The Special Committee on Decolonization opened the substantive part of its 2022 session today, approving two draft resolutions related to information collected from, and critical visiting missions deployed to, the world’s 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing territories.
Acting without a vote, the 29-member Special 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 — approved its annual draft resolution titled “Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73(e) of the Charter of the United Nations” to be forwarded to the General Assembly for adoption.
By its terms, the Assembly would request that administering Powers of the world’s Non-Self-Governing Territories respect their Charter obligations by transmitting to the Secretary-General information on the economic, social and educational conditions in the Territories under their respective administrations, subject to such limitation as security and constitutional considerations might require.
The Special Committee also approved, without a vote, a draft resolution titled “Question of sending visiting and special missions to Territories”, by whose terms members requested the Chair and Bureau to develop, on a case-by-case basis, a plan for the conduct of visiting missions to the Non-Self-Governing Territories.
Acting again without a vote, the Special Committee decided to accede to requests for hearings on the following agenda items, as laid out in its organization of work: Questions of the British Virgin Islands, the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, French Polynesia, Gibraltar, New Caledonia, the Turks and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands and Western Sahara. It also decided to accede to 46 requests for hearing on the topic entitled “Special Committee decision of 18 June 2021 concerning Puerto Rico: hearing of petitioners”, welcoming petitioners on that topic on Monday, 20 June.
The Special Committee deferred consideration of its annual draft resolution on “Dissemination of information on decolonization”, given the need for more time to consider its contents. However, it heard briefings by senior United Nations officials on that item.
Members also examined the specific questions of Gibraltar, Tokelau, Western Sahara, American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and French Polynesia, hearing a number of petitioners on several of those items.
On the question of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of the Territory, said Gibraltarians only wish to be removed from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. Amid attempts to stifle their voices, “we will be here, fighting” and working alongside their neighbours. Noting that Gibraltar is working with both the United Kingdom and Spain on a treaty that will lay out a secure and prosperous future, he hailed the conclusion of an unprecedented tax treaty, agreed in light of Gibraltar’s “reluctant departure” from the European Union. Given that level of cooperation and maturity, Gibraltarians must not be mere bystanders in their own future, he stressed, rejecting any political process seeking the transfer of the Territory “above our heads”.
Spain’s delegate reiterated his country’s commitment to decolonization, while underlining the importance of resolving the anachronistic colonial situation suffered by Gibraltar as the only colony on the European continent. The United Nations has repeatedly recognized the specific nature of the colonization process in that Territory, which undermines Spain’s territorial integrity. Noting repeated requests by the General Assembly for Spain and the United Kingdom to reach an agreement, he called for full compliance with those requests and emphasized that Gibraltar’s decolonization must consider the needs of the original population that were expelled.
On the question of Tokelau, the representative of New Zealand spoke on behalf of that Territory’s administering Power, welcoming the recent decision to begin a conversation on Tokelau’s self-determination process. Noting the Territory’s stated intention to take a “measured approach” to the question by exploring all available options, he pledged New Zealand’s lasting support, including in the area of critical infrastructure development. For example, he said, work began in recent months to extend an international submarine cable across the Tokelau atolls, which will vastly increase opportunities in education, health and international connectivity.
As the Special Committee turned its attention to the question of Western Sahara, dozens of petitioners and United Nations Member States took the floor to present their views on the nearly 60-year-long dispute between Morocco and the Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO), which administers part of the Territory. Many speakers described Western Sahara as the last colonial situation in Africa, calling for an urgent self-determination referendum. Others expressed grave concern about human rights violations committed under the auspices of the POLISARIO, especially in the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria, and endorsed an autonomy initiative put forward by Morocco as the best, most peaceful and pragmatic way forward.
Sidi Mohamed Omar, speaking for the Frente POLISARIO, recalled various General Assembly and Security Council resolutions and condemned the illegal Moroccan occupation of parts of Western Sahara. Drawing attention to the serious violations of rights of the people of Western Sahara, he described the POLISARIO as the dominant political movement in the Territory, which enjoys the support of its people. He urged the General Assembly to take steps to decolonize the Territory, adding that the fundamental facts on the ground remain unchanged and continue to echo in the halls of the United Nations and beyond.
Ahmed Mohamed Fall, a petitioner speaking for the Collective of Sahrawi human right defenders in Western Sahara, noted that after many years and the deployment of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), the Question of Western Sahara remains one of decolonization. Over the decades, the Saharawi people have been subjected to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Citing the killing of civilians with drones and lethal weapons and the arrest of human rights defenders in the occupied part of Western Sahara, he urged the Security Council and the United Nations to settle the question of the Western Sahara as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, petitioner Mohamed Ayad Saleck of the organization Khat Achahid said he is one of the many victims of the POLISARIO prisons, representing the Sahrawis who have refused to remain in the Tindouf camps. Denouncing the grave violations of human rights occurring there, he cited instances of torture and called for a solution to be reached through negotiations with Morocco. Voicing support for the dream of a greater Moroccan Maghreb, he urged the international community to move forward with that country’s autonomy initiative.
At the meeting’s outset, members approved the session’s agenda and its organization of work, without a vote.
Also speaking on the question of Tokelau was the representative of Papua New Guinea, who delivered a statement jointly with Fiji.
Also speaking on the question of Western Sahara were several additional petitioners, as well as representatives of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Grenada, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, Chile, Antigua and Barbuda, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Iran, Dominica, Bolivia, Botswana, Bahrain, Angola, Senegal, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Guinea, Benin, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Namibia, Gambia, Djibouti, Paraguay, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Algeria, Yemen, Zimbabwe, Sao Tome and Principe, Kuwait, Liberia, Uganda, Comoros and Morocco.
