Three Pacific territories have been discussed at the latest meeting of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation.
The committee was created in 1961 by the General Assembly to monitor the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples.
After meeting last week, the 24 member panel - formally known as the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples - approved draft resolutions on New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands.
Summary of the meeting
The Special Committee on Decolonization concluded its 2018 substantive session today (22 June 2018), having approved a total of 22 draft resolutions and decisions on lingering self‑determination questions in Non‑Self‑Governing Territories spanning Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific and beyond for submission to the General Assembly.
Wrapping up its work, the 24‑member panel - formally known as the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples - approved draft resolutions on New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands.
It also approved a set of draft conclusions and recommendations emanating from its recent Pacific Regional Seminar on the implementation of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism - deciding to annex them to its main report to the General Assembly's seventy third session - and approved a wide‑ranging text on the broader implementation of the Declaration.
By the terms of that text, titled "Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples", the General Assembly would reaffirm its resolution 1514 (XV) of 1960 as well as all other resolutions on decolonization, reiterating that the existence of colonialism in any form or manifestation - including economic exploitation - was incompatible with the Declaration, the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It would reaffirm its determination to take all necessary steps to bring about the complete and speedy eradication of colonialism, and support the aspirations of peoples living under colonial rule around the world. Among other things, the Assembly would call on the administering Powers of the 17 remaining Non‑Self‑Governing Territories to develop and finalize work programmes - on a case-by-case basis - to facilitate implementation of all relevant decolonization resolutions.
The case-by-case approach took centre stage during the Special Committee's consideration of the question of French Polynesia, as Carlyle Corbin of the Dependency Studies Project warned that - while useful - that approach must not be misinterpreted as a rationale for legitimizing the political and economic inequality of the dependency status. A general lack of action, including a dearth of studies, analyses and political education programmes, had resulted in limited decolonization progress over the last three decades, he said, arguing: "This often relegates the debate to an exchange of differing opinions between those who recognize the true nature of contemporary colonialism and those who have made an accommodation with it, irrespective of its democratic deficiencies."
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 the administering Power, 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. Expressing concern that the administering Power refused to provide information on the situation on the ground, he said it also maintained full control over the Territory's "so-called elections", held in May 2018.
A second petitioner, Manuel Terrai of the Délégué aux Affaires Internationales, Européennes et du Pacifique, struck a different tone, citing both economic improvements and rapidly advancing self-governance in French Polynesia. The territorial Government had been actively involved in enhancing its autonomy, he said, 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 decolonized. He voiced concern that, despite the people's free expression, members of the Special Committee continued to insist that French Polynesia was not autonomous.
Also addressing the Special Committee was Faipule Afega Gaualofa, Ulu (Titular Head) of Tokelau, a group of atolls in the South Pacific Ocean. Emphasizing 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 the administering Power, New Zealand, 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.
New Zealand's representative - the only delegate from an administering Power to formally address the Special Committee during its two‑week session - summarized 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 emphasized that New Zealand had taken note of the close results and supported the will of the people to achieve even greater self-governance.
In other business, Cuba's representative delivered a summary of the Special Committee's visiting mission to New Caledonia from 12 to 16 March 2018.
Also addressing the Special Committee today were Roch Wamytan of the Congress of New Caledonia and Mickael Forrest of the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste.
Representatives of Venezuela, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Sierra Leone, Indonesia and Ecuador also participated.
Question of New Caledonia
As the Special Committee took up the question of New Caledonia, members had before them a working paper on that item (document A/AC.109/2018/11).
HUMBERTO RIVERO ROSARIO (Cuba), leader of the visiting mission to New Caledonia, introduced the report on the visit (document A/AC./109/2018/20), saying that its objective was to gather first‑hand information on the situation in the Territory in relation to implementation of the 1998 Nouméa Accord. It had also been agreed that the mission would build on the conclusions and recommendations of the previous mission, in 2014, and assess the current situation on the ground.
The mission comprised four members of the Special Committee - Cuba, Indonesia, Iraq and Papua New Guinea - accompanied by two staff from the Secretariat, he said. Its programme consisted of 35 meetings in five days, he said, noting that members had met with the High Commissioner, the territorial Government, the president of the Congress, the Customary Senate, and municipal authorities, among many others. The mission had also visited a number of projects and initiatives, including a public school and a solar power plant, he added.
