Countries, Decolonization, Security & Defense

Interview with Sir Graham: Gibraltar, Brexit and Territorial Dispute

Last week, I had the honour of meeting Sir Graham Watson, former MEP, and ask him questions about Gibraltar a few days after the Brexit had been announced. I also had the opportunity to ask him about the dispute with Spain, a territorial disagreement which is far from being resolved. You will find some of what the former leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group in the European Parliament shared with me during the interview below, in italic. I have tried to complement his arguments with others found in the press and provide additional background information when deemed necessary.

Sir Graham, former MEP for South England between 1994 and 2014, was appointed in October 2014 by HM Government of Gibraltar to lead “the lobbying activities of the Government in the EU capital which includes advising and guiding the Government in connection with the implementation of strategies for the promotion of Gibraltar’s interests within the European Union.” The Representation Office of Gibraltar to the European Union was opened on 27 May 2015, thus confirming Gibraltar’s eagerness to further participate in the EU decision making.

Gibraltar joined the EU (the EEC at the time) alongside the United Kingdom, of which it is an overseas territory, in 1973.

In Gibraltar, EU treaties apply, as outlined in Article 355(3) of the Consolidated Version of the Treaty On the Functioning of the European Union, but VAT, customs rules and excise rules do not.

Although Gibraltarians are obliged to follow EU directives, they had no say in it until 2004, after which Gibraltar was added to the South West England constituency for European Parliament elections. Gibraltar was considered by the UK to be too small to have its own MEP.

Amidst the results of the EU referendum, Gibraltar has made it back to the headlines. The Rock’s future would be uncertain if it had to leave the EU along with the UK, but Spain insistence on getting the territory back to Spain is increasing tension in the region.

Can the dispute between the UK and Spain about Gibraltar be considered as a frozen conflict?

“It cannot really be considered as being frozen because it is alive. There are daily incursions of Spanish vessels and of the police into Gibraltar territorial waters. Spain justifies this by invoking the preservation and environmental zone whose responsibility was given to them by the European Commission. Of course, no shots are being fired, but there are frictions every day. The issue could then be assessed as frozen conflict, with melting edges.”

Sir Graham was referring to the Estrecho Oriental a 69-square-mile marine conservation area site which englobes “all but one small segment of the British zone –  two square miles in the north-western corner.”

Why is it that Spain has relentlessly tried to regain control of Gibraltar since they lost it and the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713?

The Peace of Utrecht, or the Treaties or Utrecht, were signed in 1713 between France and other European powers, and between Spain and other nations. They marked the end of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).  Spain, among others, lost Gibraltar and Minorca to Britain.

Sir Graham explained Continue reading

Decolonization, History and Culture, Security & Defense

France’s forgotten territories: The TAAF

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference in Paris, in the prestigious Ecole Militaire. The topic of the conference was the French forgotten territories, those pieces of land scattered around the globe which few people know about. On this blog, I have previously talked about Mayotte and some former French colonies such as Madagascar, but I have not yet touched upon the inhabited territories that France possesses. Based on his book “tour du monde des terres françaises oubliées”, Bruno Fuligni presented the enclaves, islands, rocks, houses and memorials which continue to make France an empire on which the sun never sets. Many believe that France is now a small country, as it is only a fraction of what it used to be. This is, however, only partly true. France may have lost its African, American and Asian possessions to decolonization, but some corners of the world were spared by this process.



This week, our world tour continues. We are moving to another part of the world, on the other side of the planet. In the Southern hemisphere, France possesses several territories regrouped under the TAAF, the “terres australes et antactiques française“. This group of territories is made of five districts of islands and land. What those have in common is that they are permanently inhabited – let me emphasize the “permanently” because scientists regularly explore them – they are also natural reserves. They have acquired the status of overseas territories in 1955 (and 2005 for the îles Éparses) which granted them financial and administrative autonomy.

The TAAF give France 2 300 000 km² of exclusive economic zone (EEZ), contributing to France’s maritime power. They also are rich in natural resources, notably the îles Éparses which are located off the shore of Mozambique, a region rich in fossil fuel.

