French Polynesia Petitioners Say ‘Accommodationist’ Territorial Government Provides Illusion of Self-determination, as President Hails Autonomy

3 October 2017
Seventy-second Session, 3rd Meeting (PM)

French Polynesia Petitioners Say ‘Accommodationist’ Territorial Government Provides Illusion of Self-determination, as President Hails Autonomy

Governor of Guam Laments Second-class Status of Indigenous Chamorro People, as Others Decry Homeland’s Militarization

The Non-Self-Governing Territory of French Polynesia was led by an “accommodationist” government that provided its people with only the illusion of self-determination, many petitioners declared today, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) entered its second day of debate on decolonization issues.

However, President Édouard Fritch of French Polynesia pointed out that the Territory already enjoyed a large degree of autonomy to govern itself freely and democratically, with full political powers in several spheres.  Its people did not wish to be guinea pigs for ideological clashes, he stressed, recalling that during the last election, in June 2017, 70 per cent of French Polynesia’s population had voted for self-governing candidates.  Moreover, the Territory had demanded that France recognize the consequences of the nuclear testing it had conducted on the Territory, and the French State had done so, he observed.

However, Minarii Chantal Galenon, President of the Association Vahine Piri Rava, noted that while the Territory’s government had recently signed the Elysée accord — thereby establishing goodwill when France had recognized the plight of the testing victims — the accord came with little real commitment and offered no apology, she said, pointing out that it also failed to deal with environmental damage and to clean up radioactive waste.

Maxime Chan, President of the Executive Board of Association 193, added that nothing had been said about nuclear testing for a long time, and young people did not recognize that sad history.  “This is the poisonous legacy that France has left the people of French Polynesia” he declared, emphasizing France must bear the health-care costs arising from temporary or lasting injury to the victims.

The Committee also took up the question of Guam, with Governor Eddie Baza Calvo saying that while he understood the interests of the United States and respected its laws, that Government should also understand the interests of Guam’s people.  When would they be held as equals and given the same rights as other Americans, he asked, instead of being viewed as second-class citizens?

Pim Limtiaco, another petitioner, condemned the ongoing colonization and militarization of Guam, noting that the Territory had suffered an $11 million loss in tourism revenues due to recent threats to its security posed by rising tensions with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Agreeing, Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, founding member of Our Islands are Sacred, warned that Guam could be caught in the middle of a now-threatened nuclear conflagration.  She also pointed out that a man she had not chosen to lead her country was trading threats with another holder of nuclear weapons, and she did not know how to assure her children that they were safe.

Also speaking today were representatives of Spain, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The Chief Minister of Gibraltar and another petitioner from that Territory also spoke today, as did several additional petitioners from French Polynesia and Guam.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 4 October, to continue its discussions on decolonization issues.


FRANCISCA MARÍA PEDROS CARRETERO (Spain) said the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was a serious opportunity to meet that goal.  In that context, Spain rejected the status of Gibraltar, the last colony in Europe.  After surveying the history of that Non-Self-Governing Territory, she said that the integrity of Spanish territory continued to be impacted negatively by the colony’s existence after three centuries.  Spain would continue its unceasing requests for restitution of the Territory until its decolonization took place, she vowed.  The General Assembly and the Fourth Committee had mandated the two sides to begin negotiations on ending the situation, but the negotiations had been delayed over much of the history of the United Nations, she noted.

Outlining the harm done by the presence of a colonial situation within her country, she said the region’s economy was distorted as a result of Gibraltar’s tax regime.  She also blamed the situation for illegal trafficking and for having hindered plans to build a sewage treatment plan.  As reiterated every year, Spain remained open to dialogue, including on a proposal for a joint sovereignty system, without giving up its just claim to a final settlement of the Gibraltar question, she said.  Also as in previous years, Spain sought an agreement with the United Kingdom on implementing a new regional cooperation framework to benefit the daily lives of the Territory’s inhabitants on both sides of the fence.  Spain’s willingness to carry that out immediately had been conveyed, she noted.