In its conclusions, the visiting mission observed that the overall security situation in New Caledonia remained calm and peaceful in the lead‑up to the self‑determination referendum, he continued. All parties concerned had underscored 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. However, many challenges remained, including the need to ensure that the electoral process was acceptable to all parties.
With regard to the referendum's outcome, many Caledonians remained apprehensive and concerned, he said, emphasizing that all parties must respect the result. Measured progress in the development of infrastructure, education, health and social services, environmental protection and preservation of cultural heritage had been observed under New Caledonia's rebalancing policy, although much work was still to be done to eliminate inequalities between and within the Territory's provinces.
He went on to say that the mission had encouraged all stakeholders to work together to ensure implementation of the Nouméa Accord. The mission had also 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 per cent 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 emphasized the need to ensure implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and that no one was left behind.
Ms. RODRIGUEZ (Venezuela) welcomed the mission to New Caledonia, expressing satisfaction that the Territory's people would soon be able to exercise their right to self‑determination. She also thanked the delegation of France for its support in that regard.
MAX HUFANEN RAI (Papua New Guinea), echoing the sentiments expressed by the representative of Cuba, said one of the visit's main achievements had been the speed with which relevant reports had been approved and submitted to the Special Committee. However, there were discrepancies between the English and French translations of the mission's report, he said, asking that they be examined.
ROCH WAMYTAN, Congress of New Caledonia, said the people of the Territory would soon hold a milestone vote on their future. Summarizing New Caledonia's colonial history, he said 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 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, he stressed. Spotlighting the upcoming self‑determination referendum, he called for a specific visiting mission to help the Territory prepare for the vote. Objecting to article XI of the 1998 Nouméa Accord - referring to migrants from France - he said the Special Committee should pay special attention to the referendum's electoral rolls and procedures. Underlining that New Caledonia could no longer endure any further manipulations, he recalled that the Territory had been removed from the list of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories in 1987, and later relisted, and he did not wish to see the same thing happen again due to "electoral manipulations and political intrigue" in the referendum.
MICKAEL FORREST, Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), said that the parties to the Nouméa Accord had recently decided the date of the referendum, which would be 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. The Special Committee had been consistently involved in ensuring respect for decolonialization with its visiting and observer missions to New Caledonia. Welcoming today's draft resolution, he said that it fully reflected the situation on the ground, but while real progress had been made, there was still room to improve technical arrangements for the referendum. Partners who did not support independence had been taking advantage and manipulating the system in a way that was truly threatening the vote, he added, cautioning: "Such practices are creating doubt among the people." French leaders visiting New Caledonia were upsetting the balance by drawing on the old tactics of colonialism. He also noted the socioeconomic inequalities in New Caledonia, emphasizing that it was essential to provide opportunities for young people. On economic initiatives and their respective outcomes, both negative and positive, he said the 341 tribes in the Territory must be better informed about the need for independence of Kanaky, New Caledonia. 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."
Mr. HUFANEN RAI (Papua New Guinea) introduced a draft resolution titled "Question of New Caledonia" (document A/AC.109/2018/L.22) on behalf of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Emphasizing that New Caledonia's self‑determination remained an unfinished agenda in the United Nations, and was a priority for the Group, he voiced solidarity and unity with FLNKS and the people of New Caledonia as they found their own pathway forward, vowing to contribute in ensuring that the Territory's self-determination process was just, fair, transparent and respected by all parties. As for the draft resolution before the Special Committee, key elements from the 2017 version remained important and highly relevant, and the current text also laid out new major developments, including the fact that New Caledonia was at a critical phase and the referendum on self‑determination was set for 4 November 2018. The question to be presented on the ballot would be: "Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent?"
He went on to note that the draft resolution also recognized the ongoing, serious concerns expressed by the people of New Caledonia, regarding the importance of explaining clearly and in simple terms what the outcome of the referendum would mean. "This remains unclear and raises anxieties and tensions amongst the peoples of the Territory," he said. In addition, the text called on the administering Power to permit international observers for the referendum, including from the United Nations, which would be critical for its credibility. Much progress had been made since the Nouméa Accord, he said, emphasizing that it would benefit both its people as well as the administering Power to further strengthen collective efforts to facilitate self‑determination and eliminate the indignity and the yoke of colonialism. However, no matter the referendum's outcome, New Caledonia must remain on the list of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, he said, noting that critical challenges remained, including human rights issues and inequalities.
