marine resources, and their rights to the exclusive economic zones. In cases such as Guam and the US Virgin Islands, it is clear that the mandate on the ownership of the natural resources is not sufficiently taken into account.

• Administering Power cooperation with the Special Committee was a continuing feature. New Zealand continued its exemplary cooperation with the Special Committee vis a vis Tokelau. The United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US), which withdrew their formal cooperation decades ago, have not returned  formally to the Committee sessions, although both countries were present at the most recent Caribbean Regional Seminar in St. Kitts & Nevis in 2009. The UK also participated in the 2010 Pacific Regional Seminar in New Caledonia.

• To its credit, the UK facilitated the Special Committee’s Caribbean Regional Seminar to Anguilla in 2003, and subsequent visiting missions to Bermuda, and the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), in 2005 and 2006, respectively, providing the committee with much needed first-hand knowledge of the situation on the ground. I had the honour to have served as the UNDP Independent Expert on the Bermuda and TCI missions. France has cooperated both with the Committee, as well as with regional organisations such as the Pacific Islands Forum and the Melanesian Spearhead Group on missions to New Caledonia.

• During the Second International Decade (IDEC), the former Bush Administration declined requests of the elected governments of Guam and the US Virgin Islands to host visiting missions and regional seminars, and in 2008 announced that the territories under their administration were ‘domestic matters,’ and therefore outside of the purview of the Special Committee. This announcement appeared not to have elicited a discernible reaction from the Special Committee. Requests are pending from American Samoa, and it is hopeful that the new administration in Washington would recognise the international legal dimension of the non self-governing territories under its administration, and resume cooperation with the Special Committee, and in the process, facilitate visiting missions to those territories.

• During the period, the General Assembly began to recognise self-determination as a fundamental human right in regards to the decolonisation process of the territories, but its repeated mandated actions for programmes of collaboration between the Special Committee and institutions such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Human Rights Committee, CARICOM, African Union, among others, have never materialised. The Secretary General reports on implementation of the decolonisation mandate make no reference to any collaboration with these bodies other than reference that the Special Committee “takes note of,” or “continues to follow” their work. The CERD Reports throughout the Second IDEC lament the fact that repeated requests to the Special Committee for information on racial discrimination illicit copies of the annual working papers on each territory which contain no information on racial discrimination. This is identified as a tangible concern.

• To this end, the Assembly called for an annual review on the implementation of decolonisation resolutions during the first and second IDECs. For most of the period, these reports did not materialise. In 2009, a report was issued which represented the replies from three member States to requests for information from the UN Secretary-General, but no information on the compliance by the UN system. In fact, throughout the Second IDEC, there was a consistent reliance on compilations of replies from member states, or from several UN agencies, to form Secretary General  reports on implementation, as compared to implementation reports on other agenda items which were detailed, analytical and comprehensive. Member States, in particular those of the Caribbean Comunity (CARICOM), have repeatedly expressed the view to the Fourth Committee that the Secretary General reports on implementation of the decolonisation mandate were insufficient.

• Initiatives of the plan of action of the first and second IDECs, in particular, two critical analyses on the constitutional, political and economic development of the territories were not undertaken. Concern for this omission of analysis was consistently expressed in statements of CARICOM to the Fourth Committee dating to the 1990s and throughout the second IDEC. A proposal for an Independent Expert to undertake the required studies, contained in a Programme of Implementation endorsed by the General Assembly, was deferred and never implemented.

• The initiation of a case-by-case approach to the examination of each territory was successfully being initiated with Tokelau, and was begun with American Samoa, but not continued.

II. Recommendations of the Regional Seminars

There were a number of new initiatives called for in the various regional seminars, but which did not make their way into the resolutions. Nevertheless, they are still considered part of the decolonisation mandate. Several  such initiatives included:

• The formation of an expert group from the non self-governing territories to advise the Secretary-General and the Special Committee on concrete measures to achieve full decolonisation. Such a group was formed, but operated outside of the UN framework.

