Explanation of Vote on Agenda Items 59-63: Decolonization

Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 9, 2021


Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. I take the floor to deliver the United States’ explanation of vote for items 59 through 63 in the interest of time.

Let me begin by saying, the United States is proud to support the right of peoples to self-determination and we will continue to uphold the full application of Article 73 of the UN Charter. However, the United States must also reiterate our well-known concerns that these resolutions continue to place too much weight on independence as a one-size-fits-all status option for a territory’s people in pursuit of their right of self-determination. As was correctly stated by the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations of 1970, the people of a non-self-governing territory may, as an alternative to independence, validly opt for free association or any other political status – including integration with the administering state – provided the people freely determine such status. In other words, the territories can speak for themselves and it is not for this Assembly to press for any particular outcome.

Leaving the decision, whatever it might be, to the free will of the people is the essence of the right of self-determination. Moreover, we are dismayed – in the resolution entitled “Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples” – at the retention in operative paragraph 14 of an outdated call to terminate all military activities and bases in non-self-governing territories. The United States government, as other states, has a sovereign right to carry out its military activities in accordance with its national security interests, and it is, frankly, simplistic to assume that military presence is necessarily harmful to the rights and interests of the people of the territory, or incompatible with their wishes.

With respect to the resolution on “Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories” transmitted under Article 73(e) of the Charter, we underscore that it is for administering states to determine whether a territory has achieved self-governance under the terms of the Charter, and whether to transmit information under Article 73(e) of the Charter.

Regarding the resolution entitled “The Question of Guam”, the United States again express disagreement with the criticism of a U.S. federal court ruling that enjoined Guam’s planned plebiscite on self-determination. According to the U.S. court’s ruling, which was affirmed on appeal in 2019, the Guamanian law establishing the plebiscite violates U.S. constitutional guarantees against race-based restrictions on the exercise of voting rights. The United States has long supported the right of self-determination for the people of Guam and continues to do so.

In light of this language, we also find it necessary to reiterate the longstanding U.S. view that the right of self-determination of the people of a non-self-governing territory is to be exercised by the whole people, not just one portion of the population. In this connection, we welcome the Assembly’s acknowledgment in operative paragraph 5 of the Guam resolution that self-determination decisions should be conducted consistently with applicable human rights obligations and commitments, including the commitments set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As we are all aware, among these are important commitments relating to non-discrimination and universal and equal suffrage.

Finally, Madam Chair, the United States reiterates and incorporates by reference the other concerns we have expressed in years past about these resolutions. We stress that the statements in these resolutions, as well as those in prior resolutions of the General Assembly – including Resolution 1514 of 1960 – are nonbinding and do not necessarily state or reflect international law. And any reaffirmation of prior documents in these resolutions applies only to those states that affirmed them initially.

Thank you, Madam Chair.