Dec 12, 2019 Last Updated 2:30 PM, Dec 11, 2019

Next year the global women’s and feminist movement will commemorate Beijing+25 – the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) by 189 UN Member States.

The Beijing Platform for Action includes women and armed as conflict as one of 12 critical areas of concern. It reaffirmed the historical role of women peacebuilders and women as powerful drivers of peace movements, and unequivocally stated that peace is inextricably linked to equality between men and women, and to development. The BPfA listed essential measures to advance peace and equality, including reductions in military spending and controls on the availability of armaments.  It affirmed women needed ”to be at the table” to participate in decision-making around conflict resolution and stressed that those who have fled conflict are entitled to fully participate in all aspects of programmes to help them recover and rebuild their lives. The Beijing Platform for Action also specifically addresses the struggle of women living in colonies and non-self-governing territories by calling on member states and civil society to support and promote the implementation of the right of self-determination of all peoples by providing special programmes in leadership and in training for decision-making.

No more commitments

This month the people of Bougainville will vote in a referendum on independence under the terms of the Bougainville Peace Agreement.

“Women have been sustaining the peace” says Agnes Titus from the Nissan Islands of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. She and other women walked into the jungles and brokered peace with armed combatants, bringing an end to a 10-year armed conflict. For more than 30 years, Agnes, and women leaders like her—mothers of the Bougainville Women’s Movement and leaders of theWomen’s Human Rights Defenders Network in whose name peace was brokered, weapons collected and political agreements adopted— have been sustaining peace, providing recommendations for a sustainable approach to development, and a shift from ‘from gender based violence to gender justice.’

“A referendum about the political future is the ultimate realisation of our human rights to choose our political status” says Titus who is a gender expert with the GPPAC Pacific network. That network has established the Shifting the Power Coalition—forged by diverse Pacific women and women’s organisations from Fiji, Papua New Guinea including Bougainville, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Australia, and the Pacific Disability Forum—which is demonstrating the power and potential of our collective leadership to achieve peaceful and gender-equal societies.

 The coalition reflects recommendations that birthed the Pacific Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security – which reaffirmed that the protection of women’s rights is central to all humanitarian efforts, must be integrated into early warning, response, recovery and resilience building, and that women’s rights organisations must drive community-based responses. The high level adoption of the regional plan by Pacific Forum  Leaders in 2011, was a major achievement for Pacific women peacebuilders.

The network has also been instrumental in ensuring our leaders understand and respond to climate change as a security issue, and the need for our governments and the  United Nations to bring about a gender inclusive shift from reaction to prevention when meeting this challenge.

Fiji’s recent statement at the recent UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) highlighted the region’s recognition of climate change as the single greatest threat faced by our people and countries. Loss of land, even whole islands, increased hunger, more frequent droughts and persistent damage to infrastructure have an intense potential to fuel instability and conflict. The  WPS framework will, increasingly need to be a climate crisis-informed one.

But while we welcome the recognition of the climate change crisis within recent UN security council and Pacific Forum meetings, we must ensure that this is about enhancing and ensuring the security of our most affected communities. It requires alignment of the Pacific Resilience Framework and the 2018 Boe 

Declaration to enhancing the peace, development, humanitarian and human security nexus from an inclusive conflict-prevention approach that considers the root causes of violence and conflict.

It requires a new multi-actor consultative framework for regional peace and security that supports community representatives who can localise and operationalise women, youth and civil society peacebuilding, prevention and participation frameworks. We do not just need be consulted, but supported to enhance our infrastructures for peace and security at local and national level.

Global Challenges

The UN Secretary General’s 2019 report on Women, Peace and Security is a clear reminder that since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) in 1995 and the adoption of 10 security council resolutions dedicated to the women, peace and security agenda, there are record levels of political violence targeting women were demonstrated in new data published in May 2019.