• An annual joint meeting between the Special Committee and the UN Economic and Social Council  (ECOSOC) on the agenda item of assistance to the territories given that both bodies have almost identical resolutions. Also re/ ECOSOC, the extension of observer status for the territories in several of the relevant functional commissions such as the Commission on Sustainable Development, the Commission on Social Development, and the Statistical Commission. This was dismissed as a “constitutional” violation by one administering Power, even as the territories have observer status in UN General Assembly proceedings, endorsed by the administering Powers,  in the same functional areas – apparently, not a constitutional violation.

III. Participation of Non Self-Governing Territories in the UN System

The mandate of the second IDEC contained a consistency of advocacy of the practice of UN assistance to non self-governing territories from the UN system. This is found in resolutions of the UN General Assembly, as well as ECOSOC. I had the honour of presenting a paper on this issue at the seminar in New Caledonia last Month, and will highlight a few points:

• The regional commissions are the most active in relation to the direct participation of the territories as associate members, particularly in the case of ECLAC and ESCAP. Similar provisions exist in various UN specialised agencies (UNESCO, FAO, WHO et al).

• UNDP is the primary coordinator of assistance to the territories from the UN system. In both case of direct participation as associate members or observers, or as recipients of assistance, the terms of reference of the institution are respected, and in addition, the administering Power must agree to the type of participation or assistance concerned. Nevertheless, abstentions persisted during the second IDEC on the resolutions in the UN General Assembly and ECOSOC on this agenda item based on the need for respect for the rules of procedure of the respective bodies. These rules are already being respected, but the abstentions continue, nevertheless.

• The participation of those territories in the world conferences and the special sessions of the UN General Assembly on meetings in the economic and social sphere was a main highlight in the first and second IDEC. This approach emanated from the Working Group of Associate Member Countries of the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee, a subsidiary body of ECLAC, which I had the honour to serve as chair during my ministerial tenure. Reports of the Working Group should be in the archives of the Special Committee dating back to the 1990s. The reports are available on the website of the Caribbean Subregional Headquarters of the Economic Comnmission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

A number of recommendations were also made to assisting the territories in engaging the international process. These include:

• The recommendation that the name of the agenda item should be changed from the lengthy reference to “Implementation of the (Decolonisation) Declaration by the Specialised Agencies and the International Institutions Associated with the United Nations” to simply, “Support to the Non Self-Governing Territories from the United Nations system.”

The name of the resolution in ECOSOC was so-changed several years ago, but the name of the agenda item remained. The study concluded that both the Special Committee and ECOSOC should change the name of the agenda item. No amount of UN General Assembly or ECOSOC resolutions will apparently influence UN economic and technical agencies to act simply because they do not recognise their responsibility to implement the Decolonisation Declaration. There is apparently nothing the Special Committee can do to change this objective reality. They might provide information on how these agencies are “providing support” to the territories as many of the agencies are active in this regard. This would require a change in the letter of request from the Secretary General to the agencies to this effect.

This is part of the reason why the SG Report on implementation of this resolution contains precious few agencies which responded to requests for information on how they are implementing the Decolonisation mandate, even as the same agency might actually be providing technical and other assistance to the territories. UNESCO, ESCAP, et al are cases in point.

• The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) conducted an evaluation published in 2007 on aspects of how the decolonisation agenda is serviced by the UN system (E/AC.51/2007/2/Add. 3). It should be required reading for members of the Special Committee. Some of the findings included:

* The conclusion by the UN that the decolonisation mandate could be implemented in the near future.

* The need for an assessment of the relevancy, quality and utility of decolonisation documents before the Special Committee, including the Working Papers which are the main documents produced comprising 73 % of work time.

* The “significant risk” of loss of expertise given “the absence of systems for capturing knowledge about Special Committee and Decolonisation matters.”

