Pacific churches call at UN for France to drop ‘limbo law’ to restore peace in Kanaky

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PCC's Reverend James Bhagwan at the UN
PCC's Reverend James Bhagwan at the UN . . . "France has taken further actions that contradict its responsibilities as an administrating power" in Kanaky New Caledonia. Image: Pacific Conference of Churches

Asia Pacific Report

The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) has called on France to drop the “limbo” proposed law on electoral changes in Kanaky New Caledonia opposed by the indigenous pro-independence movement and restore the path to peace and self-determination.

General secretary Reverend James Bhagwan made the call at the UN Committee of 24 meeting in New York as the future of the draft law, which has already been passed decisively by the Senate and National Assembly but not ratified by the combined legislative Council, looked doubtful as a result of French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to call a snap election.

Incomplete legislation is reportedly deemed as suspended once a general election is called.

Reverend Bhagwan referred to his role as a petitioner at C24 in June 2022 when he spoke on behalf of Pacific faith and civil society organisations against the move by the French government to “fast track” legislative changes that would dilute the vote of the indigenous Kanaks, already a minority 41 percent of the 270,000 New Caledonian population.

Criticising France for having turned a “deaf ear” to the “untiring and peaceful calls of the indigenous people for a new political process following the 1998 Nouméa Accord, Reverend Bhagwan said Paris had not upheld “one of the most fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter — the fundamental right of all peoples to be free, free from colonial rule”.

in his group statement on the “Question of New Caledonia” to the “Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples” at the UN, he said:

The chair, members of this august committee, petitioners and observers.

Greetings from the Pasifika Household of God. May the grace and peace of God be upon you all.

In June, 2022, I was here as a petitioner on behalf of faith and civil society organisations of our Pacific region, home to the French colonised territories of Kanaky New Caledonia and Mā’ohi Nui French Polynesia, to raise our concerns on the failure of the referendum process.

In Kanaky, under the Nouméa Accord, through the actions of the French government to fast track the third referendum, despite local, regional and global pleas.

In the two years since, France has taken further actions that contradict its responsibilities as an administrating power, to uphold one of the most fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter — the fundamental right of all peoples to be free, free from colonial rule.

France has turned a deaf ear to untiring and peaceful calls of the indigenous people of Kanaky-New Caledonia and other pro-independence supporters for a new political process, founded on justice, peaceful dialogue and consensus and has demonstrated a continued inability and unwillingness to remain a neutral and trustworthy party under the Nouméa Accord.

Today, on behalf of Pacific Churches and Civil Society we reiterate our collective concerns that we have made in a number of statements on the current situation in Kanaky.

Recalling these statements and on behalf of the Église Protestante de Kanaky Nouvelle-Calédonie, and the Pacific Regional Non-Governmental Organisation Alliance, the Pacific Conference of Churches calls:

  1. For the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the draft constitutional law seeking to unfreeze the local electorate roll. Noting that the Presidents of four other French overseas territories have called for the withdrawal of the voting changes;
  2. On the French Government to reconsider, as an essential step to de-escalating tensions in the territory, any further deployment of armed forces to Kanaky;
  3. On the French Presidency to cease any further attempts to enforce externally designed and controlled pathways to determine the political future of Kanaky, including a possible referendum in France to unfreeze the territory’s electorate roll;
  4. On other parties to the Noumea Accord to heed the repeated and non-violent requests of the FLNKS and other pro-independence voices, over the last 2-3 years, to allow more conducive conditions for dialogue and negotiation for a better political agreement, and to give the process all the time necessary to do so;
  5. For the Pacific Islands Forum to establish an Eminent Persons Group, comprising of French, Pacific Islands and international personalities, in collaboration with the C24, as a matter of urgency to mediate between the parties and ensure the best conditions to enable a just and peaceful dialogue process for the territory’s political future; and finally,
  6. Beyond the political dialogue process, commitments to be made and kept for culturally appropriate community trauma healing for all communities in Kanaky and for community dialogue processes, particularly between Kanak and Caldoche for peacebuilding as well as nation building.

The very fact that Kanaky New Caledonia is an agenda item in this meeting and that of the 24th Committee is a reminder that their decolonisation is a matter of ‘WHEN’, not ‘if’ — and a ‘when’ that needs to be sooner rather than later.

May God’s blessings of justice, love and liberation be with all the people of Kanaky as they seek their own equality, liberty and fraternity.

Oleti Atrqatr (Thank you in the Kanak Drehu dialect).

Presented by
Reverend James Shri Bhagwan
General Secretary
Pacific Conference of Churches

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