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  • L’ONU, la France et les décolonisations tardives: L’exemple des terres françaises d’Océanie, by Jean-Marc Regnault
  • Nic Maclellan
L’ONU, la France et les décolonisations tardives: L’exemple des terres françaises d’Océanie, by Jean-Marc Regnault. Aix-en-Provence: Presses Universitaires d’Aix-Marseille, 2013. isbn 978-2-7314-0886-7; 250 pages, preface, acknowledgments, bibliography, annexes. €16.00.

In a historic decision, the United Nations General Assembly (unga) adopted a resolution on 17 May 2013 to reinscribe French Polynesia on the UN list of non-self-governing territories. The resolution, sponsored by Solomon Islands, Nauru, and Tuvalu, was adopted by the 193-member assembly without a vote. France’s UN ambassador had boycotted the session, and other colonial powers objected to the consensus resolution.

The reaction from Paris was ferocious, with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs declaring: “This resolution is a flagrant interference, with a complete absence of respect for the democratic choice of French Polynesians and a hijacking of the decolonization principles established by the United Nations.”

At the same time, the French government has grown to accept UN scrutiny of the decolonization process in New Caledonia following the 1998 Noumea Accord. A UN monitoring mission first traveled to New Caledonia in 1999, and the governments of France and New Caledonia even hosted a regional seminar of the UN Special Committee on Decolonization in Noumea in 2010. Another UN mission traveled to Noumea in March 2014, in the lead-up to crucial elections for New Caledonia’s provincial assemblies and Congress.

Why does France hold such different attitudes toward self-determination for the Kanak people of New Caledonia and the Maohi people of French Polynesia? Many answers can be found in this important study by French scholar Jean-Marc Regnault, who teaches at the University of French Polynesia in Tahiti.

Regnault is a prolific author, in French, on the politics and history of French Polynesia, including the process that led to the establishment of the Centre d’expérimentation du Pacifique (Pacific Nuclear Testing Centre). He has written fascinating biographies of Pouvanaa a Oopa, the charismatic Tahitian nationalist metua (leader) who was falsely accused, jailed, and exiled as France began preparations for its nuclear-testing program at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls.

Regnault’s books are based on extensive archival research in Paris, Papeete, and Noumea, and this latest study is no exception. In 2011, the Assembly of French Polynesia under Speaker Jacqui Drollet commissioned Regnault to prepare a report on French attitudes toward decolonization. Between September and December 2011, Regnault burrowed through the diplomatic archives of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He focused on papers relating to France’s relations with the United Nations between 1986 and 1995, from the height of the Kanak uprising to the final years of nuclear testing.

This book, the result of that research revised and updated, provides a detailed and compelling picture of French government attitudes toward self-determination and decolonization in France’s Pacific dependencies. [End Page 561]

Part 1 contrasts the fundamental differences between French law on self-determination (as outlined in article 53 of the 1958 French Constitution) and UN principles and practice regarding decolonization. Regnault charts French attitudes toward decolonization since the founding of the international body and especially since the key decolonization resolutions in 1960–1961.

He cites an internal note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in November 1986, at the height of diplomatic battles over New Caledonia’s status at the United Nations: “We have never accepted resolutions 1514 (xv) and 1541 (xv), for which we abstained. … We have never accepted the legitimacy of the Special Committee on Decolonization, as directed by resolution 1564 (xvi), to propose the inscription of territories on the list of non-self-governing territories” (69–70).

Part 2 of the book looks at the debates leading to New Caledonia’s reinscription on the UN list of non-self-governing territories through unga resolution 41/41 on 2 December 1986. The election in mid-1986 of conservative French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and his Overseas Minister Bernard Pons soured relations with the Pacific Islands Forum. Australia and...


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