Independence for New Caledonia?

[Aboriginal News]

Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, upon concluding his visit to New Caledonia
4 to 13 February 2011

Noumea, 13 February 2011

In my capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, I have conducted a visit to New Caledonia from 4 to 13 February 2011. My visit offered me a unique opportunity to witness conditions relevant to my mandate and to consult with a wide range of stakeholders. I would like to thank the authorities of the Republic of France for their cooperation. I am also grateful to the Customary Senate for the assistance it has provided to me in the preparation and conduct of my visit.

The objective of my visit has been to hold consultations and receive information in order to examine the human rights situation of the indigenous people of the country – the Kanak people –while recognizing fully the history of New Caledonia. I have sought to understand the approaches that the Government of France as well as the Government of New Caledonia and the Kanak people have chosen in their efforts to progressively achieve a harmonious and productive coexistence among all sectors of the country’s population, through implementation of the Noumea Accord of 1998.

I have had the opportunity to consult with the High Commissioner and other French officials, the President and ministers of the Government of New Caledonia, officials of the three Provinces, the members of the Customary Senate, and other customary authorities. I also wish to thank the representatives of numerous Kanak and non-governmental organizations, including trade unions and women, youth and environmental organizations that have provided information to me.

In addition to my meetings in Noumea, I travelled to the three provinces of the country. I visited authorities and members of indigenous communities in Kone, Thio, Saramea, Lifou and Ouvea. I also visited the detention centre in Noumea. I am grateful for the warm hospitality with which I have been received by Kanak customary authorities and their communities and by government authorities.

I am encouraged to learn of a consensus among stakeholders around the Noumea Accord, which provides a framework to transfer powers from France to New Caledonia institutions and allows for the possibility of full independence. I especially welcome the provisions of the Noumea Accord that promote the culture and customary institutions of the Kanak people as an integral part of social and political fabric of the country, as well as the provisions that provide a foundation for the many initiatives being taken to address the conditions of disadvantage that Kanak people face in all spheres of life. I note that the Noumea Accord can and should be interpreted in a manner fully consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration complements the United Nations policy on decolonization.

During my visit I have learned of numerous steps to implement the Noumea Accord and related positive developments, but I have also learned of many challenges that remain. I have heard from Kanak authorities and members of indigenous communities repeated expressions of frustration about ongoing patterns of discrimination, limitations on the exercise of their customary rights, poor social and economic conditions, and lack of adequate participation in decisions affecting them in many respects.

In coming weeks I will evaluate the information I have gathered and meet with French authorities in Paris to further discuss the human rights situation of the Kanak people. Subsequently I will be developing a report with recommendations, and that report will be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council and made public. My expectation is that the report will contribute to further constructive dialogue with the governments of France and New Caledonia and with representatives of the Kanak people.

One thought on “Independence for New Caledonia?

  1. In August 1975, I visited an island in the Pacific called Ouvea which is part of the Loyalty Islands group to the east of New Caledonia. Australia was in turmoil with the Whitlam government under severe attack from the right. A constitutional coup was in train. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was the conservative president of France at the time. His pictures adorned the walls of the Mayoralty building in Fayoue.

    Ouvea was a small island under French occupation to the east of New Caledonia; just before I arrived, there had been a demonstration that surrounded the local gendarme’s building at Fayoue, with french authorities locking themselves inside. People on the island were opposed to French laws, specifically La loi Debré. Their objective was to have their children learn their own language first at school and to learn French as a secondary language. The French tricolour would hear no word of it.

    Ouvea’s main industries were copra and tourism. I remember a general store at Fayoue being run by an arab man and his family, I think they were from one of the French colonies in North Africa (Algeria?). There was a tourist resort for the ‘metropoles’ (Parisians) come out to the tropical paradise (colony) on their August ‘vacances’. Some seemed afraid of the local men because, being copra workers, they carried machetes dangling from their wrists to cut coconuts (not tourists). But tourists did not seem to realise that or if they did the metropoles confined themselves to the chlorinated swimming pool in the resort when only a few metres away there was the most heavenly beach and sea that one could imagine. Fear kept them from the salt water.

    I stayed on the island with local indigenous people; they provided a simple thatched roof hut for accommodation. We slept on grass mats. I will always remember their openness and generosity to two young Australians who had arrived at their island by chance on a ship carrying drums of asphalt for the aerodrome landing strip being constructed.

    Their teenage boys were taken away for compulsory military service. One afternoon a French naval ship appeared on the horizon and a landing barge brought naval officers ashore. They showed two films that night on the wall of a church in Fayoue. One was a Danny Kaye movie about a mad scientist. It was subtitled in French.

    The next morning I saw young men on the beach being corralled into a barge and asked a local what was going on. He said that they were being taken for military service.

    The people worked on copra plantations and in nickel mines whose profits were repatriated to Paris.
    Down through the years the Melanesian people on the island (the Kanak) formed resistance to the occupation.

    In 1988, 19 pro-independence fighters were summarily executed by French paratroopers in caves nearby where I stayed. I was taken to that part of island in 1975 to see the copra being cut. Transport was in the back of a Peugeot ute (the most common form of transport on the island) with a canvas roof on the back.

    I was really on a holiday and only came across the Kanak struggle by this chance voyage on a ship from New Caledonia (because my friend and I had run out of money in expensive Noumea).

    We were invited to a hangi (maori word) where goat and pig were cooked in the ground. I remember the beautiful harmonies of traditional songs sung at the hangi by men and women.

    I made a super 8 film of what I saw but unfortunately the footage is now lost. For some time I kept in contact by correspondence with a family who had offered such generous hospitality on the island and went back to visit them in 1977 however as years passed, we felt out of touch.

    Jean-Marie Tjibaou, the head of the pro-independence FLNKS was assassinated in Ouvéa by another Kanak not long after he signed The Matignon Agreements. These were agreements signed in the Hotel Matignon by Jean-Marie Tjibaou and Jacques Lafleur on 26 June 1988 between loyalists who wanted to keep New Caledonia as a part of the French Fifth Republic, and separatists, who did not. The agreements provided amnesty and stopped all proceedings regarding the deaths of four gendarmes and 19 FLNKS Kanaks killed by french paratroopers.

    Ian Curr

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