Speaking on the question of question of the British Virgin Islands were representatives of Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada.
The Special Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 14 June, to continue its work.
Dissemination of Information on Decolonization from April 2021-March 2022
The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples first took up the report of the Secretary-General titled “Dissemination of information on decolonization during the period from April 2021 to March 2022” (document A/AC.109/2022/18).
NANETTE BRAUN, Chief, Communications Campaign Service, Strategic Communications Division, Department of Global Communications, presenting that report, noted that the Department issued 50 press releases, in English and French, on the meetings, activities and statements relating to the work of the United Nations on decolonization. Further, it deployed a press officer to the 2021 Caribbean Regional Seminar on implementation of the fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism that took place in the Parish of Saint John, Dominica, on 25 to 27 August 2021 as well as to the Pacific Regional Seminar in Saint Lucia from 11 to 13 May. The press officers worked closely with the Decolonization Unit to issue press releases that were disseminated widely through multilingual platforms, she noted, highlighting the successful participation of 11 representatives from Non Self-Governing Territories.
Also highlighting the decolonization website, maintained by the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, she pointed out that during the reporting period, it attracted over 400,000 views, an increase of more than 110 per cent over the previous year. The Organization’s flagship social media accounts with over 60 million followers as well as UN News continued to amplify decolonization messages in the six official languages as well as in Kiswahili, Hindi and Portuguese. Noting also that United Nations Web TV produced live videos of meetings of the Special Committee on Decolonization as well as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), she highlighted the feature video titled “The United Nations and Decolonization: Past to Present”. The Organization’s Visitors Services continue to offer informational materials on decolonization, including during Black History Month, she said, adding that the Dag Hammarskjöld Library maintains guides on the topic and has digitized a number of relevant historical documents.
JOSIANE AMBIEHL, Chief, Decolonization Unit, United Nations Department of Political Affairs, underscored the importance the General Assembly places on the dissemination of information on decolonization. Outlining some of the Decolonization Unit’s recent work, she said it updated the Secretariat working papers on each Non-Self-Governing Territory, based on information collected under Article 73(e) of the United Nations Charter, and it continues to maintain and update the website known as “The United Nations and Decolonization”, which was launched in its current form in 2019. All relevant working papers, resolutions on decolonization and other important documents were placed on the website, and information on the two regional seminars held in 2021 and 2022 — as well as the proceedings of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly — were also made available. In addition, she said, “The United Nations and Decolonization: Past and Present” video was made available on the website in all six official languages, and with subtitles. As a result, the website recorded more than 17,000 user sessions in July 2021, representing a substantial increase over the same month the previous year, demonstrating a growing interest in the Organization’s work in decolonization.
PEDRO LUIS PEDROSO CUESTA (Cuba), requesting the Department of Global Communications to continue the dissemination of information on this important topic, added that this is extremely significant to the decolonization of the remaining Non Self-Governing Territories. The international community needs to step up activities to ensure that the inhabitants of these Territories are fully aware of all decolonization efforts, she said, welcoming the use of all media, both traditional as well as audiovisual, in this regard. Noting that 2020 marked the beginning of the Fourth Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2021-2030), she highlighted the vital role of the Department as an instrument in raising awareness on this.
MOHAMMAD KURNIADI KOBA (Indonesia), noting the need for continued efforts to fulfil the decolonization mandate, stressed that the international community must reinvigorate its actions, with a focus on constructive engagement and dialogue. Underscoring that the principle of one-size-fits-all does not work, he said the process of delisting must take place on a case-by-case basis. Calling for a balanced assessment of the situation in each territory with continuing dialogue between all stakeholders, he stressed the need for collective action and solidarity, especially in the wake of the pandemic and the climate crisis.
MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq) said disseminating information is an important tool to promote the objectives of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and contributes to shaping public opinion. Stressing the important roles played by the Department of Global Communications and the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, he called for the inclusion in their informational bulletins on what the United Nations can do to help the world’s remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories. Over the past two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, the world has seen significant changes in the global information landscape. The topic under discussion today is all the more crucial against that backdrop, and as the United Nations seeks to develop internationally agreed tools to facilitate access to information for all — especially vulnerable groups, such as colonized peoples. He also emphasized the United Nations responsibility to continue to build the local capacity of colonized people to help them access information, and to continue to take measures to reach people through both traditional and new media.
The Special Committee deferred its consideration of its annual draft resolution on that item (document A/AC.109/2022/L.4) until 24 June, given the need for more time to consider its contents.
Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories/Visiting and Special Missions
Mr. CUESTA (Cuba), stressing the importance of a balanced and exhaustive assessment of the conditions in each Non-Self-Governing Territory, expressed concern that not all administering Powers have complied with their obligations to do this. Reaffirming the importance of relevant Assembly resolutions, she said that the international community must reiterate commitment to decolonization as it enters the Fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. Only with renewed political will can this goal be achieved, she stressed.
The Committee then approved without a vote the draft resolution titled “Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73e of the Charter of the United Nations” (document A/AC.109/2022/L.3).
Also approved without a vote was the draft resolution titled “Question of sending visiting and special missions to Territories” (document A/AC.109/2022/L.5).
