By Ramesh Jaura
Does ‘the inalienable right to self-determination for countries and peoples living under colonialism and foreign occupation’ sound relevant to the 21st century? Yes, says an overwhelming number of 193 member states of the United Nations.
It is not surprising therefore that those member states have expressed “deepest disappointment” at a landmark omission in the UN General Assembly’s resolution on ‘follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the global level’.
The resolution, which was adopted in “consensus action” on July 29, disregards reference to the inalienable right to self-determination for countries and peoples living under colonialism and foreign occupation.
The Group of 77, comprising 133 developing countries, and China has strongly objected to the resolution skipping one of the “most important historical principles”.
And this at the insistence of a few countries which regard reference to the right to self-determination irrelevant to the 21st century – though, as Algeria’s representative pointed out, the peoples of the 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories legitimately expected to exercise that right.
Sudan’s representative, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China as well as the Arab Group, underscored the need for “a comprehensive, transparent and robust system” of follow-up and review that would help member states realize the objectives of the 2030 Agenda.
Emphasizing the voluntary nature of such a process, he said States must be able to direct their own sustainable development processes while taking into account the cultural specificities of their people.
Recalling that the 2030 Agenda pledged to leave no one behind and to pay special attention to the needs of countries in special situations, he said that applied to countries living under colonialism and foreign occupation, something left out of the resolution without any justification. Indeed, the right to self-determination was among the basic tenets of the United Nations.
The G77 and China Chairperson Virachai Plasai, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations in New York, stressed that the right of self-determination is “a primordial right” that anchors the United Nations.
“For the Group of 77 and China, it has been and continues to be a beacon of hope for all those who struggle under the weight of occupation,” Plasai told the plenary of the General Assembly after the text adoption of the resolution.
He explained that while the Group did not break silence before text adoption, it could not remain silent on “an issue that has long united us and has been a thread of solidarity for our Group”.
“It was deeply disappointing therefore that even a benign reference to this right and the very principles that uphold this right, which the Group proposed as a way out of the impasse, was rejected. Indeed, it begs the question that if we cannot stand for what the United Nations in its very Charter promises, then what do we stand for?” G77 and China Chair asked.
Algeria’s representative, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, also deplored the omission. of the right to self-determination for countries and peoples living under colonialism and foreign occupation.
Describing occupation as the worst form of human rights violation, he said the right to self-determination was clearly enshrined in the United Nations Charter and many global conventions, and the peoples of the 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories legitimately expected to exercise that right.
Indeed, it was deplorable to hear voices raised against the principle of self-determination in the twenty-first century. The manner in which the present resolution had been adopted – namely, the flexibility on the part of the Group of 77 and China – should not constitute a precedent for future intergovernmental work at the United Nations, he stressed.
Ecuador’s delegate expressed regret that the reference to countries and peoples living under colonialism and foreign occupation had been omitted from the resolution due to the opposition of a few delegations. Operative paragraph 11 of the text implicitly included those countries and peoples, he said, voicing further concern that a few countries remained systematically opposed to including well-established language on such clear and historic principles.
Calling for a return to traditional negotiations without such impositions, Cuba’s representative also warned against time limits and deadlines, stressing that resolutions should be drafted wisely and without haste.
Nicaragua’s representative expressed regret that the negotiations had been deferred for months and that the text did not include issues important to developing countries. All States – large and powerful ones as well as small developing ones – had the same rights. Rejecting the trend of impositions by negotiation facilitators, she warned that such impositions would not help to eradicate world poverty or implement the 2030 Agenda.
Bolivia’s representative stressed the need to remove all obstacles to sustainable development, including barriers to the right to self-determination. She also expressed regret that the resolution omitted a reference to the right of all people to development.
Against this backdrop, Chair of the G77 and China said it was incumbent upon the Group to set forth its understanding of the interpretation of the resolution for the record as follows:
– That there is no derogation from the commitments enshrined in the 2030 Agenda, especially from the shared principles as set forth in the Agenda;
– That while countries and peoples under colonial and foreign occupation are not explicitly mentioned in the resolution, paragraph 35 of the 2030 Agenda which refers to “the full realization of the right of self-determination of peoples living under colonial and foreign occupation, which continue to adversely affect their economic and social development as well as their development” is nonetheless validated in the resolution’s reaffirmation of the 2030 Agenda itself; and
– That the process of the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda at global level including through the High Level Political Forum shall therefore be conducted by taking into account paragraph 35 amongst other relevant paragraphs relating to countries and peoples facing specific challenges.
The UN General Assembly’s consensus resolution envisages that the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development – mandated to coordinate the follow-up to and review of global sustainable development commitments – would spend the next three years focusing on a range of specific themes and targets, ranging from eradicating poverty to building resilience to empowering communities.
The Forum would discuss a set of Sustainable Development Goals and their interlinkages at each session representing the three dimensions of sustainable development, with a view to facilitating an in-depth review of progress made on all the Goals over the course of a four-year cycle, and that the sets of Goals to be reviewed in depth for the remainder of the current cycle would be Goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 9 and 14 in 2017; Goals 6, 7, 11, 12 and 15 in 2018; and Goals 4, 8, 10, 13 and 16 in 2019.