UN reinscribes Polynesia on list of non self-governing territories, France calls it "blatant interference"

Decision by the UN General Assembly opens the door, in theory, to the holding of a self-determination referendum in the French overseas territory · Other similar dossiers have been frozen for years · Current pro-autonomy Polynesian Government against UN resolution

A dramatic change happened in the UN General Assembly last Friday, as French Polynesia was re-registered to the UN list of non-self governing territories. The re-inscription has been accepted after the case was filed by several states of the region (Solomon Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu, Samoa and East Timor) and, in theory and in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, it opens the door to the holding of a self-determination referendum in Polynesia.

Re-inscription had been demanded by the former pro-independence Polynesian president Oscar Temaru, who saw there a way to hold a referendum in which islanders could choose to become an independent state. Currently, the country is officially a Polynesian "overseas country" (autonomous territory) of the French Republic, with its own Government and Legislative Chamber.

But the French Government has been fast to react. In an official statement, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called the UN resolution a "blatant interference" in the internal affairs of France and Polynesia. Moreover, it has said that France is "determined to continue with the Government of French Polynesia, to promote political, economic and social development of the territory". According to the Ministry, Polynesians made a democratic choice in favor of autonomy in the election held this month, in which Temaru suffered a heavy defeat. Nevertheless, analysts linked this loss to the bad economic situation in Polynesia. The current Polynesian government, headed by Gaston Flosse, is against the decision of the UN.

Temaru himself, though, has said that concrete elections to the Assembly of Polynesia cannot be mixed with a self-determination referendum. The former President also considers that it should be discussed whether French newcomers should be able to vote in the referendum.

A peculiar list

The list of non self-governing territories has been maintained by the United Nations since its establishment. Polynesia was deleted from it in 1947. Currently, there are 16 listed territories (now with Polynesia there will be 17). Some of them have a high degree of self-government (Gibraltar, for example) while others are still under foreign military occupation (as it is the case for Western Sahara). The disparity between these cases has led criticism concerning the usefulness of the list, especially if it is taken into account the fact that some of the dossiers relating to it have now been discussed for decades.

Defenders, however, remember that it is a useful legal instrument in order to put pressure on the states. The case of France gives an example: New Caledonia had been removed from the list but in 1986 it was again registered. Now the country has a political agreement which ensures the participation and representation of the different ethnic groups, while a self-determination referendum is going to be held in this decade.

(Image: Polynesian and French flags / Picture: FRED.)