The United Nations’ strategy on decolonisation “is not working”, Dr Joseph Garcia said yesterday, as he outlined efforts by successive Gibraltarian governments spanning five decades to convince the UN to remove the Rock from its list of colonies.
Addressing the UN’s Fourth Committee on decolonisation in New York, the Deputy Chief Minister said the UN had failed to engage with the UK and Gibraltar despite modern constitutional arrangements that gave Gibraltarians more self government than ever before.
Not only that, he said, the UN had also failed to explain what it required in order to remove Gibraltar from the list of non self-governing territories.
Speaking against the backdrop of ongoing complex and sensitive discussions about the Rock’s post-Brexit future, Dr Garcia said the Gibraltar Government continued to seek positive relations with Spain.
But he made clear that Gibraltar would not bend on sovereignty or its belief, firmly supported by the UK Government, that only the Gibraltarians could determine their future.
He said that despite early successes on decolonisation in the aftermath of World War II, only one territory had been removed from the UN list in nearly 30 years.
“Mr Chairman, something somewhere is not working,” Dr Garcia said, addressing the Fourth Committee’s recently appointed Liberian chairman, Dee‑Maxwell Saah Kemayah Sr.
“The process of decolonisation has now almost ground to a halt,” he added.
Dr Garcia is no stranger to the UN, having attended many sessions of the Fourth Committee and the Committee of 24 both in government and in opposition.
But this was his first address to the UN, stepping in for Chief Minister Fabian Picardo who pulled out of the UN trip – the first time in 15 years that he has not attended – to participate in meetings on Brexit and Gibraltar’s withdrawal from the EU.
Those meetings had been underway yesterday in the hours prior to Dr Garcia delivering his address to the UN.
Gibraltar, the UK and Spain have all signalled publicly their belief that a constructive agreement can be reached to protect the interests of communities on both sides of the border once Gibraltar leaves the EU alongside the UK.
As of yesterday though, there was little confirmation of how the discussions were progressing or what shape a deal might take. All sides concede that the devil will be in the detail.
At the UN, however, there were clues as to the complex and delicate nature of the discussions.
It was more what was not said rather than what was. Both in the submissions from Gibraltar and Spain, the tone was low key and the content, while setting out each side’s well-known positions on the matter, was largely neutral.
Reflecting on the stagnant process of decolonisation, Dr Garcia said the UN charter allowed for the possibility of “tailor-made solutions” and that this was important in the context of the remaining territories on the UN list of colonies.
And he said that international law made clear that the principle of self-determination of peoples must be “the paramount consideration” in the decolonisation process, adding that many of the countries represented on the committee had once been colonies but now cherished their freedom.
“The people of Gibraltar cherish their freedom also, the freedom to choose our own political future,” Dr Garcia said.
“The United Nations must consider the decolonisation of Gibraltar and our removal from your list of non-self-governing territories in the same way as you have considered those territories that have gone before.”
Dr Garcia urged the Fourth Committee to send a visiting mission to Gibraltar to learn about the reality on the ground and at first hand, adding that both Gibraltar and the UK had said they would welcome such a visit.
Over the past two decades, the UN had despatched missioned to Tokelau, Bermuda, Turks and Caicos Islands and New Caledonia, in some of those cases on more than one occasion.
But in respect of Gibraltar, “the United Nations does not come”.
Setting out Gibraltar’s relationship with the UK, Dr Garcia said the 2006 Constitution gave Gibraltarians a greater degree of self-government than ever before, including responsibility for all areas except defence, internal security and external relations.
But while the UK and Gibraltar had asked repeatedly what changes if any were needed in order to secure Gibraltar’s removal from the list of non self-governing territories, “there was no reply from the United Nations”.
Dr Garcia said Gibraltar had been coming to New York to address the Fourth Committee since 1963 and wanted to work with the UN.
“We are enthusiastic supporters of decolonisation [but] it is almost as if the United Nations does not want to work with us,” he said.
“There was no response to the request for a visiting mission, there was no response to our questions on the constitution.”
“There is silence on our removal from the list.”
“The Charter of the United Nations says that the interests of the people must be paramount.”
“We know where our interests lie [and] we have freely and democratically expressed our wishes in the past.”
“So why has there been no movement on any of these issues?”
While much of speech was focused on the UN’s inability to properly understand and address Gibraltar’s circumstances in order to complete the process of decolonisation, the Deputy Chief Minister also reflected on the Rock’s relations with Spain over the past six decades.
Dr Garcia reminded the committee of the “16 years of blockade” during which Gibraltarians had made a point of principle and signalled to the world that they would not surrender their sovereignty or their right to self determination, no much what pressure they were subjected to.
“And we never will,” he said, later adding: “Spain complains that Gibraltar is a colony, when its outdated attitude towards Gibraltar is precisely what has caused the UN decolonisation process to stall.”
Dr Garcia also updated the committee too on the ongoing Brexit negotiations, including the “direct discussion” between Spain and Gibraltar aimed at ensuring communities on either side of the border did not suffer as a result of the UK and Gibraltar’s withdrawal from the EU.
“The Government of Gibraltar welcomes a positive approach based on dialogue and cooperation rather than the approach of the past which was based on conflict and confrontation,” he said.
Dr Garcia acknowledged the words of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez before the UN General Assembly in September, welcoming his hopes for a new relationship with Gibraltar that would bring prosperity to Gibraltarians and the neighbouring Spanish region.
“It is obvious that this has not yet trickled down to all parts of the Spanish administration,” Dr Garcia said, but added: “Nonetheless, we stand ready to engage on this constructive basis.”