Decolonization – An Uncompleted Process?

Flags in French Polynesia

This week, the UN General Assembly voted to put French Polynesia, a collectivité of France in the Pacific Ocean known for its largest island, Tahiti, back on the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, a decolonization list it was removed from in 1986. The move to put it back on the list was lead by the Solomon Islands and other independent states in the region. The list also includes the French special collectivité of New Caledonia, as well as most of the British Overseas Territories, several US territories, though not Puerto Rico, New Zealand’s Tokelau, and, strangely, Western Sahara. The list has many failings, most noticeably, to me, at least, the inclusion of these parts of the French Republic which are integral parts of the republic, and vote in national elections, but the exclusion of Puerto Rico, which is denied basic rights and does not have any participation in the US federal government.

However, my main problem with this list is that it wastes its time with places such as the British Pitcairn Islands, which have a population of 48, most of them British descendants, while ignoring the colonialism exhibited by, say, China in Tibet, with a population of over 3 million. And this is ignoring places that are nominally integral parts of their ruling state, but in practice are exploited by the national government. Just look at what Indonesia has been doing to Papua and West Papua in the Indonesian part of New Guinea. Or Russian colonialism in Siberia and other areas, US colonialism in Hawaii, Brazilian exploitation of native lands in Amazonia where no Brazilians even live, or white Australians and New Zealanders opposing the Aborigines’ and Maoris’ efforts to reclaim their ancestral lands.

The French Polynesians recently voted the pro-independence party out of power and replaced it with a pro-France party, and it is extremely unlikely that independence would win in a referendum. These aren’t French colonialists advocating against independence, they are native Tahitians. French Polynesia is, for all intents and purposes, an integral part of France. While overseas France still has some problems to sort out, such as wether or not former slaves should be given land by the central government, as France’s Justice Minister from Guadeloupe suggested, overseas France is an example of a unique kind of state, one that is spread around the globe, and the UN should focus on where the real colonialism is happening.


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