French Polynesia Petitioners Blame France for Years of Suffering Fallout from Nuclear Tests, as Fourth Committee Continues Decolonization Debate

GA/SPD/663
9 October 2018
Seventy-third Session, 3rd Meeting (PM)

French Polynesia Petitioners Blame France for Years of Suffering Fallout from Nuclear Tests, as Fourth Committee Continues Decolonization Debate

Petitioners from the Non-Self-Governing Territory of French Polynesia expressed alarm today over the consequences of France’s nuclear testing in the Pacific region, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) considered decolonization issues for a second day.

Maxime Chan of the Association Te Ora Naho, said France has a duty, in accordance with its own constitution, to remedy the damage it caused in the Territory through nuclear testing.  He recalled that 368 instances of radioactive fallout were reported and that radioactive waste was discharged into the ocean, in violation of international rules on such material.

In a similar vein, Taaroanui Maraea, President of the Maòhi Protestant Church of French Polynesia, said that such crimes against humanity have caused untold sickness and death among the Territory’s people.  Francois Pihaatae of the Pacific Conference of Churches echoed that sentiment, calling upon the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur to undertake a fact-finding mission to Ma’ohi Nui ‑ French Polynesia’s indigenous name ‑ saying the Territory continues to face the spill-over effects of the tests.

Many petitioners noted that the impact of French nuclear testing is omitted from United Nations resolutions and working papers.  Loïse Panie of the Panie Genealogy Office, said it is disturbing that language was deleted from the relevant General Assembly resolution 72/101, and called for that language to be restored.

Other petitioners from the same region also stressed that France has been able to establish a proxy territorial leadership through a distorted electoral system, with Teumere Atger describing France’s unilateral authority over French Polynesia’s electoral system as a modern colonial arrangement.  “This is why we ask the Non‑Aligned Movement member States to stand tall on their principles and to remember:  “You have been where we are right now,” stressed Steve Chailloux, another petitioner.

However, Lana Tetuanui, Chair of the French extra-parliamentarian follow-up commission on financial compensation for the victims of nuclear testing, said France took a big step forward by apologizing for its nuclear activities in the region, and called upon all to move forward.

As the Committee took up another Territory, the Deputy Chief Minister of Gibraltar noted that, while a visiting mission of the Special Committee on Decolonization is one of the first steps through which the United Nations learns first-hand about the reality in the Territories, the Organization has not undertaken such a mission to Gibraltar.  “It is almost as if the United Nations does not want to work with us,” he added.

He went on to state that Spain continues to use its land border with Gibraltar as a political weapon, a sentiment echoed by a second Gibraltarian petitioner, who added that Spain sees Brexit as an opportunity to attack Gibraltar once again and intimidate its people.

The Committee also heard from additional petitioners.

Representatives of Spain and Algeria also addressed the Committee.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 10 October, to continue the decolonization debate.

General Debate

AGUSTÍN SANTOS MARAVER (Spain) said that special circumstances related to decolonization are often the most difficult to resolve.  Emphasizing that the colonial reality of Gibraltar is unjustifiable, he recalled the Territory’s history, saying that the United Kingdom illegally occupied, and continues to occupy, part of the peninsula of Gibraltar.  The Utrecht Treaty clearly defines the areas ceded to the United Kingdom, he said, while stressing that his country has never accepted the occupation of those areas nor of the surrounding waters, which are still under Spanish sovereignty.  The Territory was taken by force, he said, underlining that Spain supports the General Assembly’s body of legislation on the matter, including General Assembly resolutions 2231 (1966) and 2253 (1967), 1514 (XV) and 2429 (1968).

He went on to stress that negotiations on the effective decolonization of Gibraltar must take place for with full respect for international law.  Describing the administering Power’s conduct as erratic, he said it has occasionally ignored United Nations doctrine and, on other occasions, taken decisive steps towards a mutually acceptable solution.  “And yet, no real progress has been made in this process,” he pointed out.  Emphasizing that the fundamental obstacle is part of the political strategy of the Government of the United Kingdom, he said that country’s authorities have used the economic imbalance in place to facilitate illicit trafficking of tobacco, which does harm to Gibraltar and its neighbours.  Spain has proposed a way to renew the sovereignty dialogue and remains open to discussion, he added.

