SAINT JOHN’S PARISH, Dominica, 25 August — The 2021 Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization opened here today with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres asserting that no one — including the world’s 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories — must be left behind in the struggle to overcome the global coronavirus pandemic.
Non-Self-Governing Territories are no exceptions to the pandemic’s dramatic impact, he told the Seminar, the theme of which is “Charting a dynamic course for decolonization in commencing the Fourth International Decade and in the light of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19 pandemic), through commitment to mandate, collaboration, pragmatism and agility”.
In remarks delivered by a Secretariat representative, the Secretary-General said: “I welcome and encourage efforts by the administering Powers to distribute vaccines to the Territories.” He added: “We must ensure that no one and no Territories are left behind in the fight against the pandemic.”
Despite the pandemic, the last year witnessed some progress for decolonization efforts, he continued, pointing in particular to New Caledonia’s second referendum on its future status in October 2020. A third consultation is scheduled for December. The General Assembly, for its part, declared 2021-2030 the Fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, while the Special Committee on Decolonization conducted its 2020 session in a virtual format.
“Let us keep working to build on the Committee’s achievements, increase political will and together advance and complete decolonization,” the Secretary-General said. “The 17 remaining Territories deserve our strongest support.”
[In 1960, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, subsequently proclaiming the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (1990 to 2000), as well as the Second and Third International Decades (2001-2010 and 2011-2020). More than 80 former colonies have gained their independence since the creation of the United Nations, but 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain today.]
The 2021 Caribbean Seminar, held under the Special Committee’s auspices, was initially scheduled for 19-20 May, but was postponed due to the situation relating to the pandemic.
Keisha Aniya McGuire (Grenada), Chair of the Special Committee, opened the Seminar, saying that the pandemic’s immediate and long-term effects on Non-Self-Governing Territories must be addressed. “Their journey for recovery needs to be supported,” she added, describing the Seminar as an opportunity to examine each Territory’s situation in light of COVID-19. The Special Committee will listen to all views during the Seminar — by the Territories’ representatives, administering Powers and experts — as they are critical for advancing the decolonization agenda, she emphasized. (For background information, see Press Release GA/COL/3348 of 23 August.)
The subsequent presentations and interactive discussions touched upon such issues as the role of the Special Committee – known formally 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 — and the perspectives of the different stakeholders.
Natalio D. Wheatley, Deputy Premier of the British Virgin Islands, urged the Special Committee to pay renewed attention to the seven Caribbean Territories, some of which are “low-hanging fruit” for self-determination. The status quo must not be assumed to be the end of their journey, he emphasized, providing an update on concerns that an ongoing commission of inquiry into the Territory’s governance might lead to the United Kingdom suspending its constitution and imposing direct rule.
Engel Raygadas, Deputy Permanent Secretary for International, European and Pacific Affairs of French Polynesia said the Territory — and its important tourist industry — has been hard-hit by the pandemic. Its immediate priority is to get as many people vaccinated as possible, regardless of age, he added, noting that by adopting a pragmatic approach, the Special Committee can speed up its work and breathe new life into its efforts.
Hervé Raimana Lallemant-Moe, expert, said the pandemic in French Polynesia has been grim, with almost 40,000 cases and more than 300 deaths — perhaps more than all other Territories in the Pacific combined. He suggested that if French Polynesia is recognized as a special Territory under the French Constitution, its current administrative autonomy can progress towards political autonomy. That idea could also be applied to other Territories in a similar situation.
France’s representative focused on New Caledonia’s third referendum on self-determination, scheduled for 12 December 2021, explaining that whatever the outcome, it will be followed by an 18-month transition period. She also invited the Special Committee to visit the Territory ahead of the vote, subject to local health conditions.
A total of 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remains under the Special Committee’s purview: American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, French Polynesia, Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands and Western Sahara. The administering Powers are France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
In other business, the Seminar adopted its agenda (document PRS/2021/CRP.1) and provisional programme of work (document PRS/2021/CRP.2). The Chair appointed the representatives of Dominica and Indonesia as Vice-Chairs, and the representative of Côte d’Ivoire as Rapporteur.
