Law and order across the Pacific
The major submissions to the inquiry concerned with security matters
generally agreed that Papua New Guinea and the island states of the southwest
Pacific are relatively stable in strategic terms and do not face any significant
external military threat to their sovereignty.
There was also broad consensus that the most serious threats to Pacific
security come from within states.
This chapter examines the internal security status of Pacific states through
identifying the critical domestic law and order challenges that face indigenous
law enforcement agencies. It seeks to understand the root causes, or triggers,
of violence and lawlessness in the Pacific and examines matters such as
underemployment, inter-ethnic relations, land tenure, weapons control, gender
inequality and political instability.
Having explored the main causes of conflict, the committee then considers how
these factors interact on occasion to bring about serious deteriorations in law
and order. The committee starts its consideration of the causes of civil or
political conflict with economic performance.
Economic performance and domestic security
Breakdowns in law and order and the erosion of the rule of law are
significant impediments to economic development. They seriously undermine
domestic socio-economic growth and operate as powerful disincentives for local
and foreign investment. Civil disorder hinders the development of tourism,
reduces taxation revenue and adversely affects essential infrastructure,
including transportation systems and community services like schools and
The following table reveals that over the past decade, the region has
experienced a number of significant outbreaks of civil or political disorder.
Figure 2.1 Recent breakdowns in law and order across
Type of conflict
Conflict between ethnic
related to nickel mining
Attempted police mutiny
Election violence and
Public sector strike
march and riots
Police Station burnt
At a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum's Regional Security Committee
in Suva in June 2008, the Acting Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat, Mr
Peter Forau, identified the link between development and security:
It is a reasonable point to make that economic growth, good
governance and sustainable development cannot occur in an environment of
political and security instability.
As this comment suggests, and as discussed in Volume I, the economic and
security spheres are interdependent. Economic and human development cannot be
achieved in an environment where there is poor governance and political
instability. Conversely, a faltering or struggling economy that is unable to
provide essential services for its people may create social inequalities,
personal grievances or community unrest that become a security problem.
There is a growing awareness across Pacific island states of the critical
association between the capacity of an economy to meet the needs of its people
and poor security relations. The link was made clear by Australia's High
Commissioner to PNG, Mr Chris Moraitis:
It is a vicious circle. You cannot have growth and investment
because you have a law and order problem and you have a law and order problem
because no one is investing.
In providing evidence to the inquiry, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
suggested that issues such as economic inequalities; land issues; weak
governance capacity; unemployed and alienated youth; urbanisation; inter-group
tension; and climate change have been identified as potential causes of
conflict in the region.
These comments reinforce how sustained improvements in the area of economic
performance, governance, education and health are essential preconditions for
domestic security. Thus, good human security underpins good domestic security;
poor human security has serious ramifications for the internal security of the
In Chapter 12 of Volume I, the committee identified concerning levels of
unemployment and underemployment in the Pacific. Here, the committee considers
the link between economic security, underemployment, social unrest and
breakdowns in law and order in the region. The Centre for Independent Studies
The Pacific is now home to more than eight million people, of
whom some five million are of working age...More than two million men—four out of
five—are unemployed in towns or underemployed in villages. More than 100,000
men join the labour force annually. Most of these will never work and never
earn an income. Every day, men and boys can be seen languishing in villages and
towns, and by the roadside. They are bored and frustrated.
According to World Vision Australia, youth unemployment is considered 'a
core reason for conflict in the region' and 'the number one issue of concern in
In PNG, particularly in swelling urban areas, unemployment and
underemployment present significant security concerns. Australia's High
Commissioner to PNG suggested that there is approximately 70 per cent youth
unemployment in urban centres in PNG, while the President of the Australia–PNG
Business Council suggested that many of PNG's problems revolve around youth
unemployment and the likelihood that in the absence of jobs, there will be 'a
very dislocated generation'.
Fiji also struggles with high youth unemployment which, if left
unaddressed, could create social instability.
The Executive Director of the Australia–PNG Business Council, the
Australia–Fiji Business Council and the Australia Pacific Islands Council, Mr
Francis Yourn, suggested that there were approximately 12,000 school leavers
graduating from Fijian schools each year and current job creation is nil.
