an interview conducted by
Charice Antonia Rivera
United Nations Correspondent
Special to Overseas Territories Review
In a comprehensive interview with advisor on governance and multilateral diplomacy Dr. Carlyle G. Corbin discusses the historical evolution of the United Nations decolonization process, the challenges to implementation of the decolonization mandate, and proposals for the future political and constitutional evolution of the remaining dependencies.
CAR Good Morning,
Dr. Corbin. Thank you for joining us.
CGC My pleasure.
Nice to speak with you again.
CAR The last time we spoke was last October-
almost a year ago - at the Fourth Committee session on decolonization here at
the U.N. You raised the issue about the proposal to cut the budget of the
Decolonization Committee. What has become of this?
CGC Well, you may be aware that your article on
the matter brought to light the proposal to reduce
the staffing devoted to decolonization by about 40 per cent. Some felt that the
level of resources were already insufficient. Governments were ultimately successful in
gaining the restoration of the previous budget level.
you suggesting that more resources should be devoted to the Decolonization
Committee? Hasn't this Committee come under criticism that the decolonization era has passed?
CGC Well, I have always said – and I have
written on this a number of times – that it is the dependency governance
arrangements themselves which are anachronistic, not the decolonization process
designed to bring about democratic self-government. This is the real issue. Any
objective analysis of these dependency arrangements reveals that they are not
in conformity with democratic governance. The ambassador of Papua New Guinea
made several important proposals regarding the modernization of the process during
the Decolonization Committee session last June. I applaud him for his insight.
Indications are that the present leadership of the Committee under the
Chairmanship of Ecuador is examining some
innovations in the committee’s method of work. So this is a positive sign.
stated in your paper at the Academic Council on the United Nations System
(ACUNS) last June that implementation of the decolonization mandate was the ‘Achilles
heel’ of the United Nations. How was this position received by the other
scholars at the conference?
CGC The challenge to implementation of U.N. mandate is well known and was referenced a number of times throughout the conference. I have made this point for a number of years before
U.N. committees, academic conferences and elsewhere. It is not new that U.N. resolutions
are only as good as their implementation. This is especially true for
decolonization resolutions. The ACUNS conference was focused
on larger issues, so I suppose I was re -introducing the question of contemporary
colonialism as a remaining unsolved issue on the U.N. agenda.The point was made that unimplemented
mandates raise expectations for those of us in the
territories who take seriously the importance of the rule of law - which, by the way, was the subject of a recent high level meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.
Implementation of the
CAR Does the U.N. review implementation?
CGC Well, there have been a number of U.N. reports over the years on implementation
of the decolonization mandate. These are essentially compilation documents derived from replies of some member states
and some U.N. agencies on their respective activities in advancing the
decolonization process. But these reports reflect the activities of only the
countries or agencies which make such information available, while most do not report. So there is an incomplete picture.
CAR How can this be improved?
CGC Well, I have suggested in the past that a systematic examination of the specific actions called for in the resolutions is the best approach in determining the extent to which these actions have been carried out. Such mandates as the development of
political education programs for the people of the territories, dissemination
of information to the territories, mechanisms for the control of natural resources, among a number of areas would be assessed in a comprehensive fashion.
CAR We understand that you conducted analyses of the implementation of the decolonization mandate on behalf of previous chairs of the Decolonization Committee. What became of these analyses?
CGC First of all, the intention of these analyses was to conduct a systematic assessment of implementation of the specific decolonization resolutions. It was fairly specific in that regard. I had been asked by
the Chair of the Decolonization Committee at the end of the 1990s to
examine the implementation of decolonization resolutions during the First International Decade for the Eradication
of Colonialism (IDEC) which ended in 2000. This study was presented at U.N.
decolonization seminars in 2000 in the Marshall Islands, and in 2001 in the Republic of Cuba. A five year review of the second
IDEC was later presented in 2005 at the seminar in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The
most recent analysis was the review of implementation of the Second IDEC which
ended in 2010. This was presented at the U.N. seminar in New Caledonia that year.
CAR Yes, we have seen the 2010 analysis
which also appeared to build upon the earlier studies. Will you be doing a
mid-term review in 2015?
CGC I haven't had any discussions to this effect but such an analysis might be useful to the governments.
CAR You spoke of the
decolonization seminars? Are they
useful to the decolonization process?
CGC I think that they are very useful. They
bring together representatives of territorial governments, civil society,
academics and others to discuss decolonization issues from a regional
perspective. The cross-fertilization of ideas is most unique and it provides a
support mechanism for people who are working for decolonization in similar dependency arrangements in different parts of the world. The
recommendations offered at these seminars are very progressive, and are sometimes - but not always - included in the resolutions.
CAR When did these regional seminars begin? How long were you involved in the seminar
CGC Well, I began attending seminars as the representative of the U.S. Virgin Islands Government, and also as an
independent expert, beginning in 1990 at the Caribbean seminar held in Barbados.
This was in commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the landmark
Decolonization Declaration. A Pacific Seminar was also held that year in Vanuatu specifically for Pacific territories. An earlier seminar was held in Havana in 1985 commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Decolonization Declaration (Resolution 1514 (XV). From 1992, the seminars essentially became an annual exercise,
alternating between both regions, and I presented at most of them as government
representative. I usually presented an additional paper as an expert, as well.
After 2006 when my own political mandate came to an end, I presented at several
of the seminars solely as an expert.
American Samoa Governor Togiola T.A. Tulafono (c) is flanked by governance advisor Dr. Carlyle Corbin (l) and Chamoru activist Hope Cristobal (r) during a break in the proceedings of the United Nations Pacific regional seminar in Noumea, New Caledonia (2010).
CAR Did you attend the Pacific Regional Seminar
in Quito last May?
CGC No. I believe I am still on the expert list,
but some other colleagues participated. In any case, I would not have been able
to attend as I participated on several panels at the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA)
annual meeting in Guadeloupe. The CSA is our regional academic organization. Issues
related to decolonization were discussed in a number of the conference panels
at great length.