Question of Gibraltar
FABIAN PICARDO, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said his administration will always ensure that the voice of Gibraltarians is heard in the Special Committee, as they only wish to be decolonized. For 30 years, Gibraltarians have asked for a United Nations visiting mission to be sent to the Territory, and for Gibraltar to be removed from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. They will continue to defend their homeland, for while there is an attempt to stifle their voices and deny their right to self-determination, “we will be here, fighting” and seeking to stop those attempts as long as they persist. Pledging that Gibraltar will continue to cooperate with all their neighbours, despite their differences, he described the Territory’s population as a mature people that seek to work in amity with others and support the rights of those who seek to cross their territory in the interest of free trade.
Noting that Gibraltar is currently working with both the United Kingdom and Spain on a treaty that will lay out a secure and prosperous future, he cited several other recent diplomatic successes, including an unprecedented tax treaty agreed in light of “our reluctant departure” from the European Union. Stressing that Gibraltarians are not mere bystanders in their own future, he said the Special Committee has the responsibility to protect the rights of all peoples to self-determination, and must not support any solution that allows the transfer “of our land, above our heads”. Indeed, suggesting that a process of inter-State dialogue on that matter should commence without the consent of Gibraltarians is a non-starter, he added.
AGUSTÍN SANTOS MARAVER (Spain), reiterating his Government’s commitment to decolonization and noting that it has been regularly participating in regional seminars such as the one in Saint Lucia, said the work of the Committee is fundamental to ending the last remains of colonization around the world. Highlighting the advisory opinion on The Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, issued by the International Court of Justice in response to a request from the United Nations General Assembly, he described it as a clear endorsement of the decolonization process. Stressing the importance of resolving the anachronistic colonial situation suffered by Gibraltar as the only colony on the European continent, he said the Organization has repeatedly recognized the specific nature of the colonization process in that Territory which undermines Spain’s territorial integrity. The Assembly has been discussing this dispute annually and asking Spain and the United Kingdom to reach an agreement, he said, recalling various resolutions including those that set an end date to the colonial situation. Calling for full compliance with these texts, he said the decolonization of Gibraltar must take into account the needs of the original population that were expelled.
RICHARD BUTTIGIEG, of the Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group, expressed concern that Gibraltar still finds itself having to appear before the Special Committee year after year. Emphasizing that Gibraltar’s 2006 constitution provides a level of self-governance that is not commensurate with the status of Non-Self-Governing Territory, he asked the Special Committee to urgently delist his Territory or advise as to what else it can do to merit delisting. “What you should not do is continue to ignore us,” he said, pointing out that, during the COVID-19 crisis, Gibraltar provided free vaccines to all Spanish cross-frontier workers and provided Spanish furloughed workers with full salaries. While those actions are hardly those of a bad neighbour, such kindnesses should not be confused with weakness, he warned. Gibraltarians are a strong and tenacious people that have faced and overcome much in the past, he said, adding: “We shall never give up.”
The Special Committee then decided to continue its consideration of the Question of Gibraltar at its next session.
Question of Tokelau
JUSTIN FEPULEAI (New Zealand), speaking on behalf of the Ulu o Tokelau, said the Territory is one of the few places in the world that is still free of COVID-19 transmission. Noting the stringent travel restrictions at its border as well as the high vaccination rate, he said that New Zealand provided training to Tokelau’s hospital personnel as well as delivery of vaccines in its Defence Force vessel. New Zealand has also offered a second booster dose for Tokelau’s vulnerable population, he added, pointing also to assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO). The Tokelau Social Protection Policy is now being translated to Tokelau to be despatched to key stakeholders for policy consultation, he added, also noting that the three villages of Tokelau are now connected to the Southern Cross Next Cable to enable access to high-speed internet, which will enable improvements in remote education and telemedicine.
Adding that Tokelau has started relocating senior officials of the National Public Service from Samoa to Tokelau, he said this is a long-term wish of the Territory’s elders for its “children” to return. This move will consolidate the integration of traditional and modern knowledge which characterizes the Territory’s emerging governance model, he said, adding that these exciting developments give confidence to its people. Last month, Tokelau’s National Assembly resolved to revive internal conversation on self-determination, he said, noting important questions relating to resource management and international partnerships. “Tokelau is excited and appreciative of all these opportunities and blessings we receive from New Zealand, the United Nations and other benevolent countries and donors,” he said, adding that it intends to practice a governance model which integrates its own culture and the Western model.
Mr. FEPULEAI (New Zealand), now speaking on behalf of the administering Power, outlined New Zealand’s robust COVID-19 response on the atolls of Tokelau. He said New Zealand also recently welcomed the decision to begin a conversation on the matter of the Territory’s self-determination. Underlining the need to ensure that any outcome is agreeable to both the people of Tokelau and to New Zealand, he noted Tokelau’s intention to take a “measured approach” to the question by exploring all options open to it. Endorsing such an approach and pledging New Zealand’s lasting support to Tokelau, he went on to state that the country will help build the Territory’s critical infrastructure. For example, work began in recent months on extending an international submarine cable, which will vastly increase opportunities in education, health and international connectivity in Tokelau. Also noting the important role played by the Territory’s fisheries, he said New Zealand will work to ensure that they remain sustainably managed.
MAX HUFANEN RAI (Papua New Guinea), speaking also on behalf of Fiji, noting that the two countries are the traditional sponsors and penholders of the draft resolution on the Question of Tokelau, asked for the text to be considered for consensual adoption at a later stage in order to ensure that the major developments that have evolved since last June on that Question are adequately factored into the document. Expressing gratitude to New Zealand for its continued efforts in working closely on the draft resolution, he praised the constructive and diligent manner in which the administering Power of Tokelau discharges its obligations.
