Oceania Theater

Solomon Islands uprising in the New Cold War

Australia has dispatched some 100 police and military troops to the Solomon Islands following days of rioting and looting in the capital Honiara. Papua New Guinea has also sent in troops, and Fiji says a contingent is en route. Calling for Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to resign, protesters attempted to set the parliament building ablaze, and torched and looted shops, causing millions of dollars in damages. The looting centered on the city's Chinatown, where three charred bodies have been found amid the ruins.

Pact indefinitely keeps open 'Australia's Gitmo'

A new memorandum of understanding allowing Australia to continue to indefinitely detain asylum seekers at a facility on the Pacific island of Nauru was signed on Sept. 24. Since 2012, asylum seekers arriving by boat have been barred from settlement in Australia and sent to offshore detention centers instead. The deal extending use of the Nauru facility comes just as the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) finally reached an agreement to close the contentious Manus Island Regional Processing Center. In the deal announced Oct. 6, Australia and the PNG finalized a Regional Resettlement Arrangement in which detainees on Manus Island will either be transfered to Nauru or allowed to remain in Papua New Guinea with a "migration pathway" allowing eventual legal residency.

Vanuatu seeks ICJ opinion on climate justice

The South Pacific nation Vanuatu announced Sept. 25 its intention to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the rights of present and future generations to be protected from the adverse consequences of climate change. Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Vanuatu's Prime Minister Bob Loughman warned that the climate crisis is "increasingly eluding the control of individual national governments," and stressed the need for a global solution. The announcement set out his government's plan to coordinate the efforts of Pacific Island states and other vulnerable nations to seek clarification on the legal duties of large emitters of greenhouse gases. Its immediate goal is to establish a Pacific states coalition to drive the initiative.

Inter-American panel to hear Rapa Nui land claim

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Aug. 23 agreed to hear a complaint against the state of Chile brought by the Rapa Nui indigenous people of Easter Island, demanding recovery of their ancestral lands. The complaint accuses Chile of numerous violations of the American Convention on Human Rights, especially citing Article 4 on the right to life, Article 12 on freedom of conscience and religion, Article 21 on property rights, and Article 25 on judicial protection. More than 70% of traditional Rapa Nui lands are now classified as "state lands," from which the island's indigenous inhabitants are effectively excluded—causing "irremediable damage" to their way of life and autonomy. The complaint charges that this constitutes a violation of the 1888 Acuerdo de Voluntades (Consent Agreement), under which the Rapa Nui formally accepted Chilean sovereignty. (El Ciudadano, Chile; Pagina12, Argentina)

New Zealand settles Maori land claim

New Zealand iwi (Māori kinship group) Ngāti Maru signed a deed of settlement with the Crown on Feb. 26, resolving its historical Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) claims. Ngāti Maru is the last of eight iwi in Taranaki, a North Island region, to settle its land claims under the treaty. The Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Andrew Little, announced in a statement that the iwi, which comprises 2,800 registered members, will receive financial and cultural redress as part of the settlement, including an apology from the Crown. The financial redress is valued at NZD$30 million (about USD$20 million). The agreement also includes the vesting of 16 culturally significant sites to Ngāti Maru.

New Zealand declares 'climate emergency'

The New Zealand parliament has passed a motion declaring a "climate emergency" in recognition of the ongoing global crisis, joining a growing number of nations that have formally acknowledged the crisis and approved similar declarations. The motion approved Dec. 2 was supported by the Labour Party, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori, while the National Party and ACT opposed it. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved the motion, calling climate change "one of the greatest challenges of our time," and citing the "devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on New Zealand and the wellbeing of New Zealanders." The motion also notes "the alarming trend in species decline and [the] global biodiversity crisis, including the decline in Aotearoa's indigenous biodiversity."

Strategic strait at issue in Australia-China rift

Amid trade wars, diplomatic tiffs and propaganda sniping, the ugliness between China and Australia seems set to escalate as Beijing enters an agreement with Papua New Guinea to establish an industrial foothold within the narrow Torres Strait. Radio Australia reports that community leaders in North Queensland, just across the strait from New Guinea, fear that China's plan to construct the facility will jeopardize border security and threaten the commercial fishing sector.

New Caledonia: one more shot for independence

The results are in for the Oct. 4 independence referendum in New Caledonia and, as in 2018, the majority has voted against seceding from France. However, the proportion of "yes" to "no" votes changed. Support for independence rose from 43% in 2018 to 47% this time, indicating that more residents than ever before want an independent country for their island home. Voter turnout was also even higher than last time, rising from 81% to 85%. And the archipelago could still become independent in the coming years. The 1998 Nouméa Accord [translation] that paved the way for this referendum also allows for one more independence vote, in 2022, for a total of three. One-third of the region's legislature must vote in favor of holding the final referendum—and that body already has a pro-independence majority.

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