Extreme Climate Events Could Spell Annihilation for Non-Self-Governing Territories, Petitioners Warn, as Fourth Committee Begins Debate on Decolonization

8 October 2019
Seventy-fourth Session, 3rd Meeting (PM)

Extreme Climate Events Could Spell Annihilation for Non-Self-Governing Territories, Petitioners Warn, as Fourth Committee Begins Debate on Decolonization

Extreme climate events could spell annihilation for certain Non‑Self‑Governing Territories faced with neglect by their administering Powers, petitioners told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today, as it continued its general debate on decolonization.

The Special Adviser to the Premier of Anguilla said Hurricane Irma proved a fitting test of the United Kingdom’s family ties, recalling that the Prime Minister’s historic neglect of the Territory was revealed to the world.  “This is not, I repeat, not a modern relationship, nor is it one that offers respect to our citizens,” she emphasized.

Similarly, petitioners from French Polynesia denounced the nature of that Territory’s relationship with France, its administering Power.  Teumere Atger-Hoi of the Tahaa Taekwondo Sports Association said the administrative authority granted to French Polynesia can be reversed at any time and therefore cannot be considered autonomous.  Similarly, James Bhagwan of the Pacific Conference of Churches cited the “illusionary autonomy” exercised by French Polynesia’s territorial Government, stressing that the Territory must enjoy full and equal rights as well as sovereignty.

Several petitioners described the adverse effects of France’s nuclear testing on the Territory.  Antony Geros of the Tavini Huiraatira Group within the Assembly of French Polynesia said its people have endured poisoned groundwater, radioactive fallout and other health impacts, adding that France and its “proxy turncoats” in French Polynesia have admitted publicly that they lied to the Territory’s inhabitants about the dangers of nuclear testing.  Hinamoeura Cross of the Société Les Saveurs du Vaima recalled that she was diagnosed with leukaemia, a radiation‑related illness, at the age of 25 years, declaring:  “Our people have been condemned to be sick for generations.”

By contrast, Édouard Fritch, President of French Polynesia, recounted his party’s victory in that Territory’s general elections, saying:  “Today, my people’s desire is to remain within the French nation, with a particular status of extended autonomy.”

Teva Rohfritsch of the Government of French Polynesia added that the benevolent and reassuring presence of France is even more important for the Territory amid discussions about acceptable levels of global warming, but Polynesia faces devastating consequences.  “What will our Polynesian and French islands become”, particularly when islands are sinking?

Richard Ariihau Tuheiava of the Assembly of French Polynesia observed that discussions on the Territory have devolved into a static discussion of opinions — one opposing colonialism and the other supporting it.  A work programme is critical to the decolonization process, he said, warning that without one, the administering Power will continue to prevent the Territory from realizing self‑determination.

The Committee also heard from petitioners on the question of Gibraltar.

Representatives of Spain and Vanuatu also addressed the Committee.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the United Kingdom and Spain.

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

General Debate

AGUSTÍN SANTOS MARAVER (Spain) said the United Nations, particularly the Fourth Committee, has served as the motor of the decolonization process following the Second World War, noting that the international community has tried “to take a step towards a new age” over the past 70 years.  However, the decolonization process has not reached all parts of the world, he said, noting that the last colony in Europe is on Spanish territory.  Gibraltar was occupied by the United Kingdom in 1704 and the latter has not returned the Territory since, he said.

He went on to note that a yellow fever epidemic in the nineteenth century led the Spanish authorities to establish humanitarian camps near Gibraltar to care for the Spaniards living there, adding that, rather than returning the Territory to Spain, the United Kingdom continues to hold on to it.  “We will never accept this occupation by the United Kingdom, which is illegal under international law,” he emphasized, calling upon that country to end its colonialization of Gibraltar.

Spain’s position is underscored by a number of resolutions, including General Assembly resolution 2429 (23) of 1968, which set a deadline for ending colonization, he continued.  Spain believes in an international society which is based on rules and law, he emphasized.  The situation in Gibraltar is not just an illegitimate occupation and a violation of the territorial integrity of a United Nations Member State, it has also had seriously negative implications on the socioeconomic conditions of people living there.  “Spain insists that it is open for dialogue,” he stressed, noting the struggles faced by Spaniards in Gibraltar.

