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Political Instability A Challenge For The Pacific

www.redcross.org.nz
26 September 2001

Thursday 27 September


Political Instability A Challenge For The Pacific


Coping with increased political instability is shaping up as one of the major challenges for humanitarian agencies in the Pacific, the Red Cross said today at the launch of an international seminar on ‘Tensions and Conflicts in the Pacific’.

Accordingly, it is becoming increasingly important that there is an understanding and respect for the principles of international humanitarian law, such as the Geneva Conventions, in the Pacific.

“While we would hope that conflicts and disturbances do not occur, the sad reality is that they are likely to continue,” New Zealand Red Cross National President, Patricia O’Brien, said.

“In such circumstances, it is vital that humanitarian agencies work to prevent or alleviate human suffering whenever possible.”

“The Red Cross Movement is aiming to achieve this by fostering respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) principles throughout the region, such as on how civilians, women and children, and the sick and wounded should be treated during conflicts or disturbances.”

The seminar has been organised by the New Zealand Red Cross, with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and unites law enforcement officers from throughout the Pacific and South-East Asia.

It will explore the humanitarian issues that arise in law enforcement operations during internal disturbances that fall short of armed conflict, yet are beyond ‘normal’ policing activities. It will also look at practical means of ensuring respect and application of the universal principles of IHL and human rights law (HR).

With few standing armies in the Pacific, the police play an especially important role in dealing with internal disturbances, as occurred in the Solomon Islands in 1999 and 2000.

Dr Thomas Gurtner, Head of the ICRC’s Regional Delegation for the Pacific, said recent instability in the Pacific has resulted in the organisation being called upon to expand its activities, especially in relation to Fiji, the Solomon Islands and East Timor.

Under the mandate accorded to it by the Geneva Conventions, the ICRC has visited people detained as a result of the disturbances in the Solomon Islands; is continuing its visits to those held in relation to events in May and November last year in Fiji; provided assistance to those in need in the Solomon Islands, including access to medical care; disseminated IHL to combatants in the Solