Special Committee on Decolonization – a waste of money?

On the 24th February, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, opened the 2011 session of the Special Committee on Decolonization, in New York and said, ” … Today, 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain on the list, awaiting constructive, results-oriented initiatives.  On a case-by-case basis, those Territories have to be given the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination in order to take the interests of their peoples fully into account.”

This sub-committee of the UN’s Fourth Committee was created in 1961 by the General assembly with the aim of monitoring implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (Resolution 1514 of 1960) and to make recommendations on its application {1}.

The committee is more usually known as the C-24, although its current membership consists of diplomats from 29 countries with an interest in the decolonization process. The sub-committee no longer includes any of the ‘Administering Territories’, i.e. the old colonial powers, although France has ‘observer’ status {2}.

It should be remembered that over 50 years has now passed since the 1960 Resolution, and the C-24 has just entered its Third Decade, the Second Decade having drifted by with only East Timor gaining independence.

The question is then:  “Has the C-24 passed its sell by date”?

Ten of the sixteen non-self governing territories on the C-24’s list are administered by the United Kingdom which has long since abandoned its membership of the C-24 seeing it as outdated and unsympathetic to the modernisation of the UK’s relationship with its Overseas Territories. The United Staes has three territories on the list although a fourth is pushing to be returned to it. The US similarly pays no heed to the C-24. France, New Zealand and, nominally, Spain make up the rest of the administering countries.

The Western Sahara, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands are probably the most contentious territories still on the list. The Western Sahara is controlled and arguably occupied, by Morocco. Negotiations sponsored by the UN are now in their 8th round with little sign of a solution.

Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands have been granted almost total freedom by the UK in matters of self governance, almost to the point of them being independent in all but name. Their continued inclusion on the C-24 list appears to be more to do with the internal politics of the sub-committee than it does with realty. Every year the elected representatives of the Falkland Islands ask the C-24 to remove them from its list without effect. The Government representatives from Gibraltar have adopted a similar stance to the UK and the US in its dealing with the C-24 although the official Opposition makes a speech calling for Gibraltar’s de-listing.

So, the Second Decade managed to oversee the freedom of one non-self governing territory and the C-24 goes into its Third Decade with little support from any of the Administering Authorities and a history of inaction on those territories whose peoples overwhelmingly wish to remain as they are.

A sub-committee that proves itself unable to achieve its primary aims has to be a waste of money. And a waste of money is unacceptable in these constrained times. If all the C-24 has become is a forum for talk and no action, then a change is required.

{1} http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_Resolution_1514

{2} http://www.un.org/en/decolonization/comm24_2011.shtml

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