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CASTRIES, Saint Lucia, 12 May — The long-standing question of decolonizing Western Sahara, the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)* and Gibraltar took centre stage today, as the Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization entered its second day.

Held under the auspices of the Special Committee on Decolonization, the Seminar’s theme is “Advancement of the Non-Self-Governing Territories through the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and beyond”.  (For further information, see Press Release GA/COL/3355 of 11 May 2022).

Gavin Short, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), said his family have lived in the Territory for 173 years.  Describing the Falklands (Malvinas) as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom, he said they amply demonstrated their desire to retain the status quo in the referendum of March 2013, when 99.8 per cent of them voted by 92 per cent to do so.  The referendum was internationally observed to ensure the vote was free and fair, he added.

Joseph Bossano, former Chief Minister of Gibraltar, recalled the Special Committee’s affirmation in 1964 that the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples was fully applicable to Gibraltar, and its invitation to the United Kingdom and Spain to begin negotiations, in accordance with the Charter.  He also recalled that, at 25, he decided to campaign for the decolonization of Gibraltar and to oppose its being handed over to Spain.  Noting that 2022 is the thirtieth year in which he is addressing Member States in defence of the right of Gibraltar to self-determination, he said he did not anticipate it would take quite so long.  He went on to state that Gibraltar has been increasing its level of self-government, with Spain opposing it every inch of the way.  In spite of the 1713 Peace Treaty, under which it ceded the 4 square kilometre Rock of Gibraltar in perpetuity, Spain complains that the British later took an additional 1 km² of the isthmus, he pointed out.  Now, no one in Gibraltar supports a return to the Brussels negotiations or discussions of sovereignty between Spain and the United Kingdom, with or without Gibraltarian participation, he emphasized.

Sidi Mohamed Omar, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el-Hamra and Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), noted that the question of Western Sahara, the last Non-Self-Governing Territory in Africa, has been on the Special Committee’s agenda since December 1963, emphasizing that the main reason is very clear — Morocco’s continued illegal military occupation since 1975.  The situation of the Sahrawi people in the territories under illegal occupation has deteriorated due to the coronavirus pandemic at a time when the occupying State continues to intensify its repressive and colonial practices and policies, he said, citing the ongoing repression of Sahrawi civilians and human rights activists.  Morocco is also changing the Territory’s demographic nature through intensive and incentivised settlement policies, destruction of cultural heritage and plunder of natural resources, he said.  The only option is to defend the principles of international legality and to conclude the decolonization of Western Sahara through the free, genuine, and democratic expression of the sovereign will of the Sahrawi people in the exercise of their inalienable and non-negotiable right to self-determination and independence, he stressed.

Bahiya Ghalla, Western Sahara, giving a first-hand account of the latest developments in the Moroccan Sahara, said the momentum in favour of Morocco’s autonomy initiative is giving hope that a political solution to the regional dispute over the Sahara is closer than ever.  In a situation that has lasted for far too long, Morocco’s autonomy initiative receives broad support from Africa, the Arab world and Europe as the only option to end the regional dispute, she stressed, noting that the establishment of many consulates in the Moroccan Sahara attests to growing recognition of the initiative’s legitimacy.  She went on to describe herself as part of a generation of Moroccan women playing key roles in designing and implementing national development policies, in the framework of Morocco’s vision for gender equality as the foundation of a modern, democratic society.  The last elections, with a voter turnout of 66 per cent, were another milestone in the context of ambitious democratic reform, she said, pointing out that the election of young women like herself during that vote demonstrated the great strides made in strengthening gender equality and promoting women’s political participation at the local, regional, and national levels.  Underlining Morocco’s efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to ensure the resilience of its southern provinces, she said the Moroccan Sahara is emerging as an African regional economic hub.

Paula Vernet, expert, noted the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom and invited both to resume direct negotiations, bearing in mind the interests of the Malvinas inhabitants.  He added that the United Kingdom did not accept Argentina’s offer to help them during the COVID pandemic.

Spain’s representative said his country ceded Gibraltar to the United Kingdom in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht.  The United Kingdom expelled the Spaniards who inhabited Gibraltar at the time, he added, emphasizing that Spain has never consented to occupation of the isthmus.  The same can be said of the waters around Gibraltar and the suprajacent air space, he said.  Recalling that past regional seminars have appealed to Spain and the United Kingdom to hold talks on a definitive negotiated solution, he said they have reached bilateral agreements on Gibraltar in the framework of Brexit, with the ultimate objective of creating an area of shared prosperity encompassing the entire area of Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar.  The only solution that accords with United Nations doctrine on the decolonization of Gibraltar is bilateral negotiation between Spain and the United Kingdom, he reiterated.