Over 50 parties to conflict are credibly suspected of having committed or instigated patterns of rape and other forms of sexual violence in situations on the agenda of the Security Council and at least 1 in 5 refugee or displaced women experience sexual violence and 9 out of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in fragile contexts. In 2019 alone, nearly 132 million people need humanitarian aid and protection, including an estimated 35 million women, young women and girls who require lifesaving sexual and reproductive health services, and interventions to prevent gender-based violence and respond to the needs of survivors. Findings by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders show that the rise of misogynistic, sexist and homophobic speech by political leaders in recent years has contributed to increased violence against women, against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex individuals, and against women human rights defenders. The Pacific is not immune to these issues.

Time to redesign the table

Serious consideration must be given to shifting the power to national and local women’s rights actors, to strengthen agency, amplify voice, build on collaborative opportunities including women-led coalitions and feminist practices. We must support local innovation.

Committing to these two principles will enable a shift from funding of crisis-reaction financing to gender-responsive peacebuilding and preventative action. This will also enable women’s leadership across the peace cycle, from the immediate response and assessment through to recovery measures. 

Participation requires greater accountability to human rights treaty commitments including the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) when national action plans are being developed. It also means financing and applying special measures to operationalise the WPS and human rights agenda

It must pave the way for better protection for women’s peace activists and prevention of all forms of violence. There must be sustained resourcing for inclusive and innovative peacebuilding practice and leadership, including the wider civil society and social movements including traditional systems and faith communities.

Instead of military spending and militarised solutions, there must be resources so young women can design peaceful and secure futures alongside other generations. 2020 is an opportunity to strengthen the way we plan and respond to peace and security issues, by ensuring women can lead, and so ensure the needs of our most vulnerable communities are being met.


Sharon Bhagwan Rolls is the Chairperson, Gender Liaison and Pacific regional representative of GPPAC – the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict. She is the Technical Adviser of the Shifting the Power

THE following opinion piece by Fiji solicitor, Filimoni Vosarogo is a response to the reported detention and questioning of a 16-year-old boy for allegedly writing vulgar language on the back of a bus, which was aimed at Fiji’s Prime Minister. The boy was reportedly taken in through a ‘citizen’s arrest’ enacted by two Fiji Military Forces soldiers.

THE case of a 16-year-old being shuffled off into a vehicle by unknown men despite the protest of his aunt is an act of ‘thuggery.’ No one should be allowed to act with such impunity and not be answerable for it, servants of the law or not. For a few days, we waited for details of the so-called arrest and or investigation into the bus dirt writing. People called for an investigation and update. Then as surely as water down a creek, it all seems to arrive to the sea of public knowledge. Fiji’s Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination (HRADC) Director said he communicated with the Police Commissioner and was told they are investigating. What they are saying really is – hold off, we are doing our job! HRADC Director then reminds the public to understand such process, as we should all try to avoid trial by media. That, I understand! (for now, I will come back to you Mr Director in a while in the case of Bulitavu).

Within days, the Police Commissioner (COMPOL) comes out publicly, in the media and issues a press release, even praising the ‘off duty military officers’ who responded to what we are made to assume was a call of duty to investigate a young offender (defined in Section 2 of the Juvenile Act 1973 as a person between 14 – 18 years) for alleged offences. We are not informed to date, what they are! So, if they were officially required for a statutory duty, why was there a reference to private or citizen’s arrest in the press release. From the release, it looks as if the men were conducting a ‘citizen’s arrest’! Surely, the COMPOL hadn’t been advised properly or that the drafters think, well, if we give the public such big words and sections of the law and God forbid, the Constitution, no one would question it. Well, not this time! Let me unpack these reasonings to see if the skeleton argument could stand.

For a citizen’s arrest to be lawfully made, the offence has to be committed in the presence of the person effecting the arrest. So, there is the procedural and evidentiary requirement of contemporaneity of the suspected crime or crimes and the arrest, not days later. Secondly, one can only effect citizen arrest for an indictable offence.

