Siege of Constantine (1836) during the French conquest of Algeria. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Siege of Constantine (1836) during the French conquest of Algeria. Credit: Wikimedia Commons - Photo: 2016

UN Debates Persistent ‘Stigma on the Conscience of the World’

NEW YORK (INPS | IDN) – Over half a century after the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, the decolonization process has not yet concluded and colonialism has yet to be eradicated.

Against this backdrop, as the UN Special Committee on Decolonization began its 2016 Session on February 25, several speakers stressed the need to establish a road map to concluding the decolonization process before 2020,

Ten out of 17 ‘Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, Europe and the Pacific continue to be ruled by the U.K. – successor to a one-time global empire. France, another former colonial power, controls two NSGTs. The United State, which did not have any colonies, until the end of World War II, is exercising control over three NSGTs. New Zealand rules one colony. Western Sahara continues to be linked to Spain.

In a statement, read out by Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The international community has the means to eradicate colonialism,” an urgent priority demanding prompt action. He urged the Special Committee, administering Powers, Non-Self-Governing Territories and other stakeholders to do their part to advance progress.

The international commitment to advance the decolonization agenda could be seen in the fact that the Special Committee had undertaken to dispatch one visiting mission to one NSGT every year, he said. Thanking the Special Committee for its “renewed vigour and creativity”, he emphasized: “All of us must seize the opportunities at hand.”

But discussions in the Special Committee that will reconvene on June 13 to begin its substantive work, went beyond exchanging diplomatic niceties. Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño; Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the UN, who was elected Chair of the Special Committee by acclamation, said decolonization had been one of the most important tasks in the history of the United Nations and had become one of its main symbols.

However, the persistence of colonial situations around the world undoubtedly represented a blatant violation of fundamental rights, contradicting the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter, and a “stigma in the conscience of the world”. Half a century after the adoption of the decolonization Declaration, 17 cases of colonialism had not been resolved, he noted.

Despite the “noteworthy” results of the Special Committee, those cases demonstrated that the decolonization process had not yet concluded. He called upon the administering Powers to increase their efforts to take the necessary measures so that the Non-Self-Governing Territories could exercise fully their right to self-determination, in compliance with Chapter XI of the United Nations Charter. It was also important that they provide the necessary cooperation, and, in accordance with section (e) of the Charter’s Article 73, provide appropriate information on each Territory under their respective administrations.

Ramírez, who joined the board of Venezuelan state-owned petroleum company PDVSA in 2002 and served as company president from 2004 to 2014, said that his country still faced the consequences of unpunished plunder of its territory by colonial Powers during the nineteenth century. Venezuela, he added, had always taken as its own the struggle of peoples under “detestable occupations and abhorrent colonial situations”.

Venezuela called upon the international community to pay all necessary attention to the NSGTs, particularly island States, because they were more vulnerable to natural disasters and environmental degradation — including the risk of disappearance. He also asked Member States to continue contributing to decolonization efforts in the name of peace, human rights and social and economic development.

Several other speakers underlined the importance of the UN decolonization agenda and the Special Committee’s crucial role in that regard, with some warning against a “one-size-fits-all” approach in addressing the 17 cases remaining on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Ecuador’s representative said those situations remained, in large part, because of a lack of political will on the part of the administering Powers. The Special Committee had an important mission to establish a road map to concluding the decolonization process before 2020, he added.

Indonesia’s representative agreed that the Special Committee should continue its work through a balanced and thorough assessment of each case, stressing that each was unique, and that the delisting process should be carried out on a “case-by-case” basis.

Nicaragua’s representative agreed that much remained to be done to resolve the situation of the 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories, as well as that of Puerto Rico. For Latin America and the Caribbean, the issue of decolonization was a very important one, he said, adding that the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) had declared the region a “zone of peace”, for which decolonization was a crucial requirement.

Territories controlled by the U.K. are: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Montserrat, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands, Gibraltar and Pitcairn. “A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas),” says the UN.

France continues to rule French Polynesia and New Caledonia, the U.S. United States Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. New Zealand rules Tokelau since 1946.

According to the UN, Spain informed the Secretary-General on February 26, 1976 that “as of that date it had terminated its presence in the Territory of the Sahara and deemed it necessary to place on record that Spain considered itself thenceforth exempt from any responsibility of any international nature in connection with the administration of the Territory, in view of the cessation of its participation in the temporary administration established for the Territory”.

But the General Assembly reaffirmed in 1990 that the question of Western Sahara was a question of decolonization which remained to be completed by the people of Western Sahara. [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 February 2016]

IDN is flagship of the International Press Syndicate.

Photo: Siege of Constantine (1836) during the French conquest of Algeria. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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