Petitioners on French Polynesia

ÉDOUARD FRITCH, President of French Polynesia said the Territory is not in a colonial situation in any way, but is autonomous, governing itself freely and democratically.  Inviting Committee members to visit French Polynesia and see the veracity of his statements, he strongly refuted the report on the Territory before the Committee, noting that its author is employed by a pro-independence group and, in fact, never met most of the people in the government it assesses.  The report is not an independent evaluation, he said, asking the Committee not to refer to the document any longer.  Recalling that French Polynesia held general elections in May, he said a delegation of observers found that the process did not prompt either remarks or reservations.  The pro-autonomy group side won with 42 per cent of the vote, he recalled, adding that the results provide a good indication of the state of French Polynesia’s position.  Only the freely expressed votes of the Territory’s people will lead to sovereignty, he said, emphasizing that the French State is its indispensable partner.  The French authorities maintain the Territory’s security, education system and other vital services, he said, stressing that he considers the partnership with the French State a priority.

TEVA ROHFRITSCH, government of French Polynesia, said the Territory exists as a peaceful society in which poverty is relative, the product of a globalized economy rather than colonial forces.  With each election, French Polynesia is moving towards autonomy, he added.  Regarding France’s nuclear testing in the region, he said proceedings addressing that issue are under way, going on to express concern about climate change and overfishing in the Territory while calling upon the international community to shoes burdens.

GASTON TONG SANG, Assembly of French Polynesia, said the Territory plays its legislative role under an autonomous organization that respects the separation of powers guaranteed under the Constitution of France.  Expressing his satisfaction with the work of local parliamentarians in the Assembly of French Polynesia, he cited various examples of the regional recognition that it enjoys as an autonomous Territory in the Pacific region.

LANA TETUANUI, Chair of the French extra-parliamentarian follow-up commission on financial compensation for the victims of nuclear testing, noted that France took a big step forward by apologizing for its nuclear activities in French Polynesia.  A new age of trust has begun, she said, calling upon all to move forward and heal wounds without forgetting the history of nuclear testing.

FELIX TOKORAGI, Member, Assembly of French Polynesia, said maritime and human security in the Territory was made possible through a surveillance partnership with the French State.  Commending the Territory’s “efficient” partnership with France, he said equality across French Polynesia has been made possible thanks to their strong cooperation.

TAAROANUI MARAEA, President, Maòhi Protestant Church of French Polynesia, addressed the severe health consequences that 30 years of nuclear testing in the Pacific has caused the people of Maòhi Nui.  Such crimes against humanity have caused untold sickness and death among the Territory’s people, he said, emphasizing that, for the sake of truth, justice and freedom, the United Nations will be conducting a fact-finding mission on the health, environmental and genetic consequences of France’s nuclear tests in French Polynesia from 1966 to 1996.

FRANCOIS PIHAATAE, Pacific Conference of Churches, said the organization has provided relentless support for the Ma’ohi Protestant Church on the issue of the harm caused by France’s nuclear testing in the French Polynesia.  He called upon the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur to undertake a fact-finding mission to Ma’ohi Nui, saying it continues to face the spill-over effects of the tests.

PETER PROVE, Conseil œucuménique des Églises, said his organization supports justice and care for those suffering the health consequences of 30 years of nuclear testing in the Territory.  Although French Polynesia is a semi‑autonomous territory of France, that country continues to wield influence over its internal matters, such as defence, he noted, adding that territorial authorities are therefore prevented from signing and ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty.

TIARE MAOHI TAIRUA, Union Chrétienne des Jeunes Gens de Polynésie, said that, earlier in the year, the Ma’ohi Protestant Church renewed its position on nuclear testing in the Territory.  Expressing appreciation for the International Criminal Court’s work on that issue, she also voiced support for calls by that church for a Human Rights Council fact-finding mission to the Territory.  In that context, she urged the restoration of operative paragraph 11 of General Assembly resolution 72/101.