Two ships make those pieces of land reachable: the Marion Dufresne from Saint-Pierre, Réunion and the Astrolabe from Australia to Terre Adélie. The TAAF are so original and peculiar that the troops and scientists deployed there have developed their own words to adapt to the local conditions. A new dialect was born: the Taafien.

Terre Adélie

Base Dumont d'Urville is located 5 km off the continental coast of Antartica

Base Dumont d’Urville is located 5 km off the continental coast of Antarctica

Terre Adélie is a piece of the antarctic continent internationally recognized as belonging to France. The Treaty of Washington of 1959 ‘froze’ all sovereignty claims in an effort to use the Antarctic for peace and science and not as another proxy of the Cold War. The nuclearization and weaponization of the Antarctica is thus prohibited. The Madrid Protocol added an environmental component to the Treaty, thus ensuring the protection of the nature of Antarctica.

The scientific base Dumont d’Urville, which was named after the Frenchman who discovered and claimed the territory in 1840, was built in 1956. It has an international scope and includes the study of the local wildlife which includes emperor penguins, the study of geology, seismology, climate and meteorology, and much more.

France’s piece of land spreads over 432 000 km² of ice (bigger than Germany), from the South Pole to the ocean. France shares its longest land border there, with Australia.

Iles Éparses

Map of Iles Eparses - Aurélie Boissière

Map of Iles Eparses – Aurélie Boissière

The Iles Éparses, or the scattered islands, do not form a homogeneous group as the district is made of several archipelagos separated by hundreds of kilometers. They are mostly located in the Mozambique Canal, around Madagascar and La Réunion.

The Iles Eparses are constituted by l’archipel des Glorieuses, Juan de Nova, Europa and Bassas da India, and Tromelin. They are all permanently inhabited but welcome military contingencies and meteorologists which are responsible for ensuring France’s sovereignty over the territories.

The weather station plays an important role in the region as the data collected serves to monitor cyclones, a recurrent problem in the region. All the islands are also natural reserves as they have been barely touched by civilization.

This district of the TAAF remains, however, the object of a dispute between France and Madagascar. In 1960, Madagascar seized independence from its colonizer, France. However, three months before the referendum took place, a decree was passed in France removing the Iles Eparses from Madagascar’s vote. The islands thus remained attached to the hexagon while Madagascar retrieved its independence. In 1970, the issue was brought up by the local government, asking France to return the islands. Since 1979, the dispute brought to the United Nations, which issued a resolution urging France to engage negotiations with Madagascar. The resolution had not results and the situation is still not settled. It has been announced that the litigation will be discussed at the next General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2016.

The contentious has risen again over the last few months as the Iles Eparses may be floating over large reserves of oil, which of course have raised both Madagascar and France’s attention. The President of Madagascar offered France to co-administer the islands with them, a proposal which was naturally brushed off by the French.

It must be noted that the island of Tromelin is also the object of a territorial dispute as Mauritius is also claiming sovereignty.

District de Saint-Paul et Amesterdam, District de Crozet, District de Kerguelen 

The Kerguelen islands emerged 40 millions years ago and are the visible part of submerged volcano. They, however, appeared differently than the typical volcanic islands do (such as Iceland and Hawaii), which made the archipelago very interesting and important in the eyes of scientists. The main island, Grand Terre was discovered in 1772 and claimed in the name of France by Yves Joseph Kerguelen de Trémarec, who gave his name to the territory.

Follow the blog of the missions deployed there here. The islands are of particular importance from a scientific point of view as they serve as observatory for climate change for example.

The District of Saint-Paul and Amsterdam is very rich in fish and lobster, and famous for their wildlife. While Saint-Paul is relatively abandoned, Amsterdam island hosts a scientific base which has been put in place in 1949. The presence of human life there has impacted the local fauna and flora drastically, with irremediable consequences.

