PHOTO: Participants of the 2ND Pacific Islands Roundtable On International Humanitarian Law Meeting in progress in Apia. Photo Talamua Media
By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – TUESDAY 14 MAY 2019: As a region, the Pacific is vulnerable already to the shocks caused by the effects of climate change, the real risk of international and cross border crime, the misuse and abuse of the media and the internet for hate speech and fake news, we in the Pacific are no longer as isolated as we would like to believe from the drivers of conflicts in this modern day.
“We therefore must be prepared, we must be resilient and we must have the protection and utility of International Humanitarian Law as embodied in our national laws,” said Layer Katalaina Sapolu, the Director of the Governance and Peace Directorate of the Commonwealth Secretariat.
She was speaking at the 2nd Pacific Islands Roundtable On International Humanitarian Law Meeting now in progress in Apia to highlight the importance of ratifying and implementing Treaties to protect individual countries citizens.
“Ratifying and fully implementing treaties at the domestic level that address, for example, arms transfer, the protection of cultural property in armed conflict or the prohibition of nuclear weapons, puts into action a country’s commitment to ensuring the protection of the rights of its citizens,” said Sapolu.
So why meet at this time here in the Pacific?
Sapolu said the Roundtable meeting will discuss issues of importance to the Pacific.
“It is about prevention and preparedness, about resilience and about the protection of International Humanitarian Law which sets limits to the use of violence, and ensures the protection of civilians in armed conflict,” she said.
This year marks 70 years since the Geneva Convention which International Humanitarian Law is under with other protocols, and according to Sapolu, despite the development in institutions and the rule of law, IHL relevance remains crucial.
She highlighted Key Weapons Treaty, Cyber Crime, Climate Change and Arms Trade Treaty has some of the crucial Treaties many Pacific Islands have ratified which will be discussed in the meeting.
“Pacific Island countries are not producers of small arms and light weapons. In July 2018 however, the police force of one Pacific state recovered 300 unlicensed guns from their operations.
“The recovery of such weapons is an indication that the Pacific is as vulnerable as other places as far as trading of weapons is concern.”
Relevance Of International Humanitarian Law To Pacific
The Assembly Member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Majuro Arrigoni said the Pacific may be a long way from Switzerland where the Geneva Convention was coined, but the Roundtable meeting is to reaffirm the relevance of IHL in the Pacific Region.
“Beyond this, the aim is to create a platform for Pacific Island countries, a powerful regional voice to contribute and influence global efforts to develop and strengthen the rules regulating warfare,” said Arrigoni.
Samoa’s Deputy Prime Minister who is also the Minister for Natural Resources & Environment (MNRE) Fiame Naomi Mataafa said collectively, the Pacific believes that there is relevancy of IHL to the Pacific as noted in the First Rountable Meeting in Fiji in 2017.
She noted internal conflicts by way of tribal rivalry and wars in some Pacific Islands.
“Accepting IHL is crucial to limiting the effect of such conflict on population and infrastructure. Samoa and other islands send police to serve in peacekeeping missions where arms take place, and it is important for them to understand IHL as they will be call upon to apply IHL in those areas,” said Fiame.
She said as Pacific Islands, we are enforcing and supporting international legal frameworks is beneficial especially when we wish to raise issues internationally.
She encourage the participants to focus discussion on IHL framework and consider ways that it could be properly implemented in their jurisdiction taking into account the Pacific’s unique circumstances.
“We therefore must be prepared, we must be resilient and we must have the protection and utility of International Humanitarian Law as embodied in our national laws,” said Sapolu.