Petitioners on French Polynesia

ÉDOUARD FRITCH, President of French Polynesia, said the fact that the Territory had been accepted in the Pacific Islands Forum should be considered by the Special Committee on Decolonization.  It was contradictory to say French Polynesia was not self-governing while it was a full member of that entity.  Expressing doubt as to whether the Special Committee’s report was objective, he said its biased attitude resembled that of those who favoured liberation theories as opposed to democratic processes.  The people of French Polynesia did not wish to be guinea pigs for ideological clashes, he emphasized, recalling that during the last election in June 2017, 70 per cent of its population had voted for self-governing candidates.

Noting that a general election would be held in 2018, he said the Territory already enjoyed a large degree of autonomy to govern itself freely and democratically, with full political powers in several spheres.  Its current governance had made political stability and the transparent management of public affairs possible.  Considering its limited means, French Polynesia’s turning to a major country such as France was not shameful.  “I’m not one of those who wants more power and then come begging; begging is not my cup of tea,” he said.  Moreover, French Polynesia had demanded recognition of the consequences of the nuclear tests conducted on the Territory, and the French State had done so, he noted.  Since the end of testing in 1998, France had paid $180 million every year, he said, adding that the financial compensation had made many infrastructure projects possible.

The representative of Algeria said the nuclear testing legacy remained an issue, and asked whether the petitioner could elaborate on any new developments and initiatives to address the impact of nuclear tests.  Further, he asked the petitioner if he could provide information on the tax revenue created by the installation of the international airport.

Mr. FRITCH emphasized in response that the health effects of nuclear testing had been well known before the tests were conducted.  The current proportion of claims filed to those that had won compensation was 1 out of 2,000, he said, describing that proportion as “scandalous”.  He went on to note that the airport produced a great deal of money for the Government of France, although the inhabitants of Tahiti did not benefit.

OSCAR TERMARU, President, Tavini Huiraatira No Te Ao Maohi Party, said the statement by the accommodationist government demonstrated that colonialism was alive and well in French Polynesia in the twenty-first century.  Because of supposed self-government, the administering Power did not have to abide by the previous rules of the Committee and was able to rely on a surrogate representative who had come to justify that arrangement.  The international community would not be fooled, he said, emphasizing that the Territory’s people wanted to exercise their right to self-determination.  In response to questions from the Committee, he said the impact of nuclear testing was well known to France, so its decision to perform such tests in the Territory was a premeditated crime.  Compensation was too late and inadequate, he stressed.

ANTONY TEROS, Chairman, Union for Democratie Group, said Mr. Fritch’s statement had demonstrated that self-government was an illusion in French Polynesia.  The administering Power controlled most important spheres of government, and the elected territorial government did not even have control over the outer islands in its own lands.  Adequate funding was supposed to be provided when any new competencies were transferred to the elected government, but France had balked at that provision.  Responding to a question posed by the representative of Nicaragua, he said the French legislature had the power to transfer competencies, whereas the Territory had only a few representatives in that body.

ELIANE TEVAHITUA, President, Association Te Vahine Maohi No Manotahi, endorsed the two preceding statements, adding that the elections were also controlled by France and were used to ensure that an accommodationist government remained in power.  Changes in the electoral laws had made it impossible to vote for sovereignty, he said, stressing that what French Polynesia had was hardly true autonomy, but only the illusion of autonomy.  The revenues taken from the Territory were greater than the sums promised for the take-over of competencies, she added.

STANLEY CROSS, Attorney-at-Law, Barreau des Avocats de Papeete, Tahiti, said financial arrangements between France and the Non-Self-Governing Territories took unfair advantage of the natural resources belonging to the local peoples.  That was in contradiction to international law and had rendered French Polynesian people permanently dependent on the administering Power.  Because it controlled 5 million square miles of ocean that rightfully belonged to its colonies, France was listed as the world’s second greatest maritime Power, he noted.

