Overseas Territories

OT 18

Memorandum by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

(submitted in response to a letter from the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee)

Her Majesty’s Government’s current policy towards the UN Decolonisation Committee

The role of the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation

1. The Special Committee on Decolonisation (known as the C24) was established by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 1961, to oversee implementation of the 1960 UN "Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples" (UNGA resolution 1514 (XV)). The C24 hosts conferences and regional seminars on the status of Overseas Territories (OTs), and organises special missions in order to collect first-hand information on the economic and political development of OTs. It also reviews reports submitted to the UN Secretary-General by the UN Secretariat (which "Administering Powers" such as the UK contribute to), pursuant to Article 73 of the UN Charter, on developments in their OTs (Or "Non-Self Governing Territories" in UN parlance). The C24 also hears oral "petitions" from individuals and groups from the territories, as well as any statements from the Administering Powers, and calls on the General Assembly to agree to their programmes of work. The C24 then adopts resolutions on each territory. Most of these are then forwarded to the UNGA, via its Fourth Committee. All C24 resolutions on UK OTs reach the UNGA, except that on the Falklands (a position agreed by the UK and Argentina since the resumption of bilateral relations in 1989/90). On Gibraltar the C24 adopts a consensus decision, which both Spain and the UK support. The Fourth Committee debates and adopts the consensus decision, and UNGA simply takes note of the decision.

2. Under the UN Charter, the UK as an Administering Power is to ensure, among other things, the OTs’ political, economic and social advancement and the development of their "self-government". Territories come off the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories ("de-listing") once they have been deemed to have achieved "a full measure of self-government". The C24 has a role in recommending territories for de-listing. This issue has been a point of much dispute between Administering Powers and the C24.

3. The Committee has 29 members, listed at the end of the memorandum (Annex A). None of the four remaining Administering Powers - the UK, France, New Zealand and the US – are members. Neither are there any EU or Western Group States members on the Committee. France and New Zealand both formally participate in the Committee’s work, in respect of their territories. The US does not.

Background on the UK’s historic position towards the UN Decolonisation Committee

4. Despite abstaining on the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and the General Assembly resolution setting up the C24, the UK agreed to join and cooperate with the C24. This it did until 1971, when it left the Committee. The UK was concerned at that time by the Committee’s recently adopted "programme of action" to implement 1514 (XV), its reluctance to address the issue of small territories, as well as its unfavourable composition.

5. In 1974 the UK resumed cooperation with the Committee, without rejoining. The US and France were not members either. However, by mid-1985, again frustrated at the Committee’s work, the UK decided to cease cooperation (with effect from January 1986), while reserving the right to participate in the C24’s debate on the Falklands. In a letter to the then C24 Chair, the UK Permanent Representative in New York explained the UK’s decision on the grounds that the territories which remained in close association with the UK had chosen to do so, that this was unlikely to change in the near future, that the UK and its (then "Dependent") Territories, therefore considered the colonial era over, and hence the UN’s interest in these territories’ affairs should cease.

6. UK policy evolved again by the mid-1990s, when it resumed some informal cooperation with C24, although the UK did not participate in formal Committee meetings. In 1999, the UK policy became one of an "informal dialogue on de-listing". The UK started informally discussing with successive C24 chairs the possible modalities for de-listing its Overseas Territories (OTs). Despite much discussion (and even a C24 visit to Bermuda in 2005), these efforts came to nothing and no territory has been de-listed.

7. Since then the UK has maintained "informal cooperation" with the C24. It attends C24 meetings but does not sit in the UK seat, nor make any statements. Counsellors from the Falkland Islands address the Committee annually, to put forward their case. Representatives of the Gibraltar government have also petitioned the Committee. The UK continues, however, to be frustrated that the C24’s resolutions on its OTs do not properly reflect developments in the territories, including their wish to retain links to the UK, nor explicitly acknowledge the Falkland Islanders or Gibraltarians right of self-determination.

How does the UK currently make its case in the UN and other international fora?

8. Our position of informal co-operation allows the UK to maintain a dialogue with the Chair of the C24, as well as C24 members. When resolutions on UK OTs are considered by the UNGA’s Fourth Committee, the UK also takes full advantage of the opportunities provided to make statements, explanations of vote and positions as well as rights of reply. Most recently, in October 2010:

· The UK voted against texts calling for "Member States to intensify their efforts to continue to implement the plan of action for the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism and use those efforts as the basis for a plan of action for the next Decade" and "urging Member States to do their utmost to promote effective measures for the full and speedy implementation of the Declaration in all Non-Self-Governing Territories to which the Declaration applied". The UK argued that the proposals for the Third International Decade and the Fiftieth anniversary of the Decolonisation Declaration were "unacceptable", as the texts failed to recognise the progress made in the relationship between the United Kingdom and its territories. With regard to the text relating to the Third International decade, the UK stated that the UK considered the "Special Committee of 24" to be outdated. The UK also took the opportunity to stress that none of the UK’s overseas territories should remain on the UN list of Non-Self Governing Territories. The resolution which called on member states to intensify their efforts to implement the C24’s plan of action was passed with 130 votes in favour, three against (the UK, US and Israel) and 20 abstentions. The resolution calling for member states to promote effective measures for the implementation of the Declaration in all Non-Self-Governing Territories was passed with 150 votes in favour, three against (the UK, US and Israel) and no abstentions.

