Decolonizing the Pacific

SOURCE: Brad Parsons (
SUBHEAD: U.N. head urges five Pacific nations toward self-governance. They are Tokelau, New Caledonia, American Samoa, Guam, and Pitcairn.

By Staff on 20 May 2010 in The Hawaiian Independent -  

Image above: A USAF B-2 Stealth Bomber (l) and F-22 Fighter (r) deployed on Guam. From (  
 Five Pacific nations and the larger powers that govern and administer them are being urged by the United Nations to advance toward self governance. At a forum held this week on decolonization in Noumea, New Caledonia, the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon declared all remaining non-self-governing nations must have complete freedom in deciding their future—among those 16 states whose official status remains as non-self-governing nations are: Tokelau, New Caledonia, American Samoa, Guam, and Pitcairn.

The Noumea forum was the second time the United Nations has held a seminar on decolonisation in a non-self-governing nation. New Caledonia is governed by France, and French rule has long been challenged by the island state’s indigenous peoples. Ban said holding the forum in New Caledonia was significant in that it enabled the United Nations to highlight “the importance the Committee ascribes to hearing directly from their representatives about the issues they face”.

And, in a statement, Ban cited how New Caledonia is “going through a challenging and complex process of determining its political future in close cooperation with the administering Power, France”. Fifty years ago, the United Nations made a declaration designed to eradicate colonisation in all regions of the world. Today, 16 nations continue to be subservient to a controlling power, or administered by a dominant state. The United Nations strategy is to encourage self-determination, and to loosen the grip of controlling nations without creating social and civil unrest, especially in the Pacific.

“The (United Nations) Special Committee regards the hosting of the Seminar (in New Caledonia) as a significant manifestation of the improved cooperation between the administering Power and the Committee in advancing the decolonization process in general and in the Pacific region in particular,” he said. Tokelau is another Pacific island nation that remains classified as non-self-governing. Tokelau has been governed and administered by New Zealand since 1926, although its peoples have twice voted (with United Nations observers in attendance) on whether the status quo be maintained, or rather, that Tokelau become an independent state in free association with New Zealand.

That means that if Tokelau’s people decided on the latter, New Zealand would maintain a fiscal and bureaucratic/administrative responsibility to assist Tokelau while Tokelau would have free and full rights to self-governance. On both occasions, the latter held on October 25 2007, Tokelau’s people voted against change and self-determination. Tokelau’s option for change failed by only one percent of votes.

For Tokelau to become a self-governing nation, it required 66 percent of voters to support the proposal. At the end of counting today, 64.4 percent voted in favor – 16 votes shy of the required 462 yes votes. New Zealand officially respected the wishes of Tokelau’s people but clearly was disappointed that self-governance was not achieved via the ballot-box. Today, Tokelau remains officially governed by New Zealand, but in reality its domestic affairs are governed by Faipule—a council of elected elders led by a single representative from each of its three atolls. The Faipule vote on a leader or Ulu. The role of Ulu rotates so that each Faipule has a chance to represent Tokelau.

The process of governance is overseen by an appointed Administrator from New Zealand, currently David Payton—a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade senior diplomat. While domestic affairs are well represented by Tokelauans, its non-self-governing status means Tokelau is not able to represent itself at significant world conferences like the recent Copenhagen conference on climate change, other United Nations forums and general assembly, nor have an official flag, national anthem, nor bid for development grants, funding, or programmes that would best assist it to counter or adapt to significant global challenges (such as climate change).

Throughout the Pacific the road to self-governance has proven to be complex. However, Ban was this week determined to set in motion action that would see all remaining 16 nations become self-governing. He has sought co-operation from governing and administrative powers to loosen their hold and agree to “a realistic, action-oriented programme of work on a case-by-case basis for the way forward in advancing the decolonization process.”

New Caledonia’s French High Commissioner, Yves Dassonville, said those attending the forum in Noumea would note whether economic and social progress had been achieved in New Caledonia. His view stated that the New Caledonia community was willing to build a “common destiny based on shared values.”  


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