As we continue our national journey through the broken reef and towards the calm lagoon in our search to find an island of hope where we as a people can live together in freedom and with respect for all with a sustainable form of democracy that empowers and makes secure every Fijian, it is worthwhile to look around at some of the other islands in Oceania who continue to struggle just for the opportunity to decide how they should be governed.
As we look to a new constitution that will be a living, sacred covenant among all Fijians and towards elections in 2014, perhaps we should remember that while we are wrestling with the difficulties of being an independent nation, there are other islands in Oceania that are still colonies, struggling for self determination.
The term self-determination means: Determination of one's own fate or course of action without compulsion; free will; or freedom of the people of a given area to determine their own political status; in other words, independence.
Last week the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC), meeting in Kolympari, Crete, Greece, from 28 August to 5 September 2012, issued a public statement calling for re-inscription of the French Polynesia (Maohi Nui) on the list of countries to be decolonised.
In 1947 the French government had Maohi Nui removed from such a list drawn up by the newly formed United Nations. A public statement adopted by the Central Committee calls on French authorities "to fulfil their obligations and provide all necessary means for the economic, social and cultural development of the Maohi people" and "urges France to compensate all those affected by nuclear testing and radioactivity" in the vicinity.
The public statement also invites Christians everywhere to pray "for the people and the churches of Maohi Nui as they embark on their peaceful and just struggle for self-determination."
According to the statement, the present day French Polynesia (Maohi Nui) became a French protectorate in 1842 and a French colony in 1880, although it was not until 1946 that the indigenous Maohi people acquired French citizenship. By the end of the 19th century, France had annexed all the islands that now constitute French Polynesia. The islands were governed by France under a decree of 1885.
In 1945, when the UN was founded, one of the first initiatives was to engage in a proper decolonization process, hence establishing a list of territories yet to be decolonized. Article 73 of UN Charter (non-self-governing territories) as well as UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples) describe the UN's mission to decolonise the remaining non self-governing territories. The French colonies of New Caledonia and French Polynesia were on the list of countries to be decolonized. However, in 1947 France succeeded in having French Polynesia withdrawn from the list, with no prior consultation with the people of Maohi Nui.
In 1958, France held a referendum among its colonies in the Pacific islands, but the opposition to French colonisation was suppressed. Subsequently, Maohi Nui remained as a French colony. Moves towards increased local autonomy began in 1977, and new statutes creating a fully elected local executive were approved in Paris in 1977. In 2003, French Polynesia's status was changed to that of an 'overseas collectivity' and in 2004 it was declared an 'overseas country'.
Today, French Polynesia is a semi-autonomous territory of France with its own parliament, assembly, president and executive government. Nonetheless, France continues to exert influence on domestic affairs. Leaders have limited power over many essential domestic and international matters. For example, France administers the justice and education system, defence, currency, health, emigration, land rights, environment and international maritime borders without the consent or participation of the Polynesian people.
The political and church leaders in French Polynesia believe that their struggle for freedom, autonomy and right to self-determination should be addressed by the UN. In August 2011 the French Polynesian Assembly voted for the re-inscription of French Polynesia on the United Nations decolonisation list. France does not recognize this resolution which was adopted by the majority in the Territorial Assembly.
In their statement, the World Council of Churches believes that effective advocacy efforts for the re-inscription of French Polynesia on the UN list of territories to be decolonised is an essential first step towards self-determination. The primary work should be done through the UN Committee of 24 (Special Committee on Decolonisation). In order to achieve this goal, the support of the international community is vital.
In September 2011, the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) organised a consultation with political, church and regional actors in the Pacific to discuss strategies on advocating for re-inscription of French Polynesia on the UN list of countries to be decolonised. The WCC member constituencies in the Pacific asked for WCC's support for their advocacy initiatives during the visit of the WCC general secretary to the Pacific in September 2011.
The Council of the Maohi Protestant Church in its 2012 synod, decided to call on "the support of the Pacific Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches to support its efforts for re-inscription of French Polynesia (Maohi Nui) on the UN list of territories to be decolonised".
The Maohi Protestant Church Synod also stated that: "the Council considers the re-inscription of French Polynesia on this list as means to protect the people from decisions and initiatives taken by the French state contrary to its interests; the re-inscription constitutes the recognition of the human rights of the people of French Polynesia; the Council reiterates that it is their faith that will save the Maohi people whose conscience has been manipulated and that it is the people who will take the decision regarding the sovereignty of their nation".
The World Council of Churches statement:
A. Recognizes the universal human rights of all people and in particular the right to self-determination of all oppressed, colonised, indigenous people in the world, in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
B. Calls on France, the United Nations, and the international community to support the re-inscription of French Polynesia on the UN list of countries to be decolonized, in accordance with the example of New Caledonia;
C. Encourages the French authorities to fulfil their obligations and provide all necessary means for the economic, social and cultural development of the Maohi people;
D. Urges France to compensate all those affected by nuclear testing and radioactivity;
E. Invites its member churches and international faith-based organisations to support through advocacy efforts for the re-inscription of French Polynesia to the UN list of countries to be decolonised and its eventual full decolonisation;
F. Calls on the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs to facilitate the global advocacy initiative for the re-inscription of French Polynesia on the UN list, especially the primary work through the UN Committee of 24;
G. Prays for the people and the churches of Maohi Nui as they embark on their peaceful and just struggle for self-determination.
Reading the statement, I recalled meeting Oscar Temaru, former President of French Polynesia and current President of the French Polynesia Assembly when he visited Fiji in 2010 on board the sister vaka of the Uto Ni Yalo, O Tahiti Nui Freedom. I shared in my experience of meeting him in this column (http://www.fijitimes.com/story.)
Let us not forget to appreciate the fact that even though our national journey is difficult, whether we like those that journey with us or not, or the conditions under which we undertake this journey, at least we have the freedom to make this journey.
"Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity"
Rev. James Bhagwan is an ordained minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, currently a Masters of Theology student in Seoul, South Korea. Visit www.twitter.com/padrejb