Closing its resumed 2015 session today, the Special Committee on decolonization examined two Non-Self-Governing Territories, New Caledonia and French Polynesia, and approved resolutions reaffirming the right of the peoples of those Territories to determine their own future.
The Special Committee — known formally 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 — also approved a number of other documents, including the conclusions and recommendations of its recent Caribbean Regional Seminar, held in Nicaragua in May.
On the Pacific island of New Caledonia — which is administered by France — the Special Committee approved a resolution by which the General Assembly would note that the Territory had entered into its most “seminal phase”, with a historic status referendum slated to take place in 2018. In that connection, it would encourage France and the people of New Caledonia to address in an amicable way concerns relating to the electoral process, which lingered despite a 5 June agreement reached on the matter.
The Special Committee heard from petitioners on both the “independentist” and “non-independentist” sides of the issue. The latter included Gaël Yanno, President of the Congress of New Caledonia, who stressed that “self-determination does not equal independence”. For the second year in a row, the non-independentists had come before the Special Committee in a constructive spirit seeking to gain status as a fully autonomous Territory while still falling under the auspices of France, he said.
Shonu Wayaridri, of the Committee on Education and Culture of the Congress of New Caledonia, agreed that the Territory could be completely decolonized without leaving the French Republic. The Non-Self-Governing Territory had chosen the link with the administering Power, and “we would choose it tomorrow”, he said. France respected New Caledonia, with its cultural wealth; it was not a conqueror but a space for freedom.
Arguing for independence was Roch Wamytan, President of the Group UC-FLNKS (Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front), who said that the colonial system was an anachronistic, outdated one condemned by the United Nations. His country’s emancipation had been deliberately held back the administering Power, and the problem of the electorate had resurfaced with respect to the upcoming status referendum in 2018. The French electoral process was “ineffective”, he said, stressing that it was not possible to trust the French State.
Mickaël Forrest, Secretary of the International Relations Unit of the FLNKS, stressed that a recent political crisis in New Caledonia demonstrated the “irresponsibility” of the pro-French Government. While agreement had been reached on the electoral body, that consensus remained fragile, he said.
Speaking on behalf of the Government of New Caledonia was its Vice President, Jean-Louis d’Anglebermes, who described a number of positive initiatives being undertaken in the Territory, from social dialogue to the opening of new hospitals. Recalling that the General Assembly had encouraged a friendly settlement of the electoral roll issue, he pointed to the 5 June agreement and stressed that the Government was doing everything possible to ensure calm in the lead-up to the 2018 status referendum.
The representative of France, Tomas Napolitano Martinez, said that his country was committed to working in full transparency with the United Nations on the matter of New Caledonia. A law had been adopted to improve the functional commission aimed at revising the electoral lists, he said, adding that all parties recognized the validity of each other’s concerns.
Taking the floor later this morning, Richard Ariihau Tuheiava, an elected member of the Assembly of French Polynesia and a member of the “Union Pour la Democratie” (UPLD), recalled that his Territory had been re-inscribed on the list of United Nations Non-Self-Governing Territories in 2013 after many years. The Territory had been the victim of more than 30 years of nuclear testing by France, he said, adding, “our people are dying of several nuclear-related illnesses”. He urged France to admit to the colonial nature of its nuclear testing and to stop its ongoing unilateral exploitation of the natural resources of French Polynesia.
The Special Committee approved a resolution by which the General Assembly would note the significant health and environmental impacts of nuclear testing in French Polynesia, and reaffirm that it was ultimately for the people of the Territory to freely determine their future political status.
In other business today, the Special Committee also approved a resolution on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, as well as a report bearing the “conclusions and recommendations” of the recent Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization, held in Managua, Nicaragua, in May.
With regard to the Regional Seminar, a discussion emerged about the attempts by some delegations to alter the text of the procedural portion of the Seminar’s report, which had been approved by consensus in Nicaragua. Chair Xavier Lasso Mendoza noted that he had resisted “pressure” from certain delegations to make changes to that text after its approval, which he said would have violated the rules and procedures of the Special Committee.
Question of New Caledonia
GAËL YANNO, President, Congress of New Caledonia, said that for the second consecutive year, the Special Committee was welcoming representatives from all stakeholders in the question of his Territory, including the administering Power. That put an end to the monopoly once held by pro-independence groups, he said. Among the Non-Self-Governing Territories, New Caledonia was a special case, as those who were both pro- and anti-independence were signatories of the same accord. The 2018 deadline for the status referendum was crucial. Some pro-independence leaders had not hesitated to condemn the “scandalous” problems of the electoral roll, pointing to electoral fraud. However, the creation of the electoral roll had taken place under honest conditions, and several verdicts of the highest courts reflected that. A meeting on 5 June had led to an agreement between the French Government and pro- and anti-“independentists” to ensure the election was “unchallengeable”.