Argentina’s representative said the Malvinas question is a special colonial situation involving a sovereignty dispute between his country and the United Kingdom.  In resolution 2065 (XX), he recalled, the General Assembly established that the way to end the colonial situation is through bilateral negotiations between the only two parties to the dispute, taking into account the interests of the Territory’s inhabitants.  Noting that the composition of its population is the result of colonization initiated by the United Kingdom in 1833, he emphasized that the illegitimate colonial legislation was designed from the beginning to preserve the “British character” of the Territory’s population and to make it difficult for the people of Argentina to settle on the islands.  Only four people born on the Argentine mainland resided on the Territory in 2016, he pointed out, stressing that the right to self-determination is not, therefore, applicable to the Malvinas question.  He went on to describe the 2013 referendum as a unilateral act by the United Kingdom, without legitimacy and recognition by the United Nations.  In 1966, the British Foreign Minister agreed to initiate sovereignty negotiations, a development formally communicated to the Secretary-General, he recalled.  The conflict of 1982 did not alter the nature of the dispute, he said, expressing Argentina’s willingness to resume negotiations.

Saint Lucia’s representative, noting the appointment of Staffan de Mistura as the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, welcomed his efforts to resume round-table consultations towards a lasting and mutually acceptable solution to the Western Sahara question.  He also welcomed Morocco’s autonomy initiative.

Côte d’Ivoire’s representative expressed his delegation’s full support for Morocco’s autonomy initiative, saying it considers the specificities of the region and is in conformity with international law, the United Nations Charter and the relevant resolutions.

Papua New Guinea’s representative, stressing the urgent need for a mutually agreed solution to the Western Sahara question, said inclusive dialogue is an important tool for building bridges.  He went on to state that Morocco’s autonomy initiative is worthy, based on political reality and compromise, noting growing international support for it as a credible proposal.

Grenada’s representative welcomed the appointment of the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy and Morocco’s autonomy initiative.

Sierra Leone’s representative pointed out that Security Council resolution 2602 (2021) calls upon Morocco, Frente Polisario, Algeria and Mauritania to cooperate more fully with each other.  He expressed support for Morocco’s autonomy initiative.

Indonesia’s representative welcomed the appointment of the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy.  On the Falklands (Malvinas), he said a peaceful and negotiated settlement on the issues between the two Governments concerned is the best way forward.

Cuba’s representative said the dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom must be settled through negotiations, adding that her delegation opposes the dispatch of a visiting mission to the Malvinas.

Syria’s representative said a peaceful negotiated solution is the only way to end the dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom.  Expressing support for Argentina’s legitimate rights over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, she called upon the United Kingdom to engage in dialogue.

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda welcomed the efforts of the new Personal Envoy to resume the round-table process, including during his first visit to the region in January.  Noting efforts to free Latin America of colonialism and colonies, he called upon Argentina and the United Kingdom to settle their sovereign dispute over the Falklands (Malvinas).

Bolivia’s representative emphasized that the Malvinas question is not only a bilateral issue, but a regional and global one.  Expressing solidarity with Argentina, he stressed that the only way forward is to resume negotiations.  Bolivia opposes a visiting mission, he added.

Chile’s representative, cautioning against unilateral decisions, expressed doubt over the Special Committee’s ability to conduct a visiting mission due to the existing sovereignty dispute.

Timor-Leste’s representative expressed support for the inalienable rights of the Sahrawi people, while welcoming the Personal Envoy’s appointment.  He went on to urge Argentina and the United Kingdom to continue dialogue.

Dominica’s representative, stressing the importance of United Nations involvement in the quest for a solution to the Western Sahara question, reaffirmed her delegation’s support for Morocco’s autonomy plan and commended its efforts in developing the Territory.

Venezuela’s representative expressed support for Argentina and appealed to the United Kingdom to resume direct negotiations, while describing a visiting mission to the Malvinas as inappropriate.  Expressing regret that the Sahrawi people have not been able to exercise their right to self-determination, he said the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has not fully discharged its mandate.  There is a need to reactivate the political process for Western Sahara, he added, asking the Secretary-General to consider sending a visiting mission to the Territory to obtain information on the ground.

Algeria’s representative, stressing that Frente Polisario is the sole representative of the Sahrawi people, clarified that his country is not a party to the conflict, but an observer alongside.  Rejecting Morocco’s attempt to change the nature of the conflict, he recalled that Western Sahara has remained on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories since 1963 and urged the Special Committee to use all its tools, including visiting missions.

