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Sovereignty, self-determination and the South-West Pacific: A comparison of the status of Pacific Island territorial entities in international law

This paper compares the constitutional arrangements of various territorial entities in the South-West Pacific, leading to a discussion of those entities’ status in international law. In particular, it examines the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Norfolk Island, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and American Samoa – all of which are perceived as ‘Territories’ in the international community – as a way of critically examining the concept of ‘Statehood’ in international law. The study finds that many of these ‘Territories’ do not necessarily fit the classification that they have been given. In particular, most of the territorial entities listed above have significant competence to control their own domestic affairs. Some have also begun to develop their own international legal personality by virtue of de facto control over their own external affairs. The United Nations’ focus on ensuring self-determination also indicates that these territorial entities are likely to gain more autonomy as time goes on. As a result, this paper argues that some of the ‘Territories’ are not necessarily Territories at all; instead, they possess independent control over their own domestic and external affairs, and therefore act as de facto States on the global stage. However, many of these territorial entities still remain heavily associated with recognised sovereign States, with none of the included territorial entities possessing their own de jure Head of State or citizenship: both of which are arguably key foundations of an independent identity. Consequently, there are still questions over the extent to which the territorial entities can be considered sovereign, especially given that the relevant ‘administering States’ still seem to take economic responsibility for their territorial entities if they believe the situation warrants it. Given these points, this paper argues in favour of a reconceptualisation of the concept of Statehood. It argues that the rise of territorial entities which not only have independent control over their affairs, but which also have significant links to existing States, means that terms such as independence and sovereignty are not either/or concepts. Instead, these concepts should be seen as spectrums, giving rise to a broader definition of Statehood that does not restrictively define States as independent, sovereign entities, but that embraces the concept of ‘Freely Associated States’.
Type of thesis
Gillard, C. A. (2012). Sovereignty, self-determination and the South-West Pacific: A comparison of the status of Pacific Island territorial entities in international law (Thesis, Master of Laws (LLM)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/7589
University of Waikato
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