13 October 2011

U.N. Fourth Committee Discusses Decolonisation Issues

General Assembly

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly
Fourth Committee
3rd Meeting (PM)

Questions of Western Sahara, Turks and Caicos, Guam, Gibraltar Central to Fourth Committee Debate as United Nations Urged Not to ‘Turn a Blind Eye’ to Hardships


The United Nations could no longer “turn a blind eye” to the risks posed by a failed State in the Western Sahara, as that would jeopardize global security, the Fourth Committee heard today, as petitioners for Western Sahara, New Caledonia, Guam, Turks and Caicos, and the United States Virgin Islands took the floor in the decolonization debate.

Petitioners on the question of Western Sahara told the Committee that the people of that territory were suffering in refugee camps in the Sahara desert, where they had been forgotten for decades.  One speaker said that the failure to protect the Saharan people was a violation of international law.  Other countries had calculated their own economic and political interests in the region, but continued to ignore the terrible human costs.  Morocco had been allowed to delay the referendum, and the United States had also decided that the situation could be ignored.

Drawing attention to human rights abuses by both sides to the conflict, one petitioner said the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) needed the conflict to go on, ensuring that some of its leaders “continue on as millionaires”.  Meanwhile, the ongoing time frame of the conflict opened more doors to jihadists and international drug traffickers, and the speaker stressed that the international community would be making a “serious irresponsible mistake” by ignoring the Front’s ties to terrorist groups.

Another petitioner said that the whole of Western Sahara was subjected to a military siege and a media blackout, as the Moroccan authorities had made it very difficult to grant access to non-governmental organizations, international media and observers.  Torture was not just limited to the period of investigation, but was a daily practice in most cases throughout the period of disappearance, which ranged from a few weeks to several years.

It was difficult to imagine what it would be like to have been denied contact to one’s extended family and loved ones for more than 30 years, as had been done to many Saharans, the Committee was also told.  In that light, one speaker urged the Committee to intervene on behalf of women and children in the Western Sahara, whose human rights were systematically violated.  For anyone concerned with the plight of the Saharans, a concrete written agreement needed to be reached, aimed at providing educational opportunities for Saharans, as well as immigration status as soon as education was completed.

Still more speakers made a connection between events in Western Sahara and the recent democratic movements elsewhere, saying that North Africa’s Maghreb was “living a new reality”.  The Arab Spring was opening a new future for people in the region.  Such events elsewhere in the Arab world had carried a clear message that the people must speak:  Western Saharans had been promised the right by the United Nations for self-determination, and the time had come for that right to be fulfilled, a petitioner declared.

Speaking on the question of Guam, one petitioner said the Chamorro people had a long history of independence prior to the arrival of colonizers in the sixteenth century.  However, over the last 500 years, they had endured ethnic and cultural genocide at the hands of three sovereign nations.  She appealed for United Nations assistance in the political evolution of Guam to enable the people there to assemble their social, political, economic, and cultural future peaceably.

Turning to the question of the Turks and Caicos Islands, a speaker called attention to the fact that those islanders were not allowed the privilege of absentee balloting, as was accorded to United Kingdom citizens.  He asked if that inequality was due to the fact that the Islands’ residents were of African descent.

On the issue of Gibraltar, that territory’s Chief Minister Peter Caruana said it was incomprehensible that Spain, itself an important democracy, continued to believe and assert that the people of Gibraltar did not enjoy the right to self-determination.  He said that Spain’s historical obsession with the recovery of the sovereignty of Gibraltar, which was lost 307 years prior, could not excuse or justify the undemocratic willingness to do so against the wishes of the territory’s people.

He expressed frustration that as much as Gibraltar wished to be de-listed as a Non-Self-Governing Territory, and as much as it was necessary to modify the criteria to permit it, its continued listing in the meantime did not alter the fact that Gibraltar was no longer in a colonial relationship with its ex-administering Power.

Also speaking to that issue in a right of reply, the representative of the United Kingdom said that, while the people of Gibraltar enjoyed all collective and individual rights ensured by the United Nations Charter and relevant international treaties, independence would only be an option with Spanish consent.

Nonetheless, the referendum organized and carried out by the people of Gibraltar constituted a democratic and entirely lawful act, he said.  The United Kingdom, according to the expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar, retained responsibility for the territory, including for its defence, and he called on the United Nations to take that relationship into account.

The representative of Spain spoke on the question of Gibraltar.

The Vice-President of the government of New Caledonia, Gilbert Tyuienon, spoke on the question of New Caledonia.

Also participating was the representative of Papua New Guinea.

The Committee also heard additional petitioners on the question of Gibraltar, Guam, Turks and Caicos, the United States Virgin Islands, Western Sahara and agenda item 60.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Wednesday, 5 October, to hear remaining petitioners regarding decolonization issues.

Full press release available here.

See full set of press releases on deliberations of the U.N. Fourth Committee here.

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