The Crozet islands are made out of two main groups of islands, located 110 km apart, somewhere between Madagascar and Antarctica. They were discovered by the French explorer Marc-Jospeh Marion-Dufresne in 1772, who gave his name to the ship supplying and reaching most TAAF. Administered from Madagascar between 1923 and 1955, the islands then became a TAAF, thus falling under the administration of the Ministry of the Overseas. The Edgar Faure scientific base implanted there focused on meteorological concerns.

The TAAF, although made of what seems like insignificant islands in the middle of the seas, actually bring France with various economic, geostrategic and environmental advantages. They also contribut to making France the second maritime domaine, right behind the USA, with 11 millions of km² of EEZ. The TAAF are for the most part made out of ice but they are crucial for scientific research.


Decolonization, History and Culture

France’s forgotten territories: Saint Helena, Guernsey and Oberhausen

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference in Paris, in the prestigious Ecole Militaire. The topic of the conference was the French forgotten territories, those pieces of land scattered around the globe which few people know about. On this blog, I have previously talked about Mayotte and some former French colonies such as Madagascar, but I have not yet touched upon the inhabited territories that France possesses. Based on his book “tour du monde des terres françaises oubliées”, Bruno Fuligni presented the enclaves, islands, rocks, houses and memorials which continue to make France an empire on which the sun never sets. Many believe that France is now a small country, as it is only a fraction of what it used to be. This is, however, only partly true. France may have lost its African, American and Asian possessions to decolonization, but some corners of the world were spared by this process.

Last week, I told you about the pieces of land France owns in Europe; Ile Julia and Ile des Faisans, two territories with very distinct but quirky stories. In this article, I will touch upon French possessions which relate to famous figures in French history. On foreign soil, France owns houses and memorials to perpetrate the glory of several French heroes.

Saint Helena and Napoléon

Longwood, Napoleon's quarters on Saint Helena

Longwood, Napoleon’s quarters on Saint Helena

Napoléon is still today one of France’s biggest pride; the name of the emperor comes with the idea of greatness, grandeur, reforms and modernity as some of Napoléon’s creation are still in place today, such as the Code Civile, even beyond France. Going back to the topic of this article, we must go to Saint Helena where the Emperor died in exile in May 1825. The house and area where the Emperor died still belongs to France today, in memory of the national figure Napoleon was and still remains. There is therefore a French enclave on British territory in the South Atlantic Ocean; it is Longwood, Napoleon’s last residence, as well as the small pavilion Briars and the Valley of the Tomb where Napoleon was first buried. The isolation of Saint Helena makes visiting the island very difficult (this is what made it so interesting for exiling Napoleon) as only one ship accesses the territory every three weeks. The construction of an airport due to open in 2016 might change everything. We can expect hoards of tourists rushing to Saint Helena to follow Napoleon’s last steps. But think that tourist shops will probably be set up. If they are within the French enclaves, tourists will have to pay in Euros will being surrounding by British territories were the British Pound is used. It might get confusing for many.

Guernsey and Victor Hugo 

Victor Hugo's House, Hauteville House, St Peter Port.

Victor Hugo’s House, Hauteville House, St Peter Port.

This case is actually quite similar to the previous one: there is a piece of land on a British island which used to belong to a famous Frenchman which now belongs to France. This time, we are talking about Victor Hugo’s house on the island of Guernsey located between France and the UK, in the middle of the Channel. An again, just like Napoleon, Hugo was in exile (from 1856 tp 1870). Victor Hugo had already been in exile in Guernsey for five years for opposing the coup d’état staged by Napoléon III and had been banished from Brussels and Jersey successively . With the proceeds from sales of the anthology Les Contemplations, published in 1856, he purchased an estate comprising a five-storey house, garden and belvedere overlooking Havelet bay, in Saint Peter Port.”. It is the sale of Les Contemplations which enabled him to put a roof on his head, namely that of the Hauteville House, on the British island. It is the famous writer who decorated the interior of the house. “Hauteville House remained in the family until 1927, when Jeanne Nègreponte, Victor Hugo’s grand-daughter and the children of his grandson Georges Hugo donated it to the City of Paris on the occasion of the celebrations marking one hundred years of Romanticism.” Today, the City of Paris still administers Hauteville House.