Hearing of Petitioners

BLONDEL CLUFF, Special Adviser to the Premier and Overseas Representative of Anguilla, said Hurricane Irma proved a fitting test of the United Kingdom’s family ties, recalling that the Prime Minister’s historic neglect of Anguilla was revealed to the world.  Today, the Territory has progressed to become a world leader in tourism, but remains dependent on neighbouring islands, she noted.  Emphasizing that its citizens must enjoy the same democratic and human rights as their peers in the United Kingdom, she said Anguilla spent half of its 369‑year relationship with that country under enslavement.  The Territory is administered by junior United Kingdom civil servants who are only assigned to the Territory for a brief period of time, she said.  She went on to note that after Brexit, Anguilla will have less interaction with the outside world, and limited political representation within the United Kingdom.  The United Kingdom’s bundling of Territories together for administrative reasons means that only the agendas of the most dominant members of such a forum receive attention.  This affects key issues such as access to the National Health Service, she said.  “Anguilla is not yet in a position to seek independence,” she noted, adding that this may be the case for many years to come until the Brexit situation becomes clear.  Citing Anguilla’s fear of losing financial support, she said the annual hurricane season can spell possible annihilation for the Territory.  “This is not, I repeat, not a modern relationship, nor is it one that offers respect to our citizens,” she stressed.

ÉDOUARD FRITCH, President of French Polynesia, reported that the Territory held general elections in May 2018 on the basis of universal suffrage.  He added that he heads a majority that gathers two thirds of elected officials in the legislature and has a new five‑year term of office.  “I won democratic general elections under the scrutiny of representatives of the Pacific Islands Forum,” he said, adding that a pro‑independence party conducted a propaganda campaign for French Polynesia’s decolonization and won only 23.1 per cent of the vote.  He went on to state that his victory confirmed that the people do not wish to change Anguilla’s institutional framework, declaring:  “Polynesia is not a colony that needs to be decolonized.”  Only the pro‑independence political party suffers because it has never been able to convince the population about the merits of its separation policy, he said.  “Today, my people’s desire is to remain within the French nation, with a particular status of extended autonomy.”  He went on to request that the Committee withdraw French Polynesia from the list of countries to be decolonized.

TEVA ROHFRITSCH, Government of French Polynesia, said the presence of France alongside the Territory presents an opportunity to deal with various challenges facing the latter’s many islands.  The challenges are colossal, he added, citing issues arising in the areas of Government, development and socioeconomic conditions.  The benevolent and reassuring presence of France is even more important in today’s turbulent global times, he said, noting that discussions around the world are centred on agreeing on acceptable levels of global warming, but Polynesia faces devastating consequences.  “What will our Polynesian and French islands become” and what significance should be assigned to these discussions, particularly when islands are sinking?  He assured the Committee that Stockholm syndrome has nothing to do with his position.

GEORGES MOARII, Armement Georges Moarii, noting that pro‑independent members are trying to convince the Committee that France is confiscating Polynesia’s resources, emphasized that the expertise of the Polynesian fisheries is globally recognized and access to resources in the exclusive economic zones is guaranteed solely to Polynesian fishing companies.  The French State helps Polynesians monitor the Territory’s exclusive economic zone through satellite surveillance, he added, stressing that, contrary to the claims of Polynesian separatists, France helps to promote sustainable development that benefits the Polynesian people.  French Polynesians are not colonialized, he said, stressing that they are sovereign over their own resources.

LANA TETUANUI, Chair, French Extra-Parliamentary Follow-up Commission on Financial Compensation for the Victims of Nuclear Testing, described nuclear testing as part of the Territory’s history, emphasizing that the French State must fully recognize its responsibility in that.  The Government of France has officially and legally recognized the consequences of nuclear testing, she noted, adding:  “It is a major step forward.”  However, the people affected by nuclear testing must be compensated, she stressed.  France should also continue to engage in environmental monitoring, she said, declaring:  “Our young people must know the history of their country.”

FRANÇOIS PIHAATAE, President, Ma’ohi Protestant Church, described the nuclear experiments carried out in French Polynesia as “equivalent to 700 Hiroshimas”.  Their impact on health and environment has been significant, particularly affecting the most vulnerable ‑ women and children.  The Ma’ohi Protestant Church has submitted to the United Nations information revealing various human rights violations from the early days of France’s testing of nuclear weapons, he said.

JAMES BHAGWAN, Pacific Conference of Churches, said examples of violations have been examined in depth and analyses by independent experts are key documents that can inform relevant United Nations bodies of the challenges faced by the Territories.  Such independent analyses separate facts from political spin, such as the “illusionary autonomy” exercised by the territorial government, he said.  Failure to implement actions mandated by the General Assembly could relegate this important issue to a debate about opinions, he cautioned, emphasizing that French Polynesia must enjoy full and equal rights and sovereignty.

