24 February 2006

With 16 Territories Still to Decide Future, United Nations Work for Decolonization Remains Unfinished, Says Deputy Secretary-General in New York Remarks

NEW YORK, 23 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette's remarks at the opening of the 2006 session of the Special Committee in Decolonization, in New York, 23 February:

Over the years, more than 80 million people around the world have exercised their right of self-determination under UN auspices.  This is a record that all of us at the United Nations can be justifiably proud of.  Yet -- with 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories still to decide their future -- our work for decolonization remains unfinished.

This is why, on behalf of the Secretary-General, I am pleased to join the Special Committee today, as it begins its new session.  The Committee's work to promote the ideals of self-determination, enshrined in the 1960 Declaration on Decolonization, forms the core of our work in this field.

The Committee meets at an opportune time: to understand that decolonization remains a work in progress, one need simply look to recent events in the Pacific territory of Tokelau.  Last week, Tokelau held a referendum on a measure granting it self-government in free association with New Zealand, its administering Power.  The referendum, which the United Nations concluded fairly reflected the will of the Tokelau people, did not result in the two-third majority necessary for any change in the territory's status.  But the referendum exercise -- made possible in part by the Special Committee's commitment to the principles of the Declaration on Decolonization -- highlighted the continuing need for all people of all Non-Self-Governing Territories to be allowed the right of self-determination.

As you are aware, the Secretary-General has already commended the combined efforts of the Government of New Zealand and the Special Committee on decolonization, in making the referendum possible.  The Secretary-General believes that it was important for the people of Tokelau to have had this opportunity to express their wishes, and he has expressed the hope that the Government of New Zealand and the people of Tokelau shall maintain a constructive dialogue on the issue of self-government.

Tokelau's referendum is especially welcome because of the constructive spirit with which the Government of New Zealand and the people of Tokelau approached this sensitive subject.  Indeed, we hope that the example of Tokelau will guide other administering Powers and their governed territories on the way forward.  Today, I appeal, once again, to all administering Powers to work with the Committee to ensure that the views of the peoples of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories are finally heard.

In this context, I note with satisfaction that the Committee -- through its recent mission to Bermuda and its upcoming visit to the Turks and Caicos Islands, as well as by other means -- continues to actively inform the inhabitants of Non-Self Governing Territories of their options for self-determination.  And, I am especially pleased that the Government of Timor-Leste has offered to host the upcoming Pacific Regional Seminar.  It was only in 2002 that Timor-Leste took its place as a full-fledged member of the international community.  This Committee was instrumental in voicing the aspirations of the Timorese people, and it is doubly gratifying that this new nation should now serve as a forum for our discussions on self-determination.

I commend the Special Committee on Decolonization for its hard work, and wish it every success in the year ahead.  For our part, all of us in the Secretariat will do all we can to support you in your work.

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