La Tour d’Auvergne in Oberhausen, Bavaria

Latour Memorial in Oberhausen, Bavaria

Latour Memorial in Oberhausen, Bavaria

Théophile Malo de La Tour d’Auvergne-Corret was a French soldier and musketeer, who throughout his life, has been recognized as brave. He also took an active part in the French Revolution. Refusing many promotions under the Ancien Régime despite his central role in several wars, notably against Spain at the end of the 18th century, he finally received the title of “Premier grenadier de de la République” from Napoléon Bonaparte. He died at war in Oberhausen, Bavaria in June 1880. His superior; General Moreau, in honour of his death, acquired a piece of land where La Tour d’Auvergne died to bury him there (see picture). This piece of land still belongs to France today, even though the remain of La Tour d’Auvergne were moved to the Panthéon in Paris for the 100th anniversary of the Revolution of 1789.


Decolonization, History and Culture

France’s forgotten territories: Ile des Faisans and Ile Julia

Bruno Fulgini at the ANAJ IHEDN conference in Paris on 29.10.15

Bruno Fuligni at the ANAJ IHEDN conference in Paris on 29.10.15

Yesterday evening I attended a conference in Paris, in the prestigious Ecole Militaire. On top of taking place in an amazing location (you get a close up view onto the Eiffel Tower from there), this is also an important location for whoever is interested by questions of defence. A special organisation was created to address those questions. For the ANAJ IHEDN, defence means more than what you would first assume. Defence is cultural, intellectual, military and so much more.

The topic of yesterday’s conference was the French forgotten territories, those pieces of land scattered around the globe which few people know about. On this blog, I have previously talked about Mayotte and some former French colonies such as Madagascar, but I have not yet touched upon the inhabited territories that France possesses. Based on his book “tour du monde des terres françaises oubliées”, Bruno Fuligni presented the enclaves, islands, rocks, houses and memorials which continue to make France an empire on which the sun never sets.

Many believe that France is now a small country, as it is only a fraction of what it used to be. This is, however, only partly true. France may have lost its African, American and Asian possessions to decolonization, but some corners of the world were spared by this process.

In this article, I will not refer to the DROM and COM, the inhabited overseas territories that everybody knows about – Martinique, Guadeloupe, Wallis et Futuna, Saint Pierre et Miquelon, Mayotte, French Guyana, etc. In this article I will only touch upon some of the examples which were discussed yesterday as the list of those French forgotten territories is long. I will start with the French possessions which are located in Europe. On top of the French enclaves in Germany, which I will not discussed as they are inhabited and not so uncommon, many islands, rocks, archipelago, houses, enclaves, etc. still belong to France; in my opinion, those places are worth knowing about.

The pheasants

Ile des Faisans

Ile des Faisans

In the south-west of France, a river called Bidassoa marks the border with Spain. In the middle of this river, the tiny “ile des Faisans” (3000 m2) is a historical curiosity and landmark. Most people believe that this island was named after the birds when it is actually referring to the use of this piece of land, which the nickname of the island, “the island of the Conference” gives us a hint. Indeed, the island has been widely used for diplomatic purposes. “Faisans” is in fact a reference to the “doers” or the diplomats and not to the birds. The island was indeed used several times to settle dispute between France and Spain. It was on the Bidassoa that Francois I was returned to France in exchange for his sons. It was also there that, in 1659, the marriage of Louis XIV and Marie Therese of Austria, daughter of Philip IV of Spain was settled, as agreed in the Treaty of the Pyrenees. Since the treaty, the island is a French and Spanish condominium, meaning that, although the island is not inhabited, the police administering the territory changes every six months. Next February, France will then have to pass on the keys to Spain until next August. Although fastidious, this system has avoided many confrontations between the two neighbour countries which have used this island as a safe haven to decide on the destiny of the two nations. Only diplomats could have imagined this administrative arrangement..