SATYENDRA PRASAD (Fiji), noting that his delegation was co‑sponsoring the draft resolution, said 2018 was an important year for New Caledonia and the whole Polynesian region. Echoing the sentiment that it behoved the United Nations to ensure a transparent and credible electoral process in November, he said preparations must also take place in a timely, robust manner that would satisfy all parties on the ground. Fiji encouraged the administering Power, France, to support the parties in delivering a successful and historic self‑determination referendum, he added.
Mr. KOROMA (Sierra Leone), also noting that his delegation was a co‑sponsor and thanking the administering Power for helping to facilitate the Special Committee's visiting mission, agreed that "New Caledonia is at a crossroads". The Territory's destiny was in its own hands, and the Special Committee must fully respect its decision while supporting the administering Power in helping to reach a transparent and credible referendum outcome. Echoing concerns about the issue of French immigration, which had resulted in inequality, he said the referendum would not be the end of the road. The process must be peaceful and those who felt dissatisfied in any way must be able to access due process. They should avoid any kind of violence, he emphasized.
INDAH NURIA SAVITRI (Indonesia), noting the highly sensitive nature of the Special Committee's work, said its efforts were nevertheless critical. Indonesia welcomed its recent visiting mission to New Caledonia, which had provided updated information about the situation in the Territory in light of the upcoming referendum. Also welcoming the support provided by the administering Power, she said her delegation would also co‑sponsor the text.
The Special Committee then approved the draft resolution without vote.
Question of French Polynesia
As the Special Committee took up the question of French Polynesia, members had before them a working paper (document A/AC.109/2018/7) and a related draft resolution titled "Question of French Polynesia" (document A/AC.109/2018/L.24).
MANUEL TERRAI, Délégué aux Affaires Internationales, Européennes et du Pacifique, noted the economic improvements in French Polynesia, including in the business climate and household index. Tax intake had increased significantly, contributing to alleviation of debt. Polynesian banks had indicated a boost in their activities, and there had also been growth in tourism and the purchase of new vehicles. Moreover, French Polynesia's regional role had seen a boost, he said, noting that it had been officially recognized at the forty‑eighth Pacific Island Forum in Samoa. The Government had been actively involved in enhancing the Territory's autonomy, he said, adding that the political rift in French Polynesia had existed for the last 40 years, with the autonomists on one side and the independents on the other. All citizens had electoral rights and could participate in elections, he continued, adding that the people elected 57 representatives to the French Polynesia Assembly who in turn elected the President.
"Our elections are free and democratic," he said, adding that the rate of participation was 66 per cent, he said. Noting that some 49 autonomists and eight independents elected to the Assembly were focused on modernizing society and creating wealth through investments, he emphasized that French Polynesia was indeed a self‑governing territory and should not be classified as a colony to be decolonized. The people had reconfirmed their will to remain an autonomous territory within the French Republic. Despite the people's free expression, however, members of the Special Committee continued to insist that French Polynesia was not autonomous, he said, pointing out that the Special Committee's principal objective was to listen to the people and familiarize itself with the situation of each Non‑Self‑Governing Territory. He suggested the deletion of paragraph 6 from the draft resolution, which states that the administering Power had not responded to the request to submit information on French Polynesia.
RICHARD ARIIHAU TUHEIAVA, Tavini Huiraatira Group, speaking as an elected member of the French Polynesia Assembly, said that since 2013, annual statements in the Special Committee consistently pointed to actions that continued to impede French Polynesia's independence and sovereignty. Speakers had provided information on the exploitative financial relationship with the administering Power, which continued to control the Territory's resources. The French continued to insist on control over undersea and seabed resources as well, the most egregious of which had been the health impact of 30 years of nuclear testing. Offering to provide a report on that matter, he said the two existing United Nations reports were "grossly insufficient". He expressed concern that the administering Power could refuse to provide information on the situation on the ground, saying that it also had full control over elections, including the authority to cancel them. The administering Power had the power to grant the French Polynesian Assembly bonus seats supporting colonialism. It was within that framework that so‑called elections had been held last month. The administering Power held unilateral control over elections in French Polynesia, he reiterated, adding that there was no space for discussion of the option of self‑determination.
