Opening the annual session of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette today called the successful referendum in the South Pacific atolls of Tokelau a welcome example of how all people in Non-Self Governing Territories must retain the right to choose their political futures.
“We hope that the example of Tokelau will guide other administering powers and their governed territories on the way forward,” said Ms. Fréchette, referring to the UN-supervised referendum this month in which 1,500 Tokelau citizens went to the polls to determine their political status.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last week that he respected the people’s decision to remain a Non-Self-Governing Territory administered by New Zealand. Last year, the Territory’s main representative body decided to move towards “self-government in free association with New Zealand,” but this vote went against that recommendation.
“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,” she added.
Ms. Fréchette told the Committee members gathered in New York that the Organization’s work on decolonization remains unfinished with 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories left on its decolonization list. There were 72 such territories when the world body was established in 1945 and the UN has helped more than 80 million people around the globe exercise their right of self-determination.
Before the referendum in Tokelau, the last Non-Self-Governing Territory that exercised its right was East Timor, now known as Timor-Leste, which gained its independence in 2002. Ms. Fréchette said she was pleased the Timor-Leste Government had offered to host the Decolonization Committee’s upcoming Pacific regional seminar.
She also praised the Committee’s ongoing work, such as a recent mission to Bermuda and an upcoming visit to the Turks and Caicos Islands, to let people living in these territories know of their options.
The Committee was set up by the General Assembly in 1961 to examine the application of the landmark Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. It meets annually to discuss developments in the world's Non-Self-Governing Territories, dispatch missions to the Territories, hear reports and statements, and make recommendations.