Respect the inalienable right of the Kanak people to self-determination!
Open letter to the President of the French Republic.
On next December 12, voters in Kanaky – New Caledonia will have to answer “yes” or “no” to the following question: “Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent”? This is the third and final referendum on self-determination ensuring a process of decolonization formalized by accords signed in 1988 (Matignon-Oudinot) and 1998 (Nouméa) between the French state and local political forces, including the indigenous kanak people of this archipelago, who were recognized as early as 1946 by the United Nations as a people to be decolonized and definitively included in this list in 1986 following resolution 41/41.
The Nouméa Accord of March 5, 1998, encouraged a process of emancipation that should reach its conclusion with a consultation on the accession to full sovereignty. This sovereignty entails a transfer of powers from the French State to this territory, which is striving for independence. This vote is therefore decisive for the future of Kanaky – New Caledonia.
However, as it stands, the conditions under which this referendum will be organized disregard the right to self-determination of the Kanak people guaranteed by the United Nations declaration of 2007 and protected by the French Constitution, which devotes a title to New-Caledonia and the Nouméa Accords.
It is imperative that this referendum be postponed until the end of 2022. Indeed, there are several reasons for such a postponement.
Firstly, after 33 years of consistently implementing these agreements, the current government is no longer respecting them by bringing forward the final deadline after two votes in 2018 and 2020, which saw the supporters of independence increase from 43% to 47%. It is thus cutting into the democratic time needed to decide on the future of this archipelago, home to a three-millennia-old population called Lapita. Such a unilateral acceleration is incompatible with the very idea of a shared decolonization.
Secondly, the sudden outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early September hit the country hard, imposing a long confinement that led to isolation, straining health and social structures, preventing any democratic life through a prolonged curfew and a state of health emergency, and hurting families and clans through numerous bereavements: more than 275 deaths, more than half of which were Wallisians-and-Futunian and Kanaks, even though these two groups account for less than half of the 270,000 inhabitants. In September 2021 only, there were +81% of deaths compared to any September outside Covid. This health situation also leads to the impossibility of meeting and debating in all serenity about the future of this territory, after this long period of isolation which is just coming to an end, and above all because of the will to observe with care and attention the Kanak mourning rituals, bringing together all the members of the clans and allies. These are vital rituals for the indigenous Oceanian peoples which is impossible to be expedited under the pretext of maintaining a referendum calendar that is akin to a diktat.. This would end the Nouméa Accord in a way that betrays its essence: being committed to considering and respecting Kanak people.
Thirdly, the Kanak and Oceanian parties have hammered the need to convene the 3rd referendum outside of the French national electoral timeline. In October 2019, the Prime Minister stated that he would not allow the third referendum to take place “between the middle of September 2021 and the end of August 2022”, precisely for these reasons. Such a deadline is, moreover, in line with the Nouméa Accords stating that the last referendum must be held before October 4, 2022.
Everything that has been patiently built up over more than thirty years augured a responsible and visionary exit from 168 years of colonization. It is still time not to threaten what has been accomplished by postponing this ill-considered vote.
In order to assert their rights, the Kanak people are not alone: at their side are peoples who are also inscribed on the list of the United Nations declaration, indigenous leaders, organizations defending the rights of indigenous peoples, associations developing transitional justice, environmental justice collectives, associations promoting human rights and the rights of the living, and all those who want to assume their part in this historic event so that it marks the endeavor of the international community in favor of an effective decolonization.
It is as one voice that we urge the President of the French Republic to postpone the referendum on self-determination in Kanaky – New Caledonia. We have no doubt that he will hear us and will understand that the voice of France will carry all the further if it respects the commitments it has made to its people, enshrined in its constitution, and will comply with the inalienable right of peoples to self-determination without which no viable and lasting decolonization process can succeed.
Indigenous leaders, organizations defending the rights of Indigenous peoples, associations developing transitional justice, environmental justice collectives, associations promoting human rights and the rights of the living, anti-colonial, anti-racist, decolonial, feminist organizations, you can sign the letter to the President of the French Republic by following this link.