decolonization / politiku

Semi-Live-Blogging the Decolonization Forum on Kanaky (New Caledonia) and Guam

Sept. 1, 2016

New Caledonia – near Australia. Referendum on political status to be held in 2018. Indigenous Kanaky nation. One-third of the population is French immigrants. Once a penal colony, later mining operation. Very rich in the Pacific, a quarter of the world’s reserves in nickels. Like Guam’s strategic harbor. French republicanism is different from British colonialism. Always votes for all members of a French colony. Kanak identity, Melanesian identity. A distinct people, in the political sense of the word, not subsumed in melting pot of French colonialism. Kanak Liberation Front. An independence leader took an ax and smashed a ballot box. Economic and social disadvantage — ostensible equal voting rights. Rebellions over land, martyred revolutionary leaders. 1998, Noumea Accord, a delayed transition over twenty years toward a referendum on political status, a transition towards a political settlement in the future. Transfer of powers from Paris to government in Noumea, irreversible, written into the French constitution, funded by the French state, “shared sovereignty,” referenda (you can have multiple ones) after 15 years to determine transfer of “sovereign powers” and New Caledonia’s final political status. Creation of New Caledonian “citizenship.” Created new political institutions in New Caledonia: Congress, Customary Senate, multi-party government, etc. Other colonies like French Polynesia haven’t gotten this irreversible transfer agreed to. Must hold a referendum at least in the last year of this process. Took many measures to recognize Kanak culture during the Noumea accord as well, Senate for Kanak customary Chiefs, etc., recognize heritage and chiefly systems, Kanak Cultural Center, beautiful building. 1980 UN resolution on migration, tactic sometimes used by administering powers so called to block decolonization. Has been a tradition throughout the French empire over the years. About 25,000 Kanaks are not registered to vote for various reasons. Only New Caledonians resident prior to Dec 1998 can vote in the referendum in 2018 or whenever it happens. Several independence parties, active.   

Jean-Marie Tjibaou, assassinated in 1989: the young people today mostly don’t know of the revolutionary martyrs. Transnational corporations’ interests. France’s strategic interests over the ocean, mining, marine resources, exclusive economic zone. Oceans of the Pacific very crucial to France’s strategic future. France’s EEZ is second only to the United States’s.    
UN – deplored the continuing alienation of land through military bases especially in Pacific and Caribbean colonies.  

What kind of partner has France been in the process toward decolonization? — Mr. Mclellan: The Noumea Accord is entrenched in French constitution. French army deployed against the Kanak people in Kanaky. Shouldn’t forget that history, The Kanak people do not forget it. Maneuvers from the French government pushing for some form of free association, not independence and sovereignty for NC. Rights enshrined for NC aren’t extended by France to W&F or French Polynesia. The French state protects its own strategic interests in the region. The Noumea Accord can still be an important model for countries looking to transition out of colonialism. Accommodate the interests of colonized people and long-time residents who have made the place their home. The French state quite clearly doesn’t want their colonies to achieve independence.

– Does the UN stance on decolonization affect for example Davis v. Guam? — Camacho: no. Courts in US bound by US constitutional law. Judge Tydingco-Gatewood unlikely to rely on international law.  
– Mclellan: decolonization, there’s the principle, the practicalities, and the politics. Pitcairn, 48 people, listed as a territory with the UN, but practically 48 people couldn’t be a viable entity. Politically, why does Britain maintain a territory in the Pacific? Atlantic? The Pacific as the ocean of the future, sea bed mining. Resource exploitation.  

– Do the Kanaky people plan to create their own military? Do Kanaky people serve in the French army? Army massacred Kanaky protesters not so long ago. Fiji, military coups, not a good idea to have an army. Some maritime surveillance, etc., can be done without an army. There are some Kanaky people in the French army, compulsory service but many Kanaky people boycotted service out of protest, especially in the 1990s, now cannot get a job in the French public service sector. Very different from the strong Chamorro heritage.

– Challenges we face for political self-determination on Guam? — Camacho: plebiscite seemingly very simple, yet much energy has been expended just over who can participate. Important issue, but we can’t even decide who can vote it in now, and law was passed over ten years ago. A leader will just have to say we will do this in X amount of years and force it to happen. Plebiscite is only a vote, it doesn’t guarantee anything will happen. Must develop an economic plan, next phase.  

– Mclellan: role of national and regional organizations, NC sought support of Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands Forum. 1940s, France refused UN work. Only with regional support was NC entered on UN decolonization list. French Polynesia only re-listed in 2013, France very upset.  

– What would it take for Guam’s self-determination vote to overrule Congress’s final vote on it? — Camacho: Congress is the highest branch of government when it comes to the territories. It would be a challenge for Guam to reject the authority of the Congress at this point. Mclellan: Should there be a treaty between non-indigenous and indigenous Australians? They’re only three percent of the population (!). Guam is a fundamentally different case than American Samoa. Indonesia annexed West Papua (western half of Papua New Guinea). Melanesian Spearhead Group, Pacific Islands Forum, discussing West Papuan situation. Scotland might be independent before Guam. This is a global debate. Differences, complexities, but there are things we can share. Australia’s role as biggest economic player in this part of the Pacific. Tjibaou said independence wasn’t a break with France, interdependence through language, culture, etc., but want to manage our interdependencies and we can do that better than the French. This discussion is happening all around the region. Many Pacific countries are facing the same question.

– Military location in Guam, as long as Congress has plenary authority over Guam. Used for the Navy, since 1900 document. Didn’t want the Chamorro people to have rights. Charles Adams argued on radio a year ago that Guam radicals wanted to close the military bases and if Guam could vote, it would take away the US’s military powers.  

– How can Guam get the US to take decolonization more seriously? Camacho — as with Segovia v. BEC: model impact litigation, a la Civil Rights movement. Cases that embody important statutes of the law. Elizabeth Warren released a statement on it. Purpose not necessarily to win, but to make a point and educate the US public as a whole. Gain attention for the plight of the people, pressuring Congress. Public opinion can shift. We need to let people know of disenfranchisement of people living in Puerto Rico, Guam, push till Congress recognizes the need.  

– With the influx of French migrants to influence self-determination, is the US doing the same with military and Compact? — Mclellan, intent is very difficult to prove. We live in a globally interconnected world, trading routes existed across the Pacific before colonial times. Cultural ties across the Pacific, deeper than relatively new post-Contact boundaries. On a global scale, the movement of peoples. We can have the dream to build a common destiny. But it is very hard to get institutions to change to follow through with such commitments to make that work. Very difficult to clarify who met the residency requirements.  

Bougainvillea, West Papua – political status involves colonialism and exploitation to some extent: not just UN-recognized territories. Also Wallis and Futuna, CNMI.  

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