"The Role Of The South Pacific Forum

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Presentation By

Mr. W. Noel Levi, CBE Secretary General Forum Secretariat


In Light Of The Current Crises In Fiji And The Pacific"

Rotary Luncheon Centra Hotel Suva, Fiji September 14, 2000

President of the Suva Rotary Club and Members

Thank you for the invitation to your luncheon today and the opportunity to give you a short talk on the role of the South Pacific Forum, soon to become Pacific Islands Forum after the Leaders meeting in Kiribati at the end of October. The decision to change the name of this premier regional political organization was made at the Leaders' Summit in Palau last year to properly reflect the enlarged jurisdictional area of the organization.

2. The South Pacific Forum, as you are aware, was born some thirty years ago out of frustration by Island Leaders of the newly independent and self governing countries of the Pacific over the exclusion of discussion of political matters by the constitution of the South Pacific Commission. Pacific Leaders at the time naturally grew impatient at the way their views were largely marginalized and discounted at SPC meetings.

3. At the 1965 South Pacific Conference held in Lae, Papua New Guinea, Fiji sought to have the budgetary debate opened up but this was denied as the control of the SPC budget was in the hands of the metropolitan powers. The French nuclear testing program and the attempts in the latter part of the 1960s by Pacific Leaders to raise political matters continued to be vetoed by those in control of the organization. There were not yet enough independent Pacific Islands voices around at the time to change the SPC from within. It was clear that another "forum" which would allow Pacific Leaders to discuss political matters was needed.

4. The opportunity for such a "forum" presented itself in the form of the Pacific Islands Producers Association (PIPA) which was set up in 1965 by those countries exporting fruit to the New Zealand market with its headquarters in Suva. This was a particularly important early venture in the use of collective political will and as such PIPA became the vehicle which facilitated the formation of the South Pacific Forum.

5. At the invitation of the Government of New Zealand, the President of Nauru, the Prime Ministers of Western Samoa (now Samoa), Tonga and Fiji, the Premier of Cook Islands, the Australian Minister for External Territories and the Prime Minister of New Zealand met in Wellington from 5 to 7 August 1971 for what was described as an ad hoc gathering of Island Leaders but in actual fact very much a precursor to what is now the South Pacific Forum. The purpose of the meeting was described in the official communiqué as being "for private and informal discussion of a wide range of issues of common concern, in particular matters directly effecting the daily lives of the people of the islands of the South Pacific, devoting particular attention to trade, shipping, tourism and education."

6. As you will note from the brief historical genesis of the South Pacific Forum, the values and aspirations of the founding fathers of the organization still remain very much intact and actively being pursued to this day. Naturally adjustments have to be made as issues become complex and challenges to the region become greater but the fundamental political role of the organization remains paramount.

7. This leads me to the question of the role of the South Pacific Forum in light of the situation in Fiji and elsewhere in the Pacific. The Forum Chair on 25th May wrote to the former President Rt. Hon. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara on behalf of the sixteen (16) member countries of the Forum condemning the unlawful acts of certain individuals against the democratically elected Government of Fiji. The Chairman also reiterated the conviction with which member states support good governance, democracy, the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of disputes. He also conveyed the confidence that the member states have in the ability of the Republic of the Fiji Islands to achieve a prompt and peaceful resolution to the domestic challenges facing Fiji. A public media statement to this effect was also issued.

8. In similar language and direction, the Chair condemned the unlawful usurping of the political mandate of the elected Government of the Solomon Islands by the rebel militants into forcing the Prime Minister out of office.

9. Other members of the Forum, including Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Samoa, Niue and of course Australia and New Zealand also made their views known.

10. A number of Forum Leaders who attended the funeral of the former Prime Minister of Japan at the time met in Tokyo and expressed their collective view on the crises in both Fiji and Solomon Islands.

11. A synthesis of the views expressed by our members indicate they:

* are concerned about the situation in Fiji and Solomon Islands; * deplore the use of force to bring about change in governments; * want the immediate release of hostages; * want restoration to constitutional democracy and an immediate return to normality; * support the efforts of the Leaders and peoples of Fiji and Solomon Islands to resolve the crisis through close cooperation and consultation; * ask the international community to respond in ways that do not unnecessarily penalize innocent victims, including some other Forum Island Countries that use Fiji and Solomon Islands as transshipment ports.

12. Underlining these views is the strong desire by Forum members to provide support to local authorities efforts to return to democratic government and normalcy but to essentially leave it to Fiji and Solomon Islands to resolve their crises.

13. The Forum Economic Ministers Meeting in July in Niue was the first opportunity at the political level for the region to formally discuss the crises in Fiji and Solomon Islands in detail. The Ministers decided against the background of statements by Forum Governments expressing grave concern at unlawful armed actions in Fiji and Solomon Islands and in reviewing the economic impact of the political crisis within those countries, which would be discussed by the Forum, aiming to support an early resolution to the problem in Fiji within a constitutional framework, and to support the efforts of the Solomon Islands Government to restore law and order and revive its economy.

14. From 10-11 August, the Forum Foreign Ministers met in Apia to address the current regional security environment against the background of expressions of grave concern about the national impacts and regional consequences of the unlawful armed actions in Fiji and Solomon Islands against democratically elected governments.

15. After considering the appropriate role and response of the Forum in such crisis situations, Foreign Ministers agreed that it would be desirable to augment the 1997 Aitutaki Declaration by the adoption of certain principles and agreed mechanisms which would come into effect in the event of a breach of these principles in a Forum member country. Accordingly they decided to recommend to the Pacific Island Forum meeting in Tarawa that Leaders commit themselves and their countries to a number of fundamental principles and courses of action including the following:

* Belief in the liberty of the individual under the law, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of gender, race, color, creed or political belief and in the individual's inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political process in framing the society in which he or she lives; * Upholding democratic processes and institutions which reflect national and local circumstances, including the peaceful transfer of power, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, just and honest government; * Recognizing the importance and urgency of equitable economic, social and cultural development to satisfy the basic needs and aspirations of the peoples of the Forum.

16. In response to members' request for assistance or in times of crisis where these principles have been violated the Secretary General should urgently initiate agreed processes leading to consultations among Foreign Ministers.

17. Foreign Ministers would consider a range of options to assist in the resolution of future crises.

These options would include:

* A statement representing the views of members on the situation; * Creation of a Ministerial Action group; * A fact-finding or similar mission; * Convening an eminent persons group; * Third party mediation; * Support for appropriate institutions or mechanisms that would assist a resolution; * Adoption of targeted sanctions.

18. Ministers established a working group, made up of Suva-based Forum officials as core members, to develop these principles and options for consideration by Leaders in Kiribati.

19. The South Pacific Forum, unlike similar organizations in other parts of the world representing small island societies who have crumbled under outside influence and patronage, has remained steadfastly an organization reflecting the true flavor of the Pacific region as defined in islands lifestyles and islands traditions. Its strength lies in its consensus decision-making philosophy and its non-interference in members' internal domestic affairs principle. Any attempt to change this basic fundamental foundation of the organization would render it incompetent and ineffective in the future.

20. Finally, let me finish by restating that the recent events in Fiji and the Solomon Islands are another example of the way in which the Forum seeks to work on behalf of its members - through constructive dialogue, through a spirit of cooperation, and out of a genuine concern for the long-term welfare of Forum member states. This approach has served the region well over the years, as our members address the social, political and economic challenges facing their communities. We all have a common goal in advancing the interests, well being and good governance of the people and member countries of the Pacific.

For additional information, contact: Ulafala Aiavao at UlafalaA@forumsec.org.fj 

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