A volcanic eruption created Ile Julia (or Fernandea)

A volcanic eruption created Ile Julia (or Fernandea)

The other example which is worth mentioning is actually quite a funny story as France is the owner of a ghost island in the Mediterranean, between Sicily and Malta.  Ile Julia (or Ferdinandea for the Italians and Graham for the Brits) is particularly worth dwelling on as it no longer exists but might reappear. In 1831 an island appeared as a result of a submarine volcano eruption. The Italians rushed to claim ownership by throwing a row on this hot piece of land. The row burned, thus destroying the Italian sovereignty. The Brits then sent the navy, but the ship was too big to get close enough to put a flag. The French then sent a scientific mission to conquer the land and study the mysterious island. A few months later, the French government sent another mission to reinforce their settlement. The island was, however, no longer there. Turns out the island was only made of volcanic dust which had been washed away by the waves. So technically, France is the owner of a ghost island.

Maybe, someday, Julia Island will reappear. And due to its key strategic location, and despite France’s official sovereignty rights on Julia,  there might be some opposition to France’s sovereignty claim. When the island reappears, it will be crucial to reassert the claim against the competitors… it must be remembered that the competition will be tough, especially considering that Italy placed a waterproof flag on the volcano after Mr. Fuligni joked in one of his article that France should do it….

There are many more examples I need to tell you about; they all have their own stories and their own quirks.

Next time, read about the special and tiny places France owns across the globe and which report to its national history, and more precisely to some very important figures.



Ceuta And Melilla: Another entry door into Europe

The migration wave coming from Africa and reaching Europe makes the headlines everyday. This migration patterns shows the failure of the West’s deployment in Northern Africa. The resurgence of crises in Congo, Mali, Burundi and so forth also reinforce the idea that we still live in a divided world. And those who suffer are not to come to Europe because they do not belong. And what better way to mark this divide that with a wall? There are many examples of such infrastructures which try to keep migrants away from a better life; walls mark the border between Mexico and the US, between North and South Korea, Jerusalem and the West Bank, India and Bangladesh, in Cyprus, etc.

But did you know that a wall prevented Africans from accessing two cities located on the continent? What I am referring to here are the Spanish exclaves located on the opposite side of the Mediterranean of the mainland. These cities are called Ceuta and Melilla and are situated on the Moroccan coast. Ceuta is right on the other side of the Gibraltar strait, while Melilla is further East.Ceuta and Melilla

Morocco vs. Spain

Technically speaking, the two cities are on African soil, but belong to Spain. The local currency is euro. Melilla is a semi-autonomous city, governed by a mayor-president. For that reason, it is part of the EU. And because those two cities are EU outposts outside of Europe, they offer the safest alternatives to reaching the Old Continent for migrants coming from all over Africa (mainly sub-saharian). Every year, thousands of migrants risk their lives in the hope of crossing the walls which separate the European enclaves from Morocco.

Most surprisingly, Morocco is adding difficulties to the migrants’ quest. It is eyebrow-raising because Morocco does not recognize Spain’s sovereignty over these two cities for the reason that they are in Morocco and thus historically belong to them. Spain, on the other hand, claims that Spanish presence dates back to before Morocco became a sovereign and nation-state, thus invoking the historical precedent rather than geographical considerations. In this case, and like in many other when in comes to overseas territories, organizing a referendum to consult the local populations would be pointless. Take the case of Mayotte which was previously discussed in an article: who would choose to be attached to the Comoros when you can remain French? The two options do not offer the same opportunities. For that reason, self-determination is not invoked by Morocco. In this case, territorial integrity is, just like Spain does against the UK for Gibraltar.

The great walls 

Going back to those walls, Ceuta is surrounded by 20km of wires while Melilla is separated by 3 layers of fences over 10 km. Guarded 24/7, those borders can be deadly for whoever tries to overpass them. They, however, do not defeat everybody, and hundred of migrants still manage to make it to Spain (4 354 in 2013). If not immediately caught by the Guardia Civil or the Moroccan police, they can no longer be ‘pushed back’ to Morocco, as stated under European law. If sent back to Morocco, migrants are often in bad shape and still undesired illegal immigrants in Morocco.

