Press Release

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



The United Nations is sending a four-member team to Tokelau, a Non-Self-Governing Territory administered by New Zealand, to observe a referendum on self-government in free association with New Zealand, from 11 to 15 February.

Members of the team include a representative of the Special Committee on Decolonization, Ambassador Robert Aisi of Papua New Guinea, and an official from the Decolonization Unit of the Department of Political Affairs.  In addition, two officials of the Electoral Assistance Division, also of the Department of Political Affairs, will be monitoring the conduct of the referendum at the request of the New Zealand Government. 

Tokelau, located in the South Pacific about 500 kilometres north of Samoa, consists of three small atolls and has a population of 1,500.  It has been administered by New Zealand since 1926.  It has made significant strides towards achieving self-determination in recent years.

In August 2005, it decided to explore the option of self-government in free association with New Zealand.  The referendum to determine Tokelau’s future status will include voting in Apia, Samoa, on 11 February (for Tokelauans living in Samoa), and in Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo in Tokelau on 13, 14 and 15 February, respectively.  Tokelau has decided that an overall majority of two-thirds of the valid votes cast would be required for a change in Tokelau’s status.

There are currently 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories left on the United Nations decolonization list. The Special Committee on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (also known as the Special Committee on Decolonization or the Committee of 24) is the focal point for the implementation of the Declaration on decolonization.  At the time the United Nations was established, there were 72 Non-Self-Governing Territories, along with 11 Trust Territories.  The last Non-Self-Governing Territory that exercised the right to self-determination was East Timor, now known as Timor Leste, which gained independence in 2002.

General Assembly resolution 1541 (XV) defines three ways in which a Non-Self-Governing Territory can attain a full measure of self-government, as envisioned in the United Nations Charter.  These are: a) free association with an independent State as a result of free and voluntary choice by the people of the Territory, expressed through an informed and democratic process; b) integration with an independent State on the basis of complete equality between the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territory and those of the independent State; and c) independence.

Recent Moves towards Self-Determination in Tokelau

The current process of constitutional development stems from the 1998 decision by the General Fono (the national representative body) to endorse a comprehensive report entitled Modern House of Tokelau, which addressed the core issue for Tokelau in creating a constitutional framework: how to construct a self-governing nation based on the atoll or village structure.

During the past few years, New Zealand and Tokelau have worked through a series of issues, such as identifying the values and principles that are the foundation for New Zealand and Tokelau’s relationship; confirming the terms under which New Zealand will provide ongoing economic and administrative assistance to Tokelau; and identifying the principles underpinning such issues as Tokelau’s security and defence, Tokelau’s participation in regional and international affairs, the role of the Tokelauan community in New Zealand, and the decolonization process.

As a result of these considerations, in October 2004, Tokelau’s General Fono unanimously agreed, following extensive consultations in all three villages and on the basis of a recommendation of the Special Constitutional Committee, to formally explore, with New Zealand, the option of self-government in free association with New Zealand.  New Zealand’s Prime Minister visited Tokelau in August 2004, and welcomed this decision and assured Tokelau of New Zealand’s ongoing friendship and support, as it moved towards this new status.  Work has been under way since then on the elaboration of a set of arrangements to implement the response to this decision, some of which include the signing of the “Joint Statement on the Principles of Partnership”, (which sets out in writing, for the first time, the rights and obligations of both partner countries and provides a solid platform for Tokelau’s further constitutional and political development); a visit to Tokelau by New Zealand’s Governor-General in 2005; and the formal transfer of the powers of the New Zealand Administrator to the three Village Councils of Tokelau.

A reworking of Tokelau’s public services around this new political structure has also been completed.  The main feature of this arrangement is that it puts the three villages squarely at the heart of Tokelau’s system of Government and reaffirms the “pule”, or traditional authority of the three Village Councils.

During this period, New Zealand has also strengthened its support systems for Tokelau.  A “one-stop-shop”, is now established in Wellington, dealing with all matters relating to Tokelau.  Late in 2004, Tokelau’s International Trust Fund account was formally established, which should set Tokelau on a solid economic footing for the future, and New Zealand and Tokelau have signed the first multi-year economic support agreement.

At its August 2005 meeting, the General Fono approved the text of a draft Treaty of Free Association between Tokelau and New Zealand, as a basis for an act of self-determination.  It also appointed a Translation Committee and appointed a Referendum Commission.  Subsequently, in November 2005, the General Fono approved the translations of the draft Constitution and draft Treaty, approved the draft referendum rules (including a closing date of 23 December 2005 for voter registration), and set the dates for the referendum.

Assuming that the outcome of the referendum is positive, a date would be set for actual “day of self-government” -- probably in the third quarter of 2006, to allow time for the necessary legislative amendments to be enacted in New Zealand.


The full text of the draft Treaty of Free Association between New Zealand and Tokelau and other documentation on the referendum can be obtained on http://www.tokelau.org.nz.  The UN website, http://www.un.org, has background information on the entire decolonization process.

For further information, please contact Hiro Ueki, UN Department of Public Information, at tel: +1 212 963 5150 or e-mail: ueki@un.org.

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For information media • not an official record