Norfolk's push at the UN to regain some autonomy
Norfolk Island's push to be listed on the United Nations list of non-self- governing territories is not a straight process, according to a legal expert.
A law lecturer at Wellington's Victoria University says there is still a lot of work ahead for Norfolk Island if it is to win listing as one of the United Nations' non-self-governing territories.
As Australia proceeds with plans to have the island, which is more than 1,600 kilometres from Sydney, incorporated into New South Wales, groups on the island have other ideas.
The People for Democracy and the Council of Elders, angry at Canberra's removal of self government, are pushing for listing as a non-self-governing territory, to try and rein Canberra in.
But it could be difficult.
Dr Joel Colon-Rios, who teaches in Wellington but is from Puerto Rico, has documented his island's struggles to win some degree of self government and points out it will not be straight forward for Norfolk.
Don Wiseman asked Dr Colon-Rios whether Norfolk, through its appeal to the UN, can win back some of the autonomy it has lost.
JOEL COLON-RIOS: That's an interesting question and I think it has two different parts. The first one is, what does it mean for a territory to be listed as a non-self governing territory? And whether being included in that list somehow ensures or guarantees that territory will gain or re-gain a significant measure of self-government? As to the first part of the question - all members of the United Nations, and in this case of course Australia is included, have assumed obligation on becoming part of the United Nations and becoming bound by the UN Charter to develop the capacities of self-government of any territories under their administration. And at the time when the charter was adopted there were a number of territories that were being administered by different members of the United Nations and in 1946, a list was made of those territories. And the idea, according to Article 73 of the Charter, is that countries that administer those territories have the obligation to develop their capacity to self-government and also to transmit information to the General Assembly about the conditions, the socio-economic and political conditions in those territories and about the things that they are doing to increase the territory's capacity for self government. Currently there are 17 territories in that list. So if Norfolk were to be included in that list, it would mean that Australia would have been identified by other states of the United Nations as a nation that is administering a non-self governing territory and as a nation that has the obligation under international law to develop the self-government capacities of that territory. As part of complying with that obligation, Australia would be required to submit information about the steps they are taking to move the Norfolk island in that direction.
DON WISEMAN: Let's look at this then, they have appealed to be listed. What's needed to make that work? What do they have to achieve?
JCR: The first thing of course will be to establish that they are not a non-self governing territory, with the changes that have taken place and that will come into place, later this year, I think, and that will be an argument that is easy to make, the fact a number of Australian laws which did not apply to Norfolk Island will now apply, and a number of political institutions that existed in and also in Norfolk Island and that were part of the self-governing institutions of that territory will no longer be in place, will not be hard to make that argument. However, being able to make that argument doesn't mean Norfolk Island will be immediately listed as a non-self governing territory, for the purposes of that list that we have been referring to. So how does a territory end up on that list? That is a difficult question because most of the territories that appear in the list have been there since 1946, two of them New Caledonia and French Polynesia, were included later on but they had previously been on the list. So formally what needs to happen for a territory to be included in that list is for the General Assembly to make a decision, and to make a resolution, that says that even the current situation in a particular territory, that that territory should be included in the list of non-self governing territories. But it's not easy to influence or convince the General Assembly to make such a decision, in fact, in the case of my country, Puerto Rico, even though for the last 10 or so years, the special committee on colonisation has reiterated on many occasions, that Puerto Rico has the right to self-determination and independence. It has not fully exercised its right to self-determination, and has not been included in the list by the General Assembly. Now for the General Assembly to include or to do anything like make a resolution to include Norfolk Island in the list of non-self governing territories , that topic would have to placed first in the agenda of the General Assembly and only a member state or the Secretary General, or another organ of the UN has the power to, or capacity to, include an item in the General Assembly. So that would be the most straight forward way for this to happen - that a state or a group of states take an interest in this issue and decide to place the matter on the agenda of the General Assembly, and then the General Assembly moves to adopt the resolution. But that's a really difficult process and legally it's easy to explain but politically it's actually very complicated. Another option would be just to directly appeal to the Special Committee on Colonisation. That committee might take an interest in the case of Norfolk Island, might for example, when it prepares its annual report to the General Assembly, it might express concern about the situation in Norfolk Island and that may influence the General Assembly to make a resolution and to determine that Norfolk Island should be included in the list of non-self governing territories, but the mere inclusion in that list doesn't have any immediate effect in the status of the territory. It just means that the international community has expressed its concern for the situation in Norfolk Island and would require Australia to provide information about the steps taken in that territory but regardless of whether territories is included in that list or not, the fact is that all members of the United Nations have the obligation to promote self-government in the territories it administers. From the perspective of Australia and the perspective of international law, I would say that regardless whether Norfolk Island is included or not, Australia has always had obligation of promoting self-government in the island.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: