10 October 2015

U.N. debate on decolonisation of Pacific territories continues with sessions on French Polynesia, Guam, and New Caledonia

Seventieth Session,
3rd Meeting (PM)


As the Committee turned to New Caledonia, Thierry Cornaille, a Minister and Spokesperson for the territorial government, listed the measures it had to ensure a smooth transition from the administering Power to the Territory’s people. The government had been granted economic sovereignty to control natural resources and, “guided by the principle of equality”, had instituted new budgetary, finance and social reforms, including the establishment of housing for all and the building of two new hospitals.

However, Mickaël Forrest of the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), representing the native Kanaks, questioned the administering Power’s ability to guarantee independent electoral rules for the status referendum slated for 2018.

Roch Wamytan of the Union Calédonian-Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste and Nationals Group, pointed out that an influx of French nationals migrating into New Caledonia was making the Kanak people a minority in their own land, adding that the French used New Caledonia as a “Trojan Horse” to achieve its goals in the Pacific.

Also referring to France’s involvement in Non-Self-Governing Territories, Richard Ariihau Tuheiava, a Member of the House of Assembly of French Polynesia, said that despite United Nations resolutions confirming ownership, control and permanent sovereignty over natural resources for the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, the administering Power continued unilaterally to usurp the Polynesian people’s marine resources, including “strategic metals” such as rare earths, manganese and cobalt. In so doing, it deprived them of the means to build a sustainable economic and social future.

Moetao Brotherson, the Third Deputy Mayor of Faa’a, French Polynesia, called on France to acknowledge the colonial nature of its nuclear testing on the atolls and to constitute a committee to assess the financial damage caused by the occupation.

COLLIN BECK (Solomon Islands), speaking on behalf of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, said it was regrettable that the vestiges of colonialism continued to hound the United Nations and humanity despite the adoption of the decolonization Declaration 55 years ago. Today, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories across the globe were still to be decolonized. Among them was New Caledonia, which was entering a seminal phase as it prepared to carry out an act of self-determination in 2018, consistent with the letter and spirit of the Noumea Accord. While positive developments had taken place in the Territory, progress had been slow in addressing the “primordial” issues relating to the finalization of credible, fair and transparent provincial and special electoral lists, as well as an electoral process.

He called on the Committee to consider an enhanced role for the Special Committee on Decolonization, including on the question of New Caledonia, in particular. Recalling the principles enshrined in resolutions 1514 (XV) and 1541 (XV), as well as the 1998 Noumea Accord, he reiterated calls for effective implementation of the conclusions and recommendations contained in the report of the inaugural Special Committee’s visiting mission in 2014. He also called on the administering Power to ensure the free expression and exercise by the Territory’s indigenous inhabitants of their right to self-determination. Furthermore, it must create a proper political climate for a referendum to be conducted on a free and democratic basis, respect the decisions taken by New Caledonia’s elected representatives regarding the electoral process, and resolve the dispute on the special list for provincial elections before the establishment of the electoral list for the referendum upon the Territory’s attainment of full sovereignty. The administering Power should also arrange to have a United Nations presence before and supervision during the holding of the referendum, he said.

Question of New Caledonia

THIERRY CORNAILLE, Minister of Budget, Housing, Energy, Digital Development and Audiovisual Media, New Caledonia, said he would respond to a number of issues brought forth by the Special Committee, the first concerning the smooth transition from the administering Power to the Territory’s people. The local government had been granted economic sovereignty to control natural resources, and had instituted new budgetary, finance and social reforms, including by establishing housing for all and building two new hospitals.

He went on to say that equality was the principle by which the new government was guided. Caledonian men and women enjoyed the same opportunities, and the government had undertaken efforts to better educate them about the cultures making up the Territory. Furthermore, New Caledonia had pursued integration into the Pacific region, seeking membership in the Pacific Islands Forum and joining regional strategic organizations within the United Nations.

Turning to electoral rules, he said the government had consulted with a national expert on the right to vote and run for office, adding that an international expert would be given a role in revising the final agreement. The administering Power had worked in cooperation with New Caledonians, giving them possession of their natural resources, to use and exploit as they wished. However, the government required companies to submit better frameworks for the export of natural resources and to rethink their stock structures in order to construct a fund for the sovereignty of future generations of New Caledonians.