CAR Such as?
CGC Well, among other things, we looked at the
relevant options of political equality, particularly independence, free
association and integration – since we were meeting in a former territory which
had moved to political integration. We looked at how this particular governance model actually operated on the ground. By contrast, we also examined the democratic
deficiencies existing in the current dependencies and semi -autonomous countries
in the Caribbean and Pacific.
CAR The issue of implementation of the decolonization mandate seems to be critical to its success.
CGC Yes, over time, that is how it has emerged. Of
course, in the 1990s, those of us from the territories who were involved in
this process were all very enamored with being engaged in the U.N. proceedings, especially
since this kind of international participation was rather uncommon among the
dependent territories. In many cases, such participation was even discouraged
by some administering powers. So, certain territories were absent from
the process and many still are hesitant to participate. Quite unique from an historical perspective was that successive US Virgin Islands governments
took a principled position – that we needed to participate in the U.N.
discussions where we were the topic of debate. But in the long run, this has not
CAR And this was the beginning of the 1990s, you
CGC Actually, much earlier. Our second elected
governor, Cyril E. King, was the first to address the U.N. Decolonization
Committee as far back as in 1975. There was also the first – and only –
U.N. visiting mission in 1977 ----
have been no U.N. missions to the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1977?
CGC No. There were several formal requests for
such missions by the territorial government, particularly in the early 1990s, under
former Governor Alexander A. Farrelly. But these requests were denied by Washington. At that time, we were
trying to arrange for a visiting mission to observe our political status
referendum process, and to assist us in our public
education campaign. Our political status commission on which I served had taken a decision to ask our governor to invite the U.N. on the basis that a mission was consistent with U.N. resolutions. This was especially relevant since requests for assistance from the administering power were not successful.
CAR So visiting missions must be agreed by the administering power?
CGC That is the policy as I have heard it described.
CAR What was the objection to another U.N. mission to the U.S. Virgin Islands?
CGC Well, I recall the reply from Washington was that it was in the
midst of a review of their future role in the decolonization process, and since
the review would not be completed before our referendum would be held, the
mission could not be agreed.
CAR So, was there any follow-up to the first
speech of the governor to the U.N. visiting mission in 1977?
CGC Yes, that mission to the
territory generated a degree of momentum, and we began annual participation in
the work of the Decolonization Committee and its subcommittees, about 1979.
This lasted until 2006…
CAR When you left government?
CGC Yes, it seems that the new government discontinued the practice.
CAR What do you think the reason was for the shift in policy?
CGC I am not in the position to know.
CAR But was this wise? I mean, this is a forum which can influence the political development of the territory isn't it?
CGC Look, every government has the right to decide on its own policies. Aside from that, I invoke the words of former
U.S. President George Bush who said after leaving office, “I owe my successor my silence.”
CAR OK, so during this early period, what was the nature of the Virgin Islands participation? What were
some of the issues discussed at the U.N. regarding the Virgin
CGC Well, in the beginning, from the eighties the focus was on
presenting information on the economic, political and social developments in the
territory. This served to provide more detail than
the general background available to the U.N. at that time. Up to the beginning
of the 1990s, we also presented at the Subcommittee on Small Territories
where there was in-depth examination of new developments each year. This body was unfortunately dissolved sometime in the early 1990s, and the specificity of analysis of each territory has suffered ever since. Emerging from this process were specific resolutions
calling for concrete actions – such as visiting missions, support to political education processes and so on. We helped to craft these recommendations which became part of the resolutions. Similar resolutions were adopted for all
of the territories. From about the
mid-1990s onward, we had become quite familiar with the U.N. process, and had gained a better understanding of the importance of the resolutions which were
adopted as a means to facilitate our decolonization ----
CAR Hence, the focus on implementation?
CGC Right. We gradually began to raise the
implementation issue in our U.N. statements. I was later asked to conduct the analyses on implementation which we discussed earlier.
CAR OK, so with respect to those analyses, what were some of the findings?
CGC Well, the most recent 2010 study looked at
the key recommendations of the annual regional seminars of the First and Second
International Decade. The study also identified the actions called for in the
resolutions during the same period, including requested research and analysis as mandated activities of the plan of action of the two decades. The study ultimately listed the key
substantive areas where actions were called for – areas such as the
case-by-case work program for each territory, the ownership of natural resources,
visiting missions, assistance and collaboration in relation to the U.N. system,
political education and other areas. The specific mandate to enact a Program of
Implementation was also reviewed ----
CAR Program of Implementation?
CGC Yes, the ‘POI,’ as we referred to it, was an
initiative undertaken by the Chairman of the Decolonization Committee in 2006
under former Chairman Julian R. Hunte who was the Ambassador of St. Lucia to
the U.N. at the time. The POI organized the activities adopted by the General Assembly to
give effect to the decolonization process ----
CAR Is this the former President of the U.N. General Assembly?
CGC Yes. In fact Dr. Hunte chaired the
Decolonization Committee twice, before and after his tenure as President. It was during his post-presidency period that the POI was developed and endorsed by General Assembly resolution as “an important
legislative authority” to complete the decolonization process. It identified
eight focus areas where actions had been repeatedly called for, but where
implementation had been lacking. The POI was unique in that it paired the
recommendations with those best suited to undertake the actions. These
included specific U.N. departments and agencies, the U.N. Secretariat, and the
administering powers. The POI also recommended the introduction of ‘special mechanisms’ through the use of an Independent Expert to undertake
research and analysis which had been mandated in the first and second international
decades, but not undertaken.Such special mechanisms are utilized by the Human Rights Council, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and several other U.N. bodies.
Left to right: Dr. Julian R. Hunte, Chairman of the Council of Presidents of the U.N. General Assembly (CPGA); U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki -moon, Mr. Jan Kavan, Vice Chairman, CPGA; and Dr. Carlyle Corbin, Executive Secretary, CPGA (2010).
CAR What became of the
POI? Was it enacted?
CGC As I understand it, the implementation of the plan was
deferred since the special mechanisms component of the POI had not been included in the U.N. budget.
