Speakers Urge Fulfilment of Decolonization Agenda, End to Israel’s Impunity in Occupied Palestinian Territories, as Fourth Committee Continues Debate

As the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its joint general debate, some speakers urged the Organization to fulfil its commitment to decolonization at the close of another United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, while others called for an end to Israel’s impunity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Sierra Leone’s representative remarked that it is one thing to commit to the principles and ideals espoused in the United Nations resolution on implementing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, but wholly another to back up such beliefs with actions that lead to independence for those who desire to be masters of their own destinies.

In similar vein, Papua New Guinea’s representative asked how many more Decades for the Eradication of Colonialism it will take to bring this long-standing agenda item, a blight on the Organization, to an end.  While acknowledging the results of the second New Caledonia referendum, he said there is a continuing upswell of support among that Territory’s people for changing the status quo. 

Liechtenstein’s representative also noted the end of the third Decade, saying that decisions regarding the self-determination of the Non-Self-Governing Territories should be guided by the people directly concerned.  Emphasizing the importance of holding referendums on independence and the engagement of the Territories in regional organizations, he declared:  “In no situation should the fact that populations formally remain colonial possessions in the United Nations system be the result of broader geopolitical or strategic military prerogatives.”

On the other hand, the United Kingdom’s representative said his country would cede sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius when that Territory is no longer required for defence purposes.   Currently, the Government is delivering a $50 million support package to improve Chagossian livelihoods in Mauritius, Seychelles and the United Kingdom, in addition to enhancing the Territory’s biodiversity and ecological integrity, he noted.

Several delegates decried Israeli activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, with Lebanon’s representative stressing that the people of the Gaza Strip continue to suffer in unliveable conditions.  Meanwhile, Palestinians living in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, endure restrictions on movement, continued expansion of Israeli settlements, settler violence, excessive use of force by Israel’s security forces and house demolitions, he said.  Describing such policies as a clear breach of international law and international human rights law and in violation of Israel’s obligation as the occupying Power, he called upon the international community to pressure that country to refrain from such violations and to end its occupation.

The observer for the State of Palestine declared:  “Allowing Israel to continue getting away with its crimes without consequence will never lead to change.”  Those who believe that Israel has actually suspended or ceased its annexation plans are ignoring the reality of what is actually happening on the ground, she cautioned.  Collective action, in line with international law and the relevant United Nations resolutions, is the only way to chart a more just reality, she emphasized.  That must include legal action, including at the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, she said.  “Stopping Israeli impunity is as much about salvaging the prospects for just Palestinian-Israeli peace as it is about salvaging the international rules-based order, which has been so damaged and destabilized by the culture of impunity that has been permitted for far too long to our collective detriment and peril.”

General Debate

The representative of Chile, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Spanish, said that Spanish-speaking counties highlighted multilingualism as crucial to United Nations working methods, saying it allows the Organization to involve civil society in its work.  That is particularly important amid the COVID‑19 crisis that has produced disinformation and misinformation, he added.  Expressing appreciation for the crisis response and “Verified” initiatives of the Department of Global Communications, he noted that by making full use of its human resources, United Nations information centres, new technology and traditional media, the Department can reach large and diverse audiences.  Such efforts require research into audiences, their interests and preferred language, he pointed out, also underlining the importance of language parity and multilingualism in the publication and timely dissemination of documents on the e-delegates and e‑statements platforms.

He said the Department faces a challenge to transform into a genuinely multilingual body that considers language parity at all stages of the content creation.  That can be achieved, in part, by integrating a diverse staff in order to strengthen the Department’s reach, transparency and representativity of every region, he added.  Now more than ever, the Spanish-speaking world needs access to information from the United Nations, he stressed, highlighting the recent sharp spike in visits to the Organization’s Spanish-language websites.  Indeed, there was also a rise in Spanish-language queries by 115 per cent from 2019.  He went on to acknowledge the financial implications of fully streamlining multilingualism in the Department’s communications, and to advocate for the international community to provide the resources necessary to implement such a mandate.

The representative of Mexico said peace operations must have clearly defined mandates, goals and structures, together with assured financing.  It is also crucial to incorporate peacebuilding tasks as soon as possible, especially in the transition and drawdown phases.  He reiterated the need for the United Nations to remain involved in ongoing decolonization processes, and reaffirmed Argentina’s rights in that country’s prolonged dispute over the Malvinas Islands[1], South George Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas.

The representative of Thailand, associating himself with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Non-Aligned Movement, emphasized that peace operations remain an integral part of multilateral tools to achieve peace and sustainable development amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  Thailand’s Horizontal Military Engineering Company helped in the construction of COVID-19 screening facilities within the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) compound in the pandemic’s early stages, he noted.  Turning to the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he highlighted his country’s commitment to the multi-year pledge of voluntary contributions to the Agency for 2017-2021 amounting to $200,000.  Thailand pledged an additional $30,000 at the Extraordinary Virtual Ministerial Pledging Conference in June, he recalled.  Concerning the Department for Global Communications, he described multilingualism as one of the main enablers of unity and international understanding, generating greater involvement and delivering better outcomes.  As such, the Department should continue its efforts on multilingualism, particularly the dissemination of information in local languages, he said.  He went on to express concern over the widening digital divide, underlining the importance of maintaining traditional communications channels as the primary sources of information in much of the world.

