Photo: Bora Bora, French Polynesia. CC BY 2.0 - Photo: 2018

UN Warned Against Taking a Case-by-Case Approach to Self-Determination

By Kwame Buist

NEW YORK (IDN) – A case-by-case approach to the issue of the world’s remaining ‘non-self governing territories’ must not be misinterpreted as a rationale for legitimising the political and economic inequality of dependency status, the recently concluded session of the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation was told.

The committee concluded its 2018 session on June 22, having approved a series of draft resolutions and decisions after hearings on the situation regarding lingering self-determination issues in ‘non-self governing territories’ throughout the world.

Three of these hearings concerned territories in the Pacific Ocean: French Polynesia (a French overseas collectivity), New Caledonia (a French overseas territory) and Tokelau (a dependent territory of New Zealand)

Speaking during the hearing on French Polynesia, Carlyle Corbin, an international advisor on governance and multilateral diplomacy, who is senior fellow in the global Dependency Studies Project and serves as an independent expert to the decolonisation committee, noted that a general lack of action, including a dearth of studies, analyses and political education programmes, had resulted in limited decolonisation progress over the last three decades.

This, he argued: “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.”

Corbin said it was important to emphasise that UN General Assembly Resolution 2625 (“Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States” adopted in 1970) was not intended to authenticate existing colonial arrangements, but merely to recognise that they were modes of transition, preparatory to the achievement of the full measure of self-government.

“Colonial legitimisation has never been countenanced by the General Assembly,” he stressed. In the case of French Polynesia, where there had been consistent calls for genuine decolonisation, the refusal of the administering power – France – to cooperate with the Special Committee should not serve as an effective veto of the envisaged programme of work on that item.

Richard Ariihau Tuheiava of the Tavini Huiraatira Group, an elected member of the French Polynesia Assembly, outlined actions that continued to impede that territory’s independence and sovereignty.

He said that France continued to control its resources and to insist on control over undersea and seabed resources, recalling that the most egregious of its activities had been 30 years of nuclear testing that had impacted the health of native French Polynesians.

Manuel Terrai, Delegate for International, European and Pacific Affairs, took a different tack, citing both economic improvements and rapidly advancing self-governance in French Polynesia.

He argued that the territorial government had been actively involved in enhancing its autonomy, pointing out that people had elected 57 representatives to the French Polynesia Assembly, who had in turn elected the President.

“Our elections are free and democratic,” he said, stressing that French Polynesia should not be classified as a territory to be decolonised, and voicing concern that, despite the people’s free expression, members of the decolonisation committee continued to insist that French Polynesia was not autonomous.

On the question of New Caledonia, Humberto Rivero Rosario of Cuba, who had led a recent mission to the territory, told the decolonisation committee that the objective of the mission had been to gather first-hand information on the situation in the territory in relation to implementation of the 1998 Noumea Accord on the granting of political power to the territory and its original population by France.

Rosario said that, in its conclusions, the visiting mission observed that the overall security situation in New Caledonia remained calm and peaceful in the run-up to the November 2018 self-determination referendum, with all parties concerned having stressed the importance of peace, stability and security. The mission had also found that preparations for holding the referendum were on track and well under way.

Rosario went on to say that the mission had encouraged the administering power and the territorial government, as well as other relevant stakeholders, to continue raising awareness about the referendum.

Noting that more than 50 percent of New Caledonia’s population were young people, he said the mission had stressed the importance of taking measures necessary to ensure that adequate education, training and employment opportunities were available for them. It had also stressed the need to ensure implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and that no one be left behind.

Roch Wamytan of the Congress of New Caledonia recalled the territory’s colonial history, noting that thousands of convicts had been unloaded on the archipelago, leading to the near extinction of the native inhabitants. After the Second World War, the Kanak people had fought for their rights, and later agreed to a political process intended to lead to their self-determination.

The native inhabitants, he said had opened the territory up to immigrants, making it a melting pot society, but that did not mean that it had given up the right to future self-determination.

Mickael Forrest of the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), said that the upcoming referendum would offer the first opportunity to be liberated from French colonialism. “It has been a long, long road,” he added, stressing that the Kanak people must be able to regain their dignity.

Generations of men and women had been struggling towards independence, and the time had come to achieve sovereignty, he said, stressing: “We are absolutely and totally committed.”

Also addressing the Special Committee was Faipule Afega Gaualofa, Ulu (Titular Head) of Tokelau, a group of atolls in the South Pacific Ocean. Noting that the territory’s people would never give up their aspiration for self-determination – and that it was “heading in the right direction” – he nevertheless cautioned that more work was required to strengthen Tokelau’s local capacity, infrastructure and economic development.

Referring to the territory’s warm relationship with New Zealand, the administering power, he asked the Special Committee to encourage the United Nations system to assist Tokelau and not exclude it from accessing global financing assistance, including climate and environmental assistance.

On the challenges climate change poses for Tokelau, Gaualofa said rising sea levels and catastrophic weather patterns were both real and imminent for Tokelau, threatening livelihoods and encroaching on land masses. It had also impacted the territory’s food security and water stores.

He reminded the committee that climate change adaptation and mitigation were costly, and while other Pacific nations were able to access significant funding to cover those expenses, Tokelau was instead included under New Zealand’s allocation which, though generous, still left constraints.

Thanking the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other partners for their support in that regard, he also outlined national activities aimed at addressing the impacts of climate change as well as preserving Tokelau’s language, culture and traditions.

Such actions would help in building resilience and increasing the territory’s sustainability, he said, while also spotlighting its focus on good governance, sustainable transport and communications, telecommunications, access to supply chains, and public services.

New Zealand’s representative Craig Hawke – the only delegate from an administering power to formally address the Special Committee during its two-week session – summarised support provided to Tokelau over the past year, recalling that in 2017, his country had decided to scale up the position of Administrator and appoint someone for whom that role would be the sole focus.

In accordance with its obligations under the United Nations Charter, New Zealand had progressively devolved its administrative powers to Tokelau over the past three decades, supporting the territory’s development of its own governance institutions.

While the 2006 referendum had narrowly missed the two-thirds majority needed to change the territory’s status, he stressed that New Zealand had taken note of the close results and supported the will of the people to achieve even greater self-governance. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 June 2018]

Photo: Bora Bora, French Polynesia. CC BY 2.0

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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