CAR The Independent experts, special rapporteurs and other mandate holders on human rights are
not financed by the U.N. budget, as I recall ----
CGC Yes, but I think that the concern expressed had to do with residual costs such as photocopying of the expert report and possibly translation costs into the U.N. languages. In any case, the POI - including the special mechanisms - was deferred.
CAR But didn’t you say that the General Assembly
has endorsed the POI?
CGC Yes, it was
specifically referenced in a U.N. resolution ---
CAR And the special mechanisms?
CGC Like the special mechanisms, it was deferred.
CAR I heard the representative of the European
Union at the ACUNS plenary last June refer to the U.N. system as often
having a “stall mentality.” He defined
this, if I remember correctly, as a ‘cautious approach to change that does not serve the U.N. very well.”
Could this scenario you just described be an example of such a mentality?
CGC Well, let's just say that the introduction of new procedures is difficult to accomplish in
some cases, even when the status quo procedures result in merely a ‘repetition
of process' - and even when the General Assembly has endorsed the measure.
CAR Were these analyses under the POI ultimately
completed by other means?
CGC Not that I am aware.
CAR This speaks directly to the implementation
of the mandate.
CGC Perhaps. But, apparently, if
such activities are not specifically identified in the U.N. budget, it is often
interpreted that there is no obligation to act even if there is specific
reference in U.N. resolutions. And, of course, it is more of a challenge when the issue –
such as decolonization – is no longer considered a priority of the U.N. system.
CAR Why don’t the member states reflect
these activities in the U.N. budget?
CGC Perhaps there are other pressing matters. But it may just be a coordination issue between the substantive committees and the budgetary committees.
CAR All right. The method of work in conducting
business of decolonization at the U.N. seems a bit of a challenge. Can you break it down for us? What happens, say, at the beginning of each year?
CGC Well, the method of work is essentially the
same as it has been for decades. The Decolonization Committee elects its
officers and adopts its program of work each February. The regional seminar is
then held in May in a member state, and its report goes to the Decolonization
Committee annual session in June. The committee convenes for about two weeks and adopts resolutions which are
sent for the consideration of the Fourth Committee which meets in October. Once adopted,
the resolutions are sent to the General Assembly for final approval in December
of each year. The process for the new year begins again the following February. Among
the resolutions is one on a set of eleven small territories which has a
provision mandating an annual report of the Secretary-General on the
implementation of the decolonization resolutions.This report was not done annually during the first
and second international decades, but then again, the Secretary-General is required to write many reports. For some years now the reports on implementation of the decolonization mandate have entailed the
compilation of replies from a small number of member states and U.N. agencies which reply to requests for information.
CAR So, given the present scenario, how do you
think the U.N. decolonization process can be accelerated?
CGC Well, I would say that a substantive
assessment on the present level of implementation of the mandate would establish a baseline. The resolutions contain important actions and the member states
need to be aware of the extent to which these things have been carried out. I
believe that this would provide important information on how the U.N.
is performing, and by extension, how it might accelerate - and innovate - its work. I suggest
this approach in view of prevailing reality which finds the major
administering powers - the United Kingdom and the United States - not participating in the work of the Decolonization Committee. Both countries
formally withdrew their cooperation from the committee decades ago. So that perspective is missing from the debate. Some have suggested that the administering powers don't wish to place themselves in the position of having to be questioned on their stewardship of dependencies, particularly with regards to their U.N. Charter obligation to prepare the territories for full self-government.
CAR With sixteen territories on the U.N. list,
how much influence do the territorial governments and civil society have at the
committee sessions. They are able to present their positions without
restrictions, are they not?
CGC The statements from representatives of the
territories are useful, indeed, but there is insufficient time for interactive
discussion - at least in my view. In fact, the time allotted to the territories is often as
short as three or four minutes at the Fourth Committee – insufficient time for persons who have
traveled great distances at their own expense, from the Pacific and beyond. In
the meantime, the discussions on territories under sovereignty disputes, in particular Western Sahara and Falkland Islands/Malvinas, are far more in depth reflecting large numbers
of speakers on these issues.
CAR Rather like the Puerto Rico hearings of the Decolonization Committee last June ? There were scores of speakers over several days as I recall.
CGC Yes. Those who take the initiative to come to the U.N. to present should be given the priority. This is precisely why there was the Subcommittee on Small Territories of the 1990s which provided intensive assessment of the situation in the small territories in the intervening period between the initial convening of the Special Committee in February and the substantive session in June.
CAR So are you saying that the issues of the smaller territories are
CGC No, I wouldn’t say it quite that way. But there doesn’t
seem to be sufficient time for their issues to be dealt with in depth. This
speaks to the 'method of work' issue which we discussed earlier. Several Caribbean countries on the Decolonization Committee had proposed some years ago the creation of an
internal working group to focus attention on the small territories but this
didn’t go very far since budgetary implications were raised ----
CAR You said earlier that the major administering states stay
out of the discussions?
CGC Certainly at the Decolonization Committee,
yes, but there are occasions when one or two might present a statement to the Fourth
Committee reiterating their longstanding position to legitimize the political dependency
arrangements which they administer. To its credit, the U.K. has
participated at the U.N. regional seminars over the last several years, as I
recall, but again, it is primarily to re-state its position. The U.S., in the
meantime, has not spoken on the issue of decolonization at the Fourth Committee in recent years. They have been known to speak at the budgetary committees in favor of reducing resources for decolonization - one of the favorite targets of the administering powers for budgetary reduction.
CAR So, just what is the U.S. position
on the issue of decolonization, as you understand it?
CGC You would have to speak to them about it.
CAR We tried, but got no response.
CGC Well, I can only say that the last reflection of U.S. policy on
decolonization that I can recall was not at the U.N., but rather in
correspondence to the U.S. Congressional Delegate of American Samoa some years back. Their position was that
U.S. dependencies were domestic issues, and that the
Decolonization Committee had no authority to change their political status. Of
course, I do not know of anyone who argues that this committee has ever had such power,
but this is part of a ‘mis-direct’ - to divert attention from the main point of political inequality.