Let me put this at rest now. No possible offence under the Public Order Act 1969 nor any under the Crimes Act 2009 that could possibly be charged for the bus dirt writing is indictable – period! If the press release drafters are referring to the same Section 22 of the CPA 2009 I know, someone slept through that criminal law class, not me! (I’d have to admit, I had my fair share of sleeps in criminal law and procedure, they tend to get boring by the hour). All in all, it was a mish mash of reasoning, singularly could be capable of belief if packaged right but collectively, designed to pull wool over people’s eyes. 

Back to the 16-year-old. No parent or guardian should ever have to face this type of impunity again at the hands or force of State officers, authorised or not. Too much power in the hands of a few always result in tyranny. These men who by force effected the arrest with such arrogance of the law, may not know of the historical and horrendous era of decades of tyrannical powers in the earth’s vast continents in the past and their damage, but historians and legislators alike from nations who have risen from such times have called and treasured from their experience, ‘human beings must always be jealous and guard their liberty at all cost.’ They are too costly to lose! 

That is why the bill of rights in our constitution, by virtue of it being a negative document, is never to be read as the government giving us freedoms. It is not! It is the people, through the constitution-making process, giving the government a set of enumerated powers, we all agree to as limitation to our inalienable rights and freedoms. It is upon those limitations, and only on those limitations, can the government act on limiting it.

There was no reason on earth, why the police themselves didn’t make the arrest, if there was reasonable cause to suspect an offence was committed. When it comes to young offenders, policing takes on a different shade altogether. Parents or guardians are required by law to be present.

The safeguards of Section 13 of the Constitution must be applied, if he was indeed, lawfully arrested. The Social Welfare Director becomes involved in certain cases as guardian ad litem. These are matters that these macho men know no ounce about in effecting their own brand of arrest. That is why there is a specific Juvenile Bureau in the Police Force, they know of procedure and of how to deal with them. The Police was better equipped to deal with the issue and for want of reason, how they were not involved in the investigation baffles me. 

Now to the Constitutional powers of the Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) having overall security of the nation responsibility and the rest of it. Yes, I have read Section 129 and 131 of the Constitution, dealing with the powers of the COMPOL and Commander RFMF (CRMF) respectively. No, I don’t agree with the drafted press release on the application of Section 131 – CRFMF powers. 

The press release appears to suggest that for a single suspected breach of the law by a young offender (and only suspected), the power of the Commander had to be activated, as if the thousands of police officers, were incompetent to handle it. To ensure that security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all Fijians is by construction, a law designed to give the Commander the power to ensure that at no time or hour, borders, zones or homes are endangered by external elements and or invading forces.

The section doesn’t mean what the press release drafters think it meant. The section is a protection law designed against external invasion, to say it in modern warfare terms. Internal domestic policing of crimes or any other law where the result of which is, an interrogative process designed to go to the courts, is governed by the Police Act 1965 and the CPA 2009 and that is squarely, the police’s responsibility. The law is never designed to bring confusion. COMPOL is policing. CRFMF is defence of nation. This applies to their respective employs. The law always maintain connection to common sense to remain humane and it is hoped, we have all come down to that common understanding on the application of Section 129 and 131 of the two most important roles of COMPOL and CRFMF. 

I mentioned to start with that I wondered what offence or offences has been committed here. At best, against what law? The drafted press release makes reference to the Public Order Act 1969 (supposedly, because it is the Act that gives allowance, not direct powers to act but only if certain pre-conditions been met, for military officers can arrest people - none of which was met in this story). You all know there isn’t any breach there!

Has the young offender taken an unlawful oath? Control of arms and ammunition? Meeting or procession breaches? Terrorism offences? Disturbance, malicious acts, incitement to violence or inciting racial antagonism? I have just laid out the general spectrum of public order offences and clearly, bus-dirt writing isn’t any of the above. So, there was no justification on those military officers acting parochially and with egotism to arrest a young offender, barely two years after, graduating as a child by law.