MICKAËL FORREST, Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), said the Committee remained the appropriate venue for those struggling for independence to be heard. Recalling the fragile consensus reached in Paris recently, as well as the upcoming status referendum planned for 2018, he said that all parties recognized the possibility of electoral fraud. He therefore requested the assistance of the United Nations Electoral Assistance Office, since the occupying Power was currently unable to guarantee independent electoral rolls. He went on to point out that the Kanak people were marginalized in their own land, their percentage of the population having dropped while the overall population had grown. Complete political sovereignty was the goal of FLNKS, he emphasized.

ROCH WAMYTAN, Union Calédonian-Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste and Nationals Group, said that after 162 years of French colonization, New Caledonia was now facing a referendum for self-determination in 2018. Seventy years ago, France had withdrawn New Caledonia from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories to be decolonized, without consulting the Kanak people, he recalled, noting that France still maintained a “red line” banning independence. It was the French Government policy that he had condemned before the Committee year after year. An influx of French nationals were migrating to the Territory, making the Kanak people a minority in their own land, he said, adding that the French used New Caledonia as a “Trojan Horse” to achieve its goals in the Pacific. While all member groups of the Congress of New Caledonia had officially given their agreement to United Nations observers in the referendum process, France was “dragging its feet” over United Nations involvement, he noted.

The representative of the Solomon Islands asked Mr. Wamytam what kind of role he expected the United Nations to play in the referendum process. Mr. WAMYTAN said he expected the Organization to be the guarantor of a free and fair election in the Territory, which had encountered problems with voting in the past. The United Nations could give all New Caledonians confidence in the 2018 vote.

JULIEN BOANEMO, Federation of the GDPL, said the Kanak people had begun a process of recovering their lands in the wake of the Second World War. Official figures indicated that more than 100 clans had not had their lands returned. A study on land reform was necessary, he said, calling for United Nations support in that regard. Claims to land must lead to economic development, he added, stressing that, after 30 years, the GDPL instrument should be more effective in its function. Customary lands were the generator of great social tensions in New Caledonia. In the short term, the problem to address was the status of the GDPL.

Question of New Caledonia

DARYL MORINI, Centre for Common Destiny, said that because the New Caledonians had suffered from the wounds of violent unrest in 1988, the lack of a pardon was a source of hate and poison passed on from one generation to the next. That hate fed the psychosis of the referendum. The true question was not France or independence, but rift or reconciliation, he said. Those elected must make a strong gesture to break the cycle of hatred — a national reconciliation custom that was part of the Kanak tradition, possibly. Additionally, the dispatch by the United Nations of electoral observers for the self-determination referendum would result not only in a peaceful unfolding of the situation, but also an assurance of protection from political violence, thus gaining the goodwill of New Caledonians.

Question of Guam

TONY ADA, Senator, Guam Legislature, said that while Guamanians taught their children that democracy was a gift that all United States citizens enjoyed, those same citizens living on Guam could not vote for their President, nor could the Guam representative to Congress cast a vote of behalf of the Territory’s people. Yet, the decisions of lawmakers and judges in Washington, D.C., had a significant impact on the people of Guam and its economy. The Special Committee on Decolonization and the leaders of Guam had undertaken an effort to bring to the people choices on the Territory’s future: remain an unincorporated territory; relax the relationship with the United States; or become a member state of the administering Power. Parallel to the local government’s efforts to determine Guam’s political status was a concern over the United States military’s refocusing of forces in the Pacific, he said. While many on Guam supported the build-up, the local government had been working to grow its economy outside the shift of United States so that the Territory would not be left with a bust when the build-up ended. Regardless, he reiterated that Guam could not allow its people and its island to remain in limbo; Guam was determined to be removed from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

JUDITH T. WON PAT, Guam, said the most acute threat to a legitimate exercise of decolonization of Guam was the incessant militarization of the island by its administering Power, the United States, of which its people were now facing a new wave. In an official Record of Decision issued in August, the United States military had laid out a detailed plan for a military build-up, allowing for the construction of military bases, the relocation of 5,000 United States Marines to Guam, and other steps, she said. On the basis of that and other initiatives, the General Assembly should pass a Guam-specific resolution to the effect that escalating United States military activities and/or installations on Guam were an unlawful impediment to self-determination. She noted that an active lawsuit in the federal district court of Guam, Davis v. Guam, represented a “dangerous development in the legal realm”, affecting the colonized people, or “native inhabitants of Guam”. Finally, on access and resource alienation, she called for a resolution reiterating the right of a non-self-governing people to the permanent sovereignty over their natural resources, and clarifying Guam’s right to information about the United States-Federated States of Micronesia treaty on the delimitation of a maritime boundary.

