United Nations General Assembly: Special Political and Decolonization Committee, 9th Plenary Meeting

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Statement delivered by Military Adviser, Capt (N) David Fairweather

Thank you, Chair.

On behalf of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Administrator of Tokelau, I say malo ni, warm greetings in the language of Tokelau, to you all. I have the honour to address you today on the Question of Tokelau.

Madame Chair, Aotearoa New Zealand is delighted to note that Tokelau continues to be free of COVID-19. Ensuring that this remains the case has been the key focus of our engagement with Tokelau in recent times.

While Tokelau’s remote geography has afforded it a measure of protection, the smallness of its atolls, its limited healthcare capacity, and the close-knit nature of its communities make it potentially highly vulnerable to the spread of the virus. Border settings and vaccinations remain its two main defences against COVID-19, and I am delighted to note that the vast majority of Tokelau’s eligible population is fully vaccinated.

This has been achieved through a combination of contactless delivery of Pfizer vaccines by the New Zealand Defence Force as well as commercial means; virtual training on the administering of the vaccines; and other remote planning and preparation support provided by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health. Tokelau has been safely enabled to run its own rollout programme using local clinical staff on each of the three atolls.

Unfortunately, Madam Chair, the story of COVID-19 for Tokelau will not simply end there. While Tokelau’s remote geography will continue to afford a good measure of protection, the smallness of its atolls, the close-knit nature of its communities, and its limited healthcare capacity still mean that it is highly vulnerable to the spread of the virus, should it ever arrive on Tokelau’s shores.

Appropriate border measures and ongoing vaccinations are therefore likely to remain twin features of life for Tokelau for the foreseeable future. At the same time, life does not and cannot stop altogether as a result of COVID-19, and Aotearoa New Zealand continues to work closely with Tokelau to deliver the necessities of life for its people. This includes supporting Tokelau to enable safe pathways back to the atolls for its residents that need to leave temporarily to seek specialist healthcare abroad.

The results so far speak for themselves, and stand as a strong testament to the unique partnership that exists between Aotearoa New Zealand and Tokelau, whereby Tokelau is empowered to deliver for itself on its key priorities, with timely and measured support from Aotearoa New Zealand.

It is fitting to note in this context the decision taken by Tokelau’s General Fono in late May 2022 to begin a new conversation on the broader long-standing question of self-determination for Tokelau, in the lead-up to the 100-year anniversary of New Zealand administration of Tokelau in February 2026.

Aotearoa New Zealand very much supports this decision by Tokelau. As noted in the Joint Statement of Principles of Partnership between New Zealand and Tokelau, self determination for Tokelau remains an important goal for both New Zealand and Tokelau; with both of us committing to working in partnership with the United Nations to achieve a self-determination outcome that fits the local Tokelauan context and has the support of the Tokelauan people.

Madame Chair, in addition, Aotearoa New Zealand remains very much focused on working with Tokelau to improve the delivery of public services and build critical infrastructure on the atolls. Despite the operational constraints posed by COVID-19, a new international submarine cable and inter-atoll connection has been landed in Tokelau in recent months, with work now ongoing to secure connections on the atolls themselves. This is a major first for Tokelau, which will bring increased capacity and opportunity across a range of fronts, including education, health, self-governance, and international connectivity.

Fisheries are Tokelau’s only significant source of independent revenue and have a critical role in contributing to Tokelau’s aspirations for greater self-determination. Aotearoa New Zealand continues to work in partnership with Tokelau to ensure that the fisheries within the Tokelau economic exclusive zone remain sustainably managed.

Aotearoa New Zealand is also committed to supporting Tokelau to modernise its body of law to ensure it reflects international norms, and is currently engaging with Tokelau’s leaders in a positive dialogue on improving Tokelau’s legal, judicial and police services.

In sum, the challenges posed by COVID-19 have only strengthened Aotearoa New Zealand’s resolve to support Tokelau in its efforts to strengthen its capacity for self-governance and self-determination.

We welcome the ongoing interest of the Fourth Committee, and commit to continuing to provide timely and accurate information to assist it and the wider UN System.

Madam Chair, I conclude New Zealand’s statement by thanking you for the opportunity to address you today, in the languages of New Zealand Te Reo Maori and in Tokelauan, namely tēnā tātou and fakafetai.

I thank you.


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