In so doing, he continued, the electoral body would be limited to the population concerned as defined by the United Nations, excluding several thousand Caledonian voters. All observers agreed that there was no majority in New Caledonia that was in favour of independence. Indeed, “self-determination does not equal independence,” he said, stressing that there was another option as outlined in General Assembly resolution 2625. For the second year in a row, the non-independentists had come before the Special Committee in a constructive spirit seeking to gain status as a fully autonomous Territory while still falling under the auspices of France.
SHONU WAYARIDRI, Committee on Education and Culture of the Congress of New Caledonia, thanked the Special Committee for allowing a Kanak, “who wishes to remain French”, to speak. It was critical that non-independentists were able to address the international community in order to bring a different message than the one that had been repeated to the Special Committee for years. For young Kanaks, the situation of the Melanesian people of other States was not an example to follow. Those Kanaks living in New Caledonia had the best lives and the best economic opportunities due to their connection with the French Republic, and independence would lead to their impoverishment. Independentists targeted anti-independence Kanaks, and sometimes chased them from their lands.
For decades, the Kanaks had considered the issue and stressed that the only outcome of self-determination could be independence. “This is not the case,” he said, adding that the Territory could be completely decolonized without leaving the French Republic. The Non-Self-Governing Territory had chosen the link with the administering Power, and “we would choose it tomorrow.” France respected New Caledonia, with its cultural wealth; it was not a conqueror but a space for freedom. At the last meeting of signatories on 5 June, agreement had been reached on the rules for the referendum to take place in 2018. Today, New Caledonia was building a better future for the entire Caledonian community, he concluded.
ROCH WAMYTAN, signatory to the Noumea Accord and President of the “Group UC-FLNKS” (Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front) in the Congress of New Caledonia, said the colonial system was an anachronistic, outdated one that was condemned by the United Nations. His country’s emancipation had been deliberately held back the administering Power, and the problem of the electorate had resurfaced with respect to the upcoming status referendum in 2018. It was also the reason for the Special Committee members’ field visit to New Caledonia in March 2014, he said, pointing to the “ineffectiveness of the French electoral process”.
On 5 June 2015, an agreement was reached on the issue of the electorate, in particular by providing an expansion of a formalities exemption for listing on the referendum’s special electoral roll for the native citizens of New Caledonia. "The extension of this scope would include between 80 and 85 per cent of those deemed to be part of the referendum electorate," he said. A concession of FLNKS to break the impasse had taken place, he said, adding that it was crucial for the Special Committee to strengthen its involvement in the evolution of the situation in New Caledonia. There were no guarantees that the French State and non-independentists would respect their commitments. To achieve the objective - "an act of self-determination that is honest, transparent, credible and compelling" was needed; it was not possible to trust the French State.
MICKAËL FORREST, Secretary, International Relations Unit of the FLNKS, said that 2014 was a year of extreme importance for the pro- independentists. The political crisis in the local government had threatened the country’s stability, which showed the “irresponsibility” of the pro-French Government. Agreement had been reached on the electoral body, however, that consensus remained fragile. In line with relevant resolutions of the General Assembly, especially 69/107, he reiterated his request for technical assistance to allow for the creation of an “honest” electoral roll. “There is no doubt that we must expand our working relationship with the Special Committee,” he said, drawing attention to the provisions of Assembly resolution 69/98 on economic and other activities that affected the interests of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. Three years after the signing of the Noumea Accord, New Caledonia had made great progress in a number of areas, he concluded.
JEAN-LOUIS D’ANGLEBERMES, Vice President, Government of New Caledonia, said that his presence today demonstrated France’s commitment to fully respect the Noumea Accord. The Government’s desire to keep the United Nations regularly informed was even more important, given the upcoming status referendum. It was crucial to do everything possible to ensure the calmness of the political process in New Caledonia. The French representatives in New Caledonia were working to support local production in order to reduce dependency on imports and increase energy independence. They also had launched several important reforms to guarantee social cohesion, including growing social housing stock, opening new hospitals and creating new roads. The General Assembly had stressed the importance of dialogue between the parties participating in the development of an act of self-determination of the Territory, and that dialogue had continued successfully. No fewer than three signatory committees would be organized and a Steering Committee on the Future of New Caledonia met regularly.