Walls were not walls before the 1990s when they were reinforced. Before then, Spanish exclaves and Morocco were difficult to delineate, and inhabitants from both communities walk freely across borders.The wall of Melilla

The Spanish-Moroccan borders are also the object of other types of trafficking, from both times this time. The Spanish enclaves are actually exempt of taxes, thus making good much cheaper than in mainland Europe, and mostly accessible for the Moroccans. The latter thus buy European foods and items from the harbour area at the border between the two countries, and sell them on the Moroccan side. Local authorities have attempted to put an end to this trade by banning vehicles from entering the warehouses, turning the merchants into ‘human mules’ as some carry up to 100kg in duty free goods.

Another problem of these exclaves are the Moroccan shanty towns. In Ceuta specifically, the shanty town “Principe Alfonso” is a no-go zone, and is considered as Spain’s most dangerous area. There, Spanish authorities have no rights. Illegal trafficking and terror do. There is no future for the local inhabitants. They are not Spaniards and they do not live in Morocco. They are nothing. The neighbourhood is also recognized as a jihadist recruitment center.

What now?

Problems seem to pile up in the two exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Illegal immigration, violence, human rights abuse, sovereignty dispute, poverty, despair… Nothing is changing other than the reinforcement of the borders to keep Spain out of reach of the migrants.

The best way to address the issue is to understand that Africa is in a dire situation, and that, even though Europe is not the paradise, it is still better than most countries from which migrants leave. Yes, migrants are illegal, but no, this does not justify that violence.


Non-Self Governing Territories: the UN’s failure to eradicate colonialism

This post consists of extract of my master thesis “Non-Self-Governing Territories: What Power Structure with their Metropolitan States? – Upside Down Decolonization and Remnants of Empires”

Decolonization and self-determination promotion are often argued to be a prerogative of the United Nations due to the organization’s inclusive membership and the context of its creation. The UN, building on the failures of the League of Nations, put together a system based on mutual trust and international collaboration through collective security to create a world free of wars. One way to achieve this goal included an institutional approach to resolving conflicts, but also counted on putting an end to colonialism which had oppressed some parts of the world for centuries. Although at the time of the emergence of the UN, empires were disintegrating and some colonial powers still needed to be pushed to give away what they saw as their sovereignty rights. However, in spite of the harsh condemnation of the non-respect for the principle of self-determination, some territories, named “non-self-governing territories” (NSGTs) by the UN, still lack autonomy today, a situation that is unlikely going to change any time soon.

UN's list of the 17 non-self-governing territories

UN’s list of the 17 non-self-governing territories (United Nations)

Included in Wilson’s 12 points, the idea of self-determination and the end of colonialism was first advocated after the First World War, and became one of the League of Nations’ central principles. It was the first time “that the West European colonial Powers created truly international machinery for supervising the conduct of colonial administration, and even then only under pressure from the United States, in particular from her idealistic President, Woodrow Wilson”.

After the First World War, the mandate of the defeated countries’ former colonies fell mostly under the supervision of the other colonial powers (Belgium, France, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa) although Wilson had suggested they were administered by “smaller Powers”. The organization had very limited impact on the decolonization process due to evident flaws in its system.

In the wake of the Second World War, most empires had collapsed, or at least shrunk. Amongst the fifty-one founding members of the organization, “over half had previously experienced some form of colonial rule”, creating a strong anti-colonial front amongst the UN. Colonialism became a “fundamental evil which all members of the family of nations have a positive moral duty to assist in terminating”. In addition, opposition was visible amongst what would become the Permanent Members of the Security Council (P5): the USSR was a fervent advocator of decolonization due to its Marxist political ideology; China and the United States were moderate supporters of the idea, while France and the United Kingdom remained opposed to the project due to the importance and advantages of their colonial empires.

The creation of the United Nations opened a new chapter of world history where ensuring self-determination of all peoples and putting an end to colonialism were central goals. The importance of these ideas can be illustrated by the fact that out of the nineteen chapters of the Charter of the United Nations Organizations, three are dedicated to decolonization (XI, XII and XIII).


