08 October 2012

A Conversation on the Challenges to Contemporary Decolonisation

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.

CAR    Are 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.

CAR    You 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 Decolonization Mandate

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 process?

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 sustained. 

CAR    And this was the beginning of the 1990s, you say?

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 ----

 CAR   There 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    Convenient.

CGC    Quite.

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 Islands?

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 the 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 marginalized?

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 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. dependencies?

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 controls.

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 held.

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 Zealand -  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 and Wales. 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 U.S. 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.

The 2012 Decolonization Process

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 territory?

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 not agree.

CAR    What are some of the main provisions in resolutions on the the small territories?

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 Committee?

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 ‘decolonization.’

CAR    What about the political status options? Are these addressed?

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 advised a few territories. I was SG of 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 process forward?

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.