By David Robie
New Caledonia’s Kanak national liberation movement has told the UN Decolonisation Committee that France has “robbed” the indigenous people of their independence and has appealed for help.
Magalie Tingal-Lémé, the permanent representative of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) at the UN, told a session of the Committee of 24 (C24) — as the special decolonisation body is known — that the French authorities had failed to honour the 1998 Noumea Accord self-determination aspirations, especially by pressing ahead with the third independence referendum in December 2021 in defiance of Kanak opposition.
More than half the eligible voting population boycotted the third ballot after the previous two referendums in 2018 and 2020 recorded narrowing defeats for independence.
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The pro-independence Kanak groups wanted the referendum delayed due to the devastating impact that the covid-19 pandemic had had on the indigenous population.
Tingal-Lémé told the UN session that speaking as an indigenous Kanak woman, she represented the FLNKS and “every time we speak before your institution, we carry the voice of the colonised people”.
“When we speak of colonisation, we are necessarily speaking of the people who have suffered the damage, the stigma and the consequences,” she said in her passionate speech.
“On September 24, my country will have been under colonial rule for 170 years.”
Accords brought peace
Tingal-Lémé said two political accords with France had brought peace to New Caledonia after the turbulent 1980s, “the second of which — the Nouméa Accord — [was taking] the country on the way for full emancipation”.
“And it is in a spirit of dialogue and consensus that the indépendentistes have kept their word, despite, and in the name, of spilled blood.”
In 2018, the first of three scheduled votes on sovereignty, 56.4 percent rejected independence with an 81 percent turnout of the 174,995 voters eligible to vote.
Two years later, independence was again rejected, but this time with an increased support to almost 47 percent. Turnout also slightly grew to 85.69 percent.
However, in December 2021 the turnout dropped by about half with most Kanaks boycotting the referendum due to the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, this time the “yes” vote dropped to a mere 3.5 percent.
“Since December 12, 2021, when France maintained the third and final referendum — even though we had requested its postponement due to the human trauma of covid-19 — we have never ceased to contest its holding and its results,” Tingal-Lémé said.
Nearly 57 percent of voters had not turned out on the day due to the covid boycott.
‘We’ll never accept this outcome’
“We believe that through this illegitimate referendum, the French state has robbed us of our independence. We will never accept this outcome!
“And so, unable to contest the results under French internal law, we are turning to the international community for an impartial institution to indicate how to resume a process that complies with international rules on decolonisation.
“Through the Nouméa Accord, France has committed itself and the populations concerned to an original decolonisation process, which should lead to the full emancipation of Kanaky.
“Today, the FLNKS believes that the administering power has not fulfilled its obligations.”
Tingal-Lémé said the “latest evidence” of this failure was a New Caledonian decolonisation audit, whose report had just been made public.
She said this audit report had been requested by the FLNKS for the past five years so that it would be available — along with the assessment of the Nouméa Accord — before the three referendums to “enlighten voters”.
“The pro-independence movement found itself alone in raising public awareness of the positive stakes of self-determination, and had to campaign against a state that sided with the anti-independence groups.”
Magalie Tingal-Lémé’s speech to the UN Decolonisation Committee. Video: MTL
Entrusted to a ‘market’ firm
Also, the French government had “entrusted” this work to a firm specialising in market analysis strategies, she said.
“This shows how much consideration the administering power has given to this exercise and to its international obligations regarding the decolonisation.
“Frankly, who can believe in the objectivity of an audit commissioned by a government to which the leader of New Caledonia’s non-independence movement belongs?” Tingal-Lémé asked.
“It is already clear that, once again, France does not wish to achieve a decolonisation in the Pacific.
“This is why the FLNKS is petitioning the C24 to support our initiative to the United Nations, with the aim of getting an advisory opinion to the International Court of Justice.
“The objectives of this initiative is to request the ICJ to rule on our [indigenous] rights, those of the colonised people of New Caledonia, which we believe were violated on December 12, 2021.”
The FLNKS wanted the ICJ to make an advisory opinion on the way France “has conducted the decolonisation process, in particular by holding a referendum without the participation of the Kanak people.”
Tingal-Lémé pleaded: “We sincerely hope that you will heed our call.”
According to New Caledonia’s 2019 census, the indigenous Kanaks comprise a 41 percent share of the 271,000 multiethnic population. Europeans make up 24 percent, Wallisians and Futunans 8 percent, and a mix of Indonesians, ni-Vanuatu, Tahitians and Vietnamese are among the rest.
Earlier today, RNZ Pacific reported that a New Caledonian politician had claimed at the UN that the territory was “no longer a colony” and should be withdrawn from the UN decolonisation list.
The anti-independence member of the Territorial Congress and Vice-President of the Southern Province, Gil Brial, said he was a descendant of French people deported to New Caledonia 160 years ago, who had been “blended with others, including the indigenous Kanaks”.
He said the only colonisation left today was the “colonisation of the minds of young people by a few separatist leaders who mixed racism, hatred and threats”, reports RNZ Pacific.
Dr David Robie is editor of Asia Pacific Report.