Then there is also the refrain that the resolutions of the Decolonization
Committee are outdated. In reality, however, the resolutions of the committee are ultimately adopted by the full General Assembly so they are
resolutions of all 193 member states – not of
one committee. But, again, this is part of the ‘mis-direct.’
CAR Which are the U.S.
CGC The three U.S.
dependencies are American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands which remain on the U.N.
list of non self-governing territories subject to Article 73 of the U.N.
Charter. They were formally listed by the U.S. in 1946. There exists a process to
‘de-list’ a territory from the U.N. list - through a resolution of the
General Assembly. But, then, this should entail the U.N. first analyzing the
power relationship between the territory and the respective administering power
concerned – a process which might prove quite revealing in terms of the
existent political and economic inequality inherent in the dependency
arrangements. This could hardly be seen as full self-government. So, instead,
some of the administering powers employ the strategy of denigrating the committee and
repeating the mantra that the people, as we say, “like it so.” Leaders of a few
territories have even been convinced that their arrangements have been
modernized, and therefore self-governing – except for the fact that the unequal
power relationship between the territory and the administering power remains
the same, and in some cases, there has been a further political power imbalance.
CAR Are you suggesting that there are attempts
to re-define self-government by watering it down?
CGC An interesting way of putting it. There is significant
mis-information about what constitutes self-government. There appear to be two primary arguments from the major administering powers. The first is what I refer to as the ‘dependency
legitimization’ argument - that the territories are self-governing because we
elect our own governments. Interestingly, I heard the British Prime Minister tell the General Assembly during the general debate a few weeks ago that the conduct of elections alone does not constitute democracy. I would suggest that this logic would also apply to the dependencies where the decisions of the democratically-elected governments can be constitutionally overruled by the administering power. Corollary to this 'dependency legitimization' argument is the ‘dependency modernization’
argument - that the internal constitutional reforms completed or underway, and which
are not designed to change the unilateral power relationship, constitute legitimate
self-government. And of course, even if the political leadership of some
territories has acknowledged the inevitability of independence, the territories
are still projected as not having indicated an interest in independence. There are also the attempts to further limit the options for the territories to either
immediate independence, or continued 'modernized' dependency status. The U.K., for
example, decided around 2003 that it would no longer offer the
option of free association.
CAR But what’s wrong with free association?
Didn’t the U.K.
invent it with the West Indies Associated States in the 1980s?
CGC I suppose that the British model was one of
the first, if not the first model of free association in modern times, certainly
for island dependencies. The British have argued since 2003, however, that free
association, as they see it, contains contingent liabilities whereby they would have
responsibilities without what they perceive as the necessary administrative
CAR That doesn’t quite sound like free
association to me ----
CGC Indeed. This projection of free association
implies that it is simply another form of dependency status. But there are no such ‘contingent liabilities’ under a true free association
model which can be fashioned in a variety of ways as long as it meets the
internationally recognized minimum standards of political equality as defined
by the U.N. General Assembly in its Resolution 1541 (XV). This obviates any
unilateral authority of the larger country which would be in association with a
smaller one. Free association is on the basis of political equality, not on the
legitimization of political inequality. This is the discussion that needs to be
CAR Which are the autonomous association arrangements existing today?
CGC Of course, yes, there are a number of them.
I often use the autonomous model of Greenland with respect to Denmark. This
is a very unique model in that there is shared citizenship, maximum autonomy
and the transfer of competencies to Greenlandic authorities. The U.S. model in the Pacific (Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau) is significant as well,
albeit unique because of military considerations. In this case, there is separate
citizenship but with ease of travel to the U.S. and its dependencies for the associated state citizens. And there is also access to designated U.S. domestic
programs. At the same time, these associated states are full voting members of
the U.N. General Assembly.
CAR Members of the General Assembly?
CGC Yes. Another association model is
that of the Cook Islands with New
a particularly autonomous model with shared citizenship. Why such
innovation is not available to the UK
dependencies in the Caribbean is unclear especially given the
devolution of authority to Scotland
These are interesting questions which remain, by and large, unanswered. Again,
this is part of the discussion that needs to be held.
CAR What about Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands? Doesn’t the U.N. regard these
commonwealths as non-colonial?
CGC Well, both models emerged from different
places at different times. The Northern Marianas has a commonwealth status
which was developed in the 1980s and was projected and generally considered sufficiently autonomous. But U.S.
legislation in subsequent years reversed much of the local control they
previously enjoyed. U.S.
labour and immigration laws did not apply initially, for example, but now the
autonomous powers in these areas are being transferred to the U.S. government
as a result of unilateral action by the U.S. Congress and supported by the
courts of the administering powers.
CAR But aren’t commonwealths like the Marianas
and Puerto Rico more autonomous than the US territories?
CGC Well, it was first perceived that way, certainly
for Puerto Rico when its commonwealth
arrangement was created in 1952. At the time, the U.S.
was able to convince the U.N. that Puerto Rico
was sufficiently autonomous to be removed from the U.N. list of non
self-governing territories by resolution in 1953. The later Northern Marianas
commonwealth covenant in the 1980s provided even more autonomy than that
granted to Puerto Rico. In the end, however,
the U.S. Congress exerted its authority. The Northern Marianas Government filed a
case in the U.S. court in Washington, D.C. contesting U.S. authority to
unilaterally apply its on immigration and labour - but the ruling
upheld the U.S. federal power.
CAR It seems that the commonwealth arrangement is somewhat limited in terms of its autonomy.
CGC Let us say that it has developed quite interestingly.
CAR But if self-government in this commonwealth status is questionable, shouldn’t the U.N. intervene?
CGC I am not sure what you mean by ‘intervene.’
