Photo: Independence celebration in East Timor in 2002. (UN Photo/Sergey Bermeniev) - Photo: 2017

UN to Review Progress in Achieving Complete Decolonization

By Jaya Ramachandran

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – Though more than 80 former colonies have gained independence since the creation of the United Nations 72 years ago, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) across the globe, home to nearly 2 million people, remain to be decolonized. The issue will draw the focus of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) of the UN General Assembly from October 2 to 10.

The Committee Chair Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño of Venezuela said he had received an aide-mémoire containing 159 requests for hearings on French Polynesia, Gibraltar, Guam, New Caledonia, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Western Sahara, which had been circulated to delegations by email. The President of French Polynesia, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, the Governor of Guam and the President of New Caledonia, or their representatives, would address the Committee, he told the Committee on September 28.

The Fourth Committee Vice-Chairs are: Ahmed Abdelrahman Ahmed Almahmoud (United Arab Emirates), Ceren Hande Őzgür (Turkey) and Yasser Halfaoui (Morocco). Angel Angelov (Bulgaria) will serve as Rapporteur during the current 72nd Session of the General Assembly.

The UN Charter binds the administering Powers of the NSGTs to recognize that the interests of dependent Territories are paramount, to agree to promote social, economic, political and educational progress in the Territories, to assist in developing appropriate forms of self-government and to take into account the political aspirations and stages of development and advancement of each Territory. Administering Powers are also obliged under the Charter to convey to the United Nations information on conditions in the Territories. The United Nations monitors progress towards self-determination in the Territories.

Eager to speed the progress of decolonization, the General Assembly adopted, in 1960, the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Known as the Declaration on decolonization, it stated that all people have a right to self-determination and proclaimed that colonialism should be brought to a speedy and unconditional end.

In 1962 the General Assembly established the Special Committee on Decolonization (also called the Committee of 24) to monitor implementation of the Declaration and to make recommendations on its application.

The Special Committee reviews every year the list of Territories to which the Declaration is applicable and makes recommendations as to its implementation. It also hears statements from NSGTs representatives, dispatches visiting missions, and organizes seminars on the political, social and economic situation in the Territories. Further, the Special Committee annually makes recommendations concerning the dissemination of information to mobilize public opinion in support of the decolonization process, and observes the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

In 1990, the General Assembly proclaimed 1990-2000 as the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism and adopted a Plan of Action. In 2001, the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was proclaimed. In 2011, the General Assembly proclaimed 2011-2020 as the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

The Special Committee on Decolonization opened its 2017 session with a highly personal address by Secretary-General António Guterres, the Special Committee on Decolonization on February 22.

Secretary-General Guterres, recalling his youth spent living under the oppressive dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal, said he had closely followed the work of the Committee, formally known as the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

“You can imagine how I feel today,” being able to address the body that was so strongly linked to the struggles and dreams of his youth, as well as to those of many other democratic-minded Portuguese people of his generation, he said.  The Salazar regime had oppressed his own country, as well as its sisters and brothers around the world with a “totally absurd” colonial policy, leading to bloody and terrible wars in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau.  However, as the Portuguese army had gradually grown tired of fighting wars without political solutions, independence had come — “late, but finally” — to the former Portuguese colonies.

Expressing his deep commitment to the United Nations decolonization agenda as one of its defining mandates, he recalled that the Organization had had only 110 Member States when the Special Committee began its work in 1962. That number had now risen to 193, representing the success of decolonization. However, the process was not yet finished, as 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained.

“We must unite our strengths to complete this historic task,” he stressed, noting that the process would require proactive and sustained engagement by the Committee, the administering Powers, the Non-Self-Governing Territories themselves and other stakeholders.

Reviewing the Special Committee’s activities and achievements during its 2016 session, he said the body bore an important responsibility to the 17 Non‑Self-Governing Territories and with the issue of Puerto Rico, which had been on its agenda for over four decades. “The people of these Territories expect that the Committee makes firm and timely decisions […] so they can freely exert, where applicable, their right to self-determination and independence,” he said.

