United Nations Must Support Rights of Indigenous Peoples over Those of Colonizers, Delegate Stresses, as Fourth Committee Begins General Debate

Many Speakers Focus on Falklands (Malvinas), Puerto Rico, Western Sahara Questions

Describing decolonization as a complex issue spanning multiple interests, a delegate emphasized today that the United Nations must support the rights of indigenous populations over those of colonizers, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) began its general debate on the issue.

Paraguay’s representative noted that 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories still could not exercise the right to self-determination, declaring: “Colonialism is one of the notable traces still in existence of a power structure and relationship anchored in the past.”

The Vice-Chair of the Special Committee on Decolonization highlighted the significant link between the decolonization process and the objectives set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  She emphasized the responsibility of the administering Powers to implement the Agenda in the Non-Self-Governing Territories on a case-by-case basis.

Many speakers highlighted the need for a resolution of the situation in Western Sahara.  Uruguay’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), reaffirmed all United Nations resolutions relating to that Territory, and expressed support for the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy in seeking a political solution that would provide for the self-determination of its people.  Regarding the Malvinas Islands, he emphasized that the Territory’s historic and legal circumstances excluded the possibility of a solution under the principle of self-determination, underlining UNASUR’s support for Argentina’s legitimate sovereign rights over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas.

Agreeing, El Salvador’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), recalled that participants in the bloc’s Summit at Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, had urged Argentina and the United Kingdom to resume negotiations towards a peaceful and definitive solution to the dispute between them.

Also calling for the two parties to resume, Brazil’s representative defended the application of the principle of territorial integrity, stressing that his country would not authorize the use of its ports and airports by vessels and aircraft heading to the Malvinas.  The Southern Atlantic was a zone of peace which remained free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, he affirmed.

Papua New Guinea’s representative stressed that, of the Non-Self-Governing Territories remaining in the Pacific region, the priority of his country’s Government was the self-determination of New Caledonia, Tokelau and French Polynesia.

In other business, the Committee approved the report of the Special Committee on Decolonization, 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.

Also speaking today were representatives of Trinidad and Tobago, Iran, Costa Rica, Grenada, Chile, Guatemala, Indonesia, Belize, Namibia, Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

Representatives of the United Kingdom and Argentina spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 October, to continue its debate on decolonization.

Introduction of Report

Beginning its annual general debate on decolonization issues today, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) had the following documents before it:  the report of the Secretary-General on information from Non‑Self-Governing Territories transmitted under Article 73 (e) of the Charter of the United Nations (document A/72/62); and the report 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 for 2017 (document A/72/23, chapters V and XIII, VI and XIII, chapters VII and XIII, chapters VIII, IX, X, XI and XIII,).

Also before the Committee was the report of the Secretary-General on “Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples by the specialized agencies and the international institutions associated with the United Nations” (document A/72/69); report of the Secretary-General on “Offers by Member States of study and training facilities for inhabitants of Non-Self-Governing Territories” (document A/72/66); report of the Secretary-General on the question of Western Sahara (document A/72/346); and the report of the Secretary-General on “The environmental, ecological, health and other impacts of the 30-year period of nuclear testing in French Polynesia” (document A/72/74).

Members also had before them requests for hearing by the Committee, submitted by petitioners from Non-Self-Governing Territories (documents A/C.4/72/2, A/C.4/72/3, A/C.4/72/4, A/C.4/72/5, A/C.4/72/6 and A/C.4/72/7).

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), Rapporteur 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, presented that body’s report (document A/72/23), saying it contained detailed information on activities regarding its agenda, as well as its recommendations in the form of draft resolutions.  It contained 13 chapters and 2 annexes on specific themes, including the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, and economic and other activities affecting the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories, among others.  He recalled that, during its substantive session in June, the Special Committee had continued to analyse developments in the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories.  During the Caribbean Regional Seminar, participants had engaged in debate over the role to be played by the Special Committee as well as ways to advance the decolonization agenda.