The boy, if indeed, he was the offender, needs to show respect. No one, including any in his family would want their names on a back of a bus like that. He hasn’t committed the summary offence of damaging property (the closest to what he may have done which is graffiti) but he may have annoyed a person. That, if indeed proved is a summary offence, the young offender must apologise for it and the parents or guardians must make such undertaking to ensure that they would teach him patterns of citizenry of which his family may be known for.

I write this as a parent to three teenage boys. To hear that able-bodied men come to your house and act as if they are not accountable to anyone, show force and threatening by their presence and remove without your knowledge and consent one of your sons should never be tolerated in our society. 

One wonders what motive theycarried. Don’t they realise that parents these days fear the repetition of soldiers taking a young person away, who later dies of internal head injuries from the punishment inflicted on him? It is sickening that it continues to be done with impunity. You should be ashamed of your actions. You should go and apologise to the young boy’s family. You should – if you are a father yourselves or becoming one! 

As for you Mr Raj, double standard. You encourage restraint in this case to remove any possibility of trial by media but in the Bulitavu case, you were in the media well before the police even acted and began investigating, culminating in the interview. You like the ‘officers’ I can only whisper the famous Lord Denning casting line ‘Be you never so high the law is above you.’


JULIAN Agnon of Blue Ocean Law recently penned ‘Enduring Colonization: How France’s Ongoing Control of French Polynesian Resources Violates the International Law of Self-Determination.’ The paper however is silent on the other French territories of New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna. For New Caledonia, its route to independence is mapped out under the Noumea Accord and the laws impacting its resources may vary from those of French Polynesia. Wallis and Futuna has no equivalent accord. But all are listed under Part Four of the Treaty establishing the European Community as France’s overseas territories.

Such a claim of violation by France is likely to hit a raw nerve in the psyche of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) members, particularly of Forum Island Countries (FICs) that are actively galvanising for French decolonisation at the United Nations. The legal verification of the violation, tendered by Agnon, will add fuel to the decolonisation process in the Pacific.

PIF, in the first place, has to manage the situation presented here. At first, when French Polynesia and New Caledonia became PIF members, by way of a consensus resolution which was subsequently acknowledged as being political, it was envisaged by some that this might undermine decolonisation efforts in the Pacific. This was concluded because once those two French territories were let into the PIF, it would lead to increased presence of metropolitan France in regional affairs of the Forum and the dynamics of regional decisions could change to accommodate the French voice.

However, the concern generated by the Agnon paper is fundamental to the whole question on the decolonisation process and is likely to raise strategic complications on how PIF members should accommodate this French voice. How can FICs, for example, persist at the UN to push for decolonisation when the prospects of increased French influence as a development partner, are increasingly being programmed into regional activities? How can they support Pacific churches who have recently raised their call for decolonisation of French Polynesia in particular?

As can be expected, the clash between bilateral and regional considerations will, inevitably, come into play. Geopolitics will intrude. How can PIF members, especially PICs, reconcile these considerations? There are those, supposedly, that can compartmentalise these considerations and make judicious regional decisions. It may not be easy. But it is doable.

However there are those who will find it difficult. Australia, for instance, had sought French engagement in the Indo-Pacific geostrategic framework and continued to do so, as reported by The Australian last June. Australia, therefore, may not rock the French boat. New Zealand is likely to do the same given it had indicated its acquiescence to Australia when both had consulted prior to the imposition of Indo-Pacific.

Papua New Guinea can be capricious. When its former Prime Minister had a state visit to Paris in 2016, he was reported to have said that he “would like to see PNG become a significant hub for France in the Pacific.” That bilateral sentiment that frames national issues can get in the way of decisions to grow and unite Pacific regionalism under its current Framework (The Framework for Pacific Regionalism).