The Seminar will reconvene on Thursday, 26 August, to continue its work.
KEISHA ANIYA MCGUIRE (Grenada), Chair of the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, declared the Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization open. She thanked Dominica for hosting the event and for its resolute support for the United Nations decolonization agenda. The Seminar was originally scheduled to be held in May, in commemoration of the International Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories, only to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, she explained.
In 2021, the Special Committee’s focus is on charting a dynamic course for decolonization in light of both the pandemic and the Fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, she continued. Non-Self-Governing Territories have been significantly affected by the pandemic, she said, emphasizing that its immediate and long-term effects must be addressed as the global economy recovers. Whereas some Territories have seen low rates of infection due to their geographical remoteness as well as travel restrictions and border closures, many others experienced a larger number of infections and deaths, she said, noting that administering Powers cooperated expeditiously with the relevant authorities to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
“The Territories’ fight against the pandemic continues,” she declared. “Their journey for recovery needs to be supported.” The Seminar is another opportunity for the Special Committee to look at each Territory’s situation in light of the pandemic, she added. Despite travel constraints, participants from several Territories are in attendance, as well as experts and representatives of Member States, including administering Powers, she said, stressing that the Special Committee will listen to all views, as they are critical for advancing the decolonization agenda.
KENNETH DARROUX, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Business and Diaspora Affairs of Dominica, spoke on behalf of the host country, welcoming participants to “the nature island of the world”. He emphasized his country’s ambition to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation. Noting that the world is locked in battle with the COVID-19 pandemic, he said that until recently, Dominica would have been able to boast no more than 200 coronavirus cases — most imported — with zero community spread and no deaths. Recent days saw a surge in cases, but the resilience of Dominica’s people will see the country through, he added.
The pandemic has been daunting for all small island developing States, he continued. It also exposed or exacerbated inequalities and threatened to reverse development gains. He went on to say that Dominica fully subscribes to the importance of the Special Committee and the significance of the United Nations decolonization agenda, which has advanced significantly since the General Assembly, through resolution 1514, adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples in 1960.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a statement delivered by a Secretariat representative, said Non-Self-Governing Territories are no exception to the dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I welcome and encourage efforts by the administering Powers to distribute vaccines to the Territories,” he added. “We must ensure that no one and no Territories are left behind in the fight against the pandemic.”
He noted that, despite the difficulties brought on by COVID-19, the last year saw some progress in decolonization efforts. He cited, in particular, New Caledonia’s second referendum on its future status in October 2020, with a third consultation to follow in December 2021; the General Assembly’s declaration of 2021-2030 as the Fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism; and the Special Committee’s success in conducting its work in a virtual format. “Let us keep working to build on the Committee’s achievements, increase political will and together advance and complete decolonization,” he emphasized. “The 17 remaining Territories deserve our strongest support.”
Organization of Work
With the Seminar adopting its agenda (document PRS/2021/CRP.1) and provisional programme of work (document PRS/2021/CRP.2), the Chair appointed the representatives of Dominica and Indonesia as Vice-Chairs and the representative of Côte d’Ivoire as Rapporteur.
The Seminar then held a discussion on the theme “Role of the Special Committee in devising new strategies and setting new objectives for the advancement of the decolonization agenda”, focusing in particular on assessing and reviewing the actions taken during the Third International Decade and on intensifying cooperation with the administering Powers, the Non-Self-Governing Territories and other stakeholders.
Ms. MCGUIRE (Grenada), Chair of the Special Committee, said the momentum of the Third Decade must be preserved and strengthened, adding that, during those 10 years, and despite financial constraints, the Special Committee reinvigorated its visiting missions, on a case by case basis — including to New Caledonia in the run-up to that Territory’s 2018 and 2020 referendums, and to Montserrat in 2019 — and further missions are under consideration. The Special Committee also aims to continue its informal dialogue with administering Powers, which began in 2013.