ANAYANSI RODRÍGUEZ CAMEJO (Cuba), Vice-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, reported that the body had enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the Non-Self-Governing Territories through two recent events.  The first event was the regional seminar held last May in the Caribbean, during which participants had examined implementation of the 2030 Agenda in the Non-Self-Governing Territories, taking their unique economic situations into account.  She highlighted the significant link between the decolonization process and the objectives set out in the 2030 Agenda, emphasizing the responsibility of the administering Powers to implement the development agenda in the Non-Self-Governing Territories on a case-by-case basis.  A number of United Nations specialized entities had participated in the Seminar, she noted, adding that there had also been a discussion on how to make the Special Committee’s work more effective.

Recalling that the Special Committee’s formal session in June had featured the participation of Oscar Lopez Rivera, recently liberated from a United States prison, she said his participation in the session had been an extremely important event for the Special Committee, and his impassioned plea for independence for Puerto Rico had been noteworthy.  There had been a respectful and pro‑negotiation atmosphere during that session, which had led to important results, including on efforts to end military activities and close bases in the Non-Self-Governing Territories, she said.  The animated and fruitful discussions had allowed the Special Committee to study its future efforts in relation to each Territory, taking their particular circumstances into account.  All resolutions and decisions had been approved by consensus, she noted.  The Special Committee placed great importance on stepping up dialogue and increasing the active participation of the administering Powers within the Special Committee, she said, adding that the deployment of visiting missions was also an important means for examining the situation in the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Statements

HECTOR ENRIQUE JAIME CALDERÓN (El Salvador), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said many of the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories were geographically located in that region and the decolonization process was not yet complete.  In January, CELAC had held the Summit of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, where Member States had reiterated their commitment to ridding the region of colonialism and colonies, he recalled.  On the question of the Malvinas Islands, he reiterated the Community’s strong support for Argentina’s legitimate rights in that sovereignty dispute, recalling that participants at Punta Cana had urged Argentina and the United Kingdom to resume negotiations towards a peaceful and definitive solution to the dispute.

Turning to the question of Puerto Rico, he said 34 resolutions and decisions approved by consensus over the past 15 years reaffirmed the inalienable right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and independence.  The Community also remained concerned about the situation of the Turks and Caicos Islands, he said, emphasizing the need to ensure inclusive, democratic and representative governance in that Territory.  Special attention must be paid to key issues affecting small islands, such as the accelerating loss of territory due to rising sea levels resulting from climate change, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions and other natural hazards.

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) speaking on behalf of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), said colonialism violated the principles of the United Nations Charter and contravened the Organization’s ideal of universal peace.  With 17 Non‑Self-Governing Territories remaining around the world, it was unacceptable that the decolonization process was still incomplete in the twenty-first century, he emphasized.  It was the responsibility of Member States to intensify efforts to end colonialism in all its forms.  For its part, UNASUR would support ending the decolonization process on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the existence of “special and particular” colonial situations involving sovereignty disputes.  With respect to the question of the Malvinas Islands, its historic and legal circumstances excluded the possibility of a solution under the principle of self-determination, he said, underlining UNASUR’s support for Argentina’s legitimate sovereign rights and the region’s interest in seeing the resumption of negotiations between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom.

Turning to the question of Western Sahara, he reaffirmed all United Nations resolutions relating to that Territory and expressed support for the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy in seeking a political solution that would provide for the self-determination of its people.  In addition, he expressed solidarity with the inalienable right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and independence, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV).

Speaking in his national capacity, he called for a redoubling of efforts to eradicate colonialism in all Non-Self-Governing Territories.  On Western Sahara, he said Uruguay defended the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination, and also supported the Secretary-General’s efforts to move towards a resolution of that conflict.  Conversations between Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) should resume with the aim of a fair and mutually acceptable solution, he urged.  The colonial question of the Malvinas Islands was a sovereignty dispute and a peaceful negotiated solution was the way to bring it to an end.  Thus, it was fundamental for the United Kingdom and Argentina to resume talks, he said.