Regarding the Kanak people, concerns remained about their under-representation in the social life of the Territory. “We are trying to offer all Caledonians the same opportunity for success,” he said, adding that new educational and employment initiatives were being launched. It was also important to increase the Territory’s integration in Oceania and the world. The French Territorial Government had taken on board a number of recommendations following the Special Committee’s visit to New Caledonia, including appearances before the Special Committee as often as possible. The Assembly had encouraged a “friendly” settlement of the resolution of the electoral roll issue. It was the responsibility of the administering Power to ensure calm conditions for the act of self-determination, he said, noting the 5 June agreement. In line with the Assembly’s resolutions on the matter, the French Government was transferring power over extractive and other industries in a manner that would benefit the entire Territory.
TOMAS NAPOLITANO MARTINEZ (France) said that his country was committed to working in full transparency with the United Nations on the matter of New Caledonia. A law had been adopted to improve the functional commission, which was aimed at revising the electoral lists. At the recent meeting of the Committee of Signatories, all parties had recognized the validity of each other’s concerns, he added.
AMADU KOROMA (Sierra Leone) said that it was crucial that the administering Power, France, had taken part in today’s meeting. The upcoming referendum would be the end of the Noumea Accord of 1998. His delegation fully supported the road map laid out in that agreement, and stressed that the referendum must not lead to the victory of one part of the New Caledonian population over another. “We as the Special Committee are here to guide them,” as they exercised their right to choose the path they wanted to take. He emphasized the need for unity at the present critical stage. There was already talk of the need for the people of New Caledonia to have a “rainbow nation” in which everyone was treated equally for the good and peaceful coexistence of the Territory. At the end of the day, it was the love of the Territory that must prevail. He sounded a note of caution with regard to the control of guns and light weapons, which were finding their way into New Caledonia and which posed a serious threat, especially in the lead-up to the 2018 status referendum. He asked the Special Committee to look into the treatment of prisoners in New Caledonia, saying that was a human rights issue.
Next, FRED SARUFA (Papua New Guinea) introduced a draft resolution entitled “Question of New Caledonia” (document A/AC.109/2015/L.12). Noting with interest the substantive developments taking place in New Caledonia since last year and the possible implications for the self-determination process, he said that 2015 would mark 162 years of colonization of the Territory by the administering Power, France. It was important to remind the world of this “unfinished business” and the need to collectively strive harder and work smarter to eliminate the scourge of colonialism, which had no place in the twenty-first century.
Welcoming continued, measured progress on the self-determination process in New Caledonia, such as the transfer of powers from France to New Caledonia, the review of the electoral roll, economic rebalancing, capacity and institution building, and support to the Territory’s indigenous peoples, he said that more work nevertheless needed to be done. Since the United Nations visiting mission in March 2014, the situation in the Territory remained fragile, as exemplified by the political impasse in the Territorial Government, which had lasted until 1 April 2015. A fundamental issue at stake was the urgent need to address the shortcomings of the electoral roll for the provincial election, particularly for the referendum. “Given that the referendum to decide the future status of New Caledonia is a mere three years away, there is no time to lose,” he said.
To that end, he welcomed the ongoing efforts by the administering Power and all the stakeholders in the Territory, under the auspices of the four working groups, as well as the extraordinary meeting of the Committee of Signatories of the Noumea Accord, held on 5 June. A group of experts might also be established to conduct quantitative assessments of the electoral disputes relating to the electoral roll. He encouraged the administering Power to officially share with the United Nations the full details of the outcome of that meeting, and stressed that any agreement reached there must be upheld by all parties involved. He also paid tribute to the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front for its successful two-year chairmanship of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
The Special Committee then approved the draft resolution by consensus.
Question of French Polynesia
RICHARD ARIIHAU TUHEIAVA, elected member, Assembly of French Polynesia, and a member of the “Union Pour la Democratie” (UPLD), recalled that his Territory had been re-inscribed on the list of United Nations Non-Self-Governing Territories in 2013 after many years. If countries were allowed to pick and choose which parts of the United Nations Charter they would implement, their aggressive claims to adherence to international law would ring particularly hollow. In 2014, his group had informed the Special Committee of an assessment on self-governance in French Polynesia. Due attention should be given to the reasons why the United Nations had not carried out the objectives of decolonization, as called for in the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Of particular importance was the repeated call for a case-by-case work programme in conjunction with the administering Power; however, France had not seen fit to engage in its creation.
Recalling the Partial Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty of 1963 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty of 1996, he said that his Territory was particularly affected by those treaties, as it had been the victim of more than 30 years of nuclear testing. “Our people are dying of several nuclear-related illnesses,” which would continue for generations. The Secretary-General’s report on the matter was “far from comprehensive”, barely scratching the surface. A subsequent document of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation found that the testing of nuclear materials in the atmosphere adversely affected the environment. Seventeen years after the last nuclear test conducted in the Pacific, the people of French Polynesia were still suffering the effects.
