French Polynesia and other Pacific Island Nations Join the Marshall Islands in the ICJ Case against Nuclear Weapon States

Polynesian independence party Tavini charges France with crimes against humanity

A translation of:
Jean-Pierre Viatge, «Nucléaire : le Tavini vise la France pour “crime contre l’humanité” » Tahiti Infos, 2016/02/29 (photo and video from other sources)

Papeete, Tahiti, February 29, 2016: The Polynesian independence party Tavini Huiraatira is submitting a complaint in international court against France for crimes against humanity. The complaint concerns the 193 nuclear bomb tests conducted on Moruroa and Fangataufa until 1996.

The Marshall Islands submitted complaints at The International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2014 against the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and China for flagrant violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was signed by these countries in 1968. India, North Korea, Israel and Pakistan are named as well, as they too are nuclear-armed states.

However, as it is explained by Moetai Brotherson, a power broker for Tavini Huiraatira, this procedure should be seen as a bare minimum of what should be done. In fact, the second stage of the plan is being prepared. It will take the form of a collective procedure to file a case of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Numerous complaints will be submitted before October 2016 and delivered collectively by Pacific island nations that were victimized by nuclear bomb tests. The complaint brought by the Marshall Islands is one of these.

The claims of Polynesians against France will, in this case, be one of these complaints brought by Pacific island nations. Moetai Brotherson and Richard Tuheiava are to be in New York on March 12, 2016 for a one-week mission at the United Nations where they will be lobbying intensively. They have scheduled fifteen meetings with member nations that already support the 2013 resolution for Polynesia to be re-listed as a non-autonomous territory on a path to decolonization. They plan to refine this “class action” resolution before moving forward with it.

memoriale deplacee

Independence parties fought unsuccessfully to keep the memorial of the nuclear tests in a prominent location. Photo: Gregory Boissy, AFP, Le Figaro 2014/07/03


The objective is to have the series of complaints submitted to the ICC as soon as possible so that the resolution adopted by the UN decolonization commission can enter it into the record next October.

As for the goal of these complaints of crimes against humanity, Moetai Brotherson says the facts speak for themselves: 46 atmospheric tests, out of 193 in total, conducted in the Pacific between 1966 and 1996. He says, “The classified status of the archives proves that the State has something to hide…” Speaking of the 1,000 applications for compensation for radiation-induced illnesses, submitted under the provisions of the Morin Law, he adds, “Today they admit some known deaths without mentioning all the deaths we know nothing of. We will show that the French State knew, before the tests, about the risks of contamination. This was not involuntary homicide…”

In New York, the calendar for the fourth commission in charge of decolonization consists of a preparatory meeting in June for the plenary session in mid-October. At that time the final draft of the resolution will be prepared for presentation before the General Assembly in December.

For Polynesian sovereigntists, the goal of such action in international arenas is to deliver a sort of “electroshock” to Paris, to make the French government take the issue seriously. Since May 17, 2013, the date when Polynesia was put on the UN list of countries to be decolonized, independence activists have denounced France’s “empty chair” policy at the UN headquarters in New York. A member of Tavini explains, “Now that we are re-listed, there should be a discussion among all the parties involved on the challenges of decolonization. The history of the nuclear tests is one of the legacies of colonialism, and education and the management of natural resources are other major issues.”

It is unclear whether the presence of Edouard Fritch* [current president of French Polynesia] will change the given situation at the UN next October. The president of French Polynesia confirmed for Tahiti Infos, on February 18th., that he wished to speak for supporters of Polynesian independence before the UN decolonization commission. In an exclusive interview, he affirmed, “For the time being, our privileged partner is the French State. Polynesians know very well that our problems won’t be solved in New York [at the UN].”

But for Oscar Temaru, president of Tavini Huiraatira, things are happening elsewhere now that the process at the UN has begun. He says, “It is the State that can’t admit it, that isn’t responding to this resolution which requires France to begin the process of decolonization.”

Researcher Bruno Barrillot discusses the Witnesses of the Bomb project. Click on CC for English or French captions.

When it comes to the nuclear legacy, the independence leader is categorical. Two weeks ago he explained, “We cannot find a solution with the State [France] because the State judges itself. An international tribunal must take it up. That’s why this case must be delivered… We have discussed this with the Marshall Islands. They had similar problems with the United States.” Last Tuesday he called on the representatives at Tarahoi [a term for the French Polynesian legislature] to work together to draft an indictment against the State to make it stand trial in an international tribunal.

This action at the ICC will begin to take form in a few days in New York, thanks to the support of several Pacific island states. It will nonetheless be a challenge. When French president Francois Hollande was in Tahiti recently [February 2016] he declared, “In the UN system, it is thus: A tiny state and a nation of a billion citizens are equal. Each has one vote.”

* Translator’s note: Continental France (referred to as le métropole) has a very centralized government structure. It is not a federation of states or provinces, but each former colony is now called a Collectivité d’outre-mer (overseas collectivity) which does have a status similar to states or provinces in a federation. Collectivities have a higher degree of autonomy than departments and regions within le métropole. French Polynesia has its own legislature and president, but citizens there are full French citizens with representation in the French national assembly and senate. National security and defense are still managed entirely by the Republic of France. The current president of Polynesia is not a sovereigntist. Independence parties and coalitions are large and influential, but out of power at present. Conservative leaders with affinities for France have tended to want to sweep the nuclear legacy aside, while those in favor of independence have fought for justice, compensation of victims and more education about Polynesian culture before and during colonization, and especially about the recent history of the nuclear bomb testing era.

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