MAURO VIEIRA (Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said the bloc had recently reiterated its support for Argentina’s legitimate rights in the dispute over the Malvinas Islands.  That dispute should reach a resolution as soon as possible, in compliance with the relevant United Nations resolutions, as well as those of the Organization of American States (OAS).  MERCOSUR rejected any unilateral actions in the disputed area, he said, adding that the bloc’s member States stressed the need for dialogue in order to identify opportunities to create an atmosphere conducive to reopening negotiations on the sovereignty of the disputed areas.

Speaking in his national capacity, he reiterated Brazil’s strong, historic support for Argentina’s legitimate rights in the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas.  The principle of self-determination did not apply in the case of the Malvinas since the Territory’s British population were descended from those brought to the island under illegal occupation, he said.  Brazil defended the application of the principle of territorial integrity and called for the parties to come to the negotiating table, he added, stressing that his country would not authorize the use of its ports and airports by vessels and aircraft heading to the Malvinas.  The Southern Atlantic was a zone of peace which remained free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, he affirmed.

PENELOPE BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), recalling that the Special Committee had been instrumental to her country’s independence, said she remained concerned that 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories still did not have the right to self-determination.  Six of those Territories were located in the Caribbean region, a situation that continued to impede regional integration.  Trinidad and Tobago was committed to playing its part in eradicating colonialism, and as such, it maintained its support for the people of Western Sahara, supporting the call for continued negotiations without preconditions and in good faith to ensure self-determination for those people.  She urged all Member States to work towards the goal of eradicating colonialism.

ESHAGH AL HABIB (Iran), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said it was high time the international community actively engaged in the process of decolonization, with the United Nations and other relevant international organizations taking effective measures in that regard.  It was also incumbent upon administering Powers to abide by their Charter obligations to promote the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the peoples of Non Self-Governing Territories.  He expressed concern about the exploitation of natural resources by administering Powers, emphasizing that they should pay full compensation for any economic, social and cultural consequences of their occupation.  He went on to call for the full cooperation of administering Powers with the Special Committee’s visiting missions.

JUAN CARLOS MENDOZA-GARCÍA (Costa Rica), associating himself with CELAC, recalled that decolonization was one of the first achievements of the United Nations.  Costa Rica fully supported the mandate of the Special Committee, although it was concerning that 17 Territories were still unable fully to exercise their right to self-determination, which meant that efforts to relegate colonialism to the past had not yet come to fruition.  The Special Committee’s work was of extreme importance, particularly because its regional seminars and visiting missions to the Territories helped to shed light on their internal situations, he said.  Costa Rica had expressed its support for Argentina’s rights in the dispute over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, adding that Costa Rica had declared that its support in a number of regional and international forums.  He urged the parties to resume negotiations as soon as possible in order to find a resolution of the prolonged controversy.  Recent progress on that dispute was extremely valuable and demonstrated the importance of the bilateral efforts by the two parties.

JULIO CÉSAR ARRIOLA RAMÍREZ (Paraguay), associating himself with CELAC and MERCOSUR, declared:  “Colonialism is one of the notable traces still in existence of a power structure and relationship anchored in the past.”  Seventeen Non-Self-Governing Territories still could not exercise the right to self-determination, he said, adding that while his country recognized the complexity of the issue, which spanned multiple interests, the United Nations must, in doctrinal terms, support the rights of indigenous populations over those of colonizers.  There had been progress on decolonization, but it was important to recognize that the process went beyond governmental initiative and was part of a historic call for rights.