He asked the Special Committee to, among other things, amend its methods of work to allow the question of French Polynesia to be considered during the first week of the session in order to allow for the consideration of important documents regarding the effects of atomic radiation. He called on France to admit to the colonial nature of its nuclear testing. The administering Power also continued to unilaterally exploit the natural resources of French Polynesia, he added.
The Special Committee then approved a draft resolution entitled “Question of French Polynesia” (document A/AC.109/2015/L.16), without a vote. By the text, the General Assembly would recall the significant health and environmental impacts of nuclear testing conducted by the administering Power in the Territory over a 30-year period, and recognize also the concerns in the Territory related to the consequences of those activities on the lives and health of the people, especially children and vulnerable groups, as well as on the environment of the region.
Further, the Assembly would reaffirm the inalienable right of the people of French Polynesia to self-determination and that it was ultimately for the people there to determine freely their future political status. It would call on the administering Power to participate in and cooperate fully with the work of the Special Committee and express regret that it had not responded to the request to submit information on French Polynesia under article 73 (e) of the United Nations Charter. Finally, it would call on the administering Power to intensify its dialogue with French Polynesia in order to facilitate rapid progress towards a fair and effective self-determination process, under which the terms and timelines would be agreed.
The Special Committee then turned its attention to a draft resolution entitled “Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples” (document A/AC.109/2015/L.9/Rev.1). The Committee Secretary noted the issuance of a statement of the Secretary-General on programme budget implications.
By the text of that resolution, the General Assembly would reiterate its conviction of the need to eradicate colonialism, as well as racial discrimination and basic human rights violations, and stress the importance of the formal participation of the administering Powers in the work of the Special Committee. It would further call upon the administering Powers to take all steps necessary to enable the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to exercise fully as soon as possible their right to self-determination, including independence, on a case-by-case basis.
The Assembly would reaffirm its support for the aspirations of the peoples under colonial rule to exercise their self-determination right, including independence, in line with the relevant United Nations resolutions, and call on all the administering Powers to cooperate fully in the work of the Special Committee and to participate formally in its future sessions and seminars. It would further call upon them to fully cooperate with the Committee to develop and finalize, as soon as possible, a constructive programme of work on a case-by-case basis for the Non-Self-Governing Territories, in order to facilitate implementation of the Committee’s mandate, as well as the relevant resolutions on decolonization, including those on specific Territories.
Also by the text, the Assembly would request the Special Committee to, among other things, formulate specific proposals to bring about an end to colonialism and to report thereon to the General Assembly at its seventy-first session; to continue to examine the political, economic and social situation in the Non-Self-Governing Territories, and to recommend, as appropriate, the most suitable steps needed to enable the populations of those Territories to exercise their self-determination right, including independence; and to develop and finalize, as soon as possible and in cooperation with the administering Power and the Territory in question, a constructive programme of work on a case-by-case basis for the Non-Self-Governing Territories to facilitate implementation.
The Special Committee approved the draft resolution without a vote.
Report of the Caribbean Regional Seminar
The Special Committee then approved, without a vote, the “Report of the Caribbean Regional Seminar” (document A/AC.109/2015/CRP.1), which contained the conclusions and recommendations from the Managua, Nicaragua, Seminar in May.
Prior to its approval, the representatives of Dominica and Grenada asked for technical clarifications on the report, including whether it was a report of the Chair or of the Special Committee.
Chair XAVIER LASSO MENDOZA said he was aware of a certain disagreement among delegations regarding the report. The first part had been formally approved in Managua, he said, leaving only the conclusions and recommendations to be finalized in New York. Some delegations had asked for the deletion of some of its contents after the fact. That was impossible, he said, stressing the need to respect the Special Committee’s rules. Indeed, for the good of the Special Committee, he would resist all pressure to revise the report.
The representatives of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Chile, Syria and Iraq held that it would be irresponsible to “invent” or “delete” facts that had been included the report and adopted in Managua. They expressed support for the rules and practices of the United Nations, indicating that the pressures by some delegations to alter the report after its adoption were “unacceptable”.
The representative of Saint Lucia asked the Special Committee to adopt the conclusions and recommendations, but had reservations as he had not yet seen them.
Speaking as an observer, the representative of Morocco expressed his deep concern with the “opaque” manner in which the procedural section of the report, approved in Managua, had been drafted. He categorically opposed that portion of the text, adding that the Chair bore the full repercussions of that lack of transparency. The draft report had been circulated just before its approval; and the programme of work did not account for any “adoption” of a report of at Seminar. In addition, the report had only been provided in English, and not in Spanish or French. His delegation had approached the Chair several times to alert him to those failings. The report had unfortunately been “politicized” and deviated from neutrality.
The representative of Algeria expressed support for the work of the Chair.