She went on to state that the Special Committee’s annual meetings with the Secretary-General are a useful tool for exploring innovative ways to use his good offices in advancing the decolonization agenda. Going forward, the voices of the Non-Self-Governing Territories must play a fundamental role in order for the Special Committee to carry out its mandate effectively, she said, describing the Seminar as an opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue and to bring fresh ideas to the table.
The representative of Sierra Leone asked how many more International Decades must pass before it is possible to declare the end of colonialism. Emphasizing the need for fresh and creative approaches, including an updated plan of action with clear benchmarks, she suggested that the Special Committee adopt constructive collaboration to help Territories achieve political maturity and economic sustainability; ensure the effective participation of women in its work; ensure that each Territory is handled on a case-by-case basis; and encourage administering Powers to adhere to their responsibilities, including the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The Special Committee should also undertake at least one visiting mission per year, she added.
The representative of Indonesia similarly wondered “how many more international decades we can afford”, emphasizing that renewed commitment and pragmatic efforts are more needed than ever. The presence of so many participants in Dominica despite the pandemic demonstrates the importance of regional seminars, he said. Emphasizing that the Special Committee must always remember there is no one-size-fits-all solution for Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said delisting must therefore be carried out on a case-by-case basis. Equally important is ongoing dialogue with the administering Powers and other partners, he added.
The representative of the Russian Federation described the decolonization Declaration, which was submitted to the General Assembly in draft form by the delegation of the Soviet Union in 1960, as among the greatest achievements of the United Nations. It resulted in the creation of more than 80 Member States and changed the world for good, he added. Going into the Fourth Decade, however, one may wonder how many decades will be needed to complete the decolonization process, he noted. Going forward, the Special Committee can play not only a consultative role, but also a mediation role, he said, adding that it should also consider whether to present Territories with different options for self-determination. He went on to echo the Secretary-General’s call for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in all Territories, adding that Russian vaccines are available for all who need them.
The representative of Venezuela, associating himself with the statements to be delivered by Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and Mexico on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), described the pandemic as a global systemic crisis that makes the Territories even more vulnerable and demonstrates the need to strengthen the decolonization agenda.
The representative of Argentina recalled that the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the separation of the Chagos Archipelago in 1965, emphasized, among other things, the crucial role played by the General Assembly and the Special Committee in overseeing implementation of the responsibilities of administering Powers and ensuring that decolonization processes are completed in full. The Court also noted that self-determination is not applicable in cases involving populations who do not constitute a people.
The representative of Chile said the Special Committee can count on his delegation’s full support during the Seminar.
The representative of Syria described decolonization as a critical issue for her country, which sincerely hopes the Fourth Decade will be the last.
NATALIO D. WHEATLEY, Deputy Premier of the British Virgin Islands, urged the Special Committee to pay renewed attention to the seven Caribbean Territories, some of which are “low-hanging fruit” for self-determination. The status quo must not be assumed to be the end of their journey, and nor should the idea of a “modern partnership” mask the colonial relationship between Territories and administering Powers, he emphasized. Substantial progress during the Fourth Decade will require more time, energy and resources to implement resolutions and decisions, he said, calling for creative and innovative approaches to achieve desired outcomes.
Going forward, the Special Committee and the United Nations more broadly have an essential role to play, he continued. “The peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories are depending on you to provide some measure of international accountability in the relationship between the administering Powers, the Non-Self-Governing Territories and the United Nations itself.” Providing an update on the situation in the British Virgin Islands, he said the Territory’s duly elected Government is focused on recovery from hurricanes Irma and Maria, building climate resilience, improving the governance framework and raising public awareness of self-determination ahead of a constitutional review. Its efforts are well-supported by the United Nations, especially in the area of sustainable development, he said, adding that the Territory is shouldering its share of regional responsibility to shape a partnership between the Organization and the Caribbean that responds to the vulnerabilities of small island developing States.