The President of the Australia–Fiji Business Council claimed unemployed
youth with too much time on their hands is a significant problem in Fiji, and
that petty crime is on the rise.
Youth unemployment has been exacerbated by high birth rates and
declining infant mortality, which have resulted in a 'youth bulge', or the
burgeoning of Pacific youth populations. This presents a complex series of
economic and security challenges. As noted in the submission by the CIS,
population growth rates in PNG and Solomon Islands have been amongst the
highest in the world.
The following diagram shows that the median age for the Pacific is 20.7
(male) and 21.5 (female). The median age for Solomon Islands is even lower, at
19.5 (male) and 19.8 (female).
In Australia, by comparison, the median age, at 30 June 2005, was 36.6 years.
Source: Statistics and Demography Programme, Secretariat of the Pacific
The phenomenon of youth bulge has also been accompanied by 'urban
drift', whereby unemployed young people move to urban centres. In so doing,
they often become disconnected from their familiar social structures, kinship
groups and traditional behavioural obligations.
The CIS drew a direct link between growing numbers of young adult men,
underemployment and crime across Melanesia. Professor Helen Hughes and Mr
Gaurav Sodhi argued that these men, who are bored and frustrated with their
lack of opportunities, become involved in robbery, protection rackets,
prostitution, drug sales and gambling. Moreover, young men may also become easily
recruited into criminal enterprises.
With respect to the period of social unrest in Solomon Islands between 1998 and
2003, Professor Stewart Firth has also suggested young men 'were readily
recruited into the armed militias and criminal gangs of Solomon Islands'.
Hughes and Sodhi offered a particularly bleak assessment of the
connection between underemployment and Pacific security or even underemployment
and international criminal activity:
Underemployment and unemployment are at the core of Pacific
crime, and are the cause of the 'arc of instability'. Without employment-led
growth, crime, civil disruption, and corruption will undoubtedly worsen. With
major criminal interests now operating in the region, the Pacific is developing
its comparative advantage as a location for international criminal activities
such as people-smuggling, drug production, and arms trafficking.
It should be noted, however, that some witnesses did not agree with
Hughes and Sodhi's assessment of the implications of unemployment across the
Pacific. Mr Clarke from the Australia–PNG Business Council claimed that the
notion that some unemployed males were resorting to criminal activity as a way
of life was an 'excessive view'.
Nevertheless, the committee received evidence suggesting that
unemployment and underemployment present a complex mix of social, economic and
policing challenges and that they have contributed significantly to volatility
in the region. They have led to rapid deteriorations in law and order and have
created serious challenges for policing agencies.
In order to address this particular challenge in any meaningful way, the region
requires well-resourced policing organisations and a combination of economic
growth, increased employment and improved educational and training
Over the last decade, many nations of the Pacific have experienced
significant breakdowns in law and order as a result of ethnic conflict. Recent
examples of inter-ethnic conflict include: the violence that took place between
ethnic militias in Guadalcanal and Malaita (Solomon Islands) between 1998–2003;
the numerous outbreaks of violence against ethnic Chinese communities in Tonga,
Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea; and the violent clashes that erupted as a
result of ethnic violence between the people of the Tanna and Ambrym islands (Vanuatu)
at the Blacksands settlement near Port Vila in March 2007. In the last instance, three
people died, properties were damaged and a state of emergency was declared.
Many Pacific island states are home to numerous ethnic and cultural
groups. In Solomon Islands, for example, there are around 75 cultural groupings
(each with its own vernacular language) occupying the country's 998 islands. Dr
Sinclair Dinnen, from the ANU's State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program,
outlined the challenges in Solomon Islands in the following way:
...the challenges of nation-building in such a diverse and
fragmented environment are formidable. There is still little sense of unity
binding the disparate communities scattered throughout the archipelago. Over
eighty languages are spoken among a population of less than half a million
people. The weak post-colonial state has little presence in the daily lives of
most Solomon Islanders, the vast majority of whom are subsistence farmers in
rural villages. Primary identities and allegiances remain implanted in language
and kin-based associations rather than in abstracted notions of 'nation' and
On numerous occasions, Solomon Islands has seen ethnic tensions escalate
into communal violence. In 1998, militant groups from Guadalcanal, initially
calling themselves the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (and later the Isatabu
Freedom Movement) came into conflict with Malaitan settlers in rural
Guadalcanal. In mid-1999, a state of emergency was declared.