The Special Committee held the Caribbean Regional Seminar in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines from May 16-18. Its delegation to the Seminar was made up of 10 Special Committee members from the four regional groups:  the Group of African States, the Group of Asia-Pacific States, the Group of Eastern European States and the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States.

On June 19, the Special Committee sent a draft resolution to the General Assembly calling on the Government of the United States to assume its responsibility to expedite a process that would allow the people of Puerto Rico to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.

Approving the text (document A/AC.109/2017/L.12) without a vote, the Special Committee called on the United States to move forward with a process to allow the Puerto Rican people to make decisions in a sovereign manner, and to address their urgent economic and social needs, including unemployment, marginalization, insolvency and poverty.

The Special Committee also noted with concern that by virtue of the decision of the U.S. Congress under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act – which mandated the creation of the Financial Oversight and Management Board – the already weakened area in which the prevailing regime of political and economic subordination in Puerto Rico operated was reduced further.

Expressing deep concern over actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence activists and encouraging investigations into those actions, the draft also welcomed the release of Puerto Rican patriot Oscar López Rivera, who served 35 years in United States’ jails for reasons related to the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence.

Also by the text, the Special Committee urged the United States’ Government to complete the return of occupied land and installations on Vieques Island and in Ceiba to the Puerto Rican people, and to expedite and cover the costs of cleaning up and decontaminating areas previously used for military exercises, with a view to protecting the health of their inhabitants and the environment.

By other terms, the General Assembly was asked to comprehensively consider the question of Puerto Rico and decide on that issue as soon as possible.

During the day-long meeting, speakers stressed that Puerto Rico indeed must take its rightful seat as a sovereign State in the General Assembly. The first step towards that goal would be to inscribe Puerto Rico on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, speakers said. López Rivera, who had recently been released after 35 years in prison in the United States, joined more than 50 petitioners in calling for an end U.S. occupation and for the granting of independence to Puerto Rico.

On June 22, the Special Committee sent nine draft resolutions to the General Assembly, including on the Question of French Polynesia, garnering calls from petitioners who attested on one hand to the island’s improved economic recovery, and on the other to a financially abusive relationship with the administering Power.

By the text, approved without a vote, the Assembly would stress that its 2013 resolution 67/265 – providing for the re-inscription of French Polynesia on the List of Non-Self-Governing Territories – had been reaffirmed by an assessment, presented in 2016 to its Fourth Committee (Decolonization), that the Territory did not meet the full measure of self-government. It would call on the administering Power to intensify dialogue with French Polynesia to facilitate a fair self-determination process.

Amid affirmations of solidarity, the Special Committee on Decolonization approved on June 23 a draft resolution reiterating that a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom was the only way to end the “special and particular” colonial situation of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*.

The text (document A/AC.109/2017/L.26), which called for those Governments to consolidate the current process of dialogue and cooperation by resuming negotiations in order to find a peaceful solution to the sovereignty dispute as soon as possible, was one of several approved without a vote.

Argentina’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Worship renewed the full willingness of the Government to follow the only possible path for a peaceful and definite solution to the sovereignty dispute. The principle of self-determination did not apply to the Territory’s inhabitants and had not been mentioned in any of the more than 40 related General Assembly and Special Committee resolutions, he stressed.

While bilateral negotiations had reached a standstill, he said, Argentina had adopted measures to improve living conditions for the inhabitants. Since 2016, Argentina and the United Kingdom had taken steps and had signed a joint communiqué, designing a road map outlining their intention to resume dialogue on a number of aspects of the bilateral relationship. With the necessary political will, it was possible to reach a definitive solution.

According to the UN, finishing the job of decolonization “will require a continuing dialogue among the administering Powers, the Special Committee on Decolonization, and the peoples of the territories, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions on decolonization.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 September 2017]

Related IDN article: Colonialism Very Much Alive on UN Agenda

Photo: Independence celebration in East Timor in 2002. (UN Photo/Sergey Bermeniev)

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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