Dr. Carlyle Corbin: Making Strides in Decolonization

Julia Faye Munoz
Jul 7, 2018 · 8 min read

A United Nations’ expert and former U.S. Virgin Islands official, Dr. Carlyle Corbin has dedicated his career to self-determination advocacy and education — particularly as it relates to the Caribbean and Oceania — for over two decades.

UN Advisor and decolonization expert Carlyle Corbin (The Insular Empire)

Hailing from the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), Dr. Carlyle Corbin has dedicated his career to the actualization of decolonization (The University College of the Cayman Islands). For Dr. Corbin, it is a movement that does not only define a people politically, but holds enormous potential for a nation’s development. “Self determination is really an evolution. It’s a progressive modernization of what we have.” stated Dr. Corbin during a visit to Guam in 2012. “I think what has always been in my mind and my career determines that these arrangements that exist are never meant to be permanent. They are always meant to be a transition to something that is permanent that will give us permanent status. And what that may be is determined by the people” (Pacific News Center).

In essence, decolonization (self-determination) is the political process by which colonized nations achieve some degree of sovereignty. Sovereignty does not necessarily mean a complete separation of powers (independence); integration (statehood) into the colonizing nation is also a form of sovereignty (Klose). The formation of the United Nations in 1945 has played an influential role in the decolonization movement. The UN Charter, particularly Chapter XI (Articles 73 and 74), provide a foundation for the UN’s decolonization efforts, including the recognition of the right to self-determination for all peoples. Over 80 colonies, which account for some 750 million people, have achieved some form of sovereignty since the creation of the United Nations. In lieu of this success, some 17 colonies have yet to realize self-determination. The United Nations has established various resolutions to assist these colonies, and has declared evrey 10 years as an “International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism” since 1990 (United Nations). As the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism wanes, decolonization for these remaining territories seems ambiguous. For many of these colonies, hundreds of years have passed since they last were sovereign. Generations of decolonization activists have cycled through the decades, hoping to achieve some sort of progress for their colonized homeland. For Dr. Corbin, the years have allowed him to bring decolonization to the forefront not only for his home of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), but for other colonies as well.

Over the decades, Dr. Carlyle Corbin has been able to progress USVI and international decolonization through a variety of occupations. Generally speaking, Dr. Corbin has always acted as an international advisor on governance and multilateral diplomacy (The University College of the Cayman Islands). His various political roles qualify him as an expert on international relations; he is the former Minister of State for External Affairs of the U.S. Virgin Islands Government, and the territory’s representative to various United Nations’ bodies. Parallel to his role as the U.S. Virgin Islands’ United Nations representative, Dr. Corbin is recognized as an U.N. Development Programme expert on governance to Bermuda and to the Turks and Caicos Islands. He has served as political advisor to successive chairs of the U.N. Special Committee on Decolonisation, and Secretary-General of the Offshore Governors’ Forum (OGF), comprising the governments of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands (The University College of the Cayman Islands). He has also served as the constitutional advisor to the Anguilla Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee, the international governance advisor to the US Virgin Islands Fifth Constitutional Convention, and as a member of the US Virgin Islands Political Status Commission.

Dr. Corbin has also made considerable scholarly contributions, both in the form of literature and lecture. He is the author of two United Nations studies on the participation of territories in the UN system and another four UN studies on various aspects of global governance (The University College of the Cayman Islands). Given that colonization only applies to 17 nations as of late, the obstacles to decolonization are rather unfamiliar to most of the international community. Thus, Dr. Corbin’s studies and the like provide a platform for the territories to be better understood within a political framework — this is particularly important since colonies do not have direct representation in the United Nations. Dr. Corbin’s 2017 co-study, Assessing opportunities for enhanced integration of the associate members of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, provides a thorough assessment for the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) on how to better integrate non-sovereign members (colonies) (The Caribbean Development Portal). Nine of the seventeen recognized colonies are found in the Caribbean region; that alone speaks volumes for the significance of Dr. Corbin’s studies (United Nations). Apart from informing the general UN body, Dr. Corbin’s studies may incentivize particular UN officials. Delegates or ambassadors that are partial to these colonies’ plights may offer their support financially, advisory, or otherwise. This kind of external assistance greatly benefits colonies’ decolonization efforts, as they often lack necessary resources and support from their own administering powers (colonizers). Oftentimes, this support is not necessarily formalized in scholarly papers — or perhaps even in news — but is a byproduct of studies produced by officials such as Dr. Corbin.