But, in reality, both Puerto Rico and the Marianas
are in what I refer to as the ‘dependency periphery’ - a sort of “grey area” as far as the U.N. decolonization
process is concerned. Both territories were removed from non self-governing
status by U.N. resolution, and can only be re-listed upon the request of
the U.N. member states. Until then, they are outside of international scrutiny. In the case of Puerto Rico, the U.N. Decolonization Committee conducts a
hearing process on that territory each year, and adopts a committee resolution
asking for the U.N. General Assembly to address Puerto Rico decolonization. This was done on the proposal of mainly Latin American countries. The
critical mass of political support has not yet been reached, however, for the General Assembly to actually take up the question of Puerto Rico even in the face of repeated calls by representatives of
all of the major political parties and civil society organizations on the
island, and many in the diaspora.
CAR Don’t all these
groups support independence?
CGC Not at all. Even the pro-integrationist
party recognizes the dependency nature of the present political status. There are
different positions on the solution to the dependency status – the Puerto Rico
Independence Party, for example, supports independence while the New
Progressive Party favors full political integration as a state of the U.S. Then
there are those, mainly emerging from the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic
Party (PDP), which favor sovereign association, free of unilateral dictates of U.S. law, but maintaining a relationship with
The traditionalists in the PDP appear to cling to the idea that the present
dependency arrangement is a form of association through a bilateral pact
between Puerto Rico and the U.S.
This argument is becoming increasingly difficult to defend in view of U.S.
unilateral imposition of laws, regulations and the like. Regarding the Marianas, I am not aware of an expressed interest in
having the commonwealth re-listed or otherwise addressed by the U.N., even as
their powers are becoming substantially less autonomous than initially envisaged. Significant
interest has developed to review the present commonwealth arrangement as it has become
increasingly different than that which was originally negotiated. In this connection, legislation was
adopted by one House of the Northern Marianas Legislature last year to review the prevailing commonwealth arrangement, and action
is awaited by the upper House.
CAR So is the Marianas non self-governing, then?
CGC Well, as I have said, the United Nations does not list them as
such, but with the reversed autonomy – now upheld by a US Court decision - they may have fallen below the minimum
standards for full self-government. The trouble is that the U.N. does not have a specific process
to revisit former territories originally on its list after a reversal of autonomy. A decision of the General Assembly would be required.
OTR Which are these ‘dependencies in the
periphery,’ as you refer to them?
CGC There are a number. Semi-autonomous countries
such as French Polynesia/Maohi Nui in the Pacific, comes immediately to mind. In 1947, France unilaterally ended its
transmission of information on the dependencies under its administration. The
following year, in 1948, the U.N. General
Assembly adopted a resolution calling on the relevant colonial powers to
explain why they were no longer fulfilling their U.N. Charter obligation to
provide on the dependencies. The French replied in 1949 that it intended to
conduct some colonial reforms, and this was apparently sufficient enough among
the U.N. member States of that early period not to press the issue further. The
French, thus, no longer provided information, and by the time the new list of non
self-governing territories was published by the U.N. in 1963 the
French dependencies of Ma’ohi Nui/French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna had been omitted.
This procedure was in contrast to the Danish, Dutch and Americans who proceeded
to have their dependencies de-listed through a U.N. General Assembly resolution
following significant U.N. debate.
CAR Are there ‘dependencies in the periphery’ in
the Caribbean as well?
CGC For sure. We have already spoken of Puerto Rico. The fragmentation of the five-island
semi-autonomous country formerly known as the Netherlands Antilles in 2010 is
another Caribbean example where five new
peripheral dependencies were created. The two semi-autonomous countries of Curacao and Sint Maarten emerging from this dismantlement
resulted in lesser autonomous models than existed when the islands were one
country. The other three islands, Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire, became
partially integrated into the Dutch
Kingdom by the same
process, but without the level of political or economic rights required for full political
equality under U.N. principles.
The main point, though, is that all
of these were de-listed before 1960. Had they been reviewed after 1960 based on
the updated definition of self-government adopted at that time – and
considering the broader and more diverse U.N. membership - a case could have
been made for a self-governance
reassessment and possible re-listing. A number of these 'dependencies in the periphery' are focusing some attention on that now
since democratic deficits in the political arrangements are becoming more and
more evident, and are impacting their development process.
CAR Shouldn’t these issues be addressed in the
Decolonization Committee? Isn’t this where these discussions should take place?
CGC Well, the General Assembly has made it clear
that the Decolonization Committee can only address territories formally listed
by the Assembly as non self-governing. The notable exception is the unique case
of Puerto Rico by special decision, and where a committee-only decision is adopted ----
CAR Committee-only resolution?
CGC Yes. Again, unlike the other resolutions adopted by
the committee, the one on Puerto Rico is not
sent to the Fourth Committee for action - even though it is contained in the Decolonization
Committee report ----
CAR It appears that the territories which are not
listed have a challenge in getting the U.N. to review their status.
CGC Yes, but it is not insurmountable if the
political will exists. A series of political decisions by member states have to
be made at various levels. Of course, a specific assessment would be useful beforehand in order to justify re-listing.
CAR Since these territories are not on the list,
would the U.N. be in the position to conduct these assessments?
CGC I would think that the onus would be on
the peripheral dependencies themselves. Assessments are already underway, or
completed, for several of the peripheral territories with the aim of determining the level and extent
of full self-government. If re-listing does take place, it could provide a
mechanism for the U.N. to review the dependency arrangement as it does with the
other territories on the list. This could lead to some assistance in the
development of a self-determination process ----
CAR If the resolutions are implemented ----
CGC Yes, it does come back to implementation.
One additional point. There is a tendency to equate re-listing with U.N.
support for independence alone. But that is not necessarily the case since
independence is not the only option of political equality. So, if Ma’ohi
Nui/French Polynesia is re-listed, as an example, France as the administering powers would be expected to provide useful
information to the self-governance review of that territory, and promote its self-determination through an internationally-recognized process as that underway under the Noumea Accord for New Caledonia. That territory was re-listed in 1986 with French concurrence, and the self-determination process
through this Accord is currently underway with close cooperation with the
U.N. and monitored closely by the Pacific countries. A similar process would be most appropriate for Ma’ohi Nui/French Polynesia and others.