Perhaps some of the concerns of the OIOS Report have been addressed since its publication in 2007, but as far can be determined, there have been no discussions – at least in formal session of the Special Committee – on the OIOS findings. The recent enhancements to the Department of Political Affairs, with new resources, did not include any identifiable resources for its Decolonisation Unit which services the Special Committee.

IV. Conclusion

Mr. Chairman,

It has long been established by the General Assembly that self-determination is a fundamental human right. It is therefore consistent to recognise that the contemporary colonial models, however sophisticated, are still inconsistent with this principle, do not meet the minimum standards of political equality, and are inconsistent with democratic governance.

It is from this perspective that the analysis of the implementation of the decolonisation mandate during the Second IDEC has shown a degree of increased attention to the necessity of alleviating the democratic deficiencies inherent in the present dependency arrangements through the implementation of the international decolonisation mandate as set forth in the United Nations Charter and resolutions of the General Assembly, as well as in the international human rights conventions.

In this context, the members States of the Special Committee have proposed action-oriented recommendations to the General Assembly which has adopted these resolutions by consensus, or at the very least, by overwhelming margins. Where the process has thus far not achieved its desired result is in the actual implementation phase where initiatives proposed, have not become initiatives undertaken. Most of the administering Powers appear to dismiss the important actions called for, and merely join in the consensus to re-affirm the decolonisation principles. Several have attempted to portray colonial reform as legitimate initiatives of decolonisation, suggesting that the territories under their administration are self-governing, after all. This sort of re-definition, however, has no basis in fact.

Some degree of implementation of the mandate, in the meantime, has come from a number of UN agencies which have begun to accelerate integration of many of the territories in their work programmes. Further work needs to be done in this area, however.

Dissemination of information on decolonisation to the territories and to the UN system as a whole, must be done by active means (publications, thematic seminars), rather than by the passive modality of informing that there is a website. A far more proactive approach is required utilising the considerable, but underutilized, tools of the wider UN system.

In the final analysis, there appears to be a clear difference in perception as to what constitutes success. The adoption of resolutions, and the de-listing of territories from UN review to reduce the numbers on the list, does not constitute success. The actual achievement of full self-government by the peoples of the territories is the real success. The de-listing is the afterthought. It should not be considered as the goal, and should not be perceived as such.

The intent of the analysis was not to be overly critical, but rather to provide a sober assessment of the objective reality of how the United Nations decolonisation process actually is handled at the UN, and most importantly, how the process actually impacts the people of the territories who look to the UN as a guarantor of their future. The intent is to promote progress. But as Martin King said, "progress does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability.

For the member States and the UN machinery to make progress in decolonisation, it needs to adapt to incorporate new ideas - many of which have already been introduced during the first and second IDECs -while remaining absolutely true to the principles of self-determination and subsequent decolonisation of the peoples of our remaining territories. The Special Committee needs to seriously examine whether its method of work is an impediment to that progress, as many of the territories have concluded.

As it has been said, the price of doing the same thing, year after year, is far greater than the price of change. This is so if the results of the “repetition of process” does not yield the desired result. Accordingly, a new decade with a revitalised plan of action is vital in this regard, with specific focus on implementation of the existing mandate through innovative means. The present method of work has not succeeded in the implementation of the mandate which remains as valid today as it has been over the twenty-year period of the two international decades for the eradication of colonialism.

Dr. Corbin is an expert on decolonisation who formerly served as Minister of State for External Affairs in the Government of the US Virgin Islands. He presented the position of the territorial government before the Special Comittee on Decolonisation, and the UN General Assembly Fourth Committee,  for over twenty years. He also served as an Independent Expert to UN regional seminars of the Special Comittee on Decolonisation, delivering papers on decolonisation issues in small territories throughout the First and Second International Decade(s) for the Eradication of Colonialism, most recently in St. Kitts and Nevis in 2009, and in New Caledonia in 2010. He previously served as the Independent Expert to the UN Visiting Missions to Bermuda, and to the Turks @ Caicos Islands, in 2005 and 2006, respectively.