TETUAHAU TEMARU, Third Deputy-Mayor, City of Faa’a, said significant quantities of cobalt, manganese and rare earths had been found in French Polynesia, and after a short period of controversy, it had been determined to be economically viable and of high value.  However, environmental threats to the oceans remained the main obstacles to extraction.  According to French law, control over those resources gave the administering Power unilateral authority to exploit and explore for strategic raw materials, he said.

VALENTINA CROSS, Council Member, City of Teva I Uta, said the accommodationist government of French Polynesia was to be commended for finally having visited the United Nations, but clarity was needed on the Organization’s procedures.  She asked why General Assembly resolution 67/265 had been adopted, thereby reinscribing French Polynesia on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Little was accomplished by continuing to debate whether the Territory was self-governing or not because nothing about the prevailing dependency arrangements had changed since 2013, she emphasized.

MINARII CHANTAL GALENON, President, Association Vahine Piri Rava, said nuclear testing in French Polynesia had followed similar tests conducted in Algeria, which had only ended after a long struggle.  After having closed its site on the African continent, France had turned to French Polynesia to continue its nuclear testing programme, which had had enormous health, economic and other consequences for the entire Pacific region.  The Territory’s accommodationist government had recently signed the Elysée accord, establishing goodwill because France had recognized the plight of the testing victims.  However, the accord came with little real commitment and offered no apology, only agreement to certain reforms of the failed compensation process put in place several years ago, she pointed out.  It did not deal with such matters as environmental damage and cleaning up radioactive waste.

STEVE CHAILLOUX, University of French Polynesia, said a comprehensive compensation package for deaths caused by nuclear testing was required.  The Assembly of French Polynesia had passed a resolution in 2014, quantifying the impact of the tests, and it had been submitted to the United Nations, but never distributed to Member States, he recalled.  Meanwhile, the accommodationist government was being duped by its benefactor, he added.

PUARAI TAEREA, President, Blue Djeun’s No Maohi Nui Association, recalled General Assembly resolution 57/525, which states that Non-Self-Governing Territories and adjacent areas should not be used for nuclear testing, dumping nuclear waste or deploying nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.  That resolution spoke directly to the precarious nature of several atolls upon which the French military had dumped nuclear waste held over from the nuclear test period, he said, adding that France had refused to engage in any meaningful clean up.

JUSTINE TEURA, Council Member, City of Tumaraa (Raiatea), described the administering Power’s omission of vital information on the effects of nuclear testing on French Polynesia as “telling”, emphasizing that it was direct evidence that the governing arrangements still served the interests of an administering Power that refused to comply with relevant United Nations obligations.

VICTOR MAAMAATUAIAHUTAPU, President, Syndicat d’Initiative Taaretu (Faa’a), described the Secretary-General’s reports on the effects of nuclear testing on the islands as wholly inadequate and in need of continuous updating.  Future reports must be far more comprehensive and must emphasize the obligations of the administering Power.  Until that happened, the Committee must avail itself of information from sources outside the United Nations system and accept them as official documents, he said.

LELIA HEIMATA ESTALL, Treasurer, Association Amicale des Travailleurs de la Mairie de Faa’a, said inapplicable agreements were being used to provide the illusion that the Territory was self-Governing.  The historical records must be re-examined to determine whether or not a Territory had achieved self-Government.  France had ceased to report as required after having changed terminology from “colony” to “territory”, she said, noting that the 2013 resolution to reaffirm French Polynesia’s status was therefore correct as the islands awaited true autonomy.

MOETAI BROTHERSON, Deputy of French Polynesia, National Assembly of France, reviewed the minimum standards for self-government as set out by the United Nations, emphasizing that the current situation did not meet that bar.  It was not true that the Territory’s people had chosen to retain its association with France, and French denials of that fact bore the marks of outdated diplomacy, he said.  Given the recent words of President Emmanuel Macron, hopefully the time had come for France to enter genuine multiparty discussions to ensure the self-determination of French Polynesia.