PHILLIPPE NEUFFER, Neuffer Law Firm, expressed disappointment with the lack of depth in the Secretary-General’s 2014 and 2017 reports on the nuclear testing issue in the Territory.  Reading those reports, one can conclude that the nuclear testing had no consequences, he said, pointing out, moreover, that three entire operative paragraphs were eliminated from the related General Assembly resolution.  Their deletion is unacceptable, especially for those affected by the testing, he emphasized, noting that the administering Power quietly covers up its responsibility for the nuclear tests, thereby exhibiting a blatant disregard for humanity.

ROLAND OLDHAM, Association Moruroa e Tatou, said the organization has been instrumental in gathering scientific evidence of France’s nuclear tests in the Territory and has appeared before courts in Paris, France, and Tahiti to obtain compensation for the victims.  The administering Power subjected those victims to crimes against humanity and has never respected them in the form of legislation on compensation or other relevant actions.

AUGUSTE UEBE-CARLSON, Association 193, said the deletion of operative paragraph 11 is drastic and means that the United Nations will not be able to support the Polynesian people while colonialism continues.  He recalled that 55,000 people in the Territory signed a petition asking for a local referendum on the consequences of French nuclear testing, he said, adding:  “A real genocide, both in the short and long term, is taking place before our eyes.”

MAXIME CHAN, Association Te Ora Naho, said France has a duty, in accordance with its own constitution, to remedy the damage it caused in the Territory through nuclear testing.  He recalled that 368 instances of radioactive fallout were reported, according to recently declassified documents.  Radioactive waste was discharged into the ocean, in violation of international rules on such material, and 147 underground explosions have significantly destabilized the structures of Mororua, he said, noting that the atolls have been deemed unfit for ordinary human activity as a result.

OSCAR TERMARU, Tavini Huiraatira No Te Ao Maohi-FLP Party, recalled that in 1963 French Polynesia was on the provisional decolonization list of the United Nations but was removed in an action conducted behind closed doors.  Not coincidentally, France began nuclear testing the same year, its aim having obviously been to prevent the United Nations from having a say on the practice of nuclear tests.  Describing the testing as a direct result of colonialism, he said United Nations rules apply only to some.  Asking whether “might is right” is the new hidden agenda, he said that his organization has filed a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court with the aim of exposing French presidents who have been in office since the advent of nuclear testing.

ANTONY TEROS, Tavini Huiraatira Group within the Assembly of French Polynesia, said the administering Power continues to disrespect the Special Committee on Decolonization by refusing to accept six General Assembly resolutions, yet stays away whenever the agenda item is announced.  The relevant resolutions confirm the applicability of the United Nations Charter to French Polynesia, yet France has refused to comply, he said, requesting that France be present at each meeting of the Special Committee.

ELIANE TEVAHITUA, Association Te Vahine Maohi No Manotahi, said the current “proxy government” of French Polynesia is attending the Committee to present the illusion of self-government, pointing out that a process of self-determination would entail a direct, rather than an observer role at the United Nations.  She said the Organization has been side-lined and the administering Power has been able to conduct the entire process within the Territory, she said, calling on France to comply with its international legal obligations.

MINARII CHANTAL GALENON, Vahine Piri Rava Womens’ Association, noted that the General Assembly has adopted numerous consensus resolutions calling for actions to facilitate a self-determination process in French Polynesia, and it is critical to move forward and follow up on the relevant mandates.  In implementing the decolonization process, there is no alternative to autonomy, she said.  The enemy now is indifference, she emphasized, echoing the words of Kofi Annan while calling on the international community to address decolonization once and for all.

VALENTINA CROSS, Commune of Teva I Uta, said local elections in French Polynesia cannot be viewed as a significant step towards autonomy.  The electoral process was under the administering Power’s control, she said, calling for the inclusion of indigenous people in electoral roles like those of the police and military.  Noting that the administering Power has authority to grant bonus seats in the Assembly after elections, she said those seats are automatically granted and offered to those who support colonial domination.  Without the bonus seats gifted by France, the election results would be different, she pointed out, suggesting that the present territorial government might be a minority one and might not represent a numeric majority.