Spotlighting the strong democratic practice of the Ulu o Tokelau, he said the political leadership necessary to ensure the self-determination aspirations of Tokelau is owned and driven by the people of the Territory. Recalling the recent decision by its Parliament to take forward its self-determination aspirations, he said the Decolonization Committee must consider how best to play its role in that process. The Tokelau National Strategic Plan, which emphasizes quality health care and education, climate change and fisheries, is an important building block for the Territory’s sustainable development agenda, he said, reaffirming commitment to work towards a well-balanced, representative and consensus-based resolution on the Question of Tokelau.
Question of Western Sahara
GHALLA BAHIYA, speaker for the Conseil Régional of Dakhla-Oued Ed-Dahab in Western Sahara, noted the growing awareness among the international community of Morocco’s legitimate autonomy initiative for the Western Sahara. Among other things, she recalled the robust engagement of the people of Western Sahara in a recent Moroccan election, noting in particular that while women in the area continue to enjoy all their rights, those living in the Tindouf refugee camps continue to suffer abuses with the complicity of the host country.
M’HAMED ABBA, speaking for the Conseil Régional de Laâyoune-Sakia El Hamra, noting the historic election in which he was elected, said it confirms the attachment of the Territory of the Moroccan Sahara and the implementation of the new development model. Recalling its launch in 2015 with a sizable budget, he said it will enable the region to develop and become a gateway to Africa. Stressing the importance of a political solution based on compromise, he welcomed the relaunch of the political process under the aegis of the United Nations.
SIDI MOHAMED OMAR, speaking for the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro [Western Sahara] (Frente POLISARIO), recalling General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, condemned the illegal Moroccan occupation. Drawing attention to the serious violations of rights of the people of Western Sahara, he said that the Frente POLISARIO is the dominant political movement in the Territory and it enjoys the support of its people. The General Assembly should take steps to decolonize the Territory, he said, adding that the fundamental facts on the ground remain unchanged and continue to echo in the halls of the United Nations and beyond.
AHMED MOHAMED FALL, speaking for the Collective of Sahrawi Human Right Defenders in Western Sahara Codesa, noted that after many years and the deployment of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), the Question of Western Sahara remains one of decolonization for the Special Committee’s consideration. Over the decades, the Saharawi people have been subjected to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Citing the killing of civilians with drones and lethal weapons and the arrest of human rights defenders in the occupied part of Western Sahara, he urged the Security Council and the United Nations to settle the question of the Western Sahara as soon as possible.
AGRON PALI, noting the serious violations of human rights in the Tindouf camps, cited instances of rape and torture committed by POLISARIO officials with the blessing of the host country. That country’s army has used live ammunition against residents of the camps who were trying to escape to Morocco. Asking how any country can claim to defend human rights while allowing such violations to occur on its territory, he urged the international community to intervene to stop those atrocities and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to open an investigation into them.
TOURIA HMYENE, speaking for the l’Association pour la liberté des femmes séquestrées dans les camps de Tindouf, highlighting the suffering of residents in the Tindouf camp, pointed to daily forced disappearances, rapes, torture and other serious violations of human rights violations. Such atrocities are committed by police, she said, noting that they have the blessing of the authorities of the host country. Stressing that the host country should bear the responsibility to protect the residents of Tindouf camp, she said even the humanitarian aid provided by the United Nations and donor countries to the people of Tindouf is being stolen by the Polisario.
KHADIJA EZAOUI, speaking for the Forum des Compétences Sahraouies à Laâyoune, said that Western Sahara has become “one of the most popular trading platforms on the regional, continental and global scale” since the return of the Territory from Spain to Morocco in 1975. It has become an area of stability and prosperity, she said, adding that the transformation of the Moroccan Sahara occurred within the framework of interregional solidarity. She also pointed to developments such as the extension of the electricity grid, access to drinking water and the establishment of infrastructure, including roads.
ANDRES RODRIGUEZ, speaking for International Criminal Justice, said one of the Special Committee’s functions is to send visiting missions to determine whether the allegations of crimes in the Tindouf camps being listed by speakers today are true. If those charges are unfounded, those reporting them should no longer be allowed to take the floor before the United Nations, “because their claims are based on lies”. Against that backdrop, he also proposed drawing up a draft resolution urging the General Assembly to once and for all ensure the implementation of a self-determination referendum. “We cannot impose solutions through this Committee, that would be illegal,” he said, calling for a visiting mission to be deployed and for the people of Western Sahara to be able to decide their own fate.
KHALID BENDRISS, speaking for the Association for the Support of the Moroccan Autonomy Initiative, recalling Morocco’s 2007 autonomy initiative, said that proposal provides the population of the Moroccan Sahara with autonomy status with a clear division of power and elected legislative bodies. It also guarantees the population the right to manage their own political, economic and social affairs, while respecting the principle of Morocco’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is time for the international community to seriously consider that initiative, he stressed.
NAAMA SGHAYER, noting that the people of Sahara live in unbearable circumstances, said the last colony in the African continent is a disgrace for the international community. The United Nations must end this occupation and liberate its people from foreign occupation, he stressed, adding that the people of the Western Sahara are losing faith in the Committee. There are no half-freedoms, he said, adding: “Our patience is running out.”
AGAILA ABBA PETERSON, speaking for Western Sahara Multi Services, recalling the International Court of Justice advisory opinion regarding Western Sahara, said Morocco controls about 80 per cent of that Territory while the Frente POLISARIO control 20 per cent. To prevent inclusion, Morocco built a long wall in the demilitarization zone, she said, noting that it is constantly monitored by 160,000 heavily armed Moroccan soldiers. The “wall of shame” is the longest defense wall in the world and divides the people of the Territory and causes many casualties, she said.
