Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

The Role of the Decolonization Committee of the United Nations Organization in the Struggle against Portuguese Colonialism in Africa: 1961-1974

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

The Role of the Decolonization Committee of the United Nations Organization in the Struggle against Portuguese Colonialism in Africa: 1961-1974

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT:

In 1960, the United Nations Organization adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, in which was established the right to selfdetermination and independence of non-self-governing territories. In order to implement these principles was created in 1961 the Special Committee on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, widely known as Decolonization Committee. Since the beginning of its activities, the Decolonization Committee elected the Portuguese colonialism as one of its main concerns. As the Portuguese government, until 1974, did not recognize its legitimacy, the Committee turned its attention to the national liberation movements. The relationship between the Decolonization Committee and the national liberation movements of Portuguese colonies was touched by several important moments. The Committee became a stage in which the national liberation movements developed a diplomatic struggle against the Portuguese colonial domination.

Background

In the fifteenth century, Portugal began a process of extending the territories under its control, a process through which it achieved dominance over territories geographically spread out, and with which it maintained distinct relationships. Later on, in the nineteenth century, after Brazilian independence in 1822, the Portuguese colonization turned over to African continent to establish a more effective dominion. The pursuit of geographic delimitation and military control over the population shaped what is known as Portuguese Third Empire.

The existence of the Portuguese Third Empire was partially coincident with the Estado Novo (New State) regime established from 1926 onwards, when, in the aftermath of a coup d'état, the Portuguese First Republic was overthrown. The Estado Novo, stressing a colonial ideology in which the idea of Portuguese historical mission to colonize and civilize had a prominent place, carried out a tenacious resistance to decolonization. Such resistance was expressed in the use of military repression from 1961 onward against the aspirations of the national liberation movements, which, since the end of the fifties, started to emerge in the Portuguese African colonies. It was only after the overthrow of the Estado Novo on 25 April 1974 that a political solution was implemented that answered to the demands of national liberation movements for the independence of Portuguese colonies, which took place during 1975.

One of the fields that has recently had a major increase in Portuguese historiography is Decolonization Studies. Some works of reflection devoted to the subject have stressed Portuguese resistance to decolonization, demands of national liberation movements and internal and external pressure against the Estado Novo regime. Notwithstanding their unquestionable scientific value, these works disregard the efforts developed by the national liberation movements of Portuguese colonies in supranational institutions such as the United Nations Organization (UN). The limited reflection concerning this issue has been almost restricted to analysis of the main bodies: the Security Council and the General Assembly and their condemnations of Portuguese refusal to recognize the right to self-determination and independence. Neither has the available bibliography approached the circumstances in which the UN became the scenario of a diplomatic campaign developed by the national liberation movements.

Since the subject is an area practically unknown, in this paper, I intend to approach the diplomatic activity of these movements at the UN, particularly, in the Decolonization Committee. Established in 1961, the Decolonization Committee quickly became the main body on issues related to non-self-governing territories. Being a master of non-self-governing territories, Portugal was an inevitable target. By the time it was accepted as UN member in 1955, the General Secretary questioned whether the Portuguese government had territories that could be qualified as "non-self-governing". …

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