Vanuatu, on the other hand, can be a fence-sitter on regional issues and decisions aimed at circumscribing French engagement in Pacific regionalism. Ni-Vanuatu are beneficiaries of a new French initiative to travel visa-free to New Caledonia. Furthermore, considering the country’s condominium history involving France and Great Britain and the remnants of the colonial shared power structure on ni-Vanuatu and their culture, it can be envisaged that their balancing act of fence sitting can topple on the side of the metropolitan player that happens to be the flavour of the month. This can be favourable or unfavourable depending on the issue being discussed.

In retrospect, however, such undermining of Pacific regionalism is not new. The sapping of PIF’s foundation through the preponderance of national and bilateral sentiments

over regional ones has frustrated PIF for years since its inception. A careful and systematic political and economic analysis of PIF, under various popularly-used analytical lens including, for instance, ‘Actors, political elites, agency and incentives’, will verify this.

That is one question, albeit a critical one, that the Forum and its Secretariat, PIFS, will have to address. There are others, equally vexatious.

French decolonisation, by virtue of its particularity in the context of Pacific regionalism, is considered a bilateral issue – that between PIF members on one side and France, on the other. The subject matter may not be relevant for the collective Forum Dialogues partners. PIF/PIFS may need to programme a specific bilateral, or a series of bilaterals with France, to raise the matter. In the same way PIF/PIFS needs a special bilateral with Indonesia to raise the issue of West Papua.

The French voice in regional matters has become more vocal since the membership of French Polynesia and New Caledonia in 2016. There have been reports of French insistence to be heard in matters relating to the authority and management of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of those two PIF members. The Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) is grappling with this matter when it comes to related regional fisheries management.

Furthermore, the use of the French language in regional meetings apart from those of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) has been raised. It appears that this comes across with a carrot on a stick. It is reported that the new PIF members would even pay for the introduction of the language and for all the concomitant facilities this requires. The offer of payment however has attracted unsolicited speculation: that this would
amount to resources being directly disbursed from the treasury of the metropolitan.

When all is considered, the French language is already a language of the Pacific, and of Pacific regionalism. SPC is a member of the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP), chaired by the PIFS Secretary General and it uses French as one of its two working languages. It can be envisaged therefore that inclusion of the French language to all other PIF meetings is possible but complex and costly in terms of staffing, equipment and logistics.

However, linguistics aside, in the context of still-raw French colonial and post-colonial sentiments, this appears like a red rag to a bull. It is debated in some circles that if French is added as a lingua franca, why not any of the national languages of the Pacific Island Countries? Or why not one of the existing patois?

Another vexatious question confronting PIF/PIFS is how to manage logistically the negotiations for a post-Cotonou agreement. The Pacific ACP (PACP) States have started their negotiations with the EU on a Pacific-EU Protocol. Neither French Polynesia nor New Caledonia is included in PACP States that negotiate directly with the EU despite their PIF membership. They cannot therefore sit with PACP States during the negotiations.
They do however sit as members of PIF and could have access to sensitive information about the negotiations. Management of such information by PIF and also by the Forum Secretariat staff plays a critical role here.

To date, French territories have always had their separate provisions under various ACP-EU agreements since Lome 1. How will French Polynesia and New Caledonia be treated now that they are members of PIF?

The author is a former Fijian ambassador and Foreign Minister and runs his own consultancy company in Suva, Fiji.

PHAMA Plus was launched in Suva on 11 April 2019 although it has been operating since 1 November 2018. The ‘Plus’ tag signifies that it is a follow-up to the original PHAMA, which is the acronym for Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access. This multi-country Aid for Trade (AfT) programme is funded by Australia and New Zealand. Like all AfT funding, it is aimed at helping developing countries, in particular Least Developed
Countries, to build trade capacity and the infrastructure they need to benefit from trade.

