31 May 2012

United Nations begins Pacific Decolonisation seminar in Quito

31 May 2012
General Assembly

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

Secretary-General, in Message to Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization

Set to Examine ‘Current Realities and Prospects’, Urges Genuine Discussion

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

QUITO, ECUADOR, 30 May — In a message to the Pacific Regional Seminar on the Implementation of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encouraged participants to promote genuine communication at all levels, formal and informal, in which interlocutors are genuinely listened to and heard, on a case-by-case-basis.

The three-day seminar, held under the theme of “Current Realities and Prospects,” convened in Quito, Ecuador, provides an opportunity to representatives of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to share their concerns with the United Nations Special Committee on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.  Civil society, non-governmental organizations and experts also typically take the floor to convey their views on the way forward for the decolonization process.

Ambassador Diego Morejón-Pazmiño, Chair of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization (Special Committee), extended his sincere thanks to the Government and people of Ecuador for hosting the seminar.

The central and primary task of the Special Committee was to reduce the list of Non-Self Governing Territories to zero to avoid the spectre of “colonialism in perpetuity”, he said in his opening remarks.  He encouraged everyone “to engage in a fruitful and constructive dialogue in the following days, bearing in mind the responsibility we have to contribute to finding the solutions required in addressing the current realities and prospects proper to the decolonization process”.

The Third Decade should not be a “lost decade”, he said.  Efforts needed to concentrate on tangible results, with a proactive and focused approach, as repeated many times on different occasions and venues.


Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador, opened the Pacific Regional Seminar and welcomed the participants, stating that “it seems impossible that until today we are still discussing colonized and excluded peoples”.  Conditions must be created so that the countries administering non-autonomous Territories accepted that their administrative role was provisional.

At the same time, he said, “decolonization policies” would not suffice if those were implemented by the administering Powers, who continued to exert control in the Territories through alliances with the local influential sectors.  Today’s influence was exerted through political and economic means.  For that reason, the relationship between the administering Powers and the Special Committee must change. 

He said that today’s seminar must have a critical view.  It was no longer possible to continue discussing “administering Powers,” “Member States”, and “international community” as if each one had different interests.  The international community’s ultimate interest was to decolonize the 16 non-autonomous Territories of the world.

The United Nations General Assembly had requested the Special Committee to elaborate jointly with the administering Powers and the non-autonomous Territories a programme of work to examine the problems of decolonization on a case-by-case basis, said the Foreign Minister.  In the case of “Malvinas”, he said:  “We have always defended Argentina’s claim over Malvinas.  Today we reiterate our commitment”.  

[A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) (see document ST/CS/ SER.A/42).]

In the case of Puerto Rico, the people’s voices, which would be heard in the referendum slated for next November, would be important.  Even though Guantanamo was not included in the list of Territories, it was worse than a colony, he said, calling it “a military base and a United States prison for terrorists”.  The Foreign Minister concluded by stating that the words of the non-autonomous Territories were more “revealing and powerful” than the words of the administering Powers.

Mr. Morejón-Pazmiño, Special Committee Chair, pointed out the importance of concrete proposals pertaining to the Plan of Action for the Third International Decade and a renewed and focused dialogue with the administering Powers.  With regard to the current cross-cutting issues faced by the Territories, Ambassador Morejón-Pazmiño noted that the approaching United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development underlined the continuing concern over the impact of climate change on the Non-Self-Governing Territories under the purview of the Special Committee.  Small island States and Non-Self-Governing Territories were impacted by negative socio-economic and environmental factors.  Undoubtedly, all the Territories were on the front line of the battle to mitigate the impact of climate change, a reality that added more importance to the work of the Special Committee in light of the upcoming Rio+20 Conference, which would coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, he said.

The Ambassador highlighted the responsibility of the United Nations system for the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  He concluded by appealing for renewed impetus, while noting that it was time to give a tangible form to the pragmatic and realistic approaches that might be found through frank discussions and formal and informal dialogue at the 2012 seminar.

Current Realities and Prospects in the Pacific Region

TOETASI FUE TUITELELEPAGA, Representative of the Governor of American Samoa, said that in the past the Special Committee had been asked to remove American Samoa from the list of colonized Territories.  He further stated that “while we do not advocate a change in our position of removal from the list of colonized States, American Samoa must continue to progress politically and economically, while respecting the concerns of the United States and the United Nations”.

He stressed that one of the most challenging issues the Territory had to deal with in the relationship with the United Sates was the lack of understanding for American Samoa’s unique circumstances and characteristics.  He also stated that “a more structured approach to determine the will of the people would be better implemented and carried out over the future if there were a detailed work plan on how best to gauge the people’s will on political status”.

