07 April 2011

Wikileaks shows US concern over Tokelau claim


A diplomatic cable made public by the Wikileaks organisation shows that comments by a Tokelau politician about the status of an American Samoan island concerned the US government.

Koluei O'Brien, the Ulu or leader of Tokelau, had said in 2007 that if the three atolls gained self government in a referendum, the new government might address the ownership of Swain's Island, which some Tokelauans regard as part of their territory.

A US diplomat met with New Zealand's administrator of Tokelau, who assured him that the New Zealand government regards the status of Swain's Island as settled, and that Tokelau does not have a claim on it.

The 2011 United Nations Working Paper on Tokelau provides background on the referendum process:

Referendum Process

8. In 2003, the General Fono took a formal decision, with the support of all three Village Councils, to “endorse self-government in free association with New Zealand as the choice to be actively explored with the New Zealand Government”. During a visit to Tokelau in August 2004, the then New Zealand Prime Minister welcomed decisions by Tokelau on its future political status and assured Tokelau of the ongoing friendship and support of New Zealand as it moved towards an act of selfdetermination.

9. In August 2005, the General Fono approved a draft constitution as the basis for the proposed act of self-determination, as well as the text of a draft treaty of free association between Tokelau and New Zealand. In November 2005, the New Zealand Cabinet gave its formal approval. The so-called “referendum package”,
consisting of the draft treaty and the draft constitution, was to form the basis for the referendum on self-determination. In line with a decision by the General Fono, an overall majority of two thirds of the valid votes cast was required for a change to the status of Tokelau.

10. The first referendum on self-determination was held sequentially in Apia and on the three atolls from 11 to 15 February 2006 (see A/AC.109/2006/20). The outcome of the referendum fell short of the required two-thirds majority, with 60 per cent of valid Tokelauan votes cast in favour of self-government in free association with New Zealand. The United Nations, which formally monitored the referendum, deemed the process credible and reflective of the will of the people of Tokelau. A representative of the Special Committee accompanied by a Political Affairs Officer of the Department of Political Affairs of the Secretariat also observed the referendum process.

11. In August 2006, the General Fono voted to hold a second referendum on Tokelauan self-determination in late 2007. The proposed constitution and the draft treaty, commonly referred to as the self-determination package, were to be the same and the legal threshold for acceptance of the proposal would remain at a two-thirds majority.

12. The second referendum was held from 20 to 24 October 2007. The result, with 64.4 per cent in favour, was again below the two-thirds threshold, thereby leaving the status of the Territory unchanged (see A/AC.109/2007/19). As with the first referendum, the United Nations formally monitored the voting, with representatives of the Special Committee on Decolonization and the Department of Political Affairs
present as observers.

13. Following the results of the second referendum, the General Fono requested the Government of New Zealand to keep on the table the entire self-determination package (i.e., the draft treaty and draft constitution that had been agreed on and had served as the foundation for the previous ballots). The Council of Ongoing
Government noted that Tokelau could in the future change the two-thirds majority threshold for the referendum, but should put in place measures to ensure that a threshold was supported by a clear majority in each village to guarantee unity. The Council of Ongoing Government also noted Tokelau’s strong commitment to selfdetermination and its wish to have a constitution, albeit one that did not encompass the free association self-government provisions.

14. The outcomes of the referendums, neither of which reached the threshold of support set by Tokelau’s General Fono for a change of status, have been acknowledged and accepted by New Zealand. As a follow-up to the 2007 referendum result, the then Prime Minister of New Zealand met with Tokelau’s leaders in February 2008, to discuss the next steps in the New Zealand-Tokelau relationship. It was agreed that a “pause” should be taken in Tokelau’s selfdetermination efforts, and that in the meantime Tokelau would focus on meeting its basic needs.

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