The United Nations Special Committee’s annual review in June 2018 of the Virgin Islands’ readiness for independence depended purely on documentary evidence, whereas for the Turks and Caicos Islands and United States VI, the committee was also able to hear face-to-face submissions (as explained in my May 9 commentary titled “Decolonisation committee reconsidered.”)
At the Pacific regional seminar in Quito in 2012, the VI representative stated that the territory’s position was to maintain its current relationship with the United Kingdom, built on mutual respect and a mature partnership, as it continued to grow. At the Caribbean regional seminar in Quito in May 2013, the VI representative stated that, in his view, the special committee should set specific achievable goals, allowing for each territory’s particularities.
In a statement delivered at the joint Caribbean Community-UN high-level pledging conference in New York in November 2017, then-Premier Dr. Orlando Smith shared his vision for rebuilding the territory after its devastation from Aug. 7 to Sept. 19, 2017. He also pointed out that the VI is ineligible for overseas development assistance under the rules of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and appealed for aid to support the territory’s recovery.
The Special Committee’s working paper noted that the VI government launched a consultation period from Dec. 20, 2017 to Jan. 20, 2018 on the VI’s recovery and development, seeking the public’s views on the government’s proposals focused on human and social services; infrastructure; business and the economy; natural resources and climate change; and governance.
The absence of any private individual from the UN Special Committee’s annual review in June 2018 meant that only the VI and UK governments’ views were expressed.
June 2018 review
The petitioner from the TCI forum who obfuscated the public registers issue by calling it “an attack on the privacy of individuals and entities doing business in the overseas territories” described the action as discriminatory because the populations of Crown dependencies which were not subject to it were mostly white, and those of the OTs overwhelmingly black.
He also accused the UK of allowing the TCI to be overrun by illegal migrants, a complaint echoed by a lady from the TC Heritage Communities who blamed the TCI’s governor for his laxness on the issue. Furthermore, he was appointed without any input from the locally elected TCI government, but exempt from all oversight or compliance with the TCI constitution, unlike elected officials and civil servants.
She also complained that the UK allowed foreign firms to exclude native born citizens from middle and upper management, retarding the growth of genuine independence and self-reliance, reverting the TCI to dependency and colonialism. She asked the Special Committee to send a mission to the TCI to investigate those human rights abuses.
The Special Committee also had before it several petitioners from the USVI, including an individual from the “OWA-AIVI” who said he appeared for the native peoples of the USVI to attest to “blatant violations of several historical treaties” by the US, including “land grabs” by members of the US Congress; systematic dismantling of the territory’s education system; eradication of its agricultural sector; and prohibition of access to their own lands. He said that since they had no (political) voice, their only recourse is to go direct to the UN, but their complaints had been hitherto ignored.
A senior fellow of the Dependency Studies Project said the participation of non-self-governing territories in the UN was critical to their readiness for self-government. A recent Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) study had concluded that they were already significantly included in the programmes of UN specialised agencies. It proposed a programme of work to address the principal development challenges facing those territories, emphasising that the Special Committee should collaborate with the wider UN system in its development.
The absence of any petitioner from the VI at the Special Committee’s meeting contrasts with interest throughout the VI in contributing to the FAC’s investigation and the outcry that greeted the release of its report. However, the UK government’s rejection of the imposition of the FAC’s proposals demonstrates the value of dialogue.
The UN General Assembly approved the Special Committee’s programme of work envisaged for 2019, and requested it to continue to seek suitable means for the immediate and full implementation of the declaration and facilitate participation by the peoples of the NSGTs in its seminars.
Premier Andrew Fahie’s groundbreaking attendance at the Special Committee’s biennial Caribbean Regional Seminar in Grenada, aimed at accelerating decolonisation through renewed commitment and pragmatic measures, was a welcome event, as the first VI head of government to do so. It preceded the annual Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of NSGTs on May 25-31.