TALEB ALI SALEM SAHRAWI, a political activist, recalling his childhood in the Tindouf refugee camps, asked the Special Committee: “Can you really change our reality?” Citing more than 70 Security Council resolutions stating that the Sahrawi people have the right to self-determination — and the same sentiment expressed in the Special Committee year after year — he said that has not been implemented on the ground, and after 30 years there is still no referendum on self-determination. Meanwhile, MINURSCO is the only United Nations mission without the right to monitor human rights. “How many generations of kids have to ask themselves the same questions I did?” he asked, expressing hope that someday things will change.
KAREN BAEZ said Morocco financially encourages Moroccans to live in the contested territories, resulting in a situation where Moroccans vastly outnumber Sahrawis. In addition, products sold in Europe labelled as Moroccan actually come from Western Sahara, in contravention of European Union laws. Indeed, the European Court of Justice in 2018 decided that Morocco and the Western Sahara are two distinct territories. Warning against the ongoing annexation and Moroccan occupation, she said it is time to allow the Sahrawis to determine their own fate.
ADRIENNE KINNE, speaking for Veterans for Peace, noting that she served as an Arabic linguist in the United States army, said that she was part of a delegation who traveled to Western Sahara in March at the invitation of human rights defenders. Recalling that she witnessed the siege of a family home by Moroccan occupation forces, she called for an impartial international investigation into the human rights abuses in that territory. Pointing to the round the clock surveillance and restriction of freedom of movement she saw in the Western Sahara, she said safety is a basic human right.
FATIMETU BACHIR JATRI EMHAMED, stressing that it is essential to stand together against the illegal occupation of Western Sahara, said the United Nations must end Morocco’s violations. “You are well aware of the human rights crisis,” she said, adding that countless protesters are arrested and tortured by the merciless occupation. Those who cry for freedom are put behind bars and mothers who hope for a free country for their children are systematically raped, she said.
MOHAMED AYAD SALECK, speaking for Khat Achahid, said he is one of the many victims of the POLISARIO prisons, representing the Sahrawis who have refused to remain in the Tindouf camps. Denouncing the grave violations of human rights occurring there, he cited instances of torture and called for a solution to be reached through negotiations with Morocco. Expressing support for the dream of a greater Moroccan Maghreb, he urged the international community to move forward with that country’s autonomy initiative.
MOHAMMED ELAISSAOUI, Organisation for Ending Human Rights Violations in the Tindouf Camps, said many terrorist attacks taking place in the Sahel region complicate international efforts to end the crisis in the Western Sahara. Outlining the rise of a senior leader of Da’esh who terrorized civilians in the region for years, he said that man was born in the Tindouf camps and lived with members of the POLISARIO, who militarized him, taught him hatred and supported his entry into Da’esh. Against the backdrop of such violent extremism, he voiced support for the Moroccan autonomy initiative as a viable and peaceful path forward.
JANET LENZ, speaking for Not Forgotten International, noting that the people of Western Sahara still have not had the referendum that was promised to them 21 years ago, asked: “Where are all those lists of Saharawi adults who had registered in good faith to vote for their own future?” Calling on the Organization to enable the Saharawi people to choose their own destiny, she added that their legal homeland is still in the hands of Morocco which exercises its brutal power.
CHRIS SASSI, stressing the importance of implementing the principle of self-determination, said the Committee must respect the importance of the principle of decolonization and place the Non-Self-Governing Territories on the path to self-determination in accordance with the Plan of Action of the Fourth International Decade to Eradicate Colonialism as well as United Nations resolutions. Calling on the international community to assume its responsibilities, he stressed the need for direct negotiations between the Frente POLISARIO and Morocco.
SAAD BENNANI listed various human rights violations being faced by civilians — especially women — in the Tindouf refugee camps. Also noting that modern-day slavery has become a common phenomenon in the camps according to many international observers, he went on to express concern about children in the camps who are falling victim to recruitment by POLISARIO armed groups, under the supervision of the host country. Those children are deprived of their basic human rights and will carry with them psychological traumas, he said, noting that it is high time for the international community — and the United Nations in particular — to hold the POLISARIO and the country that hosts the Tindouf camps accountable for such actions.
JOAQUÍN ALBERTO PÉREZ AYESTARÁN (Venezuela), voicing his country’s strong support for the brotherly Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination, regretted that even today those heroic people are denied their ability to exercise that right. Rejecting attempts by some States to address the Question of Western Sahara differently from other matters under the umbrella of decolonization, he called for efforts to uphold the 1991 ceasefire and avoid any steps that may heighten tensions. He urged the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General on Western Sahara, Staffan de Mistura, to reach a peaceful, mutually acceptable solution to the issue, and urged the parties to address the economic and social needs of the Sahrawi people — especially against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, he said, the Special Committee should urgently take steps to realize the legitimate rights of the people of Western Sahara.
JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua), calling for continued efforts to end colonial occupation, reaffirmed solidarity with all Non-Self-Governing Territories. The Sahrawi people have struggled against occupation for decades, he said, calling for a lasting political solution in accordance with United Nations resolutions. The negotiation process between the concerned parties must resume immediately, he stressed, adding respect for international law is crucial. Also stressing the need to urgently hold a free and fair referendum, he said that is crucial to end this colonial situation. Reaffirming his country’s commitment to “the universal willingness to leave no one behind”, he emphasized that the Sahrawi people have the same right to self-determination as all States.