MS. WILLIAMS (Grenada) expressed solidarity with those countries recently affected by natural disasters.  Grenada supported the process seeking a just and lasting solution to the Western Sahara dispute.  In particular, Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) highlighted Morocco’s efforts to resolve the conflict, she noted, welcoming the Secretary-General’s new Personal Envoy.  Grenada also appreciated the regional elections that had taken place in Morocco, including the Sahara, in 2015 and 2016, she said, commending Morocco’s efforts to protect human rights.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) associated himself with CELAC, UNASUR and MERCOSUR, saying the work carried out by the General Assembly and the Special Committee had been successful and fruitful, although it was still unfinished.  Calling upon the administering Powers to adopt the necessary measures to ensure the swift decolonization of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, he expressed support for Argentina’s legitimate rights over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas.  Chile urged both parties to resume negotiations on a solution, in compliance with United Nations resolutions.  Chile welcomed the progress made by the Special Committee and the supporting work done by the Department of Public Information, he said, welcoming the fact that all six official United Nations languages were reflected on the United Nations decolonization website.

JORGE SKINER-KLÉE (Guatemala), associating himself with CELAC, applauded Argentina’s constant expressions of goodwill to resolve the dispute over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas through negotiation and dialogue.  In that regard, Guatemala called upon the United Kingdom to move towards a peaceful solution that would benefit both sides as well as the region.  Turning to Western Sahara, he said the parties must continue to develop a climate favourable to dialogue, emphasizing that solving that question was important not only for the Territory’s people, but also the wider Maghreb region.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), noting that 17 territories remained on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, said the United Nations decolonization agenda must remain focused.  All relevant bodies of the Organization — including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations regional commissions — must continue to provide technical assistance to the populations of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said, emphasizing the need to carry the decolonization process forward within United Nations frameworks on a case-by-case basis.  A “one-size-fits-all” approach could not and should not be pursued, he stressed.

LOIS. M. YOUNG (Belize) said decolonization today was proceeding, at best, “at a petty pace”.  At worst, it may very well be at a standstill.  The Non-Self-Governing Territories of the Caribbean were a reminder of unfinished business, she said, noting that the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency had quickly issued $21.5 million in payouts to Anguilla and to the Turks and Caicos in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria.  She went on to register her country’s concern for the “palliative treatment” by the United Nations of the Western Sahara question, emphasizing that the decolonization process must be imbued with urgency.  Hopefully, the appointment of the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy would quickly bring a peaceful and lasting solution that would fully respect the Sahrawi people’s inalienable right to self-determination, she said.

NEVILLE MELVIN GERTZE (Namibia) expressed hope that Morocco’s return to the African Union would help to bring the question of Western Sahara to a close.  Noting similarities between Western Sahara and his own country’s struggle for independence, he said it was hard to understand how one African country could keep refusing to implement United Nations resolutions it had agreed to do over the very clear and basic issue of holding a United Nations supervised referendum.  He called upon the Government of Morocco to implement the agreement to hold a referendum, emphasizing that finalizing the question of Western Sahara would be of economic benefit to the Sahel, greatly reduce fears of radicalization among the youth and the potential for war, and advance implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in both Morocco and Western Sahara.

DOUGLAS NICOMEDES ARCIA VIVAS (Venezuela), associating himself with CELAC and UNASUR, described colonialism as an affront to human dignity and in contradiction to the principles of the United Nations Charter.  Venezuela had lived through more than 200 years of a bloody struggle for independence and had always supported decolonization, he said, adding that urgent action must be taken to address the 17 Territories remaining on the United Nations list so that their respective peoples could freely exercise their will, including to opt for independence, on a case-by-case basis.  He called upon the administering Powers to fulfil their responsibilities under the Charter to ensure the well-being of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories while they remained under colonial status.  He noted that Oscar Lopez Rivera had managed to regain his freedom after 36 years, thanks to the efforts of many.  Venezuela had always advocated for his freedom, he said, adding that Mr. Lopez Rivera had struggled hard for peace and justice, yet the status of Puerto Rico remained in a shameful state that limited its opportunities for future development.  He called upon Member States to join the efforts of those who aspired to have the question of Puerto Rico included in the General Assembly agenda.  Venezuela reaffirmed its support for Argentina regarding the occupation of the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, he said, urging the two sides to resume negotiations.   Venezuela also reiterated its support for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, and hoped the African Union would be a fundamental actor in ending that colonial situation.  He also called for an end to the 50‑year‑long colonial occupation of the Palestinian territories, describing it as shameful and unacceptable.

