8 July 1998


Press Release
GA/COL/2988



DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE CONSIDERS STATUS OF PACIFIC ISLAND TERRITORY OF TOKELAU, PRAISING ROLE OF ADMINISTERING POWER

19980708
New Zealand Notes Economic Progress, but Fear Of Population That Self-Determination Could Mean Isolation

The people of Tokelau could not exercise their right to self- determination until they had put in place political, economic and administrative structures and arrangements appropriate to their situation, the leader of the Territory told the Special Committee on decolonization this afternoon, as it considered developments in the South Pacific island.

"Real self-determination for Tokelau is about economic independence, cultural affirmation, identity, and the protection of the pristine environment", Aliki Faipule Kuresa Nasau, Ulu-O-Tokelau (Titular Head) of the New Zealand-administered Territory, said. Present and future generations of Tokelau had a right to enjoy those privileges, he added.

Calling on the Special Committee and United Nations agencies for support in the Territory's modernization process, he said their desire was to put structures in place for its sustainable development. The overall aim was to achieve full internal self-government under the banner of "good governance".

The representative of New Zealand said that an important step related to work under way to put in place new village and national support structures in Tokelau would be the withdrawal by the New Zealand State Services Commissioner from his role as the employment authority of the Tokelau Public Service. The necessary legislative change was planned by the New Zealand Government at whatever time the Territory was ready.

He said that the course of action upon which Tokelau was now set could never have been envisaged in 1960 and was being taken for reasons that its people today saw to be compelling. The impetus was not to oblige the United Nations; of far more importance was the coincidence between Territory, administering Power and the United Nations. Even more practically, Tokelau needed the reassurance from the international community. It knew that the path upon which it was embarked -- one of greater economic self-sufficiency -- carried risk, especially of the material kind. Tokelau's greatest fear was that, with self-determination, it could find itself cast adrift.


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Commenting on the statement of the Titular Head of Tokelau, the representatives of Papua New Guinea, Antigua and Barbuda and Fiji praised New Zealand for its handling of the Territory's development and for its cooperation with the Special Committee. They urged other administering Powers to follow New Zealand's example.

The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples -- as the Committee is formally known -- will meet again at 3 p.m. on Friday, 10 July, to continue consideration of the question of small Non-Self-Governing Territories.


Committee Work Programme

The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples met this afternoon to continue its consideration of small Non-Self- Governing Territories. It was scheduled to take up the question of Tokelau.

Before the Special Committee is a Secretariat working paper on Tokelau (document A/AC.109/2116), a New Zealand-administered Territory consisting of three small atolls in the South Pacific. The inhabitants are Polynesians with linguistic, family and cultural links to Samoa.

According to the working paper, a first draft of the Constitution of Tokelau that was presented to the National Assembly in 1997 and subsequently referred back for refinement to the villages and the relevant subcommittees of Tokelau's Special Constitutional Committee had not yet been presented for a second time.

Two publications related to constitutional development appeared in October 1997. The first was a one-volume collection of the laws of Tokelau, designed to improve Tokelau's access to the existing law and facilitate the proper use of the legislative power granted to the Territory under the Tokelau Amendment Act 1996. The second was a two-part report, entitled "Elements of the Constitution", stemming from Tokelau's work since 1995 on a future Constitution. It incorporated the first report of the Special Constitutional Committee of the General Fono -- or National Assembly -- which was in Tokelauan, and provided an English translation.

The constitutional development agenda was discussed in Wellington, New Zealand, in November/December 1997 with Tokelauan officials and the Ulu-o-Tokelau (head of the Council of Faipule and the highest authority of Tokelau). The working paper said consideration was being given to the possibility that in the meantime Tokelau might implement certain ideas developed by the Special Constitutional Committee relating, for example, to the structure of the General Fono. Also discussed was an outline legislative programme for the period 1997-2000.

In a section on the future status of the Territory, the working paper quotes a representative of the administering Power as telling the General Assembly's Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) on 9 October 1997 that the situation in which Tokelau found itself was different from the pattern traditionally considered by the Special Committee. Had that not been the case, there would have been a temptation to use one of the known governmental models, and not to begin from basics. Tokelau had to find an alternative route to development, drawing upon its own tradition, developing its own ideas in its own language and setting its own timetable for


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self-determination. Tokelau had reached what looked to be a defining point in its constitutional journey.

