Summary of the Treaty of Free Association


Overview of Treaty of Free Association

What is a Treaty?

A treaty is a contract which is governed by international law. A treaty is made in writing. A treaty is an agreement between states.

What is Free Association?

Imagine a spectrum between integration at one end and independence at the other end. Free association is a point somewhere in between. Free association usually means that a state manages its own laws and also has a special relationship with an independent state that will share its citizenship and provide economic assistance and defence.

Integration means that the territory will be merged in another state and be governed as any other district of that state.

Independence means that a state has complete authority over its affairs including citizenship.

What is the role of the Treaty of Free Association?

The Treaty of Free Association is an agreement with New Zealand that guarantees Tokelau for the future the same conditions as at present. A treaty with New Zealand would make the relationship formal and would have the support of the New Zealand Parliament. The treaty would give strength to the relationship thus giving Tokelau the advantage of security.

A treaty would make the current 3 year understanding on economic support a secure arrangement for the future. The treaty would give Tokelau greater protection against policy changes in New Zealand.

The treaty package reflects the present situation. Acceptance of the treaty package has the purpose of maintaining the present conditions with additional guarantees as to financial security and international affairs.

The treaty package makes clear in its words and supporting documents that Tokelau will remain associated with New Zealand. It will be associated with New Zealand in the Realm of New Zealand which includes the Cook Islands and Niue.

The treaty package is not for independence; there will therefore be no Tokelau citizenship. Tokelauans will continue to have New Zealand citizenship.

The treaty package requires Tokelau to take national responsibility. There will be no control from Wellington. Wellington will no longer have the power to make law for Tokelau or to control the Tokelau public service.

How will the rights of Tokelauans living overseas be affected by the treaty package?

The treaty package will have no affect on Tokelauans living overseas. Their rights are governed by the countries in which they live.

Tokelau immigration laws provide all Tokelauans with an unconditional right of entry whatever their citizenship.

Land rights in Tokelau, including those of Tokelauans living overseas, are unaffected by the self-determination process.

The Articles of the Treaty of Free Association


The Preamble records the history of the special relationship between New Zealand and Tokelau. It also recalls the principles of partnership and shared values for the continuous development of this relationship.

Relationship of Free Association - Article 1

The key features of the free association will be - partnership, cooperation, shared values, respect for human rights, and respect for the principles of the United Nations.

Culture and heritage - Article 2

New Zealand undertakes to protect Tokelau culture both in New Zealand and Tokelau.

Citizenship - Article 3

New Zealand citizenship will continue as at present.

Economic support and infrastructure development support - Article 4

The current system for economic and infrastructure development support is guaranteed for the future.

Administrative, technical and specialist support - Article 5

Tokelau will deliver services in Tokelau and can request New Zealand assistance for administrative, technical and specialist support.

Emergency and disaster relief - Article 6

New Zealand will assist Tokelau in coping with emergencies and natural disasters. It will also include Tokelau in its disaster relief and mitigation schemes in the Pacific.

Defence, security and maritime surveillance - Article 7

New Zealand will continue to be responsible for the defence and security of Tokelau.

New Zealand will also continue to assist Tokelau in maritime surveillance, fisheries protection, and search and rescue operations.

Tokelau International Trust Fund - Article 8

New Zealand will continue to support the Tokelau International Trust Fund and assist Tokelau to seek contributions for the Fund from states and international organisations.

It may be easier to obtain gifts for the Tokelau Trust Fund if Tokelau is no longer a colony of New Zealand.

New Zealand will continue to contribute to the Tokelau Trust Fund.

International relations - Article 9

Tokelau will conduct its own international relations and enter into treaties in its own right.

Tokelau would have greater freedom in establishing its own treaty relationships with countries in the region and would not require the assistance of New Zealand to make a treaty.

If Tokelau accepts the treaty package it will end its status as a colony and Tokelau will then be free to receive aid from foreign countries.

New Zealand will continue to assist Tokelau in the conduct of its international relations at Tokelau's request.

Consultation - Article 10

New Zealand and Tokelau will maintain close consultation.

There shall be regular meetings between New Zealand and Tokelau.

Change of status Article 11

Tokelau has the option to re-open discussions with New Zealand on the nature of the relationship if it wishes. Tokelau will be free at any time to be independent.

Supporting documents - Article 12

Supporting documents agreed from time to time between New Zealand and Tokelau provide details for implementation of the Treaty. The supporting documents can be amended at the ministerial level.

Entry into force - Article 13

The Treaty will come into force on the date that it is signed.


Referendum process

There is a Referendum Commission for organising a referendum and declaring the result.

There are Voting Officers for each voting place. They are well-trained and will look after each voting place and be responsible for the counting of the vote. They are not involved in any other aspect of the Referendum.

There is a national Register of Voters. This is based on the Register of 2005 and will include all persons newly qualified till July 2007. The Register of 2007 will be published on 1 August 2007 at TALO and the Taupulega Offices of each village.

Referendum voting


The right to vote belongs to the inhabitants of Tokelau. This right was established by the General Fono. The General Fono decision is consistent with international law. Under international law, the inhabitants of a colony exercise the right to self-determination because these are the people who will be impacted most by decolonisation.

Tokelau residents do not have a right to vote in New Zealand elections. New Zealand residents do not have a right to vote in Tokelau elections or in the self-determination referendum.

The Referendum Rules 2006 made by the General Fono establish a residency requirement for voter eligibility with some exceptions in favour of invalids, students, and public servants. From the date of a voter application a Tokelauan must have been resident in Tokelau for at least 3 consecutive months in the preceding 18 months, and a non-Tokelauan must have been permanently resident for not less than the preceding 5 years. Voter registration for the November Referendum closes on 2 July 2007.

Voting day

Anybody on the voter register may vote on the voting day.

The vote is written, individual and secret. The system makes it impossible to know how an individual or a village voted. The integrity of the referendum system is monitored by the United Nations.

The voters have only one proposal to consider. No alternative is presented. Voters will accept or reject the treaty package. A rejection does not mean acceptance of some other system for the future. A rejection does not mean support for the present situation, for integration, or for anything else. It is simply a rejection of this particular package.

The vote is a national vote. The votes in the 3 villages, in Apia and from residents abroad will be counted together in one place at the same time. In 2006 the result of the vote was declared within 1 hour of the close of voting.

Referendum result = acceptance

If at least 67% of the people vote for the treaty package, self-determination will be effective from a time to be agreed by the governments of Tokelau and New Zealand.

After a 'yes' vote Tokelau would need time to organise itself for the new system.

After a 'yes' vote New Zealand would need at least several months in which to pass the laws necessary to recognise the Tokelau vote and for Parliament to approve the Treaty for signing.

For both governments there are times in the political cycle when it is easier to get things done than at other times.

Tokelau also often has to take account of seasonal and transport factors.

The New Zealand Government has accepted the treaty package. It is usual government practice for successive governments to honour the undertaking made by their predecessors.

The Administrator of Tokelau is also Head of a Special Relations Unit. This is the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs Unit that deals with Tokelau and Niue. After Tokelau is decolonised, there will be no Administrator of Tokelau - just the Head of the Special Relations Unit for the New Zealand Government.

Referendum result = rejection

If the treaty package is not accepted, Tokelau will remain a colony.

New Zealand will control Tokelau government as it presently can through the New Zealand Parliament or the Governor-General.

Tokelau will not have self-determination until the people have voted in favour of a particular proposal.

Tokelau will have to vote again sometime in the future to decide its future status.

Tokelau will continue to have an Administrator.


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