CAR You have done considerable work on the
participation of the dependencies in the United Nations system during your
career. You were the founding chair of the Working Group of Non-Independent
Caribbean Countries of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin
America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). You contributed a chapter to
the 2001 book “Politics in the Non-Independent Caribbean” on this very subject. You have done several studies for ECLAC in this area, as I understand. How does this work relate to the decolonization process?
CGC Well, first, the book chapter focused on the
link between international organization participation and the self-determination
process. This is reflected in U.N. resolutions of the General Assembly
and of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It relates not only to
the preparation for self-government through the building of capacity in the
territories, but also in relation to accessing specific kinds of technical programs
offered by the U.N. system.
CAR So this is not only about political
evolution, but economic and social development as well?
CGC Of course. All of these components are
essential building blocks to the evolution towards a full measure of self-government.
In my view, one of the most interesting items on the U.N. decolonization agenda
relates to the assistance to the territories from the U.N. system. This identifies
programs and activities which can be extended to the territories. This work
originated in the ECLAC working group which you mentioned. We were able to
secure a number of resolutions of ECLAC and its subsidiary body, the Caribbean
Development and Cooperation Committee (CDCC), supporting the inclusion of
non-independent countries in U.N. programmes. Most are associate member countries
(AMCs) of ECLAC or the Economic and Social Commission for Asia
and the Pacific (ESCAP). There were also very successful efforts to provide
observer status for these AMCs in the U.N. world conferences and special
sessions of the U.N. General Assembly. This began with the Earth Summit
in 1992 and included most of the conferences through 2005. This AMC category was included in the Rio +
20 conference (U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development) which convened in Brazil but I
understand that there was a question raised about the AMC
participation, for whatever reason - even as the category for participation was in the rules of procedure of the conference. I am not sure of the details as I was not
engaged in the Rio + 20 preparations. In the final analysis, though, this kind of international engagement for the dependencies builds capacity, and this is essential to preparing territories for full self-government.
CAR So there is scope for dependencies to participate
in the United Nations system?
CGC Absolutely. There are decades of U.N.
resolutions of the General Assembly, and of the Economic and Social Council
supporting this. A dependency cannot join the United Nations General Assembly, although they have been able to participate in these U.N. world conferences and most of the special sessions of the Assembly. Apart from that, there are other ways in which they can participate – mainly in the economic and
social sphere - either as associate
members in the regional commissions as I just described, or through a number of
U.N. specialized agencies like UNESCO or FAO. There is also UNDP which
provides assistance to many of them through regional programs. On the
political level, those which are listed as non self-governing can address the
Decolonization Committee and the Fourth Committee, but this is more limited
than the kind of participation provided in the economic and social level.
US Virgin Islands Minister of State for External Affairs addresses United Nations World Conference on Sustainable Development (2002)
CAR The Fourth Committee Decolonization
Committee will shortly consider the report on decolonization and adopt various
resolutions in this area. Any thoughts on this year’s process?
CGC Well, as you indicate, a number of
resolutions will be considered on various aspects of the decolonization
process. The resolutions are similar to previous years' texts, and address important
elements of the decolonization process. At the Decolonization Committee, resolutions
were adopted on economic activities in the territories, and the right of the
people to own their natural resources. These resolutions also called on the
administering powers to ensure that the exploitation of these resources does
not adversely affect the interests of the people ----
CAR This seems an important area given the
increasing exploitation of undersea resources.
CGC Absolutely. A case increasingly has been
made that some dependencies are held onto for geo-economic, as well as geo-strategic reasons. This is evidenced in the
international claims being made through international treaty mechanisms such as
those which emerged from the Law of the Sea Treaty. If you look at the nature of
claims being made by some administering powers at the ‘Commission on the Limits
of the Continental Shelf,’ for example, you will see that the retention of some dependencies figures prominently in the claim for resources. Ironically,
there was a resolution adopted at the time of the negotiations on the Law of the Sea Treaty related to the protection of the marine
resources for the people of the territories, but it is rarely invoked. I recall some years ago
that reference to the Law of the Sea was proposed in a decolonization resolution, but there was an objection from several non-states parties to the treaty –
even as the reference would have otherwise been consistent with their otherwise progressive position vis a vis decolonization. Some have argued that self-determination for a number of territories is being impeded by the geo-strategic military and geo-economic natural resource considerations.
CAR And other resolutions, then?
CGC Regarding other resolutions, there were two
adopted by the Decolonization Committee related to information from non
self-governing territories. One reaffirms the obligation of the administering
powers under the U.N. Charter to transmit information to the U.N. on the
territories. This is the Article 73 (e) obligation. The other
information-related resolution deals with activities of the U.N. on information
dissemination, and in part, requests the U.N. Information centers (UNICs) to
disseminate material to the territories. It has been unclear for some time as to
whether the coverage of the UNICs includes the territories in the respective regions.
CAR My copy of the reports indicates that the U.N. disseminates material to the territories, conducts programs in collaboration with ‘decolonization focal points' in the territorial governments, and works with civil society organizations among
other things. Are you familiar with these activities?
CGC Not directly. I follow the U.N. reports on the activities presented every year to to the Decolonization Committee regarding their
activities. The thrust of the report mainly relates to the production of press
releases on the work of the committee, and the development of the
decolonization website – which, by the way, is
an effective research tool for U.N. activities in decolonization for recent
years – at least for those who have regular access to the internet. I anticipate
that documents covering earlier years of the decolonization process will be
systematically placed on the site over time. Some of the earlier reports are quite instructive.
CAR And the decolonization focal points?
CGC Not familiar...
CAR Are there specific resolutions on
implementation of the mandate?
CGC Absolutely, yes. The first is the
implementation of the Decolonization Declaration, and second related resolution
is the one on the specialized agencies. There is excellent language which has
been adopted by the General Assembly and ECOSOC over the years. This mandate is reaffirmed the year.
CAR How so?