NERISSA WILLIAMS (Grenada), recalling her own country’s decolonization, said that the relevant Assembly resolutions should continue to be the guiding principles of this process. Voicing support for the continuing political process in the Western Sahara, under the aegis of the Organization, she welcomed the efforts of the Secretary-General and his current Personal Envoy. Noting that Security Council resolution 2548 (2020) encourages the Envoy to build on the progress achieved, she expressed hope for a successful outcome. Also welcoming the Moroccan autonomy initiative, she noted the value of serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward.
VICTORIA MANGAY SULIMANI (Sierra Leone) called for a balanced and thorough assessment of the situation in each of the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories, noting their uniqueness and the need for each territory to be handled on a case-by case-basis. On the Question of Western Sahara, she shared the view that the momentum built during the two Geneva round-table meetings — which witnessed the participation of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the POLISARIO — should be maintained in the same format and in accordance with Security Council resolution 2602 (2021). Noting that enhanced cooperation between member States of the Arab Maghreb Union will go a long way in trying to achieve a peaceful settlement of this long-standing dispute, she voiced support for the Moroccan autonomy initiative — which is in compliance with applicable international laws — and commended Morocco’s human rights actions, as well as its efforts to fight COVID-19 in the Western Sahara.
KARLITO NUNES (Timor-Leste) said Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa that remains a Non-Self-Governing Territory. “As we have achieved our right to self-determination and independence […] we believe that this Special Committee can also contribute much to help the people of the Western Sahara to enjoy their inalienable right to self-determination and independence,” he said, referring to Timor-Leste’s own history. The only viable, realistic and enduring solution to the decolonization of Western Sahara is one that fully respects the sovereign will of the Saharawi people to determine their own future through a free and fair referendum on self-determination, he said, joining other speakers in calling for the acceleration of the decolonization process under the supervision of the United Nations.
GULED ABDO MOHAMMED (Ethiopia), noting that his country was one of the original members of the Decolonization Committee, expressed support for peaceful resolutions to all the outstanding questions under its consideration. Stressing the importance of implementing relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly with regard to Western Sahara, he commended the ceasefire in that Territory and called on all parties to respect their commitment to its full implementation. Also echoing the Secretary-General’s call for the concerned parties to engage in good faith in the political process, he requested that MINURSO and the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy reactivate efforts to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution.
MARIO ADOLFO BÚCARO FLORES, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, welcomed Morocco’s efforts for a political solution in Western Sahara, adding that the autonomy initiative put forward by that country in 2007 is a realistic and credible step forward to resolving the situation in that Territory. Stressing the importance of national sovereignty, he said that resolving this issue is necessary not only for the benefit of the population of Western Sahara but also for the stability, security and integration of the Maghreb region.
MOHAMMAD REZA SAHRAEI (Iran), spotlighting the “unambiguous” provisions of the United Nations Charter guaranteeing people around the globe the right to self-determination, affirmed that the Sahrawi people must also enjoy that right. In that regard, he voiced support for United Nations-sponsored negotiations between the parties, without any preconditions and in good faith.
KELVER DWIGHT DARROUX (Dominica) expressed support for the United Nations involvement in the political process in Western Sahara, aimed at reaching a realistic, practicable, mutually acceptable solution to the dispute. Reaffirming the country’s support for the Morocco Autonomy Plan, he commended the Government of Morocco’s efforts to develop the Sahara, which has resulted in improved living standards and broader opportunities for inhabitants of the southern provinces. Indeed, that has been evident in improved infrastructure and advancements in health care, education and housing.
EDGAR SISA (Botswana) expressed concern that 46 years after the landmark 1975 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice and 30 years since the Sahrawi people were promised a referendum, their self-determination remains elusive. Noting that unilateral obstructive actions resulted in the collapse of the 1991 ceasefire on 13 November 2020, he pointed to long-standing violations, an escalation of military hostilities and attacks on civilians and human rights activists. Calling on parties to cooperate with the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara and resume substantive negotiations, he called for the protection of the political, economic, social, and cultural rights of the Sahrawi people. Encouraging the Committee to undertake a visiting mission to Western Sahara, he noted that the last one was conducted in 1975. “After three decades of trusting the United Nations to deliver their right to self-determination, the Sahrawi people deserve to see progress,” he said, also stressing the role of the African Union, whose active involvement will consolidate the process of decolonizing Western Sahara.
CHEIKH NIANG (Senegal) reiterated its support for a realistic, just, enduring and mutually acceptable solution to the question of Western Sahara, on the basis of Security Council resolutions. In that context, he expressed the view that the Moroccan autonomy initiative remains the appropriate framework to move forward. Citing progress on human rights and democracy — as well as efforts to bolster economic and social development in the Western Sahara — he said those are all testaments to Morocco’s commitment to the region. Recalling that Senegal has established a consulate in the Territory, he urged the parties to continue to engage in negotiations in the spirit of compromise, and welcomed recent Moroccan elections held with the significant participation of the people of Western Sahara, who were also able to elect their own leaders.
MOHANNAD ADNAN MOUSA SHADDAD (Jordan), drawing attention to longstanding brotherly cooperation between his country and Morocco, joined other speakers in commending the latter’s efforts to improve development and the well-being of the region’s inhabitants.
