A Move To Succeed Where Colonial Powers Failed
By Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Hon. Phil Goff
When leaders gather in Auckland on August 12 for the Pacific Islands Forum, a key discussion point will be the Solomon Islands and the first use of the forum's Biketawa Declaration to deploy a regional assistance mission there.
The declaration sets out principles of good governance, human rights, democratic processes and the rule of law, as agreed by all forum countries. It emphasises the importance of forum members working together to respond to security threats and to address their causes.
This declaration provides the mandate for the police-led deployment, backed by military personnel, which has gone to the assistance of the Solomons at a time when the rule of law has been lost and social and economic development has been paralysed, causing a humanitarian crisis that threatens to undermine stability and security in the region.
When Pacific leaders signed the declaration on Biketawa Island in Kiribati during the 2000 forum, they were acknowledging that the region was moving into a new era in which ethnic and other tensions were likely to play a bigger role.
The 1988-97 civil war on Bougainville and the 1999-2000 ethnic conflict in the Solomons, which ended just a few days before the 2000 forum, had demonstrated the potential for instability in what had always been considered a relatively quiet and peaceful part of the world.
Had there been no Biketawa Declaration the process of organising a regional response to the instability in the Solomons would have been slower and required considerable diplomatic effort.
As it happened, Pacific Forum countries can be pleased with the smooth and effective way in which collective decision-making and action have been undertaken, following a process towards goals endorsed by Pacific leaders.
The forum ministers who met in Sydney on June 30 heard from the Solomons Foreign Minister, Laurie Chan, and received reports from his Australian and New Zealand counterparts, Alexander Downer and myself. The meeting agreed unanimously that action under the Biketawa Declaration was needed.
This action was subject to a formal invitation for assistance from the Solomons Government, and a resolution and empowering legislation from the Solomons Parliament, which was passed with a unanimous vote.
The deployment has overwhelming support from local people and has received a sympathetic response from the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the European Union. The task ahead, however, is not a short-term or easy one. Success relies on the mission respecting a number of key principles.
First, the deployment is only for as long as the Solomons people and Government want it to be. They retain sovereignty.
Secondly, the purpose is not to replace the Solomons Government but to work alongside it and to build its capabilities. It retains responsibility.
Thirdly, the deployment needs to be of the nature and style of earlier New Zealand operations in Bougainville and East Timor. New Zealand police and military personnel there were able to engage and work with local people as equals. The name given to the Solomons exercise, Helpen Fren (pidgin English for a helping friend), sets the tone for the operation.
Fourthly, because rebuilding social and economic structures is a long-term and expensive exercise, there is a need to engage multinational donors in the exercise. The EU, which includes France and Britain, Japan and bodies such as the World Bank will need to be key players.
Finally, the challenge in the Solomons is not only to strengthen democratic processes and institutions of the state but to build a culture and conventions that support them.
Colonial power put in place institutions which ultimately failed because they did not forge links with local cultures and traditions that would have allowed them to take root and to build the capacity of local people to make them succeed.
This is the challenge that lies ahead and which will be a focal point for Pacific leaders when they gather in Auckland.