CGC Well, one aspect is the call for the
development and finalization of programs of work for each territory to
implement the mandate. With the exception of - perhaps Tokelau with New Zealand -
these programs of work have not been put in place due in part – but not totally
- to the lack of cooperation of the main administering powers.
CAR What do such programs entail?
CGC Well, the General Assembly adopted some
years ago a ten-point plan to examine each territory on a case-by-case basis.
This plan never really got started largely because it required the initial participation
of the administering powers to begin the process. When I was
in government, we had argued that the sequence of the ten points could be
re-ordered so that the analysis of the specific dependency arrangements would
be done up front by the U.N. with input from the territories, academics,
experts and other sources. This would not have required the immediate
involvement of the administering powers whose absence prevented the process
from beginning. This suggested approach – to reorder the steps - might have
possibly encouraged them to respond to the findings. This recommended strategy
was not taken on-board, however, so every year the resolution repeats its call
for this “constructive work program.”
CAR You referred to a second resolution on implementation
CGC Yes, this one refers specifically to
implementation of the mandate by the U.N. specialized
agencies and the wider U.N. system. We worked over the years in having key
language adopted in the text to reflect the work of these U.N. bodies in
assisting the territories. Some delegations, however, abstain on this
resolution stating that the rules of procedure of the agencies should be
respected. Of course, the rules of
procedure are precisely where the
mandate exists. This is consistent with decades of resolutions from the General Assembly
and from ECOSOC – so the mandate has always been there. I really never understood these objections, and I have never heard any discussion in any of the committees to clarify this concern.
CAR These resolutions to which you refer relate to the remaining sixteen
territories on the list. Aren’t there also specific resolutions on each
CGC Yes, there are also resolutions specific to the listed territories.These are sent to the Fourth Committee, along with the omnibus resolution on
eleven small island territories. Of course, there is also the resolution on Puerto Rico ----
CAR What is the omnibus resolution?
CGC Well, prior to the early 1990s, there was a
separate resolution for each territory. At the beginning of what I refer to as the ‘decolonization
disengagement period,’ there was a move to eliminate the resolutions on each
territory and to merely adopt a list of principles. This would have removed
reference to the specific conditions in each territory, and was being proposed
as a strategy to essentially downgrade the U.N.’s role in the process. Following much
discussion, and after objections made by several territories to this approach,
a compromise was reached to merge eleven resolutions on individual small
territories into a single resolution with eleven sections. A few territories where self-determination
processes were underway - such as Tokelau and New Caledonia - were able to retain separate resolutions. But for
others, this was not achieved. Guam and the U.S.
Virgin Islands, for example, sought to retain their separate resolutions since
political status processes were underway there, but the administering power did
CAR What are some of the main provisions in resolutions on the the
CGC Well, the resolutions begin by reaffirming decolonization and
self-determination principles adopted in previous years. These include the mandate that any
negotiations to determine the status of a territory should include the people
of the territory under the aegis of the U.N. The resolution also points to
the issue of the exercise by the administering powers of unilateral authority over the
territories contrary to the wishes of the peoples of the territories themselves.
This section also recognizes the need for the Decolonization Committee to
coordinate a public awareness campaign on the options to complete the self-determination process. There is also important reference to the
relevance of self-determination as a fundamental human right for the people of
the territories, and the relevance of human rights conventions to the
self-determination process ----
CAR Isn’t human rights taken up in the Third
CGC Yes, the agenda item on the ‘universal right
to self-determination’ is addressed in the Third Committee. The linkage is
between the process of self-determination and its intended result of
CAR What about the political status options? Are
CGC Indeed. The small
territories resolution makes it clear that the legitimate political options for
the territories are based on the principles clearly defined in Resolution 1541
(XV) which provides for the minimum standards under independence, free
association and integration. The section also points to the need for the
Decolonization Committee to be apprised of
the nature and scope of the existing dependency status arrangements, and
calls for the administering powers to advise the committee on what they are doing
to promote self-government in the territories.
CAR These are very specific references.
CGC Yes. We worked hard over the years for the inclusion of this language in the resolution, and the text is
continually reaffirmed. These resolutions also stress the importance
of broadening promotion of the self-determination process to the wider U.N. system to U.N. bodies such as the Human Rights Council, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and others.
CAR What about the sections on the individual
territories? Any specific issues of particular note?
CGC Well, again, much of the text repeats
longstanding language with some updating. For the Pacific territories, the
relevant sections on American Samoa, for example, acknowledges U.S. unilateral
power over the territory, while with respect to Guam, there is a request of the
administering power to fund the public education campaign leading to the planned political status referendum.
CAR Speaking of Guam, you have been involved
in that territory in recent years, if I am
not mistaken. In fact, havn't you worked with the Pacific for some time?
CGC Yes, my involvement with the Pacific
actually dates back to my tenure as the Secretary-General of the Offshore
Governors’ Forum in the 1990s – an organization of the five elected heads of
government of American Samoa, Guam, Northern
Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S.
Virgin Islands. The Forum was very active in supporting the Guam Commonwealth
political status initiative, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands political status process, during that time. In recent years, I have been
assisting in the public awareness initiative through a series of lectures at
the University of
Guam, and have also been meeting
periodically with the territory’s Commission on Decolonization. There was a major
conference on self-determination convened by the Guam
Legislature in the fall of 2011 in which I participated. Guam is
serious about their process of self-determination and I am pleased to lend whatever assistance I can. I have also had a series of meetings with the Legislature of the Northern Mariana Islands on options for re-examining its future political status.
CAR OK, and the resolutions on the Caribbean territories?
CGC Well, for the Caribbean
territories, a number of key provisions are included in the resolutions. For Anguilla, there is reference to the concern of the elected government that the full range of
decolonization options were being denied the people by the administering power,
and that the territorial government seeks a reduction in the powers of the
British governor resident in the territory. For Bermuda,
reference was made to the special U.N. Mission which visited there in 2005 ----
CAR Weren't you on that mission?