He went on to share real concerns about the possibility that the administering Power will roll back self-government in the British Virgin Islands. Recalling that he spoke at length about a commission of inquiry, established by the former Governor and backed by the United Kingdom, in his last address to the Special Committee in June, he said that during the same meeting, the representative of Antigua and Barbuda reiterated the Caribbean Community’s concern over how the commission of inquiry was established without prior consultation with the duly elected Government, civil society or the business sector. He added that the British Virgin Islands welcomed the draft resolution subsequently approved by the Special Committee, which states that it is up to the Territory’s people to freely determine their future political status.
Since then, he said, the current Governor, with the support of the Government of the United Kingdom, extended the commission of inquiry by a further six months until 22 January, with no explanation or consultations with the duly elected Government. He expressed concern that the commission of inquiry is drawing a considerable amount of time and resources from the civil service amid a pandemic, he said. Moreover, the commission’s legal team, seconded from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, are carrying out their work despite not being members of the British Virgin Islands Bar, he pointed out. Another concern is the Governor’s refusal, in a recent interview, to give assurances that the United Kingdom has no intention of suspending the Territory’s constitution.
Recalling that the United Kingdom imposed direct rule on the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2009, he said the duly elected Government of the British Virgin Islands is only seeking a just outcome. It should exercise the maximum amount of self-government permitted under the constitution and the United Kingdom should not delay plans for a constitutional review pending the results of the commission of inquiry, he stressed. He requested that the Special Committee dispatch a visiting mission to the British Virgin Islands before the end of 2021 to assess the situation on the ground and provide an objective perspective on local conditions and aspirations. He also asked that future resolutions on the British Virgin Islands reflect the fact that the Territory has been assessed by the Financial Action Task Force as being compliant on anti-tax evasion, anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing, and that it remains on the tax white lists of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Global Forum and the European Union.
The Seminar then held a discussion on the theme “Perspectives of administering Powers, the Non-Self-Governing Territories and other stakeholders: Political developments in the Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Pacific region”.
The representative of Venezuela noted with concern the situation in Puerto Rico, which even before the pandemic, was grappling with a raft of structural problems, as well as a fiscal crisis, climate change and growing poverty. The political subordination and colonial oppression which the Territory’s people are suffering at the hands of the Government of the United States are preventing that Caribbean and Latin American nation from taking sovereign decisions to address its severe social and economic problems, he said. Venezuela calls upon the General Assembly to consider the question of Puerto Rico in all its aspects, bearing in mind the 37 resolutions and decisions approved by the Special Committee since 1972 and the Territory’s right to self-determination and independence based on resolution 1514, he added.
The representative of Brazil reaffirmed his country’s historical support for the decolonization process and its commitment to the right of self-determination, describing decolonization as a key issue for Latin America and the Caribbean. He also drew attention to Brazil’s medical and humanitarian assistance to Haiti in the aftermath of the recent earthquake in that country.
The representative of Grenada said, in response to the presentation by the British Virgin Island’s Vice Premier, that CARICOM leaders discussed the situation in that Territory at their recent meeting, where they called upon the administering Power to respect the local authority and observe United Nations principles, including the principle of self-determination.
ENGEL RAYGADAS, Deputy Permanent Secretary for International, European and Pacific Affairs of French Polynesia, said that with the arrival of the delta variant, the Territory is among the places hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with 98 per cent of deaths occurring among non-vaccinated persons. Thanks to the Government of France, however, vaccines have been available from the outset, but the rate of vaccination remains insufficient despite efforts to raise awareness. The first priority is, therefore, to get as many people vaccinated as possible, regardless of age, he said, noting last week’s arrival of medical personnel from France and New Caledonia to reinforce a health-care system being put to the test.
