Committee Overview

The Fourth Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations is the Special Political and Decolonization Committee, otherwise known as SPECPOL. Established in 1993, SPECPOL is a combination of the Decolonization Committee (formerly the Fourth Committee) and the Special Political Committee. These committees were merged in 1990 when the United Nations established 1990-2000 as the “International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.” This was particularly important considering at the time of the creation of the United Nations, 750 million people lived in colonized territory. Over 80 former colonies have become independent since 1945. Today, in part due to the work of the Fourth Committee, this number has drastically decreased to approximately two million people living in colonized territory, which SPECPOL remains determined to address.

Topic A: The Status of Gibraltar

Gibraltar is a small outcropping (only 6.7 square kilometers) on the southern Iberian Peninsula. Looking over the strategically important Strait of Gibraltar—through which half of the world’s ocean trade passes—the territory has been of interest to numerous powers in its history. The United Kingdom has controlled Gibraltar since the early eighteenth century, although Spain has repeatedly claimed the territory. Gibraltar is included on the UN’s list of non-self-governing territories, and Spain’s claim to the area is debated in the UN General Assembly’s Fourth Committee nearly every year. Although geography would seem to favor the Spanish claim, the people’s wishes pose a challenge. In 1967, the people of Gibraltar voted to remain in the United Kingdom. In another referendum in 2002, the people voted for shared sovereignty between Spain and the UK. At the heart of this issue lie deep questions about how to finish unwinding the colonial era. Delegates must consider the role of self-determination and how it compares to a need for justice for old treaties whose legitimacy has been questioned. These issues affect many of the areas on the list of non-self-governing territories, such as Montserrat and the Falkland Islands, as well as other legacies of colonial rule, such as Guantanamo Bay and the Akrotiri and Dhekelia bases on Cyprus. By untangling the complex issues surrounding Gibraltar, delegates will develop a deeper understanding of the post-colonial work that remains to be done.

Topic B: The Effects of Foreign Aid in Sub-Saharan Africa

Foreign aid is defined as the transfer of funds, goods, or services from one country to another. Foreign aid is usually intended to help countries address their most pressing needs, such as developing infrastructure, healthcare, education, and humanitarian needs. This, in turn, would give them the opportunity to focus on long-term economic growth and stability. Today, the countries within Sub-Saharan Africa are known to have received high percentages of foreign aid, and yet, they are also known to continue to have high levels of corruption and poverty. These trends have caused the modern concept of foreign aid to be called into question. The ineffectiveness of foreign aid can be attributed to many different things, including a lack of government stability, a misuse of funds, an unhealthy reliance on aid, and, most importantly, the impacts of foreign influence. Many developed nations such as China, Russia, and the United States are providing foreign aid with the expectation that they will receive access to natural resources, foster trade, increase their military presence, and advance their political interests in the region. The increasing involvement of foreign actors is part of what is restricting Sub-Saharan nations from growing, as they may feel pressured to maintain their external relationships instead of improving the issues occurring internally. Other economists have found that foreign aid can actually stifle domestic businesses and industries rather than help them. It is important for delegates to consider all of these factors and consider new ways that the international community can support the many developing states in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Background guide and other resources