MAX HUFANEN RAI (Papua New Guinea) said Member States must “walk the talk” on the universal protection and advancement of human rights.  Whether through plebiscites or negotiated political settlements, Papua New Guinea supported free and transparent self-determination, he said, emphasizing that, of the Non-Self-Governing Territories remaining in the Pacific region, his Government’s priority was the self-determination of New Caledonia, Tokelau and French Polynesia.  Stressing the “highly critical stage” of the situation in New Caledonia, he said a self-determination referendum would be held there in 2018 to decide the Territory’s future, he said, recalling that serious concerns identified by the 2014 United Nations visiting mission over the electoral process had been settled in advance of the vote.  As for the question of French Polynesia, he urged both sides to continue with peaceful dialogue.  Citing Tokelau as an exemplary case of decolonization, he encouraged the ongoing progress towards an amicable settlement between the people of Tokelau and New Zealand, the administering Power.

HUMBERTO RIVERO ROSARIO (Cuba), associating himself with CELAC, noted that 72 years after the founding of the United Nations, and 56 years since the Declaration, 17 Territories were still living through the tragedy of colonialism.  To those places must be added Palestine, whose people did not want the nightmare of occupation to go on for another 50 years.  Cuba defended the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination, he said, calling also for a negotiated, fair and definitive solution to the Malvinas question.  He went on to state that the dramatic humanitarian situation in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and the colonial government’s response, were cause for indignation, emphasizing that there was no doubt about Puerto Rico’s colonial status.

DIEGO FERNANDO MOREJÓN PAZMIÑO (Ecuador), associating himself with CELAC and UNASUR, said the administering Powers must listen to the voices of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.  The international community was currently observing the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, which meant that vital work still remained to be done after 30 years.  The right to self-determination was recognized in the United Nations Charter, he said, emphasizing the importance of reviewing the work done at the regional seminars, which produced valuable information that could help inform fair solutions.  Among the pending colonization situations to which Ecuador wished to draw attention were the disputes involving the Malvinas, Western Sahara and Puerto Rico, he said, stressing also that his country supported all constructive negotiations that could help bring about a solution to the question of Gibraltar.

JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua), associating himself with CELAC, said his country, which had fought for national liberation over many years, hoped to see better cooperation on the part of colonial Powers in the work of the Special Committee.  On the Malvinas question, he said the United Kingdom must immediately abide by United Nations resolutions and start direct negotiations with Argentina.  The current situation in Puerto Rico underscored the urgent need to correct the Territory’s colonial situation, he said, emphasizing that the urgency of decolonization was reflected in Puerto Rico’s lack of real options to face up to natural disasters, its serious economic indebtedness and the right of its people to development, in line with the 2030 Agenda.

Right of Reply

The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said her country was very clear about the sovereignty and right to self-determination of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), South Georgia Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas.  There could, therefore, be no dialogue on sovereignty unless the people of the Falkland Islands so wished, he/she emphasized.  They did not wish to have dialogue on sovereignty, which Argentina should respect, he/she added, noting that Argentina continued to act in ways that contravened the United Nations Charter.  The United Kingdom was clear about the historic events involving the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) and had never sent migrants to the Territory, he stressed, pointing out that all those who had migrated there had done so of their own accord.

The representative of Argentina recalled that the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas were an integral part of the national Argentine territory illegally occupied by the United Kingdom.  That illegal occupation had led the United Nations to adopt a number of resolutions calling upon Argentina and the United Kingdom to resume negotiations to find a lasting solution to the dispute.  The Government of Argentina regretted that the British Government was twisting historical facts with the aim of hiding the occupation, he said, underlining that a resolution of the situation would not result from a referendum manipulated by the United Kingdom.