03 April 2019


Global decolonization expert Dr. Carlyle Corbin illustrates point on democratic deficiencies and decolonization in small island territories during conference at the University of Aruba.

"Contemporary dependency governance arrangements characterised by political and economic inequality do not meet requisite standards of democratic governance and the full measure of self-government with absolute political equality." This was one of the key concluding observations of an academic paper entitled "A Challenge to the Legitimisation of Dependency Governance in Small Island Territories"  presented by global decolonization expert Dr. Carlyle Corbin to the "First International Conference on Small Island States and Subnational Island Jurisdictions" held at the University of Aruba from 26-29 March 2019. A review of the paper was provided to OTR by the global Dependency Studies Project and is featured below.  


The Dependency Studies Project (DSP)

A Challenge to the Legitimisation of Dependency Governance 
in Small Island Territories 


A scholarly paper entitled "A Challenge to the Legitimisation of Dependency Governance in Small Island Territories was presented by global decolonization expert Dr. Carlyle Corbin to an audience of international scholars attending the"First International Conference on Small Island States and Subnational Island Jurisdictions."  The conference was held from 26 through 29,  2019 March at the  University of Aruba, and was co-organized by the University of Prince Edward Island. 

The paper provided important insights on the state of play in the contemporary decolonization process for island territories with particular emphasis on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific and Indian Oceans. 

In the paper, Corbin observed that while the United Nations (U.N.) Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was scheduled to end in 2020, "prospects were unfavourable for the completion of a genuine self-determination process and consequent decolonization for the seventeen remaining Non Self Governing Territories (NSGTs) and other Peripheral Dependencies (PDs) in the Caribbean and Pacific administered by extra-regional States." 

Corbin, who lectures widely on self-determination and decolonization issues, noted that in the absence of progress on decolonization for the remaining territories, the resultant political vacuum has encouraged a tendency in some quarters towards legitimization of existent dependency arrangements despite their inherent political and economic inequality.

The paper provided an historical overview of the international decolonization mandate through an analysis of the three periods of decolonization, namely 1) the "pre-decolonization period" following the 1945 adoption of the U.N. Charter, 2) the "decolonization acceleration period" following the 1960 U.N. adoption of the landmark Decolonization Declaration (Resolution 1514 XV) and its companion resolution 1541 XV on standards of decolonization legitimacy, and 3) the "decolonization deceleration period" which emerged after "the thawing of the Cold War" at the beginning of the 1990s, and which has lasted through through present day.

In the paper, Corbin examined the political stalemate which has stalled the decolonization process for island territories, reviewed the U.N.’s  implementation deficit which has contributed to this impasse, and explored key self-governance deficiencies in the island dependencies through the application of the Self-Governance Indicators (SGIs) diagnostic tool used in independent self-governance assessments of the dependency, autonomous and integrated political status arrangements.

Following a review of the geo-strategic and geo-economic context of the remaining island dependencies in the two regions, Corbin identified the three "first-tier" cosmopoles of France, the United Kingdom (U.K.) and the United States (U.S.) which administer dependencies in the Caribbean and Pacific regions. The "first tier" cosmopoles were so characterized because of their status as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. He also made reference to other administrative powers such as the Netherlands in the Caribbean, and Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific/Indian Ocean regions, which maintain varying degrees of dependency, autonomous, and integrated arrangements. 

While the theme of the Aruba conference lumped the dependencies into a broad grouping of "sub-national island jurisdictions," Corbin used the more descriptive U.N. nomenclature to identify in greater depth the distinctions between the "Non-Independent Countries" through the three categorizations of 1) Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) under U.N. review, 2) Autonomous Countries (ACs), and 3) Integrated Jurisdictions (IJs).

In the section of the paper on Principles of International Law and Self-determination, the decolonization expert explored the international mandate for self-determination with relevant academic references, including the particular analysis of legal scholar Milena Sterio who characterized external self-determination in a University of Minnesota Journal of International Law as "a norm of customary international law governing the right of a people with a common identity, who maintain link to a defined territorial integrity...and who can form a defined political entity." Corbin emphasized the direct relevance of  Articles 1, 55 and 73 of the United Nations Charter which provide the international self-determination mandate, along with the predecessor Covenant of the League of Nations which had provided earlier expressions on the principles.

Mention was also made of self-determination provisions contained in more recent instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR);  the International Convention on All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD); and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN-DRIP).

Aruba Prime Minister Evelyn Wever-Croes (l) discusses
issues with Dr. Corbin during break in conference proceedings.  
In the presentation, Corbin spent considerable time on the landmark Decolonization Declaration of  1960 (Resolution 1514 XV) which he explained served to "reinforce the inalienable right to self-determination and which provided, in principle, for the transfer of powers to the territories "in advance of the act of self-determination." On this point, he provided examples of differing referenda held in various territories which were inconsistent with the transfer of powers principle, and therefore could not be considered as genuine acts of self-determination."