Angola’s representative expressed concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation resulting from the conflict and the pandemic.

Belize’s representative expressed concern that the legitimate aspirations of the Sahrawi people for self-determination and independence have been thwarted and obstructed for almost 50 years.  Instead of implementation of the settlement plan accepted by all parties and approved by the Security Council, conflict has flared up once again, he noted.

Botswana’s representative expressed regret that Western Sahara remains Africa’s only colony, urging respect for the inalienable rights of the Sahrawi people.  A visiting mission to the Territory is long overdue, he emphasized.

Brazil’s representative, calling for application of the principle of territorial integrity, urged the United Kingdom to cease unilateral acts of exploration and exploitation of natural resources.  It should also refrain from promoting military exercises in an area whose sovereignty is under dispute, he said, stressing that the South Atlantic is a zone of peace and cooperation.

The Gambia’s representative joined others in welcoming the appointment of the Personal Envoy and expressed his delegation’s full support for Morocco’s full sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Mexico’s representative expressed support for Argentina’s legitimate right to the Malvinas, urging the United Kingdom to resume negotiations on a mutually acceptable solution to their sovereignty dispute and to refrain from unilateral modification of the Territory.  On Western Sahara, he highlighted the importance of listening to the will of the people and their need to exercise their right to self-determination.

Namibia’s representative expressed sympathy with those denied their right to self-determination, including the Sahrawi people, emphasizing that Africa’s decolonization will not be complete until the people of Western Sahara decide their future status through a free and fair referendum.

Morocco’s representative, noting that Ms. Bahiya represents thousands of people in Moroccan Sahara, condemned the statement by Algeria’s delegate saying his country is not a party to the conflict.  “That’s news to me,” he said, wondering why Algeria negotiates on behalf of Frente Polisario and campaigns for them.  He went on to urge Algeria to allow the people of Kabyle to choose their own future.

Mr. Omar said any delegation representing “another Sahara” has come to the wrong place because the Special Committee only considers the question of Western Sahara.

Algeria’s representative said Morocco is masking the truth and distorting United Nations resolutions.

Morocco’s representative rejected the accusation of distorting United Nations documents, saying he could forward his statement to his Algerian counterpart.  He went on to ask why the border between the two countries remains closed.

Algeria’s representative said Morocco ignores historical data, reminding his counterpart that Algiers closed the border because weapons and drugs were crossing into his country.

Mr. Omar said it was Morocco that divided Western Sahara, asking Rabat to allow the Special Committee to visit Western Sahara.

Morocco’s representative said Algeria is impoverishing its own population by arming the Frente Polisario.

Cuba’s representative affirmed its support for the people of Western Sahara and their right to self-determination.

Bolivia’s representative reiterated the essential need for dialogue.

At the session’s outset, the Seminar heard comments from speakers left over from the previous day’s discussion on the situation in New Caledonia.

Roch Wamytan, expert, said that, with 56 per cent of voters boycotting the third referendum amid the impacts of COVID-19, New Caledonia is at a political impasse.

Julien Boanemoi, expert, said New Caledonia has not been spared the pandemic’s effects, describing the difficulties of life and access to services under COVID-induced restrictions.

Naia Wateou, expert, noted that all communities, not only the Kanaks, faced challenges, emphasizing that the virus does not play politics.  She said the third referendum was conducted under permissible conditions, and the call for a boycott was a political decision.

France’s representative echoed that speaker, saying her country is ready to restart consultations based on the Nouméa Accord and to put everything on the table.

Mike Forrest, member of the government of New Caledonia, recalled that the participation rates during the first two referendums in 2018 and 2020 exceeded 80 per cent, but was only 43 per cent in 2021.  COVID’s impact has really changed life in New Caledonia, he emphasized.

The Seminar also from heard from Simona Marinescu, United Nations Resident Coordinator based in Samoa, and Dale Alexander, Chief of the Caribbean Knowledge Management Centre of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), who made pre-recorded video presentations on the United Nations system’s role in efforts to assist the Territories.

In 1960, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, subsequently proclaiming the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (1990 to 2000), as well as the Second and Third International Decades (2001-2010 and 2011-2020).  More than 80 former colonies have gained their independence since the creation of the United Nations, but 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain under the purview of the 29-member organ, which is 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.

The Non-Self-Governing Territories are American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), French Polynesia, Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands and Western Sahara.  The administering Powers are France, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States.

The Seminar will reconvene on Friday, 13 May, to conclude its work.

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* 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).

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