Definition of a non-self-governing territory

The criteria defining a non-self-governing territory where adopted by the General Assembly on November 23, 1953 in resolutions adopted based on the recommendations of the specially created Fourth Committee. A territory is defined as a NSGT if it “has not attained a full measure of self-government” or if it retains “final remnants of global colonialism which are yet to be granted acceptable levels of self-governance”. Resolution 742 (VIII) defines the parameters that should be taken into consideration when analysing a territory. To be ‘eligible’ to make the list, only inhabited territories are qualified, therefore excluding “the Antarctic territories claimed by the UK, Norway, Australia and others and the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam”.
It is important to note that being removed from the list is not irreversible: French Polynesia was added again in May 2013 after decades of absence from the list.

Criteria for making the list

Based on the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Factors (Non Self Governing Territories) set up by resolution 648 (VII), the list of criteria includes three parts which each correspond to different paths to self-governance. Independence is therefore not the only acceptable alternative. The UN “considers that the manner in which Territories referred to in Chapter XI of the Charter can become fully self-governing is primarily through the attainment of independence, although it is recognized that self-government can also be achieved by association with another State or group of States if this is done freely and one the basis of absolute equality”. Territories will be added to the list if they do not respect the demands linked to their status.

The list defines the requirements in terms of autonomy (political and economic), of democracy (free and regular elections) as well as on the way a territory changed status. It is clearly stipulated that “for a Territory to be deemed self-governing in economic, social or educational affairs, it is essential that its people shall have attained a full measure of self-government”. The report also affirms that a colonial power cannot decide to send off a colony without ensuring its viability

Remarks on the list of non-self-governing territories 

Map of the non-self-governing territories

Map of the non-self-governing territories (United Nations)

Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) are the object of a sovereignty dispute – the former between the UK and Spain, the latter by the UK and Argentina.

The United Kingdom is the country that still holds the most NSGT with ten under its jurisdiction, and New Zealand the least with only one (Tokelau).

Apart from Western Sahara and Gibraltar, the remaining fifteen territories are all islands. The latter is the only territory located in Europe, a striking exception when considering that colonialism traditionally does not refer to the Old Continent.
Most territories are located in the Caribbean and Pacific.

Western Sahara is the only NSGT which is officially not administered by a foreign country, although de facto, Morocco plays that role.

Difference with other overseas territories

Aside from the obvious differences with other territories which enjoy the characteristics listed above, NSGTs are different in the fact that their situation is still considered as ‘colonial’ by the UN as, on top of “the social and cultural traces the colonial past may have left”, they also lack autonomy. NSGTs are still colonized and colonialized.
Jan de Koning made the difference between these two terms to explain that all territories that were once ruled by a foreign power are colonized and thus principles of Postcolonialism apply there. However, the territories that have been granted enough autonomy or independence have been decolonialised as they cannot be considered as colonies in terms of material possession. For that reason, it is possible to assume that territories mentioned in the United Nations’ Non-self-governing territories list are by definition neither decolonialised nor decolonised.



The United Nations aims to ensure the promotion of self-determination, under the different forms it believes fulfil the necessary criteria. Some territories however remain in a situation which is deemed problematic and thus ought to be changed.
When reviewing the NSGTs, one cannot help but notice that the reason for them being on the list are plural and more complex that they might first appear. The local population might be satisfied with their situation and yet be on the NSGT list.
It appears that the territories can be split into three main categories as to why the UN believes they are not self-governing.

 To read more about why each territory is on the NSGT list, refer to my thesis available here

Decolonization, History and Culture

Indian Ocean: the other migrant crisis

As explained in my previous post, Mayotte is a French Overseas Territories which voted to be more integrated and become a Departement d’Outre Mer, therefore abiding to French and European laws.