TIARE MAOHI TAIRUA, Union Chrétienne des Jeunes Gens de Polynésie, welcomed the restored language on nuclear testing contained in the 2019 draft resolution on French Polynesia.  Recalling the protests staged over the issue in 2019, she asked for more frequent updates in reporting on the Territory.  She went on to emphasize that the limits placed on recognition and compensation for harm done by the nuclear tests have not been adequately reported, and called for the inclusion of information in the public domain, such as documents included in the 2014 independent report on the issue.

PHILIPPE NEUFFER, Association Moruroa e Tatou, recalled that in 2010 and again in 2018, France suggested that nuclear testing in French Polynesia posed negligible risk, resulting in only a handful of hundreds of claimants being compensated.  He went on to express disappointment that important conclusions from existing United Nations research — such as findings on the effects of atomic radiation — were omitted from the Secretary‑General’s report on the matter.

HINAMOEURA CROSS, Société Les Saveurs du Vaima, said all the women in her family suffer thyroid problems, citing that organ’s sensitivity to radiation.  She added that she was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 25 and must now undergo chemotherapy every day.  This is a radiation‑related illness, she emphasized, describing the history of nuclear tests in French Polynesia.  “Our people have been condemned to be sick for generations,” she said, adding that she wishes to break the taboo around people suffering radiation‑related illnesses and those undergoing the consequences of the 193 nuclear tests that France carried out.

DAVID KOUBBI, Bar Association of Paris, spoke in his capacity as a legal representative fighting for the self‑determination of French Polynesia, recalling that the General Assembly reinstated the Territory on the list of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, thereby reaffirming the inalienable right of the Polynesian people to self‑determination.  France is using the law and then subverting it to block the actions of former President Oscar Temaru and those fighting for the right to self‑determination, a “fundamental right that cannot be denied to the Polynesian people”, he said.

ANTONY GEROS, Tavini Huiraatira Group within the Assembly of French Polynesia, said the consequences of decades of nuclear testing on Maohi Nui, French Polynesia, remains unresolved.  The people there and elsewhere around the world have endured poisoned groundwater, radioactive fallout and other health impacts, he said, adding that France and its “proxy turncoats” in French Polynesia have admitted publicly that they lied to the Territory’s inhabitants about the dangers of nuclear testing.  It is therefore easy to understand why they requested that the Secretary‑General’s report on that matter be removed from the draft resolution of the Special Committee on Decolonization in 2018, he explained.  It is also why France is orchestrating a “political‑judicial cabal” with respect to French Polynesia’s sovereignty.

VALENTINA CROSS, City of Teva I Uta, Tahiti, said her people were unwitting subjects of France’s nuclear testing, adding that France and its local collaborators, who include the current President of French Polynesia, lied to the Territory’s people.  Moreover, certain language has been mysteriously deleted from the draft resolution on this subject, she observed, requesting that the Secretary‑General encourage United Nations scientific agencies to contribute to the relevant report.

ELIANE TEVAHITUA, The Association, recalled that the Pacific Islands Forum referred to the ongoing impact of nuclear testing on the Marshall Islands and Kiribati in a recent communiqué.  Unfortunately, the communiqué omits any reference to the nuclear tests affecting French Polynesia, she said, adding that the Territory’s colonial government was elevated to full membership of the Forum where it serves as a proxy for the interests of France.

CÉCILE MERCIER, Association Fareta a Tevaitau, said the draft resolution on French Polynesia obliges the administering Power to convey information concerning the Territory to the United Nations.  However, France refuses to accept this decision, adopted by consensus in 2013, while continuing to influence drafts on the Territory in order to place itself in a more favourable light.  Colonial reforms and autonomy for French Polynesia do not change the fact that France exercises unilateral power in the Territory, she emphasized.

TEUMERE ATGER-HOI, Tahaa Taekwondo Sports Association, said the administrative authority granted to French Polynesia can be reversed at any time, and cannot be considered autonomous.  According to expert analysis, power rests with France and the Territory’s status as an autonomous country is grossly misleading, she said, pointing out that the administering Power’s unilateral changes to the governance arrangement are changes in form, not substance.