LISA NATIVIDAD, Representative of the Governor of Guam, said that in 2010, Governor Eddie Calvo had convened a committee to address Guam’s political status.  In 2011, the Governor had convened a public forum on the self-determination of the Chamorro people of Guam to asses the state of the issue and to ignite public comment and thought.  The Guam Commission on Decolonization was centred on setting a plebiscite date for the Chamorro self-determination vote and identifying the resources to fund a crucial education campaign to inform the community of the political status issue, but Guam still had not received any financial support for that effort, she said. Ms. Natividad indicated that the price tag for such a campaign engaging all forms of mainstream media was estimated at approximately $1 million.  To date, funds from the Department of Interior had not been made available.  Owing to current fiscal problems, Guam was not in the position to commit its financial resources to carrying out the necessary public education campaign.

The limitations of Guam’s colonial status had resulted in a cumulative state where the Chamorro people were so restricted that “our survival as a people in our native land is threatened”, said Ms. Natividad, adding that, “these are the current realities of Guam”.

EDWARD P. WOLFERS, an expert on the Pacific region, where almost one third (five) of the 16 remaining Territories under the Special Committee’s purview were located, presented a discussion paper on the context, issues and possible options for the Third International Decade.  He stated that decolonization, as understood and promoted by the United Nations, extended beyond the right to self-determination and the transfer of power to embrace other aspects of human and social development, including economic and cultural aspects.  He discussed some possible options for the Third International Decade, acknowledging the need to clarify, refine and possibly re-define the options available as outcomes of decolonization.  It was important, he noted, that the Special Committee consider the issue and decide whether to recommend that the General Assembly formulate a fresh and integrated resolution on the matter.

ED ALVAREZ, expert on Guam, presented an update on the public education efforts of the Guam Commission on Decolonization, recalling that the challenge was to keep the momentum going while simultaneously developing a public education programme.  “We are at the stage where the funding for the educational programme is our priority,” he said, adding that “we all know it is very expensive and we feel comfortable stating that our programme will cost about $1 million”.  He requested the Special Committee’s assistance in helping Guam attain the funds or technical assistance necessary to educate the people of Guam.

The Territory had also begun aggressive efforts to populate the decolonization registry as required by public law.  “We have doubled the number of Chamorro registered and have further enhanced our ability to more expediently register those who are left.  There are now 79 certified registrars as compared to only 10 years ago,” he added. 

He added that Guam was part of the United States.  By virtue of that, the United States was part of Guam.  He said the American Government had, for the most part, treated Chamorros and Guamanians with respect and dignity.

SARIM JACQUES BOENGKIN, New Caledonia, said the situation of New Caledonia could be seen as a great challenge for the international community.  New Caledonia “has a rendezvous with elections that could lead to independence” for the Territory.  According to him, three areas of rights offered the principles and practices that would allow the international community to succeed in one of its most laudable goals, the eradication of colonialism.

He went on to say that the Nouméa Accord provided for the Congress of New Caledonia to conduct as many as three referendums on whether the Territory should assume the final sovereign powers and become fully independent.  That accord committed France to conduct the referendum.  He put forward the question of whether the administering Power could in fact conduct the referendum and whether it would be acceptable to the international community for the administering Power to organize and conduct the self-determination referendum for New Caledonia.

Mr. Boengkin informed the seminar about the communication he recently had sent to the newly appointed Minister for Overseas Territories and Departments to ask what education programmes were in place for the concerned population of New Caledonia, in order to prepare them to exercise their right to self-determination.

Current Realities and Prospects in the Caribbean Region

JOSEPHINE GUMBS–CONNOR, Anguilla, said that Anguilla was the last remaining Territory of the United Kingdom to engage in its constitutional advancement process.  The people of Anguilla would surely be considering a comprehensive overhaul of the principles in the current Constitution, in particular, a serious reduction in the powers of the Governor.

“The people of Anguilla see ourselves on a direct collision course with the administering Power since, in the view of our People, they have seen the worst manifestation of true colonialism sanctioned by the British Government through their current Representative against the current elected Government.  Again, although there is no official poll, there is the appearance that our people are leaning increasingly towards independence,” she declared.

Anguilla had witnessed the greatest form of retrogression and had been thrown deeper in the arms of colonialism, against the spirit of the resolution 1514 (XV).  She regretted that the “administering Power is not mobilizing us to embrace the concept of independence through more positive mechanisms”.  Two primary factors had spurred Anguilla’s consideration of independence:  the actions of the Governor towards the elected representatives of the current administration and the indication from the Administering Power that there could be no change to the fundamental structure of the relationship. 

She further referred to “examples of the actions of the Representative of the administering Power, which we feel are contrary to the interests of us as a people, and contrary to the very statements of the standards which the administering Power says they embrace”.

Mrs. Gumbs-Connor added that “the people of Anguilla are concerned that they are being denied the full range of options open to us as part of the decolonization process”.

