Fiji, PNG call for UN decolonization mission to riot-struck New Caledonia

BenarNews staff
Fiji, PNG call for UN decolonization mission to riot-struck New Caledonia A French gendarme stands behind an armoured vehicle facing activists as they accompany a convoy of vehicles clearing roadblocks in Paita in France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, June 4, 2024.
Delphine Mayeur/AFP

UPDATED at 8:40 a.m. ET on 2024-06-12

Fiji and Papua New Guinea have urged the U.N.’s decolonization committee to expedite a visit to the French-controlled Pacific territory of New Caledonia following its pro-independence riots last month.

Nine people have died, dozens were injured and businesses were torched during unrest in the capital Noumea triggered by the French government’s move to dilute the voting power of New Caledonia’s indigenous Kanak people.

Fiji’s permanent representative to the U.N. Filipo Tarakinikini, whose statement was also on behalf of Papua New Guinea, spoke on Monday of the two countries’ “serious concern” at the disproportionate number of Kanaks who have lost their lives since the onset of the crisis. 

“We underscore that New Caledonia can best be described as a fork in the road situation,” Tarakinikini told the committee session at U.N. headquarters in New York.

“History is replete with good lessons,” he said, “to navigate such situations toward peaceful resolution. Today we have heard yet again loud and clear what colonization does to a people.” 

Tarakinikini said Fiji and Papua New Guinea want the U.N.’s Special Committee on Decolonization to send a visiting mission to New Caledonia as soon as possible to get first-hand knowledge of the situation. 

He also criticized militarization of the island after France sent hundreds of police and troops with armored personnel carriers to restore order. Unrest has continued despite the security reinforcements. 

“Taking up arms against each other is not the solution, nor is the militarization and fortification by authorities in the territory the correct signal in our Blue Pacific continent,” Tarakinikini said.

PIC 220240610 UN C24 Fiji.png
Fiji’s permanent representative to the U.N. Filipo Tarakinikini addresses the U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization, or C-24, in New York on June 10, 2024. [UN Web TV]

New Caledonia’s international airport remains closed, preventing pro-independence President Louis Mapou and other representatives from traveling to the U.N. committee.

Rioting is estimated by the local chamber of commerce to have caused U.S. $200 million in economic damage, with 7,000 jobs lost.

The decolonization committee was established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1961 to monitor implementation of the international commitment to granting independence to colonized peoples. Today, some 17 territories, home to 2 million people and mostly part of the former British empire, are under its purview. 

Fiji and Papua New Guinea are both long-term committee members, which has listed New Caledonia as a U.N. non-self-governing territory under French administration since 1986.

In the Pacific, American Samoa, French Polynesia, Guam, Pitcairn and Tokelau also remain on the list.

Representatives of civil society organizations who spoke to the committee criticized France’s control of New Caledonia and blamed it for triggering the crisis.

Loyalists who made submissions likened the riots to a coup and a deliberate sabotage of what they said was the previous consensus between Kanaks and French immigrants, “forcing those who do not adhere to the independence project to leave.”

France’s statement to the meeting appeared to blame outside forces for fomenting unrest. “Certain external actors, far from the region, seek to fuel tensions through campaigns to manipulate information,” the country’s delegate said, adding the European country would continue its cooperation with the U.N., including during this key period.”

French National Assembly member from French Guiana Jean Victor Castor warned the country had entered a “new phase of colonial repression.”

Castor also called on the U.N. to send a mission to “encourage France to respect its commitments and pursue the path of concerted decolonization, the only guarantee of a return to peace.”

Burned cars are seen on Plum Pass, an important road through Monte-Dore in France's Pacific island territory of New Caledonia on June 10, 2024. Monte-Dore is cut off from the capital Noumea by roadblocks weeks after deadly riots in the Pacific island territory. [Theo Rouby/AFP]

France’s control of New Caledonia gives the European nation a significant security and diplomatic role in the Pacific at a time when the U.S., Australia and other Western countries are pushing back against China’s inroads in the region. New Caledonia, home to about 270,000 people, also has valuable nickel deposits that are among the world’s largest.

The unrest was the worst political violence in the Pacific territory located between Australia and Fiji since the 1980s. The riots erupted May 12 as the lower house of France’s parliament debated and subsequently approved a constitutional amendment to unfreeze New Caledonia’s electoral roll, which would give the vote to thousands of French immigrants.

Final approval of the amendment requires a joint sitting of France’s lower house and Senate.

On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said such efforts should be suspended following his call earlier this week for a snap general election in his country, Agence France-Presse reported.

“I have decided to suspend it, because we can’t leave things ambiguous in this period,” Macron said, according to the international news service.

Referendums held in 2018 and 2020 under the U.N. mandated decolonization process produced modest majorities in favor of remaining part of France.

Less than half of New Caledonians voted in the third and final referendum in 2021 that overwhelmingly backed staying part of France. 

The vote was boycotted by the Kanak independence movement after it was brought forward without consultation by the French government during a serious phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, which restricted campaigning. 

Mareva Lechat-Kitalong, Delegate for International, European and Pacific Affairs of French Polynesia, told the committee what happened with New Caledonia’s third referendum should “not happen again for a question so fundamental as independence or not.”

She also urged France to commit to a roadmap for French Polynesia that “fully supports a proper decolonization process and self-determination process under the scrutiny of the United Nations.”

This report has been updated with new information about French President Emmanuel Macron's call to suspend action on a constitutional amendment to unfreeze New Caledonia’s electoral roll.


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A New Caledonian
Jun 12, 2024 01:17 AM

In New Caledonia, non-kanak people are suffering too, we are 60% of the population with our ancestors from France but also Vietnam, Java, Tahiti coming to build up the country over a century ago. We are mixed blood and multicultural, we grew up altogether in the same classroom. We suffer from local violence, with local people burning everything without distinction. There is use of AI and social media to dispatch fake news too.
Yesterday we were a developed country, today we are close to a pile of ashes.
We suffer from a lack of security and now access to food and care. The situation is more complex than what is explained above, where Kanak would be the only suffering and that under the hands of French military - who actually have the order to not use their arms.
Those who speak should come and talk to the entire population and get to know the real situation. Kanak or not, we all love our island, we are also devastated to live under restriction of freedom and violence, with our homes being burnt and our uncertain future. If we are ousted out from our island, we - also - do not know where to go. Any human suffering is valid.