MATHU JOYINI (South Africa), noting that 2023 will mark 60 years since Western Sahara was placed on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, added that even after the Council mandated the holding of a referendum, the people of Western Sahara remain deprived of their fundamental freedom. Reaffirming support for their right to self-determination, he called on the Special Committee to assume its responsibilities by ensuring the protection of their political, social and cultural rights. Also urging the Committee to assign a visiting mission to that Territory to obtain first-hand information, he added that the Council must give consideration to a visit to that Territory as well. Calling on the international community to support the efforts of the African Union to resolve this matter, he added that the Moroccan autonomy plan is a unilateral initiative which assumes that Western Sahara is part of that country.
SEYDOU SINKA (Burkina Faso), reaffirming support for the political process under way under the aegis of the United Nations, which aims to reach a realistic political solution, pointed to the two round tables that successfully brought together various stakeholders. Welcoming the appointment of the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, he encouraged the Envoy to resume the round-table process and echoed the Council’s request to all stakeholders to remain committed to this process. Expressing support for the Moroccan autonomy initiative, he cited Council resolution 2602 (2021), stressing that a political solution requires increased cooperation among the States of the Maghreb.
HELENA NDAPEWA KUZEE (Namibia) said that while countries such as her own have benefited from the United Nations work on decolonization, all peoples deserve the same rights. She expressed concern that despite the vast number of resources invested in MINURSO’s deployment since 1991, the Mission’s primary function — to hold a self-determination referendum — has not yet been achieved. As a current member of the African Union Peace and Security Council, Namibia encourages the new Special Envoy to work closely with the bloc and urges the United Nations more broadly not to shy away from the question of Western Sahara. In that regard, she called for the Organization to deploy a long-awaited visiting mission to the Territory, “as this will move us away from the abstract” and help paint a more concrete picture of the reality on the ground.
MOHAMED ENNADIR LARBAOUI (Algeria) said that the inertia in decolonizing the last colony in Africa has increased tensions in the region and caused a “feeling of defeat” among the Sahrawi people. Citing various United Nations resolutions that upheld the criteria for decolonization of Western Sahara, he highlighted the vital role of the right to self-determination and stressed that the Sahrawi must be free to exercise it. The colonial fait accompli which was imposed on the Sahrawi with the help of certain external parties is a violation of international law, he stressed, adding: “We’re dealing with the annexation of a territory and hegemony imposed on a people by force.” Stressing that a referendum must be held, he said that MINURSO is incapable of monitoring the human rights situation in the Sahrawi territory as it is the only Mission that does not have any authority to monitor human rights. His country will continue to assist the Sahrawi people, he said, noting that UNHCR has welcomed Algeria’s efforts.
ABDULRAHMAN HASAN YAHYA AL-BARATI (Yemen) expressed support for the democratic efforts of the brotherly country of Morocco in the Sahara region, and rejected all attempts to violate that country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
DARLINGTON MASHOKO KADYAUTUMBE (Zimbabwe) said his country sympathizes and empathizes with all people being denied their right to self-determination, and expresses its unwavering support to all people struggling for it. The Security Council should take up its responsibility on the issue of decolonization and redouble its efforts to find peaceful and lasting solutions to the decolonization of all the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories, he stressed, voicing his country’s longstanding and unequivocal position that Western Sahara remains one such territory. In that context, he urged the Special Committee to take concrete steps towards ensuring that the people of Western Sahara are afforded their deserved opportunity to determine their own destiny without let or hindrance. “The Saharawi people have been patiently waiting for the long-promised referendum on self-determination,” he said, citing Security Council resolution 2602 (2021) and supporting its call for the resumption of the political process with an eye towards a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution.
OMAR HILALE (Morocco), stressing “the Moroccan nature of the Sahara”, said that is confirmed legally and historically, as well as internationally recognized, including through repeated acknowledgements today. Reaffirming support for the United Nations plan for the political, realistic and pragmatic resolution of this issue, he said his country will implement the steps enshrined in the four most recent resolutions of the Security Council. Turning to the Moroccan autonomy initiative, he said it enjoys ever-expanding support from many countries. It is the only credible and serious solution that will bring together Arab and African States, he said, adding that the Sahara is a region of calm and stability. Its residents enjoy all their rights as well as social and economic development because of their status as part of the Moroccan territory. Despite the lies of other parties, there are no wars or conflicts in the Moroccan Sahara, he said, noting that it hosts international conferences, tourism and continental sports events and meetings.
Stressing that the population of the Moroccan Sahara enjoys all civil and political rights, including those of freedom of movement and assembly, he recalled their political and electoral participation in the recent regional elections of September 2021. Algeria undermines the territorial integrity of his country, he said, adding that Algeria is the primary party responsible for this conflict. The Council has called on Algeria to participate in further roundtables and cooperate with the Secretary-General’s Envoy, he said, adding that the country’s refusal to participate in the roundtables after the first two is a violation of international norms.
Rights of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Algeria, said Morocco’s delegate was speaking about a subject that was beyond the matters under consideration, instead of having a responsible debate on the subject of the day. The Moroccan delegate acts as if his solution is the only one and there can be no other, he said, adding that this is a clear negation of the United Nations resolutions as well as the Special Committee’s mission.
Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Morocco said that the Sahara is and will remain Moroccan. Algeria’s delegate is carrying out intellectual terrorism, he said, adding that countries that spoke today are not for or against Algeria; they are on the side of international political and legal processes. Algeria has destabilized the Maghreb, violated the ceasefire and now says it is not a stakeholder, he said, adding that the country is responsible for various human rights violations.
Taking the floor again, Algeria’s delegate called the statement by the representative of Morocco a diversion and part of that country’s strategy of “bilateralizing a conflict” that is actually a decolonization issue.
