Tokelau decolonisation high on agenda

United Nations officials, apparently frustrated by two failed attempts to get Tokelau to vote for independence from New Zealand, are meeting in Indonesia to discuss progress on decolonising the Pacific.

Decolonisation has been one of the UN's success stories, but the fact that 16 non-self-governing territories remain means that the task has yet to be completed, says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Last year a UN-supervised referendum fell 16 votes short of the 462 needed for self-government, when Tokelau's residents on three small and isolated atolls 500km north of Samoa decided to remain New Zealand's last colony. In a similar ballot in 2006, 60 per cent of the people opted for self-government, but that was 30 votes shy of the required support.

But Mr Ban told the opening of the Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonisation: "Colonialism has no place in today's world. It falls to the United Nations, and to all of us as members of the international community, to help bring this process to a successful conclusion."

When the UN was created in 1945, there were 72 territories such as Tokelau on its decolonisation list.

Other issues being discussed at the conference, which ends today, are the perspectives of the non-self-governing territories (colonies), both in the Pacific and the Caribbean, on recent developments and prospects for decolonisation, and UN assistance to the colonies.

The meeting is also canvassing a row that has broken out with Pacific Islanders in another UN forum seeking to take over the role of the Special Committee itself in implementing the UN's decolonisation mandate.

Separately, representatives of various indigenous groups in the Pacific have asked another panel, the UN's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, to take over the decolonisation work.

Indigenous group representatives recently asked the forum to sponsor a seminar that would assess the situation of colonised territories, and to advise the UN's Economic and Social Council on the urgent need for human rights mechanisms in the islands. They also want visiting missions that would look into the rights and situations of the natives of colonised territories, whose environments are said to have been exploited by "foreign superpowers".

The Permanent Forum represents various native groups from all over the Pacific, including Maori.

Pauline Kingi, from the Ministry of Maori Development, told last month's seventh meeting of the forum in New York that NZ's updated approach to indigenous development is known as the "Maori Potential Approach" - based on the premise of recognising the strength of Maori people, while recognising their contribution to the wider nation.

- NZPA

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