TEUMERE ATGER, Tae Kwon Do Association and Associated Disciplines of Tahaa Island, said French Polynesia does not control the electoral process nor enjoy national sovereignty.  The Self-Governance Assessment for the Territory determined that its political status does not meet the standard of full self-government, she said.  France’s unilateral authority over the electoral system reflects a modern colonial arrangement, she added, while also requesting that the French delegation present itself at each meeting of the Committee with a view to full implementation of the 2013 resolution.

STANLEY CROSS, Attorney-at-Law and petitioner from French Polynesia, described the impact of France’s 30 years of nuclear testing in the Territory as the most egregious crime against humanity.  Citing the continuing challenges confronting the victims seeking reparations for their suffering, he said that even the web page dedicated to the International Day against Nuclear Testing displays a photo of an atomic mushroom cloud rising from French Polynesia in 1971.  “It is our sad experience that little consideration was given to [the devastating] effects” of three decades of testing, he said, adding that France knew about the human impact but nonetheless continued its testing programme.  Urging States to give effect to the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty, he said that instrument will be among the first that French Polynesia will ratify upon winning independence.

MICHEL STANISLAS VILLAR, Tavini Huiraatira Group in the Assembly of French Polynesia, said France is accountable for the damage caused by 30 years of nuclear testing in the Territory.  In meetings of the Non-Aligned Movement, several member States have highlighted the human and environmental effects of the tests across the Pacific region, he recalled, expressing disappointment that the Secretary-General’s reports on the matter are not more substantive and that the Special Committee on Decolonization deleted certain operative paragraphs from the related draft resolution in June.

LOÏSE PANIE, Panie Genealogy Office, said that the administering Power, through its proxy government in the Territory, intends to downplay the effects of nuclear testing.  It also still refuses to cooperate with the Fourth Committee and to launch a decolonizing process for Ma’ohi Nui French Polynesia.  Moreover, it is disturbing that language was deleted from the related draft resolution, she said, emphasizing that it must be restored.  The administering Power censored information on the true nature of the nuclear tests, making little reference to them during disarmament forums dealing with such issues, she said, adding that such information should be made available to all Member States.

LELIA HEIMATA ESTALL, Association No ‘Oe Au Faa’a, said the impact of French nuclear testing is skilfully omitted from United Nations resolutions and working papers.  There is no need for France to abide by its United Nations obligations because there is no sanction on its violations and non-cooperation, she noted, stressing that censorship blocking the dissemination of scientific studies and analyses must be lifted.

STEVE CHAILLOUX, Chailloux Tahitian Language, said that in Mao’hi Nui French Polynesia, the administering Power established proxy leadership through a distorted electoral system.  Recalling that freedom fighters enjoyed support from the Non‑Aligned Movement for their role in ending colonialism, he said that he anticipates the Movement’s support for French Polynesia in terms of self‑determination and independence.  The bloc’s countries waged that same struggle for freedom and dignity against European colonialism, he emphasized.  “This is why we ask the Non-Aligned Movement member States to stand tall on their principles and remember:  “You have been where we are right now.”  He also reiterated the call for the presence of the French delegation at each meeting of the Fourth Committee.

PUARAI TAEREA, Blue Djeun’s No Ma’ohi Nui Association, said the inalienable rights of his people include ownership and permanent sovereignty over natural resources within the Territory’s 5 million square-kilometre exclusive economic zone.  “These resources belong to the Ma’ohi people, not to the administering Power,” he said, while emphasizing that France seeks to defy the international community by exercising unilateral authority and claiming resources it considers strategic.

MOETAI BROTHERSON, National Assembly of France, called attention to the empty chair in the chamber where France’s delegate should be seated, demanding:  “How much longer will our administering Power be allowed to treat the issue of French Polynesia as a bilateral issue?”  Noting that the French Constitution contains no provision for a self-determination referendum, he nevertheless emphasized that the voices of all Ma’ohi people must be heard.

RICHARD TUHEIAVA, Elected Member, Assembly of French Polynesia, spotlighted critical natural resources ‑ and “resource grabs” by the administering Power in violation of international norms ‑ as a priority issue.  Recalling past statements before the Committee which highlighted the considerable political, social and economic inequality inherent in French Polynesia’s colonial arrangement, he described its relationship with France as financially exploitative, adding that the latter’s unilateral market control of such “strategic raw materials” as cobalt, platinum and manganese is a gross violation of decades of relevant United Nations resolutions.  “Contemporary colonialism has become more complex, but it is colonialism nonetheless,” he stressed.