Morocco’s representative responded that while Algeria’s representative is talking of decolonization, the country is responsible for the Algerian occupation of people in the camps which are like open air prisons.
Also delivering statements on the question of Western Sahara were representatives of Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Chile, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Gabon, Dominican Republic, Bahrain, Angola, Saudi Arabia, Guinea, Benin, Gambia, Djibouti, Paraguay, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Kuwait, Liberia and Comoros.
Question of Bermuda
KATHY LYNN SIMMONS, Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform of Bermuda, cited the Territory’s 53 years of productive constitutional democracy and self-government, noting that Bermuda is by any measure an advanced and mature society that enjoys limited engagement from its administering Power, the United Kingdom. However, she said, when the United Kingdom has involved itself in Bermuda’s affairs, such actions have often undercut the Territory’s wishes and stifled it growth. Fault lines emerge routinely when the expressed will of Bermuda’s people is at odds with the will of the United Kingdom, even as the island lacks any say or vote in the United Kingdom’s Parliament.
Citing recent tensions, she said Bermuda embraces without reservation the right of its people to self-determination. However, she shared the General Assembly’s concern that more than 60 years after the adoption of the Declaration, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain. Bermuda recalls the visiting mission sent to the Territory and takes note of a 2021 Assembly resolution stressing the importance of the Bermuda Independence Commission, and it intends to build on the latter’s recommendations in the areas of constitutional reform and self-determination. Bermuda also plans to examine the three options for self-determination identified by that Commission, which stand in contrast to the options previously presented by the United Kingdom. “We need a new arrangement with the United Kingdom,” she stressed, calling for a more equal relationship with that country, underpinned by constitutional reform and the removal of all vestiges of colonialism.
Question of British Virgin Islands
NATALIO WHEATLEY, Premier and Minister of Finance of the British Virgin Islands, noted that on 8 June, the United Kingdom announced that its Government would not partially suspend the British Virgin Islands constitution and has agreed to a proposal by the Government of National Unity to implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry’s report and other reforms. Calling this a welcome decision, he said his Government will work closely and in the spirit of partnership with the United Kingdom to make implementation a success. While it is not ideal for the United Kingdom Government to hold an order on reserve that would partially suspend the constitution if it assesses that implementation is not proceeding satisfactorily, his Government is forging ahead with delivering the reforms.
This is the optimal approach, he said, noting that it is in the best interests of the people of the British Virgin Islands. The people of the Territory have a legitimate expectation that the representatives who they have elected to represent them will do so with integrity, he said, reaffirming commitment to fulfilling that expectation. The goal is to transform the British Virgin Islands into a model democracy, he said, noting that the Government is working closely with the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s office in Barbados as well as various agencies on several issues relating to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as well as pandemic recovery.
ELIEZER BENITO WHEATLEY, petitioner, said the British Virgin Islands now has the chance to move forward on the path of self-government. An important feature of the ongoing reform process is the constitutional review that will shortly be launched, and which will put forward a mechanism for the critical transfer of governance powers — meaning that the next constitution will likely include a date for the Territory’s change. Noting that the review process will provide the people of the British Virgin Islands a chance to decide when such a transition of power to the local executive arm of government will take place, he declared: “This reform must proceed swiftly to embed the reforms in society” that are needed for such a transition.
Mr. SPENCER (Antigua and Barbuda) said the question of the British Virgin Islands is of great concern to her country, which is a neighbour, and which remains deeply concerned about the continued presence of colonial shackles in the Caribbean region. Describing some of the proposed reforms on the British Virgin Islands as counterproductive, she said the people of the Territory should have the autonomy to resolve any problems they face. Moreover, they should have a Government that transcends political parties and has the best interest of the people at heart, she said.
Ms. WILLIAMS (Grenada) reiterated the firm support of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States for the political and socioeconomic advancement of Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories. Stressing the importance of improving governance in the British Virgin Islands, she supported its people’s aspirations and said the historical responsibility of fulfilling those aspirations must rest on the shoulders of the people themselves.
Question of French Polynesia
ENGEL RAYGADAS, Deputy Delegate for International Affairs of French Polynesia, said the Territory has been building its autonomy for over 40 years. Noting that Article 1 of the Organic Law of 2004 on the self-government of French Polynesia described the Territory as being freely and democratically governed, he said that while French Polynesia is not “fully self-governing”, it nevertheless takes its development and future in its own hands, with general elections held every five years. He is therefore perplexed by the assessment — conducted by an independent consultant outside both French Polynesia and the United Nations — that the Territory does not meet the required levels of self-government, which is an insult to French Polynesia’s history and Government. Urging the United Nations to reconsider its view of that assessment, he spotlighted the Territory’s engagement in the upcoming United Nations Oceans Conference as an example of its political maturity and its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals.
CARLYLE CORBIN, speaking for the Dependency Studies Project, expressing disappointment about decolonization resolutions adopted without accountability for their execution, said the Question of French Polynesia illustrates this. The administrative autonomy exercised by the Territory rather than the requisite political autonomy does not constitute the full measure of self-government under Chapter 11 of the United Nations Charter, he said. Such territorial arrangements have always been recognized as preparatory to full self-government, not the embodiment of it, he said, adding that in-depth examination of these points is limited because no information has been transmitted to the United Nations by the administering Power. Also pointing out that the Special Committee’s work methods do not provide for detailed analysis of the intricacies of these dependency arrangements, he expressed regret that the debate is relegated to “the expression of competing opinions”.
* 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).