RICHARD TUHEIAVA, Elected Member, Assembly of French Polynesia, quoted the late Pacific scholar Epeli Hau’ofa on the need to “overturn all hegemonic views that aim ultimately to confine us again”.  That admonition rang loudly with regard to the colonial challenges faced by Ma’ohi Nui and its people as they reflected on French Polynesia’s government.  It served as the mouthpiece of an administrating Power that ignored its international legal responsibilities under the United Nations Charter, he said, calling upon the Organization to take expeditious action to implement its five resolutions on French Polynesia, and to adopt the draft resolution before the Committee by consensus.

The representative of Venezuela asked what the petitioners expected from specific short‑ and medium-term United Nations actions that could move the Territory towards decolonization.

Mr. TUHEIAVA, Elected Member, Assembly of French Polynesia, replied that a vote would be held on a sixth decision on French Polynesia during the current session, but little had been accomplished.  The Territory’s people had been taken hostage by its accommodationist government, which, by its arrangement with the colonial Power, used elections to demonstrate that its people were on their way to exercising self-determination, which was not the case.  A political education programme was needed to help the people understand that only three options were applicable — independence, free association, or full integration.

CARLYLE CORBIN, Senior Fellow, Dependency Studies Project, said the General Assembly’s resolutions reflected the recognition that French Polynesia’s status did not meet self-government indicators and international criteria.  Recent reforms did not constitute decolonization, nor had they been intended to do so, he emphasized.  Moreover, the administering Power had not been held to account.  Without a thorough United Nations examination, and in the absence of a case-by-case review and other warranted actions, the decolonization process was delayed, he said, stressing that justice delayed was justice denied.

The representative of Nicaragua sought an opinion on the implementation of General Assembly resolutions to date.

Mr. CORBIN responded by stating that the action that those resolutions called for was necessary but had not been carried out.  That included accountability, the need for implementation and reports chronicling steps taken by the United Nations system.

MAXIME CHAN, President, Executive Board of Association 193, said a petition launched to organize a local referendum on nuclear testing had received 53,500 signatures to date.  However, there had been no reaction to it from political leaders, which constituted an example of the false democracy in French Polynesia.  People should be asked what they thought of the testing carried out by France, but nothing had been said about it for a long time, and young people did not recognize that sad history.  “This is the poisonous legacy that France has left the people of French Polynesia,” he emphasized, saying France must bear the health-care costs for temporary or lasting injury to the victims.

Petitioners on Gibraltar

FABIAN PICARDO, Chief Minister, Gibraltar, recalled that 50 years ago the Gibraltarian people had voted to remain British by more than 99 per cent, saying “we made our choice abundantly clear”.  While the Government of Spain had called that referendum illegal, it was not, he said, adding that Gibraltarians had stood up to that bully’s threats “with just a ballot and a pencil”.  Later, in 2002, they had again held a referendum to decide whether to accept an offer of joint sovereignty of the United Kingdom and Spain.  Emphasizing the legality of that second referendum — which Spain had also disputed — he said the results had once again been 99 per cent in favour of remaining entirely British.  Each referendum had been carried out in an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence and respect, in keeping with the British principles of respect for democracy and the rule of law, he said, describing Gibraltar as a law-abiding community characterized by wide cultural, religious and social diversity.  The Territory’s people respected each other as well as the rules-based system of international law.

For those reasons, he continued, Gibraltar was in compliance with all international criteria on prudential supervision, transparency and exchange of information in the field of financial services.  It was also in compliance with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rules on exchange of tax information and fiscal transparency.  Gibraltar had gateways for the exchange of tax information with 104 countries and had offered the same to Spain, despite the latter’s claims to the contrary.  He welcomed recent statements by that country’s Foreign Minister to the effect that Spain would not seek to use the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union to advance its sovereignty claim, and his recognition that Spain’s offer of joint sovereignty could only be applied with the consent of Gibraltar’s people.  He nevertheless rejected the offer while pledging to continue to seek friendship with Spain and with all Gibraltar’s European partners.

