UNITED NATIONS, NOV. 18 -- The General Assembly's political committee adopted a resolution today calling on the 20 nations that control Antarctica to recognize the universal interest in the continent by inviting a U.N. representative to sit in on all meetings of the Antarctic Treaty regime.
There were 73 votes for the Malaysian resolution, but all 20 of the "consultative parties" boycotted the balloting, as did most of the 17 other treaty signatories that do not have a say in decision-making.
All 37 parties issued a joint statement reaffirming their case that the 1959 treaty is an instrument as fragile as the continent it protects, because the pact freezes conflicting territorial claims to large sections of Antarctica.
Any attempts to internationalize the region, they argued, would force the claimants to reassert jurisdiction and undermine the current process of consensus decisions.
The 20 consultative parties include the United States and the other major powers plus several larger Third World nations, such as India, Chile and Argentina, all of which have qualified by mounting scientific expeditions to the continent.
A group of smaller nations has been pressing since 1983 for full internationalization. They have demanded that the continent's potential mineral wealth be declared the "common heritage" of all nations, especially the poorest. The treaty parties have been negotiating rules to govern mineral exploitation, and they could complete their talks by next year.
The resolution adopted today urged the parties to accept a moratorium on those negotiations until all nations can participate. Malaysian Ambassador Dato Yusof Hitam and Australian Ambassador Richard Woolcott, who represented the treaty parties, came close to a compromise that would have resulted in U.N. participation in "appropriate" treaty meetings. But the effort failed over the issue of whether the text would have established the principle of internationalization.
One sponsor of the resolution, Zimbabwe, charged that the treaty "made a virtue of trashing the essential premise on which international society is organized, the principle of the sovereign equality of states." Zimbabwe's K.C. Moyo said the treaty is "not a form of international management, but an incident of joint colonialism."
The parties maintain that their expertise is required to monitor and preserve the fragile ecology of the continent, which has been successfully turned into the world's only zone of total demilitarization.