The representative of Algeria noted that during meetings of the Special Committee on Decolonization, reference was made to General Assembly resolution 72/101 (2017), from which language was deleted.  Pointing out that the language calls for regular updates on the environmental effect of nuclear testing, he questioned the impact of its deletion.

Mr. TUHEIAVA said the deletion was disappointing, adding that it indirectly but purposely relieved the administering Power of its legal obligation to transmit information, particularly on the nuclear issue.

JOSEPH GARCIA, Deputy Chief Minister of Gibraltar, recalled that in the decades after the Second World War, decolonization was one of the success stories of the United Nations.  Noting, however, that the process has nearly ground to a halt, he said the brilliant success of those early decades has “faded away”, and only one Non‑Self‑Governing Territory has been delisted in nearly 30 years.  “Something, somewhere is not working,” he noted, emphasizing that the principle of self‑determination of peoples must be the paramount consideration in the decolonization process.  Although a visiting mission by the Special Committee is one of the first steps through which the United Nations learns first-hand about the reality in the Territories, the Organization has not undertaken such a mission to Gibraltar, he said.  He went on to express a desire to work with the United Nations, while noting that “it is almost as if the United Nations does not want to work with us”.  Despite freely and democratically expressing its wishes, there has been no movement on any of Gibraltar’s requests for a visiting mission, nor on questions about what changes to its constitution, if any, would be required to secure its removal from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  He said the contradiction lies in Spain’s outdated attitude towards Gibraltar, adding that the land border between the two continues to be used as a political weapon.  As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union, it is important to ensure that the people of Gibraltar ‑ who have rejected the principle of shared sovereignty between the United Kingdom and Spain ‑ are adequately protected, he said.

DENIS MATTHEWS, Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group, noted that the Territory is already decolonized and just weeks ago, it celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of its national day.  On that occasion, people turn out in their thousands, proudly wearing “our red and white colours to emphasize our identity and reaffirm our right to self-determination”, he said.  On that day in 1967, only 44 persons out of an electorate of more than 12,000 voted in favour of the Spanish option, he said, recalling also that after the referendum, Spain unilaterally closed its frontiers with Gibraltar.  Insisting on the right of Non-Self-Governing Territories, including Gibraltar, to self-determination, he cautioned that more lately, Spain sees Brexit as an opportunity to attack Gibraltar once again and intimidate its people.  Spain’s acting Foreign Minister described Brexit as the best opportunity Spain has had in 300 years to obtain some form of joint sovereignty over the Territory, he noted.

PHILIPPE GERMAIN, President of New Caledonia, called attention to the self‑determination referendum to be held in that Territory on 4 November, emphasizing that it is up to the Caledonian people to voice their views about their own future.  Listing the recent progress achieved by his government, he cited the principle of rebalancing, as reflected in representation, in the budget and in nickel‑mining interests.  In terms of re‑establishing the Kanak identity, he noted the establishment of a cultural development centre for that community, where their language is taught in schools.  The irreversible transfer of skills has enabled Caledonians to govern themselves, he said, adding that they have been able to participate in regional and international bodies, and to promote regional economic exchanges.  Moreover, gross domestic product has increased by two and a half times, and a guaranteed minimum wage has been established.

Still, inequalities persist, and social protection policies have been implemented in that context, he said.  Despite significant progress in terms of education, 14 per cent of Caledonians still do not have diplomas, he noted, adding that the government has established programmes to address that issue.  New Caledonia is also a signatory to the Paris Agreement on climate change and will reduce emissions.  Turning to the upcoming referendum, he said that determining its date, the text of the question at stake, the electoral body and the referendum list requires broad consensus among all political parties.  The list is the product of a process originating with the signatories to the Nouméa Accord and contains 174,154 voters.  The legitimacy of the vote will be overseen by magistrates and other civil servants, as well as United Nations experts, he said, adding that, as such, the main political forces, focusing on what unites the Caledonian people, have drafted two documents ‑ the joint assessment of the Nouméa Accord, and the Charter of Caledonian Values.

For information media. Not an official record.