Question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)

PETER HAMILTON, an inhabitant of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), cited yesterday’s meeting during which the United Kingdom’s representative had stated that there was no doubt as to the Territory’s sovereignty, and that there could be no dialogue until its inhabitants wanted it. Describing himself as a British citizen, he said he did not speak for the British position, nor the Argentine position nor that of the islanders. “I speak as one of the many who would like to see a resolution of the dispute which divides Britain from Argentina and Latin America,” he said. The Fourth Committee and the Special Committee had overseen the matter patiently for 50 years, he noted, adding that he was present today to break the deadlock. Both committees had “lost their sharpness and focus and force in their application”, he said, asking them to play a more active role on the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

Question of French Polynesia

RICHARD ARIIHAU TUHEIAVA, Member, House of Assembly of French Polynesia, (UPLD), expressed appreciation for the Special Committee’s adoption in June 2015 of recommendations on the Territory. Noting that decolonization was fundamentally about justice, he said that justice delayed was justice denied. Despite United Nations resolutions confirming that the ownership, control and permanent sovereignty over natural resources lay with the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, the administering Power continued unilaterally to usurp the Polynesian people’s marine resources, including “strategic metals” such as rare earths, manganese and cobalt. In so doing, it deprived them of the means to build a sustainable economic and social future, and to move away from economic dependency. Other forms of France’s economic exploitation included taxes paid to the French treasury by airlines landing at the Polynesian people’s own international airport, as well as its control over other revenue-generating sectors, he said. 

The representative of the Solomon Islands asked whether the people of French Polynesia would benefit from a regional fact-finding mission.

Mr. TUHEIVA responded by saying that such a fact-finding mission would provide valuable information necessary to the Special Committee, the Fourth Committee and the General Assembly.

MOETAI BROTHERSON, Third Deputy Mayor of Faa’a, French Polynesia, Ma’ohi Nui, said that the Secretary-General’s report on the impact of the 30-year-long period of nuclear testing in French Polynesia had been released in July 2014, yet had been “oddly” circulated one month after the Special Committee had completed its work, preventing that body from discussing the study. Furthermore, the report was not comprehensive, but rather a mere compilation of replies from just two United Nations agencies out of some 22 requests for information. 

 He asked Member States to consider other reports on the effects of atomic radiation or nuclear testing, as well as to add French Polynesia to the work programme of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. In November 2014, he recalled, the Assembly of French Polynesia had adopted a resolution calling on France to acknowledge the colonial nature of its nuclear testing and to create a committee to assess the financial damage caused by the occupation. However, no reference to that resolution had been made in the Secretariat working paper or the draft resolution, he pointed out.

 Underscoring that their dependent status had denied survivors justice and reparation, he called for the full implementation of the approved mandates.

The representative of the Solomon Islands asked whether the Special Committee had been advised about the General Assembly’s resolution on restitution for the 30 years of nuclear testing.

Mr. BROTHERSON replied that the resolution had been sent to the Special Committee in early 2014 and was publicly available.

CARLYLE CORBIN, Senior Fellow, Dependency Studies Project, said that in establishing the substantive basis for re-inscription, a self-governance assessment of French Polynesia had been undertaken to ascertain the level of self-governance according to recognized international standards. The diagnostic tool of self-governance indicators (SGIs) had been used to determine the nature of the political status and the relationship between the Territory and administering Power. The assessment had concluded that French Polynesia was a dependency governance arrangement which had been modernized over time — in form and nomenclature — but not in substance, he noted. There remained a significant political imbalance and a high degree of unilateral authority exercised by the administering Power in the political, socio-economic, strategic dimensions and other areas, he said. The assessment had ultimately determined that French Polynesia “did not meet the recognized international standards for full measure of self-government through autonomous governance”. That had provided the substantive basis for the adoption by the General Assembly of resolution 67/265, re-inscribing the Territory on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, he stated.

The representative of the Solomon Islands, speaking on a point of order, questioned whether the working papers prepared by the Secretariat contained political analyses of Territories under colonialization.

Mr. CORBIN, Dependency Studies Project, responded by saying that the Secretariat did not have the political analysis, but the Territories had taken it upon themselves to do their own political analysis to ensure that they were up to the standards of international law.
[1] A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).