CARLYLE G. CORBIN, Senior Fellow, Dependency Studies Project, noted the overall lack of actions relating to draft resolutions on decolonization, such as the conduct of studies, analyses and political education programmes, which had resulted in limited progress over the last three decades. "This often relegates the debate to an exchange of differing opinions between those who recognize the true nature of contemporary colonialism and those who have made an accommodation with it, irrespective of its democratic deficiencies," he said. "This is not supposed to be about opinion," he added, emphasizing that the decolonization mandate was actually about providing Member States with the opportunity for in‑depth examination of the extent of genuine self‑government in the listed Territories, on the basis of the requisite criteria of full political equality, as established by General Assembly in resolutions 1514 (XV) and 1541 (XV). Other resolutions mandated that the Special Committee take a case‑by‑case approach to the Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, which was a useful strategy, he said, while cautioning that care must be taken to avoid misinterpreting that approach as a rationale for legitimizing the political and economic inequality of the dependency status.
It was therefore critical, he continued, to emphasize that Assembly resolution 2625 (XXV) was not intended to authenticate existing colonial arrangements, but merely to recognize that they were modes of transition, preparatory to the achievement of the full measure of self‑government. "Colonial legitimization has never been countenanced by the General Assembly," he stressed. In the case of French Polynesia, where there had been consistent calls for genuine decolonization, the administering Power's refusal to cooperate with the Special Committee should not serve as an effective veto of the envisaged programme of work on that item. Nor should other relevant mandates - such as the implementation of a political education programme and a qualitative report on the effects of 30 years of nuclear testing - be stymied. He said the long‑standing decolonization mandates under General Assembly resolutions should be specifically reflected in the United Nations budget. "Otherwise, we will remain in a 'repetition‑of‑process'" of resolutions adopted without regard for their implementation, he warned.
HELENA DEL CARMEN YÁNEZ LOZA (Ecuador), noting that the existence of colonialism remained incompatible with United Nations principles, recalled that her delegation had served as Chair of the Special Committee in 2013, when French Polynesia had been re‑inscribed on the list of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories after its unilateral delisting in 1963. That re‑inscription had been pursued due to its continued colonial situation, she stressed, noting that, among other things, the Territory's people still lacked control over their own resources. The administering Power must reverse that situation and commit to the Territory's decolonization.
The Special Committee then approved the draft resolution titled "Question of French Polynesia" (document A/AC.109/2018/L.24) without a vote.
Question of Tokelau
As the Special Committee took up the question of Tokelau, members had before them a working paper on that item (document A/AC.109/2018/14).
FAIPULE AFEGA GAUALOFA, Ulu (Titular Head) of Tokelau, outlined developments in the Territory over the past year, saying its people would not give up their aspirations for self‑determination. The question of an autonomous government had been put to a vote in two past referenda, in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Nevertheless, Tokelau's relationship with the New Zealand family was not at issue, because the Territory wished to retain the warmth of that relationship. It was critical that the interests of Tokelau's people remain at the heart of all efforts, he said, noting that the Territory and the administering Power, New Zealand, continued to work together in a manner that promoted the well‑being and quality of life of Tokelau's people. Asking the Special Committee to promote and encourage the United Nations system to assist the Territory and not to exclude it from accessing global financing assistance - including climate and environmental assistance - he reiterated Tokelau's commitment to self‑determination, while stating that whereas the two referenda had not resulted in a situation of self‑determination, the Territory had nevertheless worked to strengthen and develop its governance systems and the effective management of its public service.
However, much more work was required to strengthen Tokelau's local capacity, infrastructure and economic development, he said, adding that the Territory was nevertheless determined to move towards self‑determination in the future and was "heading in the right direction". Among other things, it had put a National Strategic Plan (2016‑2020) in place and established its own development priorities, setting aspirational yet realistic outcome targets and related budgets. The Government of New Zealand continued to support those efforts and to provide the confidence needed to make progress, given Tokelau's small size, vulnerability and geographic remoteness. Turning to the challenges posed by climate change, he said rising sea levels and catastrophic weather patterns were both real and imminent for Tokelau, threatening its peoples' livelihoods and encroaching on its land masses. Climate change had also impacted the Territory's food security and water stores. 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. That country had been generous, but constraints remained.
