The de facto president of South Ossetia, Alan Gagloev, on May 30 suspended a planned referendum to determine whether the breakaway region of Georgia should join the Russian Federation. The referendum, scheduled for July, had been ordered by decree of Gagloev's predecessor Anatoly Bibilov, and was widely seen as a play to cement his grip on power. However, Bibilov lost his bid for reelection earlier in May, bringing his rival Gagloev to the presidency. In calling off the vote, Gagloev said that the Kremlin must be consulted on "issues related to the further integration of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation." Georgian officials had denounced any moves by South Ossetia to join Russia as "unacceptable."
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.
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.
The 18 member states of the Pacific Islands Forum held their 49th summit in Nauru, issuing a statement (PDFi) Sept. 6 asserting that "climate change presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of Pacific people." The leaders "reaffirmed the importance of immediate urgent action to combat climate change" and committed "to ensure effective progress on Pacific priorities with regards to the Paris Agreement" through the development of a guide. Leaders at the Forum also urged all countries to comply fully with their commitments to mitigate emissions, "including through the development and transfer of renewable energy," within their committed timeframes. The leaders also "called on the United States to return to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change."
Australia is using the island of Nauru as an "open-air prison," putting refugees and asylum seekers through an abusive processing system as a means to prevent immigration, according to a report (PDF) released by Amnesty International Oct. 17. The report charges that Australia has ignored the 1951 Refugee Convention (PDF) by subjecting asylum seekers and refugees to "egregious abuses," essentially trapping them on the remote island. The report includes dozens of interviews with refugees, documenting claims of mental health issues, suicide attempts and attacks at the hands of Nauru citizens. It describes inadequate and often "deeply humiliating and traumatizing" medical treatment, and abuses carried out against children, including physical abuse from staff contracted by Australia, and the denial of their right to education. The report calls upon the Australian government to ensure the safety and well-being of refugees, and increase access to existing migration programs.