Charice Antonia Rivera
United Nations Correspondent
Special to Overseas Territories Review
A proposal to cut support for decolonization in the U.N. budget by 40 per cent has raised eyebrows among many delegations of U.N. member states currently considering decolonization issues at the U.N. Fourth Committee. The cuts are contained in the "Proposed programme budget for the biennium 2012-2013" presently under consideration by the U.N.’s budgetary committee (Fifth Committee).
The implications of the proposed cuts to the decolonization of the remaining sixteen non self-governing territories were revealed to many surprised delegations in an address to the U.N. Fourth Committee by International Advisor on Governance Dr. Carlyle Corbin.
In his statement to the committee, Corbin commended the U.N. General Assembly for the adoption of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism which he hoped would “provide renewed energy in bringing about the decolonization of particularly the small island territories in the
Caribbean and Pacific.”
He noted that “since the early 1990s, the (U.N.) has consistently acknowledged the importance of implementing its decolonization resolutions” to promote the self-determination process.
“With most of the important work still to be undertaken, along with any new initiatives, it is of great concern that the present Third International Decade has begun with the recommendation to reduce the resources devoted to the decolonization process, rather than to enhance them,” he stated.
He observed that such a "draconian" cut in the U.N.’s servicing of decolonization “is being proposed even as the membership of the Special Committee on Decolonization continues to increase, and even as additional member states continue to join the Decolonization Committee, and as a number of additional non-independent countries are advocating for re-inscription on the U.N. list of non self-governing territories including Maohi Nui (French Polynesia) where the national Assembly has adopted a resolution favoring U.N. re-inscription." He noted that the un-listed territory of Puerto Rico had been seeking U.N. consideration by the General Assembly for years.
“It is clear that such a reduction, from five to three U.N. posts devoted to decolonization, is inconsistent with concerns consistently expressed by many (U.N.) member states for the already insufficient level of human and financial resources presently available to complete the decolonization process,” the governance expert pointed out, “and this is counter to the ongoing strengthening of the U.N. Department of Political Affairs (DPA) ordered by the General Assembly.” The U.N. Decolonization Unit is located within DPA and may be the only unit where such drastic reductions are being proposed.
Speaking on the present unfinished business of decolonization, Corbin noted in his address that largely due to the dearth of U.N. support, “the process appears at a stalemate (with) most member states, particularly of the Global South, continu(ing) to express welcome support for the principles of self-determination, decolonization and human rights.” On the other hand, he noted, “the main Administering Powers continue to announce, year after year, that the territories under their administration have somehow already arrived at self-government, yet these Administering Powers do not openly engage the international community to justify such claim, preferring to absent themselves from the debate."
"What we have today," he commented in a subsequent interview, "is a re-statement of position by member states, regional groups and administering powers without any opportunity for real dialogue or interactive discussion where questions could be raised and clarifications made on the true nature of these dependency arrangements."
Corbin, who previously represented the Virgin Islands Government in the U.N. decolonization process for over twenty years, called for the use of objective self-governance indicators recently designed specifically to assess the level of self-governance in the small island territories, and based on international norms which have established minimum standards for a full measure of self-government. He emphasized that “while each territory should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, there should be an objective standard against which such a review should be made.”
The unfinished decolonization agenda was outlined in a 2010 Analysis of Implementation of the Decolonization Mandate and presented to the relevant U.N. committees one year ago. The analysis expressed concern that while the implementation of the decolonization mandate was insufficient, the decolonization budget had remained static from 2002 through 2010 providing no additional assistance to carry out the actions called for by member states as contained in the decolonization resolutions.
The 2010 Analysis appeared to anticipate a reduction in U.N. system support for decolonization with its inclusion of a “Proposed Plan of Action” providing for an Independent Expert mechanism, funded from external sources to conduct critical analyses of the progress and extent of the achievement towards self-government in the small territories.
A review of relevant U.N. documents, however, does not indicate that the proposal was ever given due consideration by the U.N. Decolonization Committee at its 2010 or 2011 session. A similar recommendation had been made in 2005 by the chair of the U.N. Decolonization Committee, but this was deferred because of a lack of resources, even as independent experts are not funded from the U.N. system.
So if the current level of support has not been sufficient to undertake the required actions adopted by the U.N. General Assembly to move the decolonization process forward, a forty per cent reduction in the already inadequate resources for decolonization could only signal an attempt to further diminish the U.N. role in the decolonization process of the remaining territories. Score one for the administering powers whose constant pressure on the U.N. system to abandon decolonization and other objectionable issues appears to be bearing fruit.
Can the next steps be the de-listing of territories, solely on the statement of the administering powers, without regard for the non self-governing status of the territories?
Will the adoption of decolonization resolutions continue annually without an adequate assessment of whether the resolutions of the previous year have been implemented?
Will the stated support for the decolonization process articulated by the Non Aligned Movement, whose membership largely benefited from U.N. support for a successful process, translate into fundamental action to restore the resources for decolonization, and to sponsor a real effort to implement the decolonization mandate?
Or, are the remaining non self-governing territories, listed and otherwise, being abandoned by the United Nations, or as it is said, are they being “thrown under the bus?”