MICHEL VILLAR, Tavini Huiraatira Group, said French Polynesia’s current electoral system has been manipulated in an attempt to undermine the forces of genuine self‑determination.  The purpose is to maintain in power the colonial accommodations favourable to a form of “modernized colonialism”, he said, explaining that the system is characterized by the “bonus” seats that the proxy local Government seeks to defend before the Fourth Committee.  He pointed out that the 13 June letter that the President of French Polynesia sent to the Chair of the Special Committee on Decolonization omitted to mention a major conclusion drawn by the report of the Pacific Islands Forum:  the current presidential ruling party is in power because of its bogus “bonus” seats.

LOÏSE PANIE, Fouché-Panie Genealogy Office, said colonialism by consent is colonialism nevertheless, emphasizing that it is not in the people’s interest for decolonization to be delayed.  The General Assembly has consistently clarified that Polynesia remains a Non‑Self‑Governing Territory, and what must follow now are the ways and means to implement the decolonization mandate by adopting the various actions outlined in the resolutions, she said.  This is not a mere request but rather an attempt to remedy a blatant violation of an internationally legally binding obligation, she stressed.

STEVE CHAILLOUX, Reo Tahiti teacher, said that December will mark 20 years of General Assembly directives regarding the Territories, while noting that there is a real and clear failure to implement the programme.  It is “curiously disappointing” that the United Nations system has been able to resist its responsibility to implement its mandated action, he said, adding that it is unclear why resources for these work programmes have never been included in a United Nations budget.  It is likely that there will continue to be few or no budgetary implications of implementing the programmes, he said.

STANLEY CROSS, Bar Association of Papeete, Tahiti, said that France, the administering Power, never has to come to the table to initiate a genuine political process, adding that its absence continues to limit the information and analysis so necessary for Member States to make informed decisions.  This vacuum of information and analysis has contributed to the slow pace of decolonization, he said, stressing that the international community must delegitimize this process.

VANNINA CROLAS, City of Faa’a, Tahiti, said her community is still paying the price of the international airport originally built in the 1950s as a rear base for French nuclear testing in the Pacific.  Today, the State earns from the airport and the surrounding airspace, yet local inhabitants receive nothing, she noted.  Nevertheless, the town retains its soul, with its Mayor, Oscar Temaru, denouncing repeated attacks on the fundamental rights of the people, she said, adding that the David‑and‑Goliath struggle continues.  The United Nations should help to establish educational programmes in order to raise public awareness of the right to self‑determination, she said.

LÉLIA HEIMATA ESTALL, Association Agents Communaux Mairie de Faa’a, noted that General Assembly resolution 73/112 urges administering Powers to take effective measures to safeguard the inalienable rights of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories.  Emphasizing that the people of the latter are the rightful owners of their natural resources, she said the administering Power’s wilful absence from the Committee’s work is a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and precludes the opportunity to assess its level of compliance with international law, or the lack thereof.

AMARONN NAIA, Association Naia a Naia, spotlighted the special responsibility of the United Nations to peoples negatively impacted by decades of nuclear testing and colonization.  Calling for accountability for crimes against humanity committed against her people, she called attention to the statement that Oscar Manutahi Temaru, former President of French Polynesia, submitted at the International Criminal Court in 2018, in which he outlined such crimes.  She pointed out that the General Assembly’s resolution on French Polynesia makes no mention of that statement, asking whether political pressure is being imposed “behind the scenes”.

FRANÇOISE MIRIAMA TAMA, Association Locataires du Lotissement Social Erima, said the people of French Polynesia have been asking for the work programme for the Territory’s self‑determination efforts since it was reinstated on the list of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories in 2013.  The proposed programme would include a large‑scale education plan, a visit by the Special Committee on Decolonization and finally a self‑determination process, she said.  “Our fight is against the French State,” she said, emphasizing that decolonization is a right and a mission that the United Nations must fulfil.

MARYSE TAUTIARE OLLIVIER, Pharmacie Carrefour-Auae, Faa’a, cited the absolutely intolerable situation that France imposed on French Polynesia, including political, cultural and religious domination.  The colonial regime became murderous when it began allowing 193 nuclear tests to take place on the Territory.  “France continues its murderous madness” and attempts to “play for time”, she said, noting its efforts to compensate as few victims as possible.  Meanwhile, lies continue to be told about the health implications of nuclear testing, she said, urging the Committee to remind France of its commitment to supporting French Polynesia’s people.

