Statement By The Premier
Honourable Dr. Natalio D. Wheatley
At The Fifth Sitting Of The First Session
Of The Fifth House Of Assembly
Tuesday, 31st October, 2023
Participation at the UN Fourth Committee
Madam Speaker, I would like to provide this Honourable House with an update on my recent visit to New York in early October where I made a statement to the Fourth Committee at the ongoing 78th Session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.
It is important for the public to be aware that every year the UN adopts a resolution specifically on the British Virgin Islands. At the UN, the name British Virgin Islands is used to avoid confusion with the United States Virgin Islands. However, I will use Virgin Islands for the purpose of this update.
The purpose of the UN resolution is to address the Territory’s progress in achieving a full measure of self-government and to recommend any measures needed to support the process of self-determination.
One of the mandates of the UN is the complete decolonization of its list of 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories that remain under its remit, including the Virgin Islands.
The two UN committees that have direct responsibility for decolonization are the Special Committee on Decolonization, also called the C-24, and the UN General Assembly’s Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).
There is an established formulation and approval process for the passage of the UN resolution on the Question of the British Virgin Islands.
First, the C-24 holds a regional decolonization seminar in either the Caribbean or the Pacific to gather oral and written input on the situation of the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories from the Territory Governments themselves and their Administering Powers.
My Special Envoy Mr. Benito Wheatley attended this seminar in May which took place in Bali, Indonesia.
In our case, the United Kingdom (UK) is the Administering Power. However, the UK withdrew from the C-24 in the 1980s and does not provide the committee with input on the Virgin Islands at the regional seminar.
Because my Ministerial colleagues and I take the obligation to update the Committee on the Territory’s situation very seriously, Government continues to annually send a representative to the decolonization seminar.
The C-24 develops a draft UN resolution on the Virgin Islands based on this input and other sources of information, which is considered at the Committee’s June substantive session at UN Headquarters in New York.
The Government of the Virgin Islands has the opportunity to send a representative to the session to address the Committee in relation to the draft resolution.
Once again, my ministerial colleagues and I take this obligation very seriously and of course I, or a government representative, attend to deliver a statement. The UK also has the same opportunity, but does not do so, because it does not participate in the C-24, as I mentioned earlier.
The Members of the C-24 consider the statement during the Committee’s debate on the draft resolution. Amendments may be made, after which the draft resolution is passed by the Committee.
Its next round of UN approval takes place at the Fourth Committee in October during the annual UN General Assembly.
During that Committee’s meetings, I or a government representative, have the opportunity to address the Committee in relation to the draft UN resolution, which I did on October 3. My statement is published on the Government’s website and was broadcasted live via Facebook. A video recording is also available.
Once the Fourth Committee has passed the draft resolution, which it did on October 11, it then goes on to the General Assembly.
The UN resolution on the Question of the British Virgin Islands is currently awaiting final approval, which should be given sometime in November, after which it will represent the will of the international community.
This process was established by the UN to support the inalienable right of the people of the Virgin Islands and the other Non-Self-Governing Territories, to self-determination, under the UN Charter and international law.
To avoid any misunderstandings, let me state once again that self-determination is not synonymous with independence. Self-determination is a process that leads to a Territory having a full measure of self-government. A full measure of self-government is either integration, free association or independence. Once one of these has been achieved, the Territory would be considered decolonized under international law. It is only the people of the Virgin Islands, through a referendum, who can decide which of the three options the Territory will take.
As a Government, my ministerial colleague and I cannot ignore the fact that a UN resolution on the Territory is adopted every year on our self-determination. The Government must positively engage the UN process. We must ensure the Virgin Islands has a voice at the UN.
I expressed that voice at the Fourth Committee as the Premier of these Virgin Islands.
I called for two things primarily:
- I called for the relevant UN agencies and departments to fulfill their obligations to the people of the Virgin Islands to help them understand the process of self-determination and what the options are for the Virgin Islands to achieve a full measure of self-government. The three options approved by the UN are integration as in the case of Guadeloupe and France, free association as in the case of the Cook Islands and New Zealand, and independence.
- I also called for the UN to follow-through on the request for a C-24 visiting mission to the Virgin Islands so the committee can hear directly from the people on the ground and give them an opportunity to engage the committee on the Territory’s options.
I also thanked the UN for all of their support to the BVI which helped us to complete our National Sustainable Development Plan and Blue Economy Roadmap, among other things. They are our major development partner, especially since Brexit.
In terms of support at the UN, I thanked our CARICOM and OECS partners for their ongoing support to the Virgin Islands throughout the UN’s process of approving a resolution on the Territory.
While in New York I also held productive bilateral meetings with the Chair of the UN Special Committee on Decolonization, Her Excellency Menissa Rambally and UK Deputy Permanent Representative Ambassador James Kariuki.
Madam Speaker, my Administration will remain positively engaged with the UN and I will update this Honourable House again on any new developments in due course.
Thank you Madam Speaker.