Dr. Corbin has lectured across the globe on international relations, as it pertains to governance, political development and multilateral diplomacy. One particular territory that Dr. Corbin has lectured at extensively is Guam. Guam, an unincorporated U.S. territory in the western Pacific, is the oldest Pacific colony to date (Herman). The island’s status as a U.S. territory is the legal justification for the U.S.’s continued military presence. Because Guam is under the plenary authority of U.S. Congress, the island is often subject to controversial decisions regarding military buildup and governmental funding (Lawson). Such decisions include the transfer of approximately 5,000 marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam by the year 2022 (Letman). Dr. Corbin has advised various entities — non-governmental or otherwise —on how to respond to this issue of increasing militarization, particularly within a decolonization context. Because Guam’s decolonization process has been largely inhibited by their status as a strategic military location, Dr. Corbin has emphasized the US’s continued militarization of the island as a hindrance to liberation. “Further militarisation should not be permitted to distract the territory from pursuing self-determination which remains an inalienable right under international law, and recognised by all member states of the United Nations,” stated Dr. Corbin at a lecture at the University of Guam. In his advisement, Dr. Corbin stresses the autonomy that is offered in decolonization and its role in both demilitirzation and responding to its aftermath. “The necessary negotiating power to influence its nature and extent, as well as in determining just compensation for land use, toxic clean-up and the like, is lacking in a politically deficient non self-governing territorial status where the authority by an administering power is exercised unilaterally, even as varying degrees of consultation might be possible.”

Currently, Dr. Corbin still works with the United Nations and other existing colonies to realize self-determination. This past June, he testified at the 73rd session for the Special Committee on Decolonization to emphasize the need for affirmative action on decolonization by the international community. Whether he acts as a representative of the U.S. Virgin Islands or in response to other colonies, he consistently stresses a general lack of action, including a dearth of studies, analyses and political education programmes, have resulted in limited decolonisation progress over the last three decades, to which he refers to as the “Achilles heel of the United Nations”. Dr. Corbin has stated, “[Lack of action and studies] often relegates the debate to an exchange of differing opinions between those who recognise the true nature of contemporary colonialism and those who have made an accommodation with it, irrespective of its democratic deficiencies.”

Decolonization becomes less relevant for every year that passes. The era of decolonization that defined the 1940s-1980s is contemporarily sidelined. Though there may still be 17 colonies left in existence, decolonization has been difficult to realize due to differing global priorities and interference from the administering powers. “Decolonization is not on the radar,” Dr. Corbin has noted. “The idea is that it’s over.” Administrative powers that continually perpetuate colonization uphold this misperception, as they prefer that decolonization does not become a popular concern. Furthermore, the sensitivity of the issue proves an obstacle for colonized populations, as they find it difficult to grasp the gravity of their political state in relation to what could be defined as a universal standard for political and human rights.

Dr. Corbin realizes the obstacles surrounding decolonization, and his career has been dedicated to mitigating these obstacles through advocacy and education. His foundational belief, in that “each territory has the right to make its own decision in exercise of the right to self-determination based on its own unique set of conditions,” has proved empowering for the colonies and political entities for which he assists. Dr. Corbin’s work brings interdisciplinary solutions to the long-standing issue of decolonization. He has called for an independent review of any progress which has been made in each of the remaining Pacific and Caribbean territories, and recommended that the territorial universities be intricately involved since the United Nations had not fulfilled its mandate to undertake such analyses. For the majority of the global community, decolonization is an issue of the past; Dr. Corbin challenges this notion, and puts decolonization at the forefront of international discussion.

“But whatever determination is made by the people, the process of political modernisation should move forward. We owe this to those freedom fighters who struggled for our physical emancipation against heavy odds… Their efforts brought our physical emancipation, and a step closer to mental emancipation. The natural outcome of this will be our self-determination.

This is our responsibility — and is a debt we owe to our future generations — to take these next steps. Robert Nesta Marley left us with the clear message to “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery — (for) none but ourselves can free sour minds.”

Sources:

Bevacqua, Michael Lujan. “A Report on Carlyle Corbin’s Visit to Guam.” NO REST FOR THE AWAKE — MINAGAHET CHAMORRO, 22 Nov. 2009, minagahet.blogspot.com/2009/11/report-on-carlyle-corbins-visit-to-guam.html.

Corbin, Carlyle, and Dale Alexander. “Assessing Opportunities for Enhanced Integration of the Associate Members of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean — Studies and Perspectives Series — The Caribbean No.56.” The Caribbean Development Portal, United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 2017, caribbean.cepal.org/content/assessing-opportunities-enhanced-integration-associate-members-economic-commission-latin.

“Dr. Carlyle Corbin.” The University College of the Cayman Islands, www.ucciconference.ky/bios/carlyle_corbin.php.

Klose, Fabian. “Decolonization and Revolution.” Europäische Geschichte Online, 25 July 2014, ieg-ego.eu/en/threads/europe-and-the-world/european-overseas-rule/fabian-klose-decolonization-and-revolution.

“Non-Self-Governing Territories.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/en/decolonization/nonselfgovterritories.shtml.

Pacific News Center. “VIDEO: United Nations Advisor Dr. Carlyle Corbin Returns to Guam to Discuss Self-Determination.” PNC News First, Sorensen Media Group, 25 Oct. 2012, pacificnewscenter.com/united-nations-advisor-dr-carlyle-corbin-returns-to-guam-to-discuss-self-determination/.

“The United Nations and Decolonization.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/en/decolonization/.

Thanks to Haider Bokhari, Colin Nisbet, and anne kingsley

    Julia Faye Munoz

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