United Nations Should Leave French Pacific Islands Alone

France’s “colonies” have no desire to become independent. The United Nations should stop complaining.

A French transport aircraft flies over French Polynesia, January 10
A French transport aircraft flies over French Polynesia, January 10 (EMA/Ministère de la Défense)

The United Nations last month added French Polynesia again to its list of territories it insists are colonized. The organization urges France to get the Pacific islands on the path to self-determination. But they don’t want to.

Less than two weeks before French Polynesia was reinscribed to the United Nations’ list of “non-self-governing territories,” its inhabitants voted out longtime president Oscar Temaru, who wants the islands to ultimately become independent, and replaced him with Gaston Flosse, a conservative who advocates no change in the territory’s relations with France.

French Polynesians’ wariness of independence is mirrored across the territories that the United Nations still considers colonies.

Earlier this year, the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the United Kingdom. Similarly, the citizens of tiny Tokelau have voted against independence from New Zealand twice in recent years. The leaders of American Samoa have repeatedly asked to be removed from the United Nations’ list.

The only Pacific territory whose ties with the fatherland are troublesome is New Caledonia, a French colony since 1853. When it was due to vote on independence in a referendum in 1998, local leaders postponed the vote fifteen to twenty years. Many of the French settlers there have no desire for independence but some 40 percent of the population does. That could yet prove problematic but it seems that for now, both camps are comfortable putting off the issue.

Whatever happens on New Caledonia, the French are right to maintain that self-determination “cannot be exercised against the will of the concerned populations.” That would defeat the point. If a people vote to remain a “colony,” they aren’t colonized at all, rather willful subjects of a nation, even if the rest of that nation is half a world away.

If, instead, they vote to become independent, a country like France will surely honor that vote and let them go their way. The colonial period is over. It’s about time the United Nations recognize that as well.