The representative of Bangladesh, associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the “Group of 77” and China, called upon the international community to ensure generous and predictable funding for UNRWA.  Turning to peacekeeping, he expressed regret the loss of 16 “Blue Helmets” to COVID-19, while noting that the pandemic’s overall impact on peace operations has been relatively low.  Going forward, peacekeeping mandates should incorporate preparations for such unforeseen emergencies, he emphasized.  Turning to the ongoing conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, she said it is renewing fears of large-scale displacements into Bangladesh, calling for the root causes of the crisis to be addressed and the return of displaced persons facilitated.  She went on to recommend that the Department for Global Communications play a role in forging international opinion for a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The representative of Liechtenstein expressed regret that petitioners from the Non-Self-Governing Territories will not be able to speak on their own behalf before the Committee this year.  Pointing out that 2020 is also the final year of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, he said decisions regarding the self-determination of those Territories should be guided by the people directly concerned.  He went on to emphasize the importance of holding referendums on independence and the engagement of Non-Self-Governing Territories in regional organizations.  “In no situation should the fact that populations formally remain colonial possessions in the United Nations system be the result of broader geopolitical or strategic military prerogatives,” he stressed.  In other cases, States must work with the United Nations to realize existing promises of self-determination, including in Western Sahara, he added, urging the reinstatement of a Personal Envoy for that Territory.

The observer for the State of Palestine noted that the support of the international community has allowed UNRWA to continuously provide Palestine refugees with education, health-care, relief, social and protection services.  “While tending to humanitarian and human development needs, UNRWA also continues to provide a measure of hope to the refugees, at times life-saving and transformative, especially for youth.”  The Agency is also widely recognized for its distinct contribution to stability, in both the refugee camps and host communities, a critical role against the backdrop of pervasive regional turmoil and emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.  Given the prevailing financial challenges faced by the United Nations and donor countries, additional United Nations budgetary support to help cover essential UNRWA’s operational expenses should be seriously considered, she suggested.  Such a contribution would be a tangible investment in regional stability, the long-term goal of peace and an end to the unravelling of the progress made in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

It is difficult to understand how the Assembly can accept that UNRWA’s mandate be so blatantly politicized, she continued, rejecting distorted narratives and attacks against the Agency aimed at negating the status and rights of Palestine refugees.  Those rights are not diminished by the passage of time, she stressed.  In that regard, she pointed out that Israeli measures to obstruct or terminate UNRWA’s operations in occupied East Jerusalem are in violation of international law, the Comay-Michelmore Agreement, the Convention on Privileges and Immunities and relevant resolutions.  Turning to the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, she noted that it corroborates reporting by numerous international, Palestinian and Israeli groups, United Nations agencies, academic and legal scholars.  “To those claiming that ‘the same old methods won’t work’, we say — indeed,” she said, adding:  “Allowing Israel to continue getting away with its crimes without consequence will never lead to change.”

Those who believe that Israel has actually suspended or ceased its annexation plans are ignoring the reality of what is actually happening on the ground, she cautioned.  Moreover, Israel persists in its construction of the separation wall, confiscation of Palestinian land, exploitation of natural resources, excavations under holy sites, and violations of the historic status quo at Al-Haram Al Sharif.  Collective action, in line with international law and the relevant United Nations resolutions, is the only way to chart a more just reality, she stressed.  It must include legal action, including in the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, and other lawful countermeasures to confront Israel’s violations and compel compliance with the law, she added.  Turning to the banning of products from Israeli settlements, she described it as a basic and minimal “ask” and an obligation to ensure that agreements between any State and the State of Israel do not include the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  She declared:  “Stopping Israeli impunity is as much about salvaging the prospects for just Palestinian-Israeli peace, as it is about salvaging the international rules-based order, which has been so damaged and destabilized by the culture of impunity that has been permitted for far too long to our collective detriment and peril.”

The representative of Papua New Guinea wondered how many more United Nations decades for the eradication of colonialism there must be before the long-standing agenda, a blight on the Organization, is brought to an end.  A better way forward must be found, he emphasized.  He went on to acknowledge the results of the second New Caledonia referendum, while pointing out that a continuing upswell of support remains among that Territory’s people for changing the status quo.  Supporting their efforts to chart a new path forward will remain a priority for Papua New Guinea and the Melanesian Spearhead Group of countries, he emphasized.

The representative of Lebanon, describing peace operations as an effective tool in mitigating regional crises and curbing the escalation of tensions into war, noted that his country has hosted the “exemplary” United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) since 1978.  The operation continues to play a paramount role in preserving stability, he added.  While the explosion that hit Beirut on 4 August took its toll on the UNIFIL maritime task force, its crisis response was effective, with rapid evacuation and medical treatment for injured personnel, he said, adding that, in coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, UNFIL deployed a detachment of multinational forces  to Beirut on 27 September to assist authorities in the aftermath of the explosion.