As a French possession, Mayotte enjoys better living conditions than neighbouring and former fellow country-men in Comoros. When the Comoros decided to seize their independence and Mayotte voted to go their separate ways, each territory started on separate path – towards independence for the Comoros and towards remaining a relic of colonialism in the case of Mayotte.

The fact that Mayotte refused to build a common future with the rest of the archipelago stirred up problems in the region. Historical and cultural arguments have been put forward by the Comoros to explain how the partition of Mayotte from the Comoros went against the territorial integrity of the archipelago which is made of 4 and not 3 islands. It is on this basis that the President of the Comoros have appealed to the UN General Assembly to reject France’s “annexation” of Mayotte, which was made in accordance with people’s right to self-determination (although the results of the referendum were contested) and against the principle of territorial integrity.

Illegal immigration: Mayotte’s attractiveness 

Every year, thousands of Comorians cross the seas from their islands to Mayotte to immigrate illegally. At a time when we speak of the migration waves from the Middle East to Western Europe, the migration crisis in the Indian Ocean is swept under the carpet, although the phenomenon is important and has increased since Mayotte became a French département. What attracts the Comorians to Mayotte is the French Département’s development and wealth. It is estimated that Mayotte’s GDP is 7 times higher than that of the Comoros. the French health care system, much more advanced, better sanitized and also cheaper than in the neighbouring islands.

In addition, Mayotte has become a birth center in the region as all babies born in Mayotte automatically become French citizen. Indeed, the legal principle of jus soli, or right of soil, applies in Mayotte, thus granting the French nationality to anyone born in Mayotte. Jus soli is opposed to jus sanguinis which would require one of the parents to be French citizens for the newborn to gain the French nationality. It is believed that a third of the population of Mayotte, that is to say 50,000 to 60,000 people out of 21,700 (2013) are illegal immigrants, amongst which 90% come from the Comoros. (NB: a similar phenomenon can be observed in French Guyana, where mothers from neighbouring countries travel to give birth in the French overseas territories)

Mariane, the French allegory to Anjouan, one of the Comoros' island:

Marianne, the French allegory to Anjouan, one of the Comoros’ island: “I’ve already told, I cannot adopt you too”

Although the French border control attempt to keep the Comorians away, the attractiveness of Mayotte seems to be a sufficient motive for the illegal migrants to risk their lives over and over on kwassas-kwassas, the local fishermen’ boats, to cross the seas. The 70km that separate the island of Anjouan to Mayotte are deadly; it is estimated that up to 10,000 people have died since 1995 trying to reach the French territory.

This migration pattern, however, causes problems in Mayotte as the medical system is not built to also cure the population of the Comoros. The local finances are thus in deficit because of the migrants. Estimates judge that more than 50% of mothers giving birth in Mayotte are from the Comoros.

In addition to the weight on the health care system, immigrants cost a fortune: the border police must deploy important means to prevent illegal immigration and send the migrants back to where they came from (20,000 Comorians were rejected by the French border police in 2014). Illegal immigration was triggered by the imposition of a visa without which Comorians cannot visit Mayotte. The cost of that visa is, however, prohibitive for more Comorians, who thus prefer to go “visit” the neighbouring island via the fishermen’s boats.

What solution? 

The problem is historical: Mayotte is historically a part of the Comoros, and thus cannot be isolated from the other islands. It has been evaluated that a third of the migrants who come to Mayotte were born there, and thus only wish to go back rather than to immigrate. In addition, the visa – commonly called “visa Balladur”, but a financial strain on those historical and cultural ties which the Comoros and Mayotte share. On top of that, Mayotte is geographically isolated from the continent, and the Comoros are important partners for the island. Cutting the ties completely would be disastrous.

Plus, and although Mayotte is in development and still lags far behind the metropole, the island is very attractive for the neighbouring islands due to the available means France brings to Mayotte. In order to stop illegal immigration, supporting the development of the Comoros is part of the solution.

Many advocate for a more forceful method to stop the illegal transit of people to Mayotte, such as the creation of the equivalent of Frontex at the French level. But as shown by the migrant crisis in Europe, this type of military mission is not a deterrent to those looking for better living conditions.