· The UK also abstained in UN Fourth Committee votes relating to the transmission of economic and other information on Non-Self Governing territories. The UK explained that it did not take issue with the resolution’s main objective and continued to meet its obligations in that regard. However, the UK believed that a decision as to whether a Non-Self-Governing Territory had reached a level of self-government was ultimately for the government of the Territory and the administering Power concerned (in this case, the UK) to decide, and not the UNGA.

· The UK also used its right of reply to address specific points raised by a number of States regarding the Falkland Islands. The UK representative said that the UK had no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, and attached great importance to the principle of self-determination, which underpinned the UK’s position on the Falkland Islands. The democratically elected representatives of the Falkland Islands had asked the "Committee of 24" to recognise that they, like others, should be free to exercise the right of self-determination. 

9. Further information on the position of the UK in Fourth Committee sessions can be found on the UN website: (http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/gaspd455.doc.htm).

The EU and the Overseas Territories

10. The relationship between the EU and the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs - Gibraltar excepted) is determined by the 2001 Overseas Association Decision (OAD). Article 2 states that "the Association shall be based on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. These principles …..shall be common to the Member States and the OCTs linked to them."

11. The current OAD is due to expire at the end of 2013. Work has already started on drafting its successor. To help inform the process the Member States and the OCTs prepared a Joint Position Paper (JPP) outlining areas that should be covered in the new OAD. The JPP was handed to the European Commission in March 2010. The JPP, which was sent to the FAC on 10 March, notes that the future EU – OCT relationship should be based on the principle of solidarity, mutual interest over the long term and should recognize and respect the OCTs’ diversity and vulnerabilities. It also notes that the different constitutional relationships with the Member State to which they are linked needs to be respected. The FCO will keep in regular contact with Commission officials and the other Member States, which have OCTs, to ensure that these fundamental principles are retained in the new OAD.

12. Gibraltar is the only UK OT within the EU. Under Article 355(3) TFEU, the EU Treaties apply to Gibraltar as a European Territory for whose external relations a Member State (the UK) is responsible. Although under the United Kingdom’s Act of Accession of 1972, certain Treaty provisions do not apply to Gibraltar (such as free movement of goods and the Common Agricultural Policy), Gibraltar is in many areas highly integrated in the EU. The locally-elected Government of Gibraltar is responsible for introducing legislation that transposes EU measures, and the UK is responsible for ensuring that Gibraltar complies with its obligations under EU law.

How can the UK best make its case in the UN in respect of its Overseas Territories?

13. In the UK’s statement to UN 4th Committee on Non-Self Governing Territories in October 2010, our Deputy Permanent Representative said:

"The British Government’s relationship with its Overseas Territories is a modern one based on partnership, shared values and the right of each Territory to determine whether it wishes to stay linked to the UK or not. The UK has no intention of imposing independence against the will of the people concerned. Where independence is an option and is the clear and constitutionally expressed wish of the people of the Territories, the British Government will give every help and encouragement to those Territories to achieve it. For as long as the UK’s Overseas Territories wish to retain the link to the UK, the British Government will remain committed to their future development and continued security."

14. When considering how the UK can best defend its OT interests in the UN any potential options must support the UK’s primary objectives in this regard:

· To ensure that our sovereignty over the OTs is respected, and that the rights of the peoples of the OTs to self-determination is respected.

· To uphold the constitutional settlements that we have reached, or may wish to reach, with our OTs, and to protect the interests and democratic rights of their populations.

· To ensure the UK’s relationships with its OTs are presented in the most accurate light.

15. The (then) Chairman of the C24, Mr. Donatus Keith St Aimee, suggested to the FAC on their recent visit to New York that the UK should reconsider its relationship with the C24. He suggested that this would allow the UK to be better able to put forward its point of view on the territorial dispute with Argentina over the Falklands, and highlight positive developments in the UK’s relationship with its other OTs, such as the Gibraltar-UK-Spain relationship. Such formal engagement would require the UK to speak at meetings and contribute to resolutions.

16. The FCO keeps the UK’s relationship with the C24 under review. We have considered whether more formal engagement would allow us to better defend our position. However, we have decided that the UK’s current policy of informal cooperation will be maintained. Any proposal to increase engagement with the C24 would need to be balanced against the risk of adversely affecting UK interests in Gibraltar and the Falklands. Informal cooperation is also in line with the UK’s position that the C24 process is outdated, and not one in which we should engage more systematically. Furthermore, we are able to defend our position in the UNGA irrespective of our position on the C24.

17. We will continue to monitor our relationship with the C24. Should we identify an opportunity to increase engagement without risking our wider bilateral relations or our policies towards our OTs, we will look to pursue it.

May 2011


Members of the C24

Antigua and Barbuda







East Timor









Ivory Coast



Papua New Guinea


St Kitts and Nevis

St Lucia

St Vincent and the Grenadines

Sierra Leone





Prepared 3rd February 2012