RICHARD BUTTIGIEG, of the Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group, said the “referendum generation” that had voted in 1967 to remain British had made its choice “fully aware of the hardships that would follow”.  Indeed, after the referendum’s results, Spain had unilaterally closed its frontier with Gibraltar and begun a political siege that had separated families and impeded the flow of food and other essential supplies.  Nevertheless, the tenacious Gibraltarians had borne those malicious acts bravely and forged their own identity.  Wondering “how can we trust a nation which isolated us from the world and strangled us politically and economically for over a decade” simply because they had had the audacity to express themselves through a democratic vote, he underscored Gibraltar’s “absolutely steadfast” desire to remain British.

Petitioners on Guam

EDDIE BAZA CALVO, Governor of Guam, said his great-grandfather’s wish from 100 years ago had been for full rights and self-governance for that Territory’s Chamorro people, which had still not been fulfilled.  After having been loyal to the American nation for so long, when would they be held as equals and given the same rights as other Americans, instead of being viewed as second-class citizens, he asked.  He said that, as a public servant, he had voiced concern not only over status issues, but the burdens that Guam must shoulder through unfunded mandates that had left it in debt.  Meanwhile, the process of ensuring self-determination was at a standstill, and the Fair Housing Act was being used to deprive the Chamorro people of land promised to them, he noted.

He said that while he understood the interests of the United States and respected its laws, he wished to ask that the Federal Government understand the interests of his people.  It was for that reason that he had made decolonization a major initiative of his government and hoped to place decolonization on the local school curriculum.  Reiterating requests for a visiting mission by the Special Committee on Decolonization, he said that his hope for self-determination did not represent hate for America, for which he held affection and love.  Rather, it was his hope to experience the ideals of democracy, liberty, opportunity and equality — including the ability to vote for the President — which were the foundations of the American dream.

In response to a question from the representative of Venezuela, he said military use of the Territory by great Powers had started in the sixteenth century, and its location was the reason that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was threatening Guam.  The United States military base there was also a factor, he added.

DIETRIX DUHAYLONSON, lineal descendant, Soledad Leon Guerrero Balajadia and Juan Mesa Manibusan families, recommended that the Committee approve the draft resolution on Guam and condemn the abuse of its natural resources.  Emphasizing the need to ensure land rights for native peoples, he recalled that his family’s land had been returned after confiscation, but many other families had had their lands stolen outright.  Many tangible and intangible resources of the native peoples had yet to be restored, he said, citing also the environmental degradation and endangerment caused by the military’s use of land.  The bases had put Guam in the crosshairs of military threats, he added.

TIARA NAPUTI, Assistant Professor of Communications, University of Colorado, Boulder, urged the Committee to hold the administering Power to its obligations, and urged it to adopt the draft resolution on Guam.  Underlining the importance of provisions to counter the severe environmental degradation of the islands by military use, she said a massive military build-up, the destruction of forests and the contamination of drinking water continued.  Decolonization was absolutely crucial to saving the Territory’s people and environment, she stressed.

MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA, member, Independent Guahan, said that every day reminded Guam’s people that they were not independent; now such reminders were amplified by threats of nuclear attack attracted by the Territory’s military bases.  He said he did not find comfort in President Donald Trump’s threats of “fire and fury” in response to any such attack, recalling that the experience of the Second World War, during which Guam had been abandoned amid the deaths of many, had not comforted him either.

VICTORIA-LOLA LEON GUERRERO, founding member, Our Islands are Sacred, said she sought a voice and justice for her people, as well as peace in her homeland.  Guam could be caught in the middle of a now-threatened nuclear conflagration, she warned, pointing out that a man whom she had not chosen to lead her country was trading threats with another holder of nuclear weapons and she did not know how to assure her children that they were safe.  She appealed to delegates to allow Guam to join the community of independent peoples who controlled their own resources and fates.

MICHAEL LUJAN BEVQACQUA, Chairperson, Independence for Guam Task Force, said the organization educated people about the possibilities for the people of Guam to move towards self-determination.  For decades, Guam had been used as a port of entry to the United States, leaving the Chamorro people a minority in their own land.  That had resulted in the muddying of plebiscites as well as the lawsuit that could deprive the Chamorro of their land, he said, cautioning that the United States now planned to expand its bases without the assent of Guam’s people.  The strategic importance of the islands was the Territory from attaining self-determination, he said, reiterating requests that the Special Committee undertake a visiting mission.