This continued throughout 2000 when a Malaitan militia group retaliated and
began to expel Guadalcanal people from Honiara. Professor James Cotton has suggested
that during this period: 'parliamentary government effectively collapsed, with
the prime minister and governor general displaced at gun point...by rogue members
of the police force'.
By 2003 the Tensions (as the period became known) had led to the deaths
of more than 150, the wounding of over 300 and the displacement of over 50,000
Law and order was only regained in 2003 with the deployment of the Regional
Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Ethnic tensions again spilled
over in 2006 when riots broke out in Honiara after parliament elected Mr Snyder
Rini as the new prime minister. There was wide-spread belief that large sums of
money had changed hands in the prime ministerial elections, funded by Chinese
businessmen in Honiara, and Chinese businesses were targeted for looting and
Evidence provided to the committee also suggested that PNG is difficult
to govern because of tribal loyalties and great cultural diversity.
PNG has more than 700 disparate cultural groups, speaking over 800 languages.
PNG's most well-known episode of inter-racial conflict occurred between 1988
and 1997 on the island of Bougainville between the PNG and the Bougainville
Revolutionary Army, who were fighting for independence from PNG. The
inhabitants of Bougainville, who regard themselves as having a separate ethnic
character, claimed rights to a land rich in mineral resources.
After claiming over 20,000 lives, the conflict ended in 1997; Bougainville
achieved autonomy in 2005.
Fiji has a history of disputes between different ethnic
groups. Against the perceived inequalities between indigenous and Indo-Fijians,
overlaid with tensions over land and traditional ownership, Fiji has witnessed
a series of military and civilian coups (1987, 2000 and 2006) and a
constitutional crisis (1977). These inter-ethnic tensions stem from 'an unwritten rule' that was a legacy of
the colonial administration—that Fiji's political life would be controlled by
indigenous Fijians. When parties with considerable Indo-Fijian support won the
elections in 1987 and 1999, indigenous Fijians resorted to violence.
Land in the Pacific is largely held under customary tenure, with
relatively small tracts of freehold and state-held land. In PNG, for example, less than three per cent of all land is saleable (leasehold or freehold), the
rest is customary land, transferred from generation to generation.
The notion of individual ownership may not always exist and land may be owned collectively
by members of the kin group. As families increase in size, so does their need
for land, which often causes disputes.
AusAID suggested that these customary forms of land tenure have become sources
of social instability:
...customary tenure is subject to a range of emerging
influences (including opportunities for economic development) that are
challenging Pacific Island countries' ability to adapt, while maintaining
tenure security. Growing numbers of Pacific islanders, particularly rapidly growing
urban populations and vulnerable groups including women, no longer have certainty
that their rights (or their group's rights) of access to land will be
recognised by others and protected by the state if a dispute arises.
Without a modern property rights system, land title arrangements have
been an underlying cause of conflict. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
claimed that 'land is bound up with the grievances that underlie the conflict
and crises in Bougainville, Solomon Islands and Fiji'. It explained:
Local level land related conflict can take place amongst landowner
groups; between landowner groups and tenants who are leasing land; between land
owner groups and state institutions needing to access land for public purposes,
and between landowner groups and outside investors...land has been identified as
one important cause of some of the large scale national level violent
conflict and crises that the region has seen.
Various submitters to the inquiry suggested that land tenure
arrangements need to be reformed.
Professor Helen Hughes and Mr Gaurav Sodhi, for example, advocated a system of
land surveys, registration and enforcement of private property rights across
Yet, there was also awareness among other submitters that land reform is an
extremely contentious issue and may be best dealt with indigenously.
As identified above, in Vanuatu land ownership has contributed to
tensions between groups and has resulted in outbreaks of violence.