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. "Tokelau is still working to determine what it can and should do itself, and what it needs others to assist it with," he said, describing the Territory's evolving relationship with the international community. Also noting that Tokelau had a history of taking care of itself, he said its Intergenerational Trust Fund aimed to provide a buffer for its future children against "any ill winds that may strike Tokelau in the years to come".
CRAIG J. HAWKE (New Zealand) said that his country's Government had decided in 2017 to scale up the position of Administrator and to 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 development of the Territory's governance institutions. Outlining various steps that the Government had taken in the past, he said that by the 2000s, Tokelau had attained a substantial degree of self‑government. The referendum held in 2006 had narrowly missed the two‑thirds majority required for a change of status, he said, adding that New Zealand had taken note that such close results reflected the desire of the Tokelauan people for greater self‑governance.
New Zealand was committed to supporting Tokelau's efforts to develop its capacity in self‑governance, he continued, encouraging the Territory to consider how best to balance the needs of its individual villages with those of the entire nation. New Zealand had been focusing on projects relating to transport, telecommunications, fisheries and climate change. Providing updates on each sector, he pointed out Tokelau's remoteness, saying that New Zealand was in the process of procuring another vessel for the Territory to be used for search‑and‑rescue work and medical evacuations as well as general transport. New Zealand was also investing in connecting Tokelau to undersea fibre‑optic cables and had helped to establish a Ministry of Fisheries. The Government remained committed to supporting Tokelau's voice on the global stage by including it in its delegations on international climate change negotiations, he said.
Mr. KOROMA (Sierra Leone), noting that his delegation would join the list of co‑sponsors of the draft resolution on Tokelau, expressed support for the positive relationship between that Territory and New Zealand. Sierra Leone stood beside Tokelau in its quest for self‑determination, which it had undertaken in spite of significant challenges, he said, adding that the Government of New Zealand was doing its best under those circumstances to support Tokelau's people.
Mr. RAI (Papua New Guinea), introducing the draft resolution titled "Question of Tokelau" (document A/AC.109/2018/L.23) on behalf of his own delegation and that of Fiji, noted the important updates in the text, reflecting developments on the ground. Applauding New Zealand's consistent provision of critical information to the Special Committee, he said much of the draft resolution's contents - the same as those in previous years - remained relevant and important. Among the new developments outlined in current version were the 2017 introduction of the "Tobacco Free Tokelau 2020" policy; the development of the Territory's "Living with Change" climate change strategy - by which New Zealand agreed to include Tokelau's carbon emissions in its national reporting under the Paris Agreement on climate change - and New Zealand's recent commitment to invest NZ$22.2 million in undersea telecommunications services for Tokelau.
Mr. PRASAD (Fiji), expressing his delegation's support for the draft resolution as one of its co‑sponsors, said Tokelau was on the front line of the fight against climate change. Noting that its quest for self‑determination was being pursued against the backdrop of that severe and imminent threat, he welcomed the Territory's positive relationship with New Zealand and the latter's continued support.
The Special Committee then approved the draft resolution without a vote.
Question of Turks and Caicos Islands
The Special Committee then approved a draft resolution titled "Question of the Turks and Caicos Islands" (document A/AC.109/2018/L.20), without a vote.
Question of United States Virgin Islands
The Special Committee also adopted a draft resolution titled "Question of the United States Virgin Islands" (document A/AC.109/2018/L.21), without a vote.
Implementation of Decolonization Declaration
The Special Committee then turned to its next item, a draft resolution titled "Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples" (document A/AC.109/2018/L.25).
Ms. RODRIGUEZ (Venezuela) said colonialism was an anachronism that was contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. The Organization must live up to its responsibility to fully eradicate colonialism, which still existed in the remaining 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), she said. The administering Powers must also shoulder their responsibilities, including under article 73 (e), which obliged them to ensure the well‑being of people under their administration. Among other things, they were obliged to report on all their activities in the Territories, including economic and military activities, which could impact the lives of their inhabitants. United Nations specialized agencies and other entities should also speed up the decolonization processes of those Territories, she said. The Department of Public Information must step up its efforts to disseminate information about decolonization, and all States must commit to supporting vulnerable Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, especially those impacted by recent severe weather events.
The Special Committee then approved the draft resolution without a vote.
Submissions and recommendations will be presented to the UN General Assembly.