The Pacific Islands Forum is deploying the Forum Ministerial Committee to New Caledonia to observe New Caledonia’s third and final independence referendum under the 1998 Noumea Accord on 12 December 2021.
The Committee is led by the Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Fiji and Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, joined by Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia, High Commissioner of Samoa to Fiji. The Committee will be supported by the Forum Secretary General, Henry Puna, and staff of the Fiji Government and Forum Secretariat.
Preparing to deploy from Fiji, leader of the mission, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, an experienced election observer, acknowledged the significance of the occasion in New Caledonia and the Forum’s history, saying that “… New Caledonia is at a critical juncture in its self-determination journey, and the Forum family welcomes the opportunity to continue its support in this process as it has done for over 30 years”. The Committee was established in 1990 and has deployed to New Caledonia nine times between 1991 and 2018.
Ratu Inoke further added that it was crucial that a respected and impartial Pacific presence was on the ground in New Caledonia to observe the referendum. “We will be speaking with stakeholders on all sides of the debate in the week leading up to the vote, observing activities on referendum day, and developing a report to capture our findings” he said.
The Forum has played a key role in the self-determination aspirations of a number of its Members and one of the milestones in its 50 year history. “The Forum has witnessed and been a part of the contemporary formation of a number of its Members, and this is another step in the direction that our forefathers envisaged – the right of Pacific people to determine and chart their own future. It is important to us that in our democracies, eligible voters are able and have every opportunity to express themselves freely” he said.
Pacific Islands Forum Observer Missions are carried out under the 2000 Biketawa Declaration, the Forum’s regional commitment to good governance and regional security. Within the context of COVID-19, preparing for an observer mission has posed many challenges. Secretary General Henry Puna, who led the 2013 Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Committee to New Caledonia, in his former capacity as the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, remarked that “while the COVID-19 situation has had a tremendous global impact, our message from the Blue Pacific is clear – COVID-19 must not limit our action where it matters most.”
“If anything, COVID-19 has amplified the need for us to address our regional priorities such as Climate Change, Oceans, Fisheries, Regional Security and in this case, Human Rights and Good Governance”.
The Committee will undergo 7-days quarantine in Noumea before consultations with key referendum stakeholders from 6 December and observing polling and counting on 12 December.