A 2007 review of land legislation, policy and administration in Vanuatu found
that land alienations (the unauthorised appropriation of land) played a
significant role in Vanuatu's mobilisation for independence in 1980, and has
re-emerged again on a scale which threatens the country's social and political
A recent country report by Samoa to the Pacific Islands Law Officers' Network
(PILON) also identified a number of land disputes over customary land that were
before the courts at that time.
At the Fortieth Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Cairns, 5–6 August 2009,
leaders expressed their 'extreme concern' over the proliferation of small arms
and light weapons throughout the Pacific:
Small arms and light weapons (both legal and illegal) are
used to fuel and exacerbate violence and conflict. They are widely used in
armed conflict, terrorism, and crime and there are significant costs and
impacts, including financial (healthcare) and loss of life. They can be easily
produced, concealed and transferred and more often than not, threaten peace,
security, development and human rights.
Arms management and weapons security have been poor in many Pacific
island states. During recent conflicts in Solomon Islands, a militia group
raided and seized the police armoury in Auki (Malaita Province) and the Royal
Solomon Islands Police national armoury in Guadalcanal.
In Fiji and Bougainville, the seriousness of civil violence has also been
exacerbated by the use of firearms and ammunition taken from state armouries. The
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat suggested that in numerous instances, unsecured
or stolen firearms have been utilised to assist in intrastate conflicts:
Small arms and light weapons stolen or otherwise obtained
from security force armouries have featured prominently in the Pacific's most
recent conflicts in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Bougainville.
With respect to PNG, Dr Nicole Haley, from the State, Society and
Governance in Melanesia Program at the ANU, suggested that while there have
been improvements in Solomon Islands and Bougainville, arms proliferation
continues to be a problem in the Southern Highlands Province of PNG:
While significant gains have been made, particularly in
relation to disarmament, in Solomon Islands and Bougainville in recent years,
small arms proliferation continues to be a serious problem in mainland PNG. The
year long State of Emergency/Special Police Operations (August 2006–August
2007) in PNG's troubled Southern Highlands Province netted less than 300
illegal weapons, of which more than half were home made. Weapons continue to
flow into the Highlands and black market ammunition remains comparatively
abundant, with prices in fact declining in recent years.
While access to small arms is of itself a real concern, it often
provides a means of making a bad situation worse. Thus, it combines with other
causes of conflict—youth unemployment or ethnic divisions—to create a
potentially volatile and dangerous situation. The availability of firearms has
therefore significant implications for the maintenance of law. Referring to the
connection between unemployment, poverty and the availability of weapons, DFAT
advised, regarding PNG: 'Rapid urbanisation, unemployment and poverty
contribute to crime. The spread of modern weapons has magnified the impact of
urban crime and tribal fighting in the highlands'.
Gender inequality and violence against women
Rates of violence against women in a number of Pacific island
countries are amongst the highest in the world, and violence against women in
the Pacific has been characterised by Amnesty International as 'one of the
gravest human rights violations in the region'.
This is particularly so in PNG, where previous research has established that two
out of every three Papua New Guinean women experience domestic violence and around
50 per cent have been subject to forced sex.
AusAID's submission identified gender inequity, high rates of violence
against women and the low levels of women's political participation as
significant challenges for the region. In its view:
Gender equity is still a very long way off. High rates of
violence against women are a significant problem and women have generally poor
political, economic and social status. Women's participation in political
leadership is very low—of the ten countries in the world with no female
representation, five are in the Pacific. Gender inequality is a factor that impacts
on economic growth.
A recent AusAID report offered a sobering assessment of the status of
women and the levels of violence perpetrated against women across Melanesia.
Violence against women is exacerbated by poverty and the relatively low status
of women compared to men: women do not have land rights; they have little
independent access to money; and are largely dependent on men for their
Some traditional cultural practices have also entrenched inequality:
educational access for girls; traditional customs such as bride price; 'sister
exchange marriages' ('sisters' are usually cousins, but are called 'sister' in
the kinship system terminology); the acceptance of polygamy for men; or the
fact that in PNG domestic violence is 'still not consistently treated as a
crime by the police'.
