French Polynesia: On its Way to Being the Newest Country after South Sudan?

Bora, Bora in French Polynesia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ makemake

Bora, Bora in French Polynesia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ makemake

Last week, Friday May 17, 2013, the United Nations adopted a resolution to put French Polynesia back onto the UN list of territories to be decolonized along with 16 other territories – including the British Falkland Islands, the US Virgin Islands, Gibraltar and Bermuda. The UN General Assembly requested of the French Government to “facilitate rapid progress […] towards a self determination process.”

For a territory to become a part of this list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, the 24 members of the Special Committee on Decolonization vote on whether or not a territory is eligible to follow steps to self-determination upon their request. Socio-economic analyses are then started, visits of the territory are made, and dialogues between the administering powers and the Committee are carried out before granting independence to the population in question.

The world’s newest country for example, South Sudan, obtained independence July 9, 2011 following the decision by the UN Special Committee on Decolonization that South Sudan should have self-determination. The South Sudanese, a predominantly Christian population, became independent from the Northern Muslim Sudanese as a consequence of a 2011 referendum and the 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest and deadliest civil war.  However, almost two years later, conflict remains at the border of North and South Sudan due to disputes over oil resources and accusations of human rights violations, causing socio-economic growth to be sluggish.

French Polynesia — made up of three islands (Salomon, Nauru, and Tuvalu) — is largely autonomous, though France still maintains its regal powers such as control over public security and foreign relations. These islands include approximately 270,000 yearlong inhabitants and had a GDP per capita in 2006 of 22,000 US dollars. Their economy is moderately developed and dependent on imported goods, tourism and financial assistance from the mainland. Politically, French Polynesia has an elected President who acts as the head of the government holding executive power while the legislative power is shared between the French and the Polynesian governments.

Prior to the UN vote, the presidential election on May 5, 2013, resulted in the victory of Gaston Flosse, a “pro-autonomy” conservative against the UN resolution for the decolonization of French Polynesia. Flosse won with 45% of votes, while his opponent Oscar Temaru, who was the former President of French Polynesia and was in favor of independence, lost with 29% of the vote. The third runner-up to the election, Teva Rohfritsch, who is also pro-autonomy and anti-independence, won 25% of votes.

Despite the result of the election, the UN continued with its resolution and carried out a vote from which France abstained. The UN is now facing new concerns and criticism from France, but also from the United-States, the UK and Holland who all have territories that are on the UN list of territories to be decolonized.

In a letter to the other UN member countries, the French government reacted to the actions of the UN Special Committee on decolonization, saying that the decision was “going against the will of the Polynesian population.” The French administration went on to explain that “three out of four Polynesians are against the resolution given the outcome of the vote on May 5 and the victory of the anti-independence candidate. Therefore, France will not and cannot endorse the UN’s resolution and demands of all member States, respectful of democracy, to do the same.”

Furthermore, the French government did not participate in the discussion regarding the resolution and is charging the Committee of “outrageous interference, a total and utter lack of respect for the democratic right to choice of the Polynesians, a manipulation of the objectives the United Nations have set out for decolonization.” France has declared that they refuse to follow the instructions set out by the UN and “will continue, together with the Polynesian government, to define collectively the contours of a relationship that reflects the desire of the Polynesian population.”

Since 1960, the UN list of countries to be decolonized has been focused on the remaining colonies of formerly imperial countries, mostly islands with resources solely for tourism, and has been faced with continual dispute. For example, in 2007, a diplomat from New-Zealand, John Hayes, asked that the United Nations leave the island Tokelau be, and that the latter “would not be better off independent.”

In spite of disagreements and various quarrels over territories and borders, at the birth of the United Nations in 1946, 750 million people — a third of the population at the time — lived in non-autonomous territories reigned by the colonial powers.  Today only 2 million people remain in such a situation.


  1. […] French Polynesia: On its Way to Being the Newest Country after South Sudan? ( […]

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