French President Emmanuel Macron delivering a speech in Noumea
French President Emmanuel Macron has delayed proposed voting reforms in the wake of the riots. Image by Ludovic Marin/AP PHOTO

No, French have not imposed martial law in New Caledonia

Kate Atkinson May 24, 2024

Martial law has been declared in New Caledonia.


False. Martial law has not been declared, but emergency powers have been granted.

Over a week since deadly protests broke out in New Caledonia, the unrest has spawned claims online that martial law has been imposed in the French-ruled territory.

This is false. The Pacific archipelago is under a state of emergency, but martial law is not in place.

The unrest was sparked by voting reforms that local groups fear will marginalise indigenous Kanaks and undermine the independence movement.

One of the incorrect Facebook posts
 Erroneous claims are spreading online amidst the unrest. 

“France declared martial law in New Caledonia,” a May 20 Facebook post states.

“The simple ‘state of emergency’ introduced in the nickel-rich region two days ago is not bringing the desired results. The troops are also unable to deal with the riots.”

Another claims: “Martial Law Declared in #NewCaledonia.

“Information from the island flows out very sparingly. Social networks and instant messengers are blocked on the island, and the entry of journalists is completely restricted now.”

Martial law generally refers to emergency powers that allow the military to take the place of the civilian government and rule over civilians.

A spokesman for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed to AAP FactCheck that martial law has not been declared in New Caledonia.

“This is either misinformation or a misunderstanding of the current situation,” he said. 

“On May 15th 2024, in accordance with the request of the President of the Republic, the French Prime Minister presented a decree to the Council of Ministers to declare a state of emergency in New Caledonia, in response to the serious breaches of public order.

“This measure gives the State greater powers to maintain law and order.”

The state of emergency gives authorities wider powers to search and arrest, seize weapons, restrict movement and impose house detention on people deemed a threat to public order.

Smoke rises during protests in Noumea,
 Violence has left several dead and dozens injured 

Social media app TikTok was also banned using these powers because authorities said it was being used by protesters.

The day prior to the state of emergency declaration, the French High Commission in New Caledonia announced a curfew and a ban on gatherings in the capital, Nouméa, as well as a nationwide ban on carrying weapons and alcohol sales.

A representative for the French embassy in Australia explained to AAP FactCheck the state of emergency strengthens only the powers of the civilian authorities, not the military.

France has deployed about 3,000 armed “gendarmes”, police and other security forces in New Caledonia since the protests began to assist local law enforcement.

The state of emergency lasts 12 days, after which its extension must be authorised by the French parliament.

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in New Caledonia on May 23 to meet political leaders.

After discussions, he said there was no “common vision” for the island’s future but announced the voting reforms which triggered protests will be delayed.

The Verdict

The claim that martial law has been declared in New Caledonia is false.

A state of emergency was announced on May 15 in response to violent protests against voting reforms. 

This gives authorities wider powers to search and arrest individuals, seize weapons, restrict movement and impose house detention, but is distinct from martial law. 

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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