The Special Committee on Decolonization. (System Watch)

By Tanoh-Boutchoue, Bernard | UN Chronicle, December 2001 | Go to article overview

The Special Committee on Decolonization. (System Watch)


Tanoh-Boutchoue, Bernard, UN Chronicle


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--held a seminar from 23 to 25 May 2001 in Havana, Cuba, to review the political, economic and social conditions in the small island Non-Self-Governing Territories. This fitted into the Special Committee's programme of holding annual seminars. It should be emphasized that this seminar was unique for several reasons; above all, it was the first seminar of the new millennium and the first of the new Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. As such, it took the world one step closer to the day when all forms of colonialism shall be eradicated forever.

The Special Committee is charged with bringing to self-government or independence 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories--American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, East Timor, Falkland/Malvinas Islands, Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, St. Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos, United States Virgin Islands and Western Sahara--most of which are small island States. They are what is left of a list of 72 Territories voluntarily submitted by United Nations Member States as non-self-governing, in accordance with Article 73 of the United Nations Charter. In doing so, the administering Powers accepted as a "sacred trust" to bring these Territories to self-government; they in turn accepted, by virtue of Article 73e, an oversight function for the United Nations in this process.

Over 80 Independent State emerged from this list, including most sub-Saharan African States. The Special Committee led the way, formalizing and extending the United Nations oversight function, often against significant resistance on the part of colonial regimes, until one by one these regimes relinquished their claims, allowing a new and more lust international political order to emerge from the ashes of colonialism. In the aftermath of this epic, transformative struggle, the Committee's current work--its responsibility towards the remaining 17 Territories--is sometimes, and wrongly, considered as negligible or anachronistic. While it is true that these Territories enjoy a situation that is vastly different from the 'tough' struggles for liberation of the 1960s and 1970s, numerous challenges remain with regard to their achievement of self-government, and the work of the Special Committee remains as relevant as ever.

One of the most important tools of the Special Committee in fulfilling its mandate is its annual regional seminars, held since 1990 in either the Pacific or Caribbean region, generally in May, during the Week of Solidarity with Peoples of All Colonial Territories Fighting for Freedom, Independence and Human Rights. The fact that they take place in the geographical and cultural regions where the Territories are located adds an important contextual dimension to the discussions. The seminars invite members of the Special Committee, other interested Member States, the administering Powers (France, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States), representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories, non-governmental and regional organizations, and specialized agencies, which allow for focused and frank discussions on decolonization and a lively exchange of views on a variety of issues of concern to the peoples of the Territories.

The Declaration of the Second Decade, contained in General Assembly resolution 55/146, represents a renewed commitment of the international community to resolve the remaining colonial situations. This seminar took place within the context of a new approach by the Special Committee to develop work plans with specific targets for the decolonization of the Territories on a case-by-case basis. This approach has been endorsed by the administering Powers in a climate of greater cooperation between them and the Special Committee. …

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