The representative of the administering Power had also said that a first report, in Tokelauan, on the content of a future constitution had been made at the end of 1996. In September 1997, Tokelau's legal adviser had produced a dual-language report and a collection of the laws of Tokelau, which would facilitate the proper use of the legislative power gained by the General Fono in 1996. Another important focus was the drive to recover traditional village authority, concentrating on capacity-building in the villages, in which there was still a shortage of the human and organizational skills required.

According to the working paper, the issue of self-determination was under active consideration by the people of Tokelau, who had expressed a strong preference for a status of free association with New Zealand.

On the economic and social conditions in the Territory, the working paper states that Tokelau's exclusive economic zone had been the most significant natural resource contributor to the national budget through the Forum Fisheries Agency. Its share of the sixth licensing period under the terms of the Treaty on Fisheries with the United States was $705,496 in 1994. Fisheries are Tokelau's most valuable natural resource, the working paper states, and adds that the Territory enjoyed a relatively high standard of living, with no visible signs of poverty or gender inequality. Women were well-integrated in Tokelauan society and participated fully in the village decision-making process through women's committees, the Village Councils of Elders, and their membership in the General Fono.

In 1996, the authorities began a review designed to recommend a framework for economic development over the next 10 years, aimed at ensuring the continuing viability of life in Tokelau and developing a greater measure of political autonomy and economic self-sufficiency.

Statement

ALIKI FAIPULE KURESA NASAU, Ulu-O-Tokelau (Titular head of Tokelau), said the people of the Territory could not exercise their right to self- determination until they had put in place political, economic and administrative structures and arrangements appropriate to their situation, and with ongoing supportive mechanisms. "Real self-determination for Tokelau is about economic independence, cultural affirmation, identity, and the protection of the pristine environment", he said. The present and future generations of Tokelau had a right to enjoy those privileges, he added.

He said the Council of Faipule, the executive arm of government, had, a month ago, completed a round of consultations with the three villages of Tokelau. The consultations encompassed the full spectrum of governance --


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political, economic, social and administrative arrangements necessary for them to manage their own affairs. They had met with all Councils of Elders, able- bodied men, women's organizations, youth groups and other non-governmental organizations. The consultations were continuing at village level, with the aim of bringing to the National Assembly or General Fono from 28 to 31 July their respective positions for a consensus to be reached on the vision forward. That would be discussed and negotiated with the administering Power in September.

In the consultations, he said three options for economic development had been considered, to be underpinned by the establishment of a development bank from which people could apply for loans and for advice on general business management, among other services. The creation of a trust fund designed to wean the people from unsustainable economic activities on a national basis was another of the major actions of the new House of Tokelau. The trust fund was the vehicle by which Tokelau could seek to become economically independent. Tokelau would need assistance in the management of the trust fund. Another major factor of the House of Tokelau was the legal, constitutional and political framework required for its support. Regulations and laws for the establishment of the development bank and the trust account were already being drafted for consideration by the General Fono at the end of the month. So, also, were regulations to support private sector development, he added.

On the political and constitutional front, he said the people were ready to vote for permanent membership of the National Assembly. The new three- yearly elections were due in January 1999. The number of Fono delegates was being reduced from 27 to either 12 of 15. An important aspect of the gender equity question had been addressed by the recommendation that one woman representative from each of the villages should represent all of the people of the village, rather than a spokesperson for women's issues only. That would ensure that 50 per cent of the population had a voice in the conduct of national affairs.

He called on the Special Committee and United Nations agencies for support in the Territory's modernization process. The desire of the people of Tokelau was to put structures in place for the sustainable development of the Territory. The overall aim was to achieve full internal self-government under the banner of "good governance".

Comments by Committee Members

JIMMY OVIA (Papua New Guinea) said there seemed to be full cooperation between Tokelau and the administering Power, judging from the statement made by the Ulu-o-Tokelau. He commended the administering Power for leading the way in its cooperation with the Special Committee. He noted the progress the Territory was making despite its difficulties, and expressed the hope for a bright future for Tokelau. He placed on record his hopes that the Special


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Committee would soon meet one of its goals with the early achievement of self- determination by Tokelau.

PATRICK A. LEWIS (Antigua and Barbuda) emphasized the importance of the presence of representatives of both the Territory being discussed and those of the administering Power. His country admired the developments taking place in Tokelau. He commended New Zealand, the administering Power of Tokelau, for its cooperation with the Special Committee, and appealed to other administering Powers to follow its example.