AfT is an initiative of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It was launched in 2005 at the WTO Conference in Hong Kong. Its taskforce was established the year after in 2006, and 2007 saw its first stage of implementation. The following year indicators were formulated to help with its monitoring. The 2015 WTO Conference in Nairobi further boosted its recognition and importance. Annual monitoring of AfT since 2009 had been conducted to achieve specific developmental outcomes. For example for 2009, the theme was ‘maintaining momentum’ and for 2010 it was ‘showing results.’

The original PHAMA started in 2011. Initially, an AusAIDfunded initiative, NZAID joined later. The initiative focused on five Pacific island countries (PICs): Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. At the time, only Fiji, Solomon Islands and Tonga were WTO contracting parties. Samoa and Vanuatu became contracting parties in 2012. Papua New Guinea became a beneficiary of the initiative later, and had been a WTO contracting party since 1996.

The original PHARMA facility ran for seven years to 2018. It’s goal “was to increase exports of fresh and value-added agricultural products, contributing to economic growth and improved rural livelihoods. There were three main expected outcomes: (i) increased export volumes, (ii) better farmgate prices, and (iii) protection of existing export markets.” The new PHAMA Plus Program provides a ‘Country Strategy Note’ (CSN) for each beneficiary countries, in which evaluations of the outcomes, and more, are discussed in detail.

In retrospect, each of these PICs has reasons to be positive about the results of PHAMA. In Vanuatu, the last of the PICs above to become a WTO contracting party, PHAMA’s main contributions were in kava, beef, cocoa, sandalwood, handicrafts, beekeeping and food safety.

Vanuatu’s CSN has this to say on ‘food safety’: “PHAMA provided support for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) accreditation of three businesses and a HACCP Train-the-Trainer course to build industry and government capacity.” HACCP is a systematic preventive approach to food safety from biological, chemical and physical hazards in production processes that can cause the finished product to be unsafe and designs measures to reduce these risks to a safe level.

PHAMA Plus extends its facilities to the six original beneficiaries of PHAMA as well as to the small island states of the Forum on ratifying the PACER Plus trade agreement.

PHAMA Plus is an A$36million investment spanning four years (2018-2022). It has three end-of-program outcomes: (i) producers and exporters use maintained and new export market access for Pacific export products; (ii) women and men exporters, processors and producers adopt quality and productivity enhancing innovations for their export products, and (iii) women and men staff of Pacific biosecurity authorities perform their market
access facilitation functions better.

For Vanuatu, PHAMA Plus continues the momentum of PHAMA. Eleven sectors were proposed for coverage – from agriculture, livestock, fisheries, forestry and handicrafts. However, for more effective management and approach, these sectors are being grouped into four categories.

Such commitment by Australia and New Zealand, two developed WTO contracting parties, is notable for three reasons. Firstly, Fiji and PNG, despite pulling out from PACER Plus, remain as beneficiaries under PHAMA Plus. Their continued involvement could be justified on the basis of their previous benefit under PHAMA, and because there is still more to be done. Furthermore, they are important trading partners for Australia, New Zealand and the region, under inter-Pacific island countries trade. Under Pacific regionalism and Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) sub-regionalism, for example, the contribution by these two PICs to economic integration would be immense. Inter-Pacific island countries trade in the region is currently conducted under the Pacific Islands Trade Agreement (PICTA). For the sub-region it is conducted under the MSG Trade Agreement (MSGTA).

An additional justification is that both Fiji and PNG are WTO contracting parties, like Australia and New Zealand, albeit developing contracting parties. As developed contracting partners, Australia and New Zealand would have drawn on their commitment to helping developing WTO contracting parties from the relevant provisions and spirit of GATT 1947 – the principal WTO guide for the negotiations of Free Trade Agreements (FTA) - especially Article XXIV (Territorial Application – Frontier Traffic – Customs Unions and Free-trade Areas, Article XXV (Joint Action by the Contracting Parties), Part IV: Trade and Development – Article XXXVI (Principles and Objectives), Article XXXVII (Commitments), and Article XXXVIII (Joint Action).