In response to a question from the representative of Venezuela, he said it was true that it was difficult, if not impossible, to convince the administering Power to engage with the decolonization process, given the current climate.

SAMANTHA BABAUTA TENORIO BARNETT, Member of Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian, recalling painful stories from elders who had survived the Japanese occupation of Guåhan during the Second World War, said war was a memory covering the island and carried on the shoulders of its people.  That burden continued to be acted out when the administering Power conducted military “training” and “testing”, which meant the use of explosives in the ocean and building fire ranges on their ancestors’ lands.  The Government of the United States had stolen that land from its original owners, who were never justly compensated, she said, adding that the military was also responsible for toxic dumpsites and were planning testing on the Mariana Islands that would harm its coral reefs.

LISALINDA NATIVIDAD, Member of the Guam Commission on Decolonization, noting that a recent United States court decision had nullified components of the Guam Law that had established the Guam Commission on Decolonization, said the ruling had been erroneously based on United States civil rights law.  “This is a grossly misinformed position” as decolonization was not a matter of civil rights but rather an exercise of the inalienable human right to self-determination for those who had collectively experienced colonization, she said.  The Government of Guam had filed an appeal to that ruling, she said, noting that four generations of her people had come before the United Nations pleading for its intervention.  “As you hear the dismal realities of our island home, we ask that you do something different,” she said, calling on the Organization to force the United States to engage in Guam’s decolonization process and take a strong position against that country’s destructive plans to damage the north of the island.

THERESE M. TERLAJE, Vice Speaker of the Thirty-fourth Guam Legislature and member of the Commission on Decolonization, said that the people of Guam must regain decision-making powers over their own resources for both the health and economic independence of the community.  There were more than 100 contaminated sites on Guam almost all due to United States military activity, and degradation of lands continued.  Now the land-trust law that would have restored Chamorro land was being called discriminatory.  The indigenous people of Guam had never agreed to environmental destruction and the loss of their homelands, she stated, urging the Committee to demand Guam’s immediate decolonization before remaining resources were lost.

TELENA CRUZ NELSON, Senator of the Thirty-fourth Guam Legislature, conveyed statistics showing high military enlistment on the part of the people of Guam, but inadequate rewards for those who had served.  She listed rights that had been denied and stated that people had made their wishes clear, most lately in protests against the destruction of forests.  She appealed to the Committee to become the driving force for decolonization of her land, allowing the people to enjoy their God-given rights.

KERRI ANN BORJA, member of Sagan Kotturan Chamoru, said her organization had been created to allow Chamorro people to preserve their roots, as the administering Power had denied them the rights to learn about their culture.  The Chamorro language had dwindled severely, but was not dead yet.  She and many others were fighting to keep it alive along with the dream of self-determination, she said, appealing to the Committee to demand that the Chamorro be enabled to preserve their heritage.

JULIA FAYE MUÑOZ, of the Pacific Women’s Indigenous Network, said Guam had experienced record-breaking coral bleaching and many fish species were now endangered.  Rising sea levels were threatening land and sources of drinking water.  The Chamorro remained, at the same time, closely connected to their land.  Denying indigenous peoples control over their land threatened the success of any effort to stem global climate change, particularly given the position of the Trump Administration.  She appealed for the adoption of the draft text on Guam, pointing out provisions relating to environmental destruction, and asked for the Committee’s aid in securing genuine decolonization.

PIM LIMTIACO, Famoksaiyan, condemned the ongoing colonization and militarization of Guam, noting that the United States military planned to relocate 5,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam between 2024 and 2028.  As a result, more of Guam’s ancestral lands would be taken from the indigenous Chamorro people for use as firing ranges, detonation test sites, and training grounds.  At the same time, the Territory had suffered an $11 million loss in tourism revenues due to recent threats to its national security posed by rising tensions with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, she pointed out, urging the United Nations to use its influence with the United States to guarantee genuine cooperation and decolonization.

For information media. Not an official record.