SAKIUSA RABUKA (Fiji) also commended the cooperation shown by New Zealand and hoped other administering Powers would follow suit. He praised the administering Power for its handling of Tokelau's affairs. It was his hope that the people of Tokelau would soon be in a position to exercise their right of self-determination so that the Special Committee would end consideration of the situation there.

LINDSAY WATT, Administrator of Tokelau, noted that Tokelau views were being conveyed to the Special Committee for the third time. The first occasion was in 1987 and the second in 1996. It was significant for Tokelau, and positive for the United Nations, that the time gap between this year's presentation and the last one should be two years, compared with the earlier nine years. That indicated a sense of momentum in this decade, and particularly that the vision outlined to the Special Committee in 1996 was on the way to becoming reality.

Tokelau had not been a single political entity in any contemporary sense, he said. It comprised three villages which had been largely autonomous for centuries. It was unlike the typical Non-Self-Governing Territory, with a background of administration from a recognized centre. In developing self- government, there was thus no administrative structure in waiting, no history of hands-on New Zealand involvement, and thus no possibility of staging a phased, British-style withdrawal. New Zealand's responsibility was with the needs of Tokelau at the national level, and traditionally those were not needs that impinged on everyday village life. That was why there had never been a resident New Zealand administrative presence in Tokelau.

New Zealand was not involved in Tokelau in the classic sense, he said. The switch from British to New Zealand oversight at the end of 1925 was made for administrative reasons. It had become inconvenient for Britain to hang on and, after the First World War, New Zealand had become involved in Western Samoa, which provided a reasonably close base from which the administration of Tokelau could be managed.

He said there was a short answer to why the 1994 United Nations visiting mission heard a new "voice of Tokelau" -- that the Territory had under active consideration both the Constitution of a self-governing Tokelau and an act of


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self-determination. That answer stemmed from the fact that the sustenance of human life in Tokelau today was more complex. Its people had moved beyond subsistence, and the clock could not be turned back. Yet, the resource base was too small to sustain the people at the level they now desired, taking account also of the need to cover the costs of the basic infrastructure needed if self-government was to be achieved.

The issue of living standards was open to debate, and so could be viewed from several angles, he said. Overriding any such debate, however, was Tokelau's need in its contemporary situation to take account, firstly, of the fact that it was now part of the global village and, secondly, of the factor of New Zealand citizenship, and the consequent right of free entry to the New Zealand mainland.

He said that in this decade, for its own compelling reasons, Tokelau had come to see that its three isolated communities needed to come to terms with conditions of life in the world beyond, while doing so in a way that reflected their distinctive identity. The people of Tokelau wished to relate to the outside world on their own terms, not defensively as had tended to be the recent pattern. Demonstrably, however, a programme of that kind was beyond the capacity of any individual village.

And so it had become realistic in the 1990s to work to build a national governing capacity, the more so when the people had long aspired to come together as one people and nation, he said. Hence, the thrust of current policy -- the bringing home to Tokelau of that part of government which dealt with the interests of all Tokelau, rather than those of the villages individually.

He said that an important further step, which was related to work under way in Tokelau to put in place new village and national support structures, would be the withdrawal by the New Zealand State Services Commissioner from his role as the employment authority of the Tokelau Public Service. The necessary legislative change was planned by the New Zealand Government at whatever time Tokelau was ready.

The course of action upon which Tokelau was now set could never have been envisaged in 1960 and was being taken for reasons that its people today saw to be compelling, he said. The impetus was not to oblige the United Nations; of far more importance was the coincidence between territory, administering Power and the United Nations. Even more practically, Tokelau needed the reassurance from the international community. It knew that the path upon which it was embarked -- one of greater economic self-sufficiency -- carried risk, especially of the material kind. Tokelau's greatest fear was that, with self-determination, it could find itself cast adrift.


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He said that a conscious process of thinking about governance in Non- Self-Governing Territories of the small island type, undertaken in a creative way with the engagement of the administering Power and the United Nations, may very well be the most practical path to the attainment of self-determination by territories remaining on the United Nations list. Certainly, the Organization could not play the role envisaged for it in the Charter when it could not interact successfully with the other two essential players. The process under way in Tokelau pointed equally to new ways of thinking about still important post-self-determination situations, particularly about how relationships may be structured with a larger partner, when the smaller one clearly wished to coexist alongside the larger one without being absorbed.

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