Turning to the work of UNRWA, he said it is especially essential now due to deteriorating socioeconomic conditions and instability in the Middle East that are further aggravated by the pandemic.  Refugees across the region are becoming more reliant on UNRWA for basic services, he noted, emphasizing the Agency’s need for predictable, sustainable financing of its programme budget.  It is the international community’s responsibility to ensure that services are maintained by providing multi-year contributions, he said.  As for the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said the people of the Gaza Strip continue to suffer in unliveable conditions.  Meanwhile, Palestinians living in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, endure restrictions on their movement, continued expansion of Israeli settlements, settler violence, excessive use of force by Israel’s security forces and house demolitions.  Such policies are a clear breach of international law and international human rights law and in violation of Israel’s obligation as an occupying Power, he affirmed, stressing that the international community must pressure Israel to refrain from such violations and end its occupation.

The representative of Sierra Leone said it is one thing to commit to the principles and ideals espoused in the United Nations resolution on implementing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, but wholly another to back up such beliefs with actions that lead to independence for those who desire to be masters of their own destinies.  He added that while Sierra Leone looks forward to the Secretary-General’s appointment of a new Special Envoy for Western Sahara, the parties concerned should urgently resume consultations on a realistic, practicable and enduring political solution.

The representative of the United Kingdom described his country’s relationship with its overseas territories as a modern one, based on partnership, shared values and the right of the people of each territory to choose whether to remain British.  The United Kingdom is fully committed to involving those territories, including Gibraltar, as it negotiates its future relationship with the European Union, he said.  Emphasizing that his country has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), nor about the right of their inhabitants to self-determination, he said there can be no dialogue with Argentina on sovereignty unless the islanders so wish.  As for the British Indian Ocean Territory [Chagos Archipelago], he said the United Kingdom is committed to cede sovereignty to Mauritius when that territory is no longer required for defence purposes.  It is currently delivering a $50 million support package to improve Chagossian livelihoods in Mauritius, Seychelles and the United Kingdom, in addition to enhancing the territory’s biodiversity and ecological integrity, he said.  Concerning Gibraltar, he stressed that the United Kingdom will not enter into agreements under which that Territory’s people would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their democratically expressed wishes.  Nor will it enter into sovereignty negotiations “with which Gibraltar is not content”, he added.

The representative of Colombia, associating himself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Group of Friends of Spanish and the Southern Common Market (MERCURSOR) and Associated States, said the issue of the Malvinas is a sovereignty dispute that requires dialogue and cooperation between the stakeholders to find a solution.  He went on to express support for the Palestinian people’s exercise of their right to self-determination and for the establishment of a viable State for them.  Describing special political missions are an advanced platform for peace and diplomacy, he emphasized their importance for the women in the peace and security pillar.  Noting that the renewed mandate of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia last September, he described it as a clear signal of the firm commitment of the country’s Government for implementation of the peace agreement as well as the Security Council’s support of that endeavour.  He concluded by underlining that United Nations support will be essential to developing the Colombian territories affected by conflict.

Also speaking today were representatives of Paraguay, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ecuador, South Africa, Guatemala, Maldives, Qatar, the Gambia and Japan.

Speaking in exercise of right of reply were representatives of the United Kingdom, India, Spain, Argentina and Pakistan.

Right of Reply

The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, reiterated his country’s position on the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).  He also emphasized that the United Kingdom’s sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago dates back to 1814 and it does not recognize the claim of Mauritius to sovereignty.

The representative of India rejected Pakistan’s malicious references regarding Jammu and Kashmir, describing the state as an inalienable part of her country.  Pakistan’s delegation needs reminding that the principle of self-determination is no justification for undermining a Member State’s territorial integrity, she added.

The representative of Spain, responding to the United Kingdom, described Gibraltar as a colony that destroys his country’s national unity and territorial integrity.  Emphasizing that only the United Nations can decide when Gibraltar’s decolonization is concluded, he said the United Kingdom’s relationship with that Territory is not a modern one, but a colonial one “in new clothes”.

The representative of Argentina, referring to the Malvinas question, quoted the intervention of his country’s President in the General Assembly on 22 September reiterating that the Malvinas Islands, South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia Islands are part of Argentina and illegally occupied by the United Kingdom.  The principle of self-determination cannot be applied to this particular dispute, he stressed.

The representative of Pakistan said that decolonization and self-determination cannot be limited to the 17 Territories on the Special Committee’s list.  The people of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir are resolute in their claim to the right to self-determination, he said, underlining that the United Nations decolonization agenda will remain incomplete without a just resolution of that situation.

The representative of the United Kingdom, while reiterating his country’s sovereignty over Gibraltar, said it stands ready to discuss issues of mutual interest with Spain.

The representative of Spain said the United Kingdom’s extension of its claim of sovereignty over Gibraltar to include surrounding waters and its airport, is not supported by the Treaty of Utrecht nor by international law.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Friday, 16 October, to continue its general debate.

Source: United Nations

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