PACIFIC DECOLONIZATION FAR FROM OVER

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By Michelle Brear

SUVA, Fiji Islands (June 19, 2002 – Green Left Weekly)---Since the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP) movement’s formation in 1975, the campaign for self-determination for Pacific island nations under colonial rule has been central to its work, and that of its Suva-based secretariat, the Pacific Concerns Resources Center (PCRC).

Small island nations account for 14 of 16 territories recognized by the United Nations Special Committee for Decolonization (UNSCD) as non self-governing territories. Five (Guam, American Samoa, Kanaky, Tokelau and Pitcairn) are in the Pacific Ocean. Many others, including West Papua and Bougainville in the Pacific region, are not recognized by the UN as non self-governing territories.

At the May 14-16 UN Pacific Regional Forum, held in Nadi, Fiji, which discussed the progress of the UNUSED, PCRC activists attended to campaign on behalf of the non self-governing territories. Many representatives of these territories were prevented from speaking in the forum due to its bureaucratic structure, which allows only selected representatives to contribute.

The PCRC is able to make contributions, due to its status as a member of the UN Economic and Social Council. It is one of the only advocacy bodies with this status and plays a vital role in ensuring the concerns of non self-governing territories are raised with the UNUSED.

The UNUSED was established in 1961 to monitor the implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

In 1991, it declared the Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. However, in 2001 a second decade for the purpose began, due to the recognition that the first had not achieved its aim.

Jimmy Naouna, the PCRC's assistant director for decolonization, told Green Left Weekly: "In terms of the special committee's plan of action, nil has been done. Of course, it will claim some credit for East Timor's independence, but most of what they set out to achieve in the last 10 years has not been completed."

As the UN has no mandatory powers to ensure non self-governing territories gain independence, it relies on negotiations with colonial rulers and conducts information gathering. However, noted Naouna, even those limited commitments have not been maintained.

Even if the decade had fulfilled all its goals, colonialism in the Pacific and around the world would still have been far from over. One of the key concerns of PCRC activists is that the UN refuses to acknowledge the many territories where there is strong support from the population for self-determination.

Pacific nations not recognized as non self-governing territories include West Papua (which the UN played a crucial role in handing over to the Indonesian state), Bougainville (still controlled by Papua New Guinea), Hawai‘i (annexed by the United States) and Tahiti (which remains a French colony).

However, the bureaucratic rules of the UN Pacific Regional Forum prevented PCRC activists from even mentioning the concerns of these territories. When a PCRC delegate mentioned the West Papuan struggle in a contribution to the forum, she was quickly silenced by a member of the Indonesian delegation. This limited the PCRC's role to lobbying outside the forum for the recognition of West Papua, Bougainville, Hawai‘i and Tahiti as non self-governing territories.

Naouna believes that it is obvious that West Papua and other colonized countries should be included on the UN list. "West Papua wants to be decolorized and independent from Indonesia, but without international and UN supervision, this may only be achieved through armed struggle and West Papua has seen enough of that."

While acknowledging the UN has an important role to play in the decolonization process, Naouna stressed that it was only when colonial rulers are pressured by public opinion that they are forced to make concessions.

Organizations like PCRC need to "raise international awareness on the colonial situation in the Pacific and to ensure that these issues are being dealt with in world forums", Naouna told GLW. "Basically, PCRC and others should be the voice of the [colonized peoples] at the UN."

Naouna added that it is also necessary for ordinary people to take an active role in the struggle for self-determination, as East Timor's independence demonstrates. East Timor is proof that the UN process alone cannot end colonial rule.

While the UN played a key role in the establishment of the referendum in which the East Timorese voted for independence, they did so only after the Indonesian government was forced to hold the referendum under pressure from world public opinion.

The UN was content to limit its role at the elections to being observers and allowed the Indonesian military to maintain "law and order" throughout the referendum, despite its history of repressing freedom and democracy. That decision proved deadly to thousands of East Timorese.

Even as the militia gangs backed by the Indonesian military were killing pro-independence East Timorese, the UN had no mandate to send troops in without the agreement of the colonial ruler, Indonesia. It was only due to sustained pressure from solidarity activists, who mobilized in their tens of thousands, that the Australian government was finally forced to intervene.

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