CHALLENGES FOR PEACE IN THE PACIFIC

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This paper was presented by the Director of the Tonga Human Rights and Democracy Movement, and former PCRC Director LOPETI SENITULI at a Journal of Pacific Studies Seminar Series held at the University of the South Pacific, 9 October 2000.

(Published in the Pacific News Bulletin, January 2001)

By Lopeti Senituli

In a presentation I made at the Seminar for the Pacific Regional Women Members Parliament in March 2000 I started by quoting a report broadcast on Radio Australia on 13 March that said:

"Police in the Solomon Islands have tightened security in the country’s capital Honiara. The extra police security follows a riot in the weekend in which two hundred people stoned a government building. A spokesman (sic) for the Police says, armed police personnel will continue to patrol the city and members of the paramilitary are engaged to go out on night patrols. This is the first time members of the paramilitary officially known as the Police Field Force are being engaged to stop ethnic disturbances……."

What stood out for me, in the media report on the violence in Honiara was that the police were armed and that this was the first time the paramilitary was being deployed in the capital, Honiara. It was the Russian playwright Anton Chekov who wrote "if in the first Acts you introduce a gun, then before the final Act, that gun must be fired." I therefore pleaded that the Solomon Islands government must find a way of disarming the police before it is too late. I also pleaded that a government that hopes to be arbiter of competing factions/interests in the country cannot hope to do so through the barrel of a gun.

In a private discussion with Solomon Islands MP and Cabinet Minister Hilda Kari after my presentation she informed me that the government had resisted arming the police and deploying the Police Field Force in Honiara since the ethnic violence began in May 1999 but the public stoning the government building was the final straw.

It is an understatement to say that the major challenge for peace in the Pacific today is the militarisation of the relations between the different ethnic groups (especially in the Melanesia Spearhead Group of countries) and between the competing interest groups/factions of society. By militarisation I mean the process by which militaristic values, militaristic modes of thinking and militaristic behaviour become the norm for human conduct. This is the road that many former colonies of Africa, South Asia and South East Asia have gone to despair. And there is no hope for reconciliation and for restoring civil society, the rule of law and the legitimacy of the state without the demilitarisation of society and the dismantling and removal of the gun from the organic laws of the land.

Reconciliation is a long and painful process. It is not a one off event. It needs to be renegotiated over and over again. It will be painful because it is difficult to sit and negotiate with people and groups whose hands are covered in blood and thereby give them legitimacy. But they are our neighbours. They live amongst us in the community and there must be an honest attempt to accept and restore their dignity if we are serious about reconciliation and the restoration of civil society.

The process of reconciliation must begin by establishing the truth. The truth must be told objectively and heard officially and acknowledged by the perpetrators and the victims. Telling the truth will involve, as of necessity, confessions and acts if repentance and ultimately forgiveness. Only then can reconciliation begin to take place. This is the long painful road that the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and dare I say Vanuatu must travel.

The national Constitutions of Fiji (1997 and 1970) Papua New Guinea (1975) Solomon Islands (1978) Vanuatu (1980) and the Noumea Accords of New Caledonia (1999) are probably the most enlightened of their era. But these began to unravel when the honeymoon period after independence was over. In New Caledonia (1987) and Fiji (1987 and 2000) it was the case of the multi-ethnic indigenous populations who feared (legitimately or otherwise) political domination by the settler/immigrant sectors of their national populations. In Papua New Guinea in 1989 it was the indigenous people of Bougainville who felt cheated by the national government over their share of royalties from their copper resources. In the Solomon Islands it is the indigenous people of Guadalcanal who feel they are being overwhelmed numerically and politically by a settler population from Malaita, not to mention other islands in the Solomons group. In Vanuatu today there are rumblings (not only from the volcanoes!) all over the country as the different provinces attempt to assert the largest share of the national cake.

What these conflicts illustrate is that there is a limitation to constitutional and legislative justice and rule. One cannot for example simply legislate away racial discrimination. One cannot simply legislate for peaceful co-existence. Enlightened constitutions and legislations must be supplemented by social engineering initiatives aimed at social cohesion and human security in a multi-ethnic milieu. These social engineering initiatives must include an educational curricula that promote multi-ethnic tolerance and national unity. It must include affirmative action (social justice) programmes that are geared towards rebalancing inequities in access to educational, economic and commercial opportunities and state services and utilities (health, water, electricity). It must include national dialogue between the different races/ethnic groups to address "the problems of history" such as those relating to land and natural resources alienated during the colonial era and the place of indigenous peoples in the schema of democratic governance.

Governance can be defined as the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development. It encompasses the direct and indirect management by government organisations of all activities whether public or private which impinge on human affairs. Good governance is characterised by political accountability and legitimacy, a predictable legal framework, respect for the rule of law, bureaucratic accountability, respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms and peoples participation in governance.

Peoples participation in governance is the cornerstone of good and effective governance. Participation is a process and not an event. Casting a vote in an election is an event that is meaningless without the accountability of the elected government to the people. But if the state is no democratic and the government is not accountable to the people as in the Kingdom of Tonga, then the government will sooner rather that later have civil unrest on its hands. Good and effective governance also requires democracy that is inclusive. That is to say, it caters for and addresses the concerns of all the citizenry and not simply the ethnic group or social class that the leader belongs to.

Human security is not just a concern of nation states involving the freedom from war, the safety of territory from external aggression or the protection of national interests or foreign policy. It involves the active participation of the people who understand that true security is not based on military force and violence. Human security addresses people’s concerns for security in their daily lives: protection from the threat of disease, of hunger, of unemployment, of social conflict, of political repression and environmental hazards. Human security requires the enhancement of the environment, economic equality, the empowerment of the traditionally marginalised sectors of society, of women ( the major producers and reproducers), of indigenous peoples and of ethnic minorities.

Because of the inherent limitations of Constitutional and legislative justice and rule and as the necessary next step in the reconciliation and restoration of society and the state, it is important to re-examine the worldviews of the various ethnic groups that make up society in the Melanesian Spearhead Group of countries. And if necessary and as part of the social engineering programmes of government, a national and all-inclusive worldview must be constructed for the common good. A worldview is our perspective on created reality. It is an indication of our place in the world in which we have to fulfill our cultural tasks and political obligations, the directions of which is provided by the will (laws) of Something or Someone regarded as our absolute authority in life. A worldview functions like a map, it provides orientation, like a compass, it gives direction from a deep religious-like commitment.

In re-examining the existing worldviews of the various ethnic groups that make up Fiji for example we must examine their concept of God/gods; the specific norms and values which they have established and live by; their view on what it is to be human; their notions of what constitutes the ideal community. My personal experience as a former overstayer in Fiji is that, in the main, the worldviews of the two major ethnic groups that make up Fiji are vastly different. But at the same time I firmly believe that the differences can be bridged. In fact they must be bridged if there is to be any long-term peace and stability in this country. We owe the children of this country that much.

University is a microcosm of the multi-ethnic states of the Pacific. In fact it is a mini-state on its own with its autonomous institutions of government, its bureaucracy and judiciary, its own police force (which I hope remain unarmed!) its own high priests and a revolving citizenry. As a former citizen, I must say that it does not have a common worldview any more so this is probably where the process of reconciliation must begin.

PNB

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