The study claimed that 'Violence against women is severe and pervasive' and
advocated a 'more comprehensive and effective response' to violence against
In Solomon Islands, domestic violence is reported to be the most common
form of violence against women and instances of sexual violence are becoming
increasingly common: child sexual abuse by family members; commercial
exploitation of girls (particularly related to the logging and fishing
industries); sexual violence during armed conflict (1998–2003); and the rape of
girls by young men.
Melanesian countries receive low ratings in the United Nations Development
Programme's gender-related development index (GDI). Out of 136 countries, PNG ranks 124th; Vanuatu ranks 103th; and Fiji ranks 88th.
Solomon Islands does not yet figure.
The AusAID report found:
Gang rape, payback rape,
rape in connection with tribal fighting, and the torture and murder of women
suspected of sorcery are distinctive features of violence against women in PNG,
with the additional risk of contracting HIV...domestic violence is still not
consistently treated as a crime by the police, except in the most extreme
cases. Women are often pressured to drop charges and are not provided with
additional sources of support. Domestic violence perpetrated by police is also
The seriousness of gender-based violence across the Pacific has recently
been acknowledged by Pacific Island leaders. At the Pacific Islands Forum
Regional Security Committee Meeting in 2009, Mr Tuiloma Neroni Slade, Secretary
General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, announced:
For the first time at this meeting, the issue of sexual and
gender-based violence will be presented to the Committee, based on the
experiences of some of our member countries. This is part of ongoing efforts to
ensure that gender is adequately considered when developing policies and
interventions relating to peace, conflict and security matters, ensuring also
that best practice and lessons learned are shared across the region.
Pacific island leaders have acknowledged the risk that sexual and
gender-based violence (SGBV) poses to human security and recognised that it has
potential to de-stabilise communities. The communiqué from the Fortieth Pacific
Islands Forum meeting in Cairns, 5–6 August 2009, stated:
...SGBV is now widely recognised as a risk to human security
and a potential destabilising factor for communities and societies alike. It
remains pervasive across the Pacific, and as it is still considered a sensitive
issue in most Pacific cultures, its prevalence often goes underreported. There
is an urgent need to acknowledge the prevalence of SGBV in the Pacific at all
levels of the community, whether occurring in the domestic context or during
conflict and post-conflict situations.
In addition to improving the safety and security of women (and in many
cases their children), improved gender equality has links with the achievement
and maintenance of peace. In its submission to the committee's previous inquiry
into Australia's involvement in peacekeeping operations, AusAID noted:
Women have played a pivotal peacebuilding role in the region,
most notably in Bougainville (where women's involvement in security and
maintaining peace was a critical element in the peace process) and in Solomon
Islands...The importance of women in preventing, managing and resolving conflict
has been recognised by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1325 on women,
peace and security...Women's organisations can also be instrumental in raising
awareness, reducing violence and building democratic institutions.
There is also evidence that increased gender equality in leadership and
decision making improves the quality of governance which has clear links with
The frequency of change of government across the Pacific is in some
cases an indicator of political instability. Since 1986, Fiji has had four military
and civilian coups; between 1992–2004 Vanuatu saw 16 changes of government; and
only recently did a PNG government serve its full five-year term. Typically, in
Solomon Islands no one party gains enough votes to rule in its own right and
must therefore form coalitions. No-confidence motions are common in Vanuatu and
Kiribati, where in the latter case, the parliament automatically dissolves
after a second no-confidence motion. Therefore, across the Pacific, there is a
political culture of short government terms and short or reduced terms of
service for politicians, many of whom do not survive their first term. Such
instability makes it difficult for governments to pursue a sustained policy
agenda; it erodes public confidence in government and creates a culture of
political short termism which may encourage corrupt practices. Some submitters
to the inquiry suggested that such political instability had resulted in
increased corruption in government administration.
This history of political instability has had significant implications for
Pacific security and for the overarching stability and structure of national
law enforcement agencies.
Again, the interrelated nature of the various security risks becomes
clear. For example, political instability combined with the availability of
weapons has the potential to seriously erode democratic processes in the
region. Oxfam argued:
The spread of illicit firearms also threatens the operation
of democratic institutions, as evidenced in PNG during the 2002 elections when
up to 50 people were estimated to have been killed.
