Remarks on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples
Author: Ban Ki-moon
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 12/15/2010
Madam Acting-President (Ms. Sylvie Lucas Permanent Representative of Luxembourg),
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you all for coming here today.
This General Assembly Hall looks very different than it did fifty years ago. I am not talking about the big television monitors or the electronic voting boards. I am not even talking about the seats, which are more comfortable now. I am talking about the number of independent Member States represented in this most universal international body, and the role of new and old States in shaping our world.
In 1960, we had just ninety-nine members. Today, we have one hundred and ninety two states.
Then, at that time, we had more room – ten seats for each delegation. Now, even after adding dozens of rows, each delegation still has only six seats.
Then, only four African countries were represented at the United Nations. Today, there are more than fifty African states as members.
Many events helped shape these changes, but few were more important than the adoption of the General Assembly’s Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
Then, more than 100 million human beings lived in conditions of colonial oppression and exploitation, denied their fundamental human rights.
The Declaration was a light of hope, but making good on its promise to end colonialism seemed like a far-off goal for too many locked in the struggle for independence.
Now, fifty years later, the vast majority of States have achieved this goal.
Still, the process of decolonization is not complete. There are sixteen Non-Self-Governing Territories on the list of the Special Committee on Decolonization. Finishing the job will require a continuing dialogue among the administering Powers, the Special Committee, and the peoples of those territories.
The United Nations is committed to fulfilling the Declaration’s great promise.
This Organization was the proud midwife at the birth of a number of formerly colonized countries. We remain engaged with all of them as we seek to consolidate peace, development and human rights.
This is a long road, beset by new challenges. Fortunately, decolonization efforts to date have taught us many lessons that we can use to reach our goals.
First and foremost, we must remember that decolonization required commitment and persistence. These are qualities we must bring to the consolidation of independence. The building of new politics is just as big a struggle, and must continue in order to forge strong, self-reliant States.
Second, decolonization was achieved not through the lonely sacrifices of isolated individuals but through a spirit of solidarity that traveled across the globe, sometimes in writings smuggled into prison cells, sometimes in rallying cries shouted across borders, and always with an understanding that we are all connected and share a common dignity.
Third, the greatest champions of decolonization, those who left their mark on history, understood that independence is part and parcel of global interdependence.
Today, new coalitions and groupings of countries are taking hold. Rather than fragmenting into smaller groups with more narrow concerns, we should forge broad alliances. That is how we can best reach our shared goals.
In the process, we should pioneer new forms of cooperation — among countries that were colonized and with those that were not. We must preserve the lessons of the decolonization process, but we also have to adopt new ways of thinking to meet emerging challenges.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We must never forget the shared origins of many of the world’s developing countries, and the sacrifices they made on the path to independence.
At the same time, global interdependence demands a new kind of solidarity to overcome the challenges of our times, be it eliminating poverty, pressing forward toward the Millennium Development Goals, protecting the environment or dealing with the violence in and between our societies.
Decolonization re-made the world – in our minds and on the ground. It showed the tremendous power we have to shape the world for the better. Let us continue to build on that remarkable achievement, and realize in full the spirit of the Declaration whose anniversary we mark today.
Thank you very much.
Bio: Ban Ki-moon is Secretary-General of the United Nations General Assembly.