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About the Conference
Most of the chapters in this book were presented as papers at a three-day conference in Port Vila, Vanuatu, in June 2000. Organised jointly by the Australian National University’s State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Project and the Law School of the University of the South Pacific (USP), the conference was held at the Emalus Campus of USP. ‘Restorative Justice and Conflict Management in the Pacific Islands’provided the broad theme for discussion of different approaches to crime and conflict in the Pacific Islands and, in particular, in the Melanesian countries that provide the research focus of the SSGM project. In addition to the operations of formal state mechanisms, speakers were encouraged to address informal approaches to conflict resolution including quasi-traditional strategies and the role of non-state agencies. There are growing concerns about conflict and criminality in many parts of the Pacific Islands. ‘Law and order’ problems, as they are euphemistically termed, reflect the many dislocative effects of larger processes of social and economic change taking place in the region. Much of the policy debate generated by these developments has been directed at the need to strengthen state agencies and processes of law enforcement. Less attention has been paid to the role, actual and potential, of those informal structures and processes that in many places continue to wield more influence than do the institutions of the modern nationstate.
In addition to general issues of lawlessness, the region has been shaken by a number of complex internal conflicts in recent years. These have inevitably focused attention on the challenges of conflict prevention and resolution. A nine-year civil war on Bougainville, precipitated by landowner grievances over levels of compensation for mining development, has inflicted enormous suffering on the people of that island, as well as causing significant economic and political damage to Papua New Guinea. In May 2000, just over a month before the Vanuatu conference, George Speight led an armed takeover of the Parliamentary complex in Suva and held Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and members of his Cabinet hostage. As with the earlier Rabuka-led coup of 1987, the Speight coup was executed on the pretext of protecting the rights of indigenous Fijians against alleged encroachment by Indo–Fijians, particularly in relation to land. These actions have had devastating social, economic and politics impacts in Fiji.
On the 5th June 2000, a couple of weeks after the Fiji coup, members of an armed militia group (the Malaitan Eagle Force — MEF), with the active collaboration of elements of the Solomon Islands police, seized control of key installations in the national capital, Honiara. Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa’alu was forced to resign. The Solomon Islands coup had been preceded by two years of mounting tensions between the indigenous inhabitants of Guadalcanal and settlers from the neighbouring island of Malaita. Up to 20,000 of the latter were displaced forcibly from their rural homes by militant Guadalcanal groups. These events paralysed the Solomon Islands state and national economy and resulted in the collapse of the national police force.