The second reason why Australia and New Zealand’s commitment under PHAMA Plus is of note is that both have agreed to extend this facility to non-WTO contracting parties in general – to small island states, when they ratify PACER Plus. This includes eight Pacific island countries that participated in the PACER Plus negotiations: Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu. Of these, five have signed PACER Plus and are working towards ratification.

The situation that has evolved is not an afterthought. Australia and New Zealand agreed during the PACER Plus negotiations that they would commit resources for AfT. They would have been driven by their sense of commitment - explicit and implicit, in the GATT articles above. Furthermore, they would have been driven by their commitment to Pacific regionalism, especially regional economic integration as they had done over the years through trade and economic instruments like the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (SPARTECA) (1981), Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) (2003) and PACER Plus (2017).

During the PACER Plus negotiations, Australia pledged an AfT funding target for the Pacific of 20% of Pacific Official Development Assistance (ODA). New Zealand pledged a similar percentage of its total ODA.

The third and final reason why Australia and New Zealand’s commitment is of note is the interactions of different initiatives at play here. An original bilateral initiative by AusAID, in response to its multilateral commitment, became extended bilateral aid with NZAID in the greater interest of Pacific regionalism. The combined facility proved effective and is now extended. It has become a specific tool for multilateralism, from whence it came, and with which Australia and New Zealand can aspire to assist even those countries that are not members of that multilateral body.

United States of the Pacific

  • Dec 13, 2019
  • Published in June

THE derivation of the ‘United States of the Pacific’, (USoP), an optional conceptual supra-state construct for the 48-year old Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is reminiscent of the Lae Rebellion of 1965. The rebellion marked the break-away by five Pacific Island Countries (PICs) from the South Pacific Commission (SPC, now rebranded as the Secretariat of the Pacific Community) and the creation of the South Pacific Forum in 1971. The brief for the new regional structure is the now-familiar lament of PIC leaders for greater commitment to addressing climate change. The USoP may evoke grandiosity. But as a prospective regional architectural structure, it is not unprecedented; and its time may have come.

It is a rebellion of sorts. Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga is not a happy camper. He takes serious exception to the suggestion by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that Pacific islanders of Tuvalu, Kiribati and Nauru swap Australian citizenship for maritime resources owned by them. Rudd reckons that this would be a long-term solution, in any case, for the three PICs that are likely to go under with rising sea levels.

Since such a suggestion requires these PICs to surrender their respective sovereignty through involuntary constitutional changes, Sopoaga castigates the suggestion as being neo-colonialist and ‘imperial thinking.’ In Sopoaga’s mind, this suggestion is a ‘red herring’ that does not even pretend to solve the problem at hand.

Furthermore, the ire of the good PM is heightened after he notes that such a demeaning suggestion is coming from Australia after the signing of the Boe Declaration in 2018 by PIF Leaders in which climate change is reaffirmed as the “the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific and our commitment to progress the implementation of the Paris Agreement.”

Sopoaga’s resentment is particularly piqued by the fact that Australia had “exported $66 billion in coal last year, making it (its) most valuable traded commodity.” This is not in the true spirit of the Boe Declaration, he feels. ABC reported his statement: “The more (Australia fails to be) serious about cutting coal and exporting this for money, the more problematic the issue of global warning and the more we have to adapt.”

It was in this context when Sopoaga proposed: “the establishment of a Pacific supra-state, along the lines of the European Union (EU), that is based on cooperation and integration, perhaps into some form of United States of the Pacific.” This supra-state will comprise ‘small Pacific Island nations’ and its raison d’être is “to amplify their concerns about climate change on the global stage.”

Reflecting the Lae Rebellion, Sopoaga’s strategic move is to break from the configuration that constitutes the PIF currently to that of the USoP.