Also, political instability may be both a symptom and a source of deep
social tension, not only reflecting divisions in society but exacerbating them.
Evidence provided to the committee suggested that one of the greatest
threats to security in Tonga, the only monarchy in the Pacific, is related to
tensions over democratic reform.
The riots that destroyed large parts of Nuku'alofa in November 2006, which caused
an estimated US$100 million worth of damage, were linked to frustrations over
the reform process.
These riots came only a year after mass protests and strikes initiated by the
public servants' union took place in response to senior civil servants being awarded
a pay rise of 80 per cent. The protests and strikes lasted six weeks before the
government agreed to the pay rise.
Notably, during the riots, the Chinese business sector was targeted.
There have also been episodes of election-related violence in PNG and Solomon Islands and violence related to mining and foreign investment in the Papua New
Guinea island of Bougainville, and in New Caledonia. Additionally, the military's
intervention in civil affairs in Fiji has been a source of instability. It has
seriously undermined the rule of law and eroded the capacity and independence
of Fiji's institutions, including the judiciary. Mr Ben Coleman, Defence,
We have the situation—and Fiji is the case study
there—whereby an inappropriate relationship of the military to civilian
government has obviously posed an immediate security problem for Fiji. Yes,
defence would accord with the rest of government's view that that is a security
This is dealt with in more detail in Chapter 4.
Volatility of Pacific island states
The committee has drawn attention to the way that the various causes of
conflict can combine to result in the rapid deterioration of law and order. The
example of the violence at the Blacksands settlement in Vanuatu in 2007,
outlined above, would appear to tell us something about the potential
volatility of some Pacific islands states. In this instance, the potential for
inter-ethnic conflict was exacerbated by the very low level of human security
experienced by residents at the Blacksands settlement—security of land tenure,
access to fresh water, vulnerability to extreme weather patterns, lack of a
coherent organised community structure. What this example may suggest is that breakdowns
in law and order, or episodes of 'ethnic violence', as witnessed in PNG,
Solomon Islands, Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu, are often the manifestation of much
deeper or systemic social, economic or political disquiet. Conflict may present
as inter-ethnic violence but the root causes are variously related to access to
employment, food and water; matters of equity and opportunity; political
corruption and poor governance.
This indicates a much more complicated security dynamic: political
problems become economic problems which in turn become security problems. While
this reveals the interrelated or cyclical nature of Pacific disadvantage, it
also suggests the multidimensional aspects of conflict and security. Thus, while
it is one thing to have the policing capacity to deal with civil unrest; it is another
to deal with the root causes of conflict. Dr Bob Breen encapsulated this
More troops, more police, more money and more consultants
will not be enough. These measures are reactions to symptoms that do not attend
to the deeper causes of neighbourhood problems.
Sustained higher level intervention is futile unless there is
enduring and effective improvement at the community level. Secure and confident
communities are the foundations for democratic governance and economic
progress. Communities cannot be built or rebuilt unless there is a shared sense
of security and optimism.
The committee's 2008 report into Australia's involvement in peacekeeping
operations underscored this view.
In this chapter, the committee explored some of the complex and
interconnected factors that contribute to breakdowns in law and order across
the Pacific, including: unemployment, inter-ethnic tensions, land tenure,
access to weapons, gender inequality and political instability. The committee
has also considered how these factors may interact to bring about outbreaks of
violence in the form of rioting, coups, interracial conflict, and violence
against women. These root causes have significant consequences for the
maintenance of law and order, policing and community safety and the
institutionalisation of the rule of law in Pacific islands states.
Importantly, the committee identified a series of accelerants that can lead
to a rapid deterioration in law and order. For example, rapid urbanisation,
unemployment and poverty contribute to crime which in turn is magnified by the
availability of modern weapons. Poor arms control, in particular, can inflame
levels of civil disorder and can be used to facilitate or support inter-ethnic
violence or other criminal activities. In the following chapter, the committee
considers the capacity of policing organisations across the Pacific to manage
these breakdowns in law and order.
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