Underscoring the pandemic’s impact on tourism, French Polynesia’s biggest industry, he said the Government is committed to finding the financial means to overcome the crisis, including guaranteed loans from France. Being small and isolated is no formula for success, he said, while noting that French Polynesia enjoys broad autonomy and was able to buy masks from China when none could be acquired in Europe or the United States. As a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, the Territory participated in that regional bloc’s COVID-19 response by delivering medical supplies from China to Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu and Fiji, he recalled. It also donated COVID-19 tests to Papua New Guinea, in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO). “Helping each other is the right thing to do,” he emphasized. “We are all Polynesians and we all share a blue Pacific continent.”
French Polynesia is paying close attention to New Caledonia’s third referendum on self-determination, set for 12 December, he continued. Underscoring the close ties between the two Territories, he said that whatever the outcome, New Caledonia will respect the decision of the Kanak and Caldoches people and will always be there for them. Turning to the situation in French Polynesia itself, he said political differences persist between those who desire broad autonomy within the French Republic and those who favour independence. The former won the 2016 elections by a large margin, giving a good indication of the population’s state of mind, he said. On the legacy of French nuclear testing, he pointed out that the President of France has announced that the relevant archives will be made public and compensation provided to those suffering health problems. The Territory’s President and Government are closely following the issue. He went on to say that by adopting a practical approach, the Special Committee can accelerate its work and breathe new life into its efforts. It is unacceptable that people from outside the Territory can speak to the Special Committee as petitioners, he said, adding that, going forward, access should be limited to petitioners who are truly natives of the Territories in question. “I can tell you that we are not oppressed either as a culture or a people,” he emphasized, noting that the vast majority of French Polynesians do not think that their Territory needs to be decolonized.
HERVÉ RAIMANA LALLEMANT-MOE, expert, said the pandemic in French Polynesia has been grim, with almost 40,000 cases and more than 300 deaths since 2020. That is perhaps more than all other Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Pacific combined, he noted. Summarizing the decolonization question in the Territory, he said the current Government and elected institutions of French Polynesia want the Territory delisted, and opposition wants the United Nations to help influence the administering Power into accepting a self-determination process, while France refuses to participate in the debate.
Since the status quo has remain unchanged since 2013, when the General Assembly put French Polynesia back on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, pragmatic and agile solutions must be found which will ensure that Polynesian people are not denied democratic choices while also preserving the Special Committee’s mandate to uphold the principles of the United Nations Charter. In addition, issues highlighted by the Polynesian political opposition — including compensation for nuclear testing, a process for self-determination and sovereignty over natural resources — must not be forgotten, he said.
If French Polynesia is recognized as a special Territory under the French Constitution, he continued, then its current administrative autonomy can progress towards a political autonomy, mainly as a result of the legal protections gained by such a process. New legal tools would potentially be available, but applicable only if the democratically elected local assembly and Government wish to use them. Currently, neither French Polynesia nor France appear inclined to substantially modify the Territory’s legal status or to amend the French Constitution to that end, he said. However, the United Nations and the Special Committee can be pivotal actors by clarifying the notion of decolonization, which can be subject to different interpretations, regardless of political orientation.
Striving for a more autonomous — and thus decolonized — French Polynesia within the French Republic would be a more constructive approach, he said, adding that such a solution could also apply to other Non-Self-Governing Territories in a similar situation. Regardless of the outcome of New Caledonia’s third referendum, the French Constitution will need to be modified, creating a small opening for French Polynesia to be recognized as a singular entity while also creating a “one for all” solution that will hopefully satisfy Polynesians, the United Nations and France while also creating a constructive pathway for other Territories, he stated.
The representative of France said the upcoming third referendum in New Caledonia will not be the end of the story, as it will be followed by an 18-month transition period, regardless of the outcome. If the vote is in favour of independence, there will be 18 months for the new State to decide on a constitution and define its relations with France. If voters desire to remain part of France, that period will be used to design a new statute that will then be subject to a final consultation, she explained. France will not request that New Caledonia be delisted during that final consultation phase, nor will it end its collaboration with the United Nations on the Territory’s status, she affirmed, reiterating France’s invitation for a visiting mission of the Special Committee to New Caledonia before the third referendum, taking into account strict local health conditions.
* 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).