MEDERIC TEHAAMATAI, City of Papara, Tahiti, said the administering Power continues its dominance over French Polynesia’s natural resources, including marine resources, in contravention of both United Nations resolutions and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  The situation generates revenue for France and grants it significant political influence, he pointed out, saying the administering Power has also imposed taxes and fees on French Polynesia’s exclusive economic zone, reaping hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits as a result.

ALLEN SALMON, Association Tamarii Pereaitu, called attention to the more than 300 satellites that cross the skies above French Polynesia every hour, generating significant revenue.  Meanwhile, reserves of rare earth resources and other minerals have been found in the Territory but are controlled by the administering Power, in clear violation of International Court of Justice decisions and General Assembly resolutions.  The wide range of current and potential sources of income from French Polynesia represent revenue that should be spent in pursuit of the Territory’s development and on bolstering its independent economy, he said, adding that, instead, it is transferred to France, constituting a violation of the right to self‑determination.

MOETAI BROTHERSON, National Assembly of France, noted that had Ma’ohi Nui not been removed from the list of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories at France’s request in 1963, no nuclear tests would have been conducted there.  Describing the cracked earth from which plutonium leaked and the concrete wells filled with nuclear waste, he recalled his petitions to various high‑level officials in France, saying he requested that all nuclear waste and pollution be removed from French Polynesia.  He added that, anticipating a negative answer, he called upon the United Nations to conduct a fair, thorough follow‑up, produce a report on the consequences of French nuclear testing, and to mention both in the draft resolution on the subject.

RICHARD ARIIHAU TUHEIAVA, Assembly of French Polynesia, said that, as the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism concludes in 2020, forward progress is not only desirable, but crucial.  Discussions have devolved into a static discussion of opinions — one opposing colonialism and one supporting it.  “We remain 10,000 per cent available” to assist the process of decolonization, he added.

The representative of Vanuatu asked Mr. Tuheiava whether a programme of work has been activated for French Polynesia, and whether the Secretary‑General’s reports helped to address concerns about nuclear testing.  He noted that the United Nations and its agencies continue to address the matter, adding that there have been two reports of the Secretary‑General on the consequences of nuclear testing on French Polynesia.

Mr. TUHEIAVA said the request has been made since 2013 but no programme of work has been established.  A work programme is critical to the decolonization process, he emphasized, pointing out that without one, the administering Power will continue to prevent the Territory from realizing its own sovereignty and self‑determination.  As for nuclear testing, he described the tests as crimes against the Polynesian people, noting that it has caused birth defects and severe environmental damage.  The Secretary‑General’s reports were grossly inadequate, he added.

JOSEPH GARCIA, Deputy Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said the Territory wishes to accelerate its removal from the list of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, yet it seems as if it does not exist.  In June 2019, the Special Committee on Decolonization noted the invitations extended by the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and Guam for visiting missions to their respective territories, he recalled.  There was no mention of Gibraltar, however, despite its annual invitation.  He noted that Gibraltar could leave the European Union, together with the United Kingdom, later this month, even though the overwhelming majority of Gibraltar’s people voted to remain.  He said negotiations with Spain have led to special provisions on Gibraltar in the draft Agreement on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.  Gibraltar wishes to engage with the Fourth Committee and the Special Committee on Decolonization, he said, emphasizing that the United Nations is bound by its own rules, indeed by international law, to engage with the Territory.

DENIS MATTHEWS, Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group, said there is a growing resentment towards the Fourth Committee among his Territory’s people because they feel disrespected and ignored since they have more than adequately met the criteria for removal from the list of colonies.  A visiting mission would convince the Committee of that, but all invitations have been refused, he noted.  In consequence, the lies told by Spain have been allowed to stand, he said, emphasizing that the people of Gibraltar will never succumb to the dictatorial desire to impose Spanish sovereignty over them.

Right of Reply

The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, underlined its sovereignty over Gibraltar, reiterating that the Territory’s people already enjoy the right to self‑determination.  The Government of the United Kingdom will continue to honour its commitment not to enter into negotiations on sovereignty, with which the people are not content, he stressed.

The representative of Spain said Gibraltar is a colony that breaks his country’s territorial integrity.  Decolonization must occur through bilateral negotiations between Spain and the United Kingdom, he added, emphasizing that colonial situations are not compatible with the principles of the United Nations Charter.  Condemning attempts by the administering Power to deny the colonial link, he pointed out that the waters surrounding Gibraltar are Spanish.

For information media. Not an official record.