Pacific NGOs and movements call on France to defer referendum vote to 2022


A coalition of Pacific civil society organisations (CSO) and movement leaders, has called on the French Government to postpone the third independence referendum in Kanaky/New Caledonia, which was “hastily” announced to go ahead on 12 December

The French Minister for Overseas Territories, Sebastien Lecornu, told French journalists in Paris that the third self-determination vote would take place, as it “serves the common good to hold this consultative referendum as soon as possible.”

The French-occupied territory of New Caledonia is currently in a State of Emergency, and is struggling to cope with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past month alone, this new outbreak has infected over 10,000 people and caused over 200 COVID-related deaths. It is understood that 60 percent of the reported COVID-19 related deaths have occurred within Kanak communities, reflecting inequalities in New Caledonian society between Kanaks and other communities.

Given the serious outbreak in infections, the State of Emergency and the COVID-19 protocols that are in place, pro-Independence political parties and groups in Kanaky have called for the postponement of the third referendum until 2022.

Union Caledonienne, Union Nationale pour l’independence Party (UNI), Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) and other nationalist groups in the New Caledonia Congress have written to the Minister for Overseas Territories expressing their grave concerns and requesting a postponement of this third and final referendum.

“We argue that the decision by France to go ahead with the referendum on 12 December ignores the impact that the current health crisis has on the ability of Kanaks to participate in the referendum and exercise their basic human right to self-determination.

“We understand the Noumea Accord provides a timeframe that could accommodate holding the last referendum at any time up to November, 2022. Therefore, we see no need to hastily set the final referendum for 12 December 2021, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic that is currently ravaging Kanaky/New Caledonia, and disproportionately impacting the Kanak population.

“We are concerned that the referendum on 12 December, 2021 will exacerbate the health crisis in the country. More concerning, is the worrying signs that it will put at further risk, the tenuous human rights situation and the security environment, created by France deploying over 2000 troops into Kanaky for the referendum,” said a statement from the Pacific civil society organisations.

The Noumea Accord of 1998 ended a deadly civil conflict between the mostly pro-independence Indigenous Kanak population and the descendants of European settlers. It set out a clear path for France to consult with the indigenous population on political independence in a series of three referendums, two of which have been held – the first in November 2018 and the second in October 2020.

“We believe that it is critical, for the Kanak people, that the final referendum on self-determination be conducted in the true spirit of the Noumea agreement and “under conditions that ensure transparency, fairness and legitimacy”.

“We also call on the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to disengage the Observer PIF delegation led by Ratu Inoke Kubuabola. The Pacific Islands Forum’s engagement in this upcoming referendum vote as observers ignores the concerns of the Kanak people. Rather the delegation should act as mediators to bring about a more just and peaceful resolution to the question and timing of a referendum.

There is no reason for France to hold this last referendum on Kanak independence in the middle of a State of Emergency and a pandemic,” said the statement.