15 May 2018
UN Committee Focuses on SDG Needs in Non-Self-Governing Territories
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
story highlights

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said ensuring that Non-Self-Governing Territories are able to address a range of economic, social and environmental challenges is critical key to advancing decolonization efforts.

A number of speakers emphasized that the SDGs could not be realized if economic dependency continues.

Currently, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain to be decolonized.

11 May 2018: The Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization called for a renewed focus on supporting Non-Self-Governing Territories to achieve the SDGs, taking into account the need for greater collaboration to address the Territories’ unique challenges. UN officials also stressed the Territories’ particular vulnerability to climate change.

The meeting convened from 9-11 May 2018, in St. George’s, Grenada, organized by the UN Special Committee on Decolonization. Participants discussed ways to advance gains made in the Territories under the Special Committee’s purview, with many encouraging dialogue with their respective administering Powers, namely France, New Zealand, UK and US.

Currently, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) remain to be decolonized. They are: (Africa) Western Sahara; (Atlantic and Caribbean) Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands (BVI), Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Montserrat, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands, and US Virgin Islands; (Europe) Gibraltar; and (Pacific) American Samoa, French Polynesia, Guam, New Caledonia, Pitcairn and Tokelau.

Committee Chair Walton Alfonso Webson recalled that following the adoption of the SDGs, the Committee had stressed the importance of fostering economic and social sustainable development of the Territories. He said that conclusions from the last seminar acknowledged that climate change had exposed many of the Territories to even greater environmental and economic vulnerability. He called for efforts to continue strengthening administrative capacity, good governance and economic sustainability.

In a message to the seminar, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “decolonization is still incomplete,” and cannot be advanced until Non-Self-Governing Territories can address a range of economic, social and environmental challenges. He emphasized that implementing the SDGs is important for Territories facing the challenges of climate change, access to health care, economic diversification, marine resource conservation and scarcity of drinking water.

During discussions, speakers highlighted: realization of the SDGs in the Territories is related to the extent to which the UN system provides the political space for their engagement; that achieving the Goals will increase possibilities for further advancement of self-government; the need for a mechanism to enable SDG implementation; and that the Special Committee should undertake discussions on the future development agenda in parallel with its decolonization efforts.

A number of speakers emphasized that the Territories cannot realize the SDGs if their economic dependency continues. One speaker said that in Puerto Rico, following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, it had taken three weeks for the response to get under way. Countries with full sovereignty are able to receive aid and take decisions on economic development policies more quickly. Cuba said it had not been permitted to provide aid to Puerto Rico following the hurricanes. Others cited “deliberate foot-dragging” by administering Powers, inhibiting Territories from taking action to ensure an effective response to climate-related events.

Also to improve Territories’ ability to achieve the SDGs, speakers called for increased communication between the UN Special Committee and administering Powers. They discussed how the Committee can help ensure that Territories serve as owners and drivers of the SDGs, and pointed to the importance of capacity building.

An elected official from a local council in Western Sahara highlighted a project on agriculture that will create jobs and efforts to promote tourism. Morocco noted its investments in the Western Sahara in such areas as public infrastructure and services, and said the Territory’s level of human development has surpassed Morocco’s national average. A representative from French Polynesia noted the development of SDG indicators within the framework of the Pacific Island Forum (PIF).

On the UN’s role in helping Territories achieve the SDGs, representatives of UN agencies drew attention to: the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) strategy for technical cooperation with the six UK Caribbean Territories, which will be in place until 2022; the UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) technical support for a sexual and reproductive health policy for Anguilla, and its provision of emergency sexual and reproductive health kits to the Turks and Caicos Islands following Hurricane Irma; and UN Women’s efforts in BVI and Anguilla on gender-related issues.

The Regional Seminars have been held annually since 1990. [Seminar website] [UN press release announcing seminar] [UN press release, 9 May] [UN press release, 10 May] [Committee Website]

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