KIM WILSON, speaking on behalf of the Government of Bermuda, pointed out Bermuda’s unique circumstances and recalled that, in 1997, Bermuda, by default, had become the oldest and the numerically largest of the 14 remaining non-independent Territories of the former British Empire.  Regarding good governance and preparation of the Bermudian people for the eventuality of independence, the Territory’s Government has done much in that regard, based on lessons learnt from Bermuda’s 1995 referendum.  Referring to a 2005 report of the Bermuda Independence Commission, the speaker outlined the critical insight provided by the aforementioned report into what informed public sentiment about independence.  

The recently tabled Referendum Act 2012 outlined more generally comprehensive measures for conducting referendums in Bermuda, he said.  In the meantime, he added, Bermuda’s Government had turned its attention to the most immediately pressing needs of the people.  He also recalled the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, changing the Territory’s designation.  In that regard, he stressed that “a move towards independence would confront the people of Bermuda with the issue of relinquishing or retaining their newly acquired British citizenship”.  

He stated that Bermuda’s circumstances as related to the issue of independence were unique as were the Special Committee’s challenges in that regard.  Bermuda had been afforded the benefit of a time-tested constitution providing a semi-autonomous internal Government.  He further expressed that “while the dream of independence persists, if temporarily deferred, the Government’s present cue from the people is that such a pursuit is not a current top priority”.  Concluding, he said ”we look forward to one day ultimately sitting at the table with the other nations of the world as a confident, economically prosperous, politically stable, still beautiful and independent Bermuda”.

DELORES CHRISTOPHER, British Virgin Islands, stated that the British Virgin Islands “is an internally self-governing Territory administered with the United Kingdom”.  She recalled that the Constitutional Commissioners 2005 report had concluded that independence was not desired by the people of the Territory.  She also mentioned the future publication of a new white paper, which would outline the parameters of a “BVI-UK” relationship for the foreseeable future.

In concluding, she said the position of the Virgin Islands at present was to maintain its current relationship with the United Kingdom, built on mutual respect and a mature partnership.  She said that was “but an interim position as the Territory continues to grow and generations of Virgin Islanders attain higher levels of education”.

REUBEN T. MEADE, Montserrat, referring to the 2010 Constitution, said it was “not a perfect document, but we must use its provisions to consolidate the gains provided therein.  We must continue to determine a way forward over time.  We must, however, not lose sight of the focus on development rather than on our relationship with the United Kingdom”.

He expressed that there was no public interest whatsoever in separation from the United Kingdom.  The continued relationship was made by free choice.  The provision for separation from the United Kingdom no longer required a fight; it was a simple matter of the electorate, making that choice in a plebiscite.  No local politician or political group or party in recent times had been bold enough to put that request for independence before the electorate, he added.

Montserrat was a fully internally self-governing Territory, Mr. Reuben said, adding that “we pass our own laws, we make our own decisions, we make our own monetary policies as part of the OECS [Organization of Eastern Caribbean States] Monetary Union.  We have full citizenship rights in the United Kingdom with all of its attendant benefits”.

He also stated that “we no longer see ourselves as being a colonized people on the basis of the seven elements of the 947th United Nations Plenary of 14 December 1960.  It is therefore my recommendation that this United Nations Decolonisation Committee remove Montserrat from their list of non-self governing countries within their Decolonization discussions.”   He concluded by saying, “I am also certain that the United Kingdom supports our stance.”


Wilma Reveron-Collazo, expert from Puerto Rico, discussed three main issues, including the removal of Territories from the list, the nature of resolution 1514 (XV) and the conducting of referendums in the Territories.

Territories removed from the Special Committee’s list were left in a “juridical limbo,” she said.  Puerto Rico had been removed from the list of Territories in 1953, following a United Nations resolution in which the United States committed to address future claims by the Territory.  However, today, Puerto Rico’s main challenge was the lack of a mechanism within the United Nations General Assembly to demand the implementation of the United States commitments.  

With regard to a proposal by Joseph Joe Bossano ( Gibraltar) on integrating all the resolutions on decolonization, she noted that resolution 1514 (XV) represented the “imperative and obligatory right” of all Member States on the issue of self-determination.

On the issue of referendums, Ms. Reveron-Collazo stressed the importance of conducting education programmes prior to holding electoral consultations on self-determination.  She called on the United Nations for the provision of technical assistance and advice on those processes.  In the case of Puerto Rico, which would be holding a referendum in November, there had not been a proper preparation or implementation of education programmes.    

Joseph Joe Bossano, Gibraltar, suggested that the Committee monitor processes of constitutional reforms, including reports by the administering Powers on how ready the Territory would be to govern itself.  There was a need for an analysis on a case-by-case basis.  Independence was by definition a one-way ticket.  At the same time, 16 Territories were entitled to associate freely.