VANUATU HONORS LOPETI SENITULI

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SECRETARIAT of the  PACIFIC ISLANDS ASSOCIATION OF NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (PIANGO)

Port Vila, Vanuatu Tel: (678) 25607 Fax: (678) 25609 E-mail: piango@vanuatu.com.vu

PRESS STATEMENT March 17, 2000

FOR CONTRIBUTIONS TO A
NUCLEAR FREE AND INDEPENDENT PACIFIC

Mr. Lopeti Senituli, prominent leader in the Pacific and spokesperson for the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP) was recently honored by Vanuatu when he was awarded a First Class Medal of Vanuatu for his contributions to the welfare of the nation of Vanuatu and to humanity at large in the campaign for the nuclear free and independent Pacific movement. This honor, which was bestowed by His Excellency Father John Bani, President of the Republic of Vanuatu, was witnessed in a ceremony hosted by PIANGO (Pacific Islands Association of Non Government Organizations) and attended by representatives of the government, heads of regional and national NGOs, relatives and friends.

Born in Tonga and brought up in Fiji, Mr. Senituli has been, for the past 12 years, the Director for the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre and the strength behind the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP) movement. Mr. Lopeti is widely respected both regionally and internationally for his commitment and dedication for promoting the vision that the peoples of the Pacific cannot be nuclear free until they are independent and are sovereign states in their own rights. In June 1999 the United Nations, in recognizing the work carried out by the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement, was awarded consultative status at ECOSOC making NFIP the first NGO in the Pacific to receive such recognition.

In a moving acceptance speech Mr. Senituli said that Vanuatu had honored the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement and it was a privilege to receive the honor on behalf of the movement. He said that: "In times in need of inspiration to continue the struggle, I bring up this snapshot which is actual footage shot by the U.S. army on Bikini in March 1946, roughly six months after the U.S. dropped bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"The scene is on the beach of Bikini. And all the people of Bikini, including the chief Hiroitch Juda, are seated on the ground as they awaited the arrival of the U.S. Commander who was responsible for the nuclear testing program in the Marshall Islands. And as he arrived on the Zodiac he was offered the traditional welcome by the people of Bikini. The Commander was seated on the chair while the Chief and his people were seated on the ground. And the Commander, speaking through an interpreter, said: "I have come from the fathers in Washington to inform you that we must remove you from the island so that we can test this new weapon which is designed to end all wars." At the end of his speech Hiroitch Juda, the Chief of the people of Bikini, spoke and said: ‘Please Commander. Please convey to the people, the great fathers in Washington, the love of the people of Bikini. And we pray that our sacrifice by giving up our land will be remembered as our contribution to the good of all humankind.’

"Today the son of Hiroitch Juda is still trying to get adequate compensation from the U.S. government for the damage done to their land and the health of the population.

"Another snapshot that comes to mind is that of the late Father Lini in his negotiations with the members of the South Pacific Forum, especially Australia and New Zealand, about the nuclear free zone in the South Pacific and the re-listing of New Caledonia in the United Nations Decolonization Committee list in 1986. Father Lini absolutely refused to give in to the Australian and New Zealand government policy, which said that New Caledonia and French Polynesia were integral parts of France and the nuclear free treaty that endangers the Australian and New Zealand relationship with the United States, will never be contemplated. And how Father Lini stuck to his convictions to the very end.

"These are inspirations. For me as a person and as an activists, which I try to share with staff members, but also other activists in the movement.

"May I be brave, Your Excellency, to suggest that the fire next time will probably be in the five Melanesian Spearhead Group of countries. I suppose our honeymoon with the independence we started -- with Samoa gaining independence in 1962, Nauru in 1968, Fiji in 1970 and culminating in Palau’s independence in 1986 -- the honeymoon period was probably over with the military coups in Fiji in 1987. In the four independent Melanesian spearhead group of countries -- Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea -- have some of the best and the most progressive Constitutions in the world because these were written up based on lessons learned from former colonies in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. It is only now that these Constitutions are being tested: The people are now starting to question whether you can legislate for democracy or whether you can legislate against discrimination. And this is where it calls for a complete review of what we inherited on independence".

"And I think the governments of the Pacific that fail to take heed of Bougainville, of what’s happening in Guadalcanal, of the military coups in Fiji -- a government that refuses to take heed of the peoples’ wishes is doomed to take its peoples in the Pacific down the road that a lot of African countries are currently on.

"The struggle continues of course. East Timor has gained its independence; West Papua must be the next fight for us in the Pacific. For too long the governments of the Pacific have refused to hear the cries of the people of West Papua. While the struggle continues, the enemy now is different. When we started off in 1975 it was the colonial forces that we were up against. There were the Americans, the British, the French, the Dutch, the Indonesians. Today the struggle is not as clear-cut. The enemy is not as clearly defined. Because increasingly we must take on our own home grown leaders and the types of governance in which they are leading our people down. And increasingly now the infrastructures that we inherited on independence are being tested."

In paying tribute to Mr. Senituli’s achievements, Ms. Hilda Lini, a member of the NFIP movement said:

"What is unique about Lopeti is that many issues which Vanuatu struggled and fought for were also visions that drove Lopeti in his struggles for independence for countries in the Pacific. Lopeti promoted the issue for independence for indigenous peoples of the Pacific regionally and internationally. He supported the vision that if we really wanted a nuclear free Pacific, we can only achieve that when all the countries in the Pacific were independent. Amongst the many achievements which have been initiated or supported by Mr. Senituli personally and though his work include:

Ms. Hilda Lini will shortly be taking the reins of the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre as the new Director.

For more information contact PIANGO (678) 25607, fax (678) 25609, e-mail: piango@vanuatu.com.vu 

Anyone who wants to send personal messages of congratulations and/or well wishes to Lopeti can still reach him at the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre: pcrc@is.com.fj

Press release made available by:

PACIFIC PEOPLES' PARTNERSHIP (formerly South Pacific Peoples Foundation) 1921 Fernwood Road Victoria, BC, V8T 2Y6, Canada Tel: 250/381-4131 Fax: 250/388-5258 Email: sppf@sppf.org  Website: http://www.sppf.org 

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