CGC Yes, I had the honour to share independent expert duties with
the late Sir Fred Phillips, a consummate scholar and historian in the constitutional development of
the Caribbean, and a mentor and friend. The Bermuda mission to Bermuda revealed important findings which helped to inform the Government's Independence Commission. As far as resolutions for the other territories are concerned, the
British Virgin Islands resolution this year does not include the full range of international organization participation. There are similar omissions in the resolution regarding the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
CAR This additional information would provide a
more comprehensive picture I would think ----
CGC Yes, there is also a substantive
error in the identical references in the resolutions on the British Virgin Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands. In this case, reference is made to the
convening of the Inter-Virgin Islands Council for the first time at 2011 at
heads of government level. In fact, the Council was created in 2004 and met
annually through 2006 always at heads of government level. I can confirm
this since I was the Secretary-General of that Council since its creation before I demitted office in 2006. So
this is a substantive error which will hopefully be corrected at the Fourth
Committee level through an oral amendment. Finally, on the Turks and Caicos
section, there is reference in the resolution to a constitutional and electoral reform advisor. I
think that it should have been made more explicit that this advisor was sent by the
administering power, and proceeded to draft a far less autonomous constitution
than what was in place before the constitutional suspension over three years
ago - both political parties in the territory objected to this new text in whole or in part. But it is entering into force anyway ----
Members and advisors, United Nations Special Mission to the Turks and Caicos Islands (2006)
CAR Speaking of the Turks and Caicos Islands, you have spent considerable time there. Weren't you a member of the U.N. mission to that territory in 2006?
CGC Actually, I was not a member of the mission,
but rather I served in the same capacity as I did in Bermuda
the previous year, as an independent expert for UNDP. But I have been on a
number of missions to that territory over the years prior to the 2006 mission,
during my work with ECLAC and other bodies.
CAR What are some of the other territories in which you have worked?
CGC Well, over the years I have had advised a few territories. I was SG to the Inter Virgin Islands Conference and its successor Inter Virgin Islands Council. This was a functional cooperation body between the British and U.S. Virgin Islands. I served as advisor to the Anguilla Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee which was working on constitutional change in the last decade, This is still underway as the territory continues to seek full self-government. I think we spoke earlier of the Offshore Governors' Forum comprised of the five territories affiliated with the U.S., and was mainly a political body to influence U.S. policy on the dependencies.I also helped out a few years ago in the public education campaign in the Cayman Islands in the run-up to its referendum on the new constitution. There have been several self-governance assessments in which I was involved in the Caribbean and Pacific, and a few other things. Recently, I served as the international advisor to the Fifth U.S. Virgin Islands Constitutional Convention.
CAR So, from your broad perspective, having worked
with many of these territories directly, and having served in various capacities
for the U.N., what would you propose to jump-start the decolonization process?
CGC Well, I would say that there are some recent developments
which are quite encouraging. First of all, the new Chairman of the
Decolonization Committee, the Ambassador of Ecuador, has shown great interest and commitment in dealing with the issue of implementation. In my view,
this is key to solving the contemporary decolonization dilemma.
CAR Any specific recommendations for moving the
CGC Just a few observations, really. First, the
issue of decolonization has been included under the heading “Peace and Security” at
the U.N. This was perfectly relevant with respect to the first wave of
decolonization in the 1960s where liberation movements were the required method
to bring an end to colonialism. Even with Namibia and Timor Leste in the 1980
and 1990s, issues of peace and security were particularly relevant. But it
appears that the issue now is more of human rights, rather than peace and
security – of course, if you exclude Western Sahara.
As I noted earlier, the General Assembly in its resolutions has recognized
self-determination as a fundamental human right. So, the inclusion in the human
rights track at the U.N. might be appropriate.
CAR How would such a shift be given effect?
CGC Well, of course, this might entail a role
for the issue to be addressed, in earnest, in the U.N. Third Committee. I recall some years back that Caribbean countries used to present at the Third Committee on self-determination issues of the small island Caribbean countries. I would
not suggest,necessarily, that the Fourth Committee no longer deal with the item as it is primarily of a political nature. But I would
suggest – as I have done in the past – that there be collaboration between the
two committees since self-determination is also a human rights issue.The method of work of the Third Committee, for example,
provides for interactive dialogue with independent experts or special
rapporteurs. Neither the Fourth Committee nor the Decolonization Committee employ
such mechanisms – even as these modalities have been suggested over the years, and were a part of the Plan of Implementation (POI) of 2006 endorsed by the General Assembly.
CAR Are you suggesting, then, that
decolonization be addressed by the human rights mechanisms?
CGC In principle, it is already on the agenda of many human rights bodies. There simply needs to be some concrete activities to strengthen the connection with the decolonisation bodies. The special mechanisms employed by
the Human Rights Council, for example, provide for special rapporteurs or
independent experts to focus on specific human rights issues. If the
Decolonization Committee is still adverse to
employing such special mechanisms, then perhaps the Human Rights Council
can be persuaded to do so. A Special Rapporteur on the self-determination of
non self-governing territories could be empowered to investigate the situation
on the ground in the territories themselves. Interestingly,such a proposal
was made several years ago to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples (PFII)
for the creation of a Special Rapporteur to address the status of the
self-determination process of indigenous peoples in non self-governing
territories, and to hold an international seminar on the issue. But there
was resistance to this approach.
CAR These are innovative recommendations which I
suspect are regarded as “outside of the box.”
CGC Or "outside the basket.” There are consistent calls by a number
of member states, and by the present and previous secretaries general, for such
innovative ideas. These are proposals which have been suggested in the past,
but which have never been tried. But I believe that it is precisely these innovative approaches among others which could
significantly advance the process. Otherwise, the implementation deficit will
prevail, and this is not in the interest of the people of the territories. International
law is the underpinning of self-determination. The culmination of the
decolonization process is a matter of adhering to the basic tenets of the U.N.
Charter which is the 'rule of law.' Through it all, though, I am optimistic about the completion of the decolonization process. It has become increasingly complex in this
second decade of the 21st Century, but we can make significant strides. It is by no means insurmountable.
CAR Dr. Corbin, thank you for your insights.
CGC My pleasure.