Corbin also examined Resolution 1541(XV) in considerable depth, and outlined the "established minimum standards for full and genuine self-government" achieved through independence, free association or integration "as the three options of absolute political equality."  He emphasized that:

"Dependency status was meant to serve as a preparatory phase (under Article 73(b) of the U.N. Charter leading to complete decolonization with the full measure of self-government with absolute political equality - the two primary principles of international self-governance doctrine." 

He pointed out, however, that "many autonomous or integration arrangements do not meet these two primary principles" and that a strategy of "dependency legitimization" had emerged that seeks to circumvent these principles for the dependencies as well. This strategy, he said, is being pursued while the exercise of unilateral authority of the cosmopole over these governance arrangements continues unabated. To illustrate this point, Corbin cited examples of the British "modernization" of the internal constitutional orders in the U.K. - administered dependencies in which the ultimate authority of the cosmopole is preserved via 'reserved powers' of the British-appointed governor. In several instances, he noted that this cosmopole authority has resulted in the abolition of Elected Dependency Governance (EDG) in favour of Appointed Dependency Governance (ADG) as in the case of British action in the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2009, Netherlands action in the case of Sint Eustatius in 2017, and Australian action in Norfolk Island in 2016.

He also recalled the unilateral U.S. Congressional authority to legislate for the U.S. - administered dependencies in the Caribbean and Pacific under the "territory and other property clause of the U.S. constitution. In this connection, he cited the creation by the U.S. of a financial control mechanism in Puerto Rico in 2016 removing control of the financial management of the territory and placing it under the authority of a U.S.- appointed oversight board. He argued that "the continued vulnerability of the U.S.- administered dependencies to unilateral action of the cosmopole can only be addressed through a genuine process of self-determination." He further observed that in his own territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands "the inclination is to focus on the particular question of deficient political rights in the U.S. system rather than a sustained concentration on the general question of the deficient political status as a whole."  Corbin served as the former  Minister of State for External Affairs in the Virgin Islands Government.  

In the paper, Corbin further examined the residual unilateral powers exercised by the Netherlands through their autonomous country' model for the three islands of Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten; and the 'partially integrated public entity model in Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius.  He went on to make reference to what her perceived as the "illusion of autonomy" existent in the French collectivity model such as French Polynesia which retains for the cosmopole control over the major competencies of the territory in key areas as  natural resources, defence, revenue generated in the territorial economy, and a host of other areas. He noted that the U.N. reports on French Polynesia recognized that the territory only exercised a degree of administrative autonomy, rather than the requisite political autonomy. He recalled that this imbalance of power between the territory and cosmopole was revealed in a Self-Governance Assessment (SGA) on French Polynesia in 2012 through the application of the Self-Governance Indicators (SGIs), and is recognized by the U.N. General Assembly as the substantive basis for the territory's re-inscription on the U.N. list of Non Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) in 2013. 

Corbin made use of a detailed informational chart entitled "Instruments of Unilateral Authority" to provide a comparative assessment of the various cosmopole-controlled dependency models and the specific legal instruments of administrative and political control, including constitutional orders, organic acts/laws, cosmopole legislation applied to the dependencies, and other mechanisms. In this context, he pointed to SGAs which had been conducted in French Polynesia, Curacao and other island jurisdictions that applied the Self-Governance Indicators diagnostic tool to assess the level of self-government in the respective political status arrangements.

In the paper, Corbin provided a broad overview of the democratic deficiencies contained in contemporary dependency governance models in play in the remaining "dependentocracies" which he argued were indicative of an "incomplete decolonization with a fundamental imbalance of power between the territory and the cosmopole."  In referring to "a certain mythology of dependency legitimacy," Corbin concluded that the Caribbean and Pacific are often "mis-characterized as regions existing in a post colonial condition" due to a significant gap in the analysis of what constitutes full self-government.

In reality, he concluded, "these political and constitutional models are merely representative of "modernized forms of political / economic inequality, and democratic deficit, and this condition could only be alleviated through the promotion of the full measure of self-government by the respective cosmopole in adherence to their responsibilities under international law. 

The paper provides an excellent analysis of contemporary dependency governance in island jurisdictions across the globe, and is a significant contribution to the scholarship on issues of self-determination and decolonization for island dependencies. The Dependency Studies Project highly recommends the paper as essential reading for cosmopole and dependency governments alike; U.N. member States and Secretariat; and academics in the fields of governance, diplomacy, and international relations.