The specific architecture of the USoP is a matter of conjecture. It is clear however that it would be a forum of only PICs. What is unclear is whether it is intended as a form of regionalism or federalism or some other variants of the latter.

However, the references to the new entity being ‘based on cooperation and integration’ and exhibiting aspects of the EU, are hints strongly suggesting regionalism and not federalism or any of its variants.

It can be taken therefore that USoP would be an only-PICs/PSIDS forum. This is reminiscent of course of the 1971 SPF that started off as a two-caucus configuration – one for the five PICs and the other for Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). That configuration was determined after the five PICs opted to include ANZ in their new break-away forum. But the two-caucus approach became a single caucus approach in 1972. Australia, interestingly, was the force behind the merger of the two caucuses.

That was then. The direction the current altercation is taking appears to be single-mindedly on formation of a PICs/PSIDSonly forum. And that is essentially on basis of its intended raison d’être. Climate change, caused by global warming, is an existential threat for PICs. Sopoaga’s castigation of Australia’s undermining of the Boe Declaration, but specifically on its coal policy, echoes the concerns of other PICs Leaders. Sopoaga leads from the forefront because of the existentiality of the threat on his low-lying atoll country. Tuvalu is one of the three atoll states in the Pacific seriously impacted by rising sea levels. And on a global level, one of the four.

Questions of a USoP’s rationality and justification are valid considerations. But this has to be viewed from the perspective of existentiality of the threat. In such context, any strategy that promises relief and an escape from a certain devastation, is a strategy worth considering. There is nothing untoward about this. Humans are hard-wired to always seek preservation and self-improvements; and conservation is very much a part of that. Any physicist or futurist will tell you that.

Consideration of sustainability comes next. How can a USoP be made sustainable? How can USoP be effectively resourced? This is an obvious challenge for the PICs/PSIDs. The solution must lie in the collective’s imagination. It is therefore the collective’s responsibility to elevate its imagination to unprecedented heights to seek relevant solutions. If global powers are queuing up to be counted in the Pacific, the largest ocean on Planet Earth, if they are always seeking PSIDS’ support at the UN to get the numbers that secure mandatory majority of backers, then USoP should not be lacking prospective offers of assistance.

From the perspective of good governance and strategic autonomy, USoP has to be sustainably and innovatively funded. This is its quid pro quo.

If, for historical sentimentality and/or propriety, the linkage with ANZ is to be preserved, then this too can be addressed. Possible solutions are within our grasp. Clearly, however, any solution must preserve the PICs/PSIDS-only forum configuration. The idea of a two-caucus approach was tried in 1971, each caucus having its own meeting and then coming together for a joint meeting, then adopting a joint communique as a result.

This two-caucus approach worked recently during the negotiations on PACER Plus. PICs negotiators planned out their trade strategy separately and then they negotiated with their counterparts from Australia and New Zealand.

If the preference is for a more formalised configuration, then we can learn from that existing relationship between the EU and the Pacific members of the African Caribbean and Pacific Group of states (PACPs). PACPs are members of the ACP Group. But under the existing Cotonou Agreement, EU has a direct structural link with the PACPs. The EU has its regional indicative programme with PIF/PIFS and national indicative programmes
with individual PACPs.

In my chapter: ‘Towards a New Regional Diplomacy Architecture’, published in ‘The New Pacific Diplomacy’, edited by Greg Fry and Sandra Tarte, 2015, ANU Press, I provided an architectural configuration that captures such a relationship with Australia and New Zealand. The same configuration can be expanded to link with other global powers wanting to partner with PICs/PSIDS.

Sopoaga’s USoP emerged from the concern about the existentiality of global warming/climate change in PICs and how best this can be addressed by them. It may have come about from disillusionment with PIF member Australia. It does demonstrate however the strength of feeling when an existential threat does not receive the commitment it deserves.

The author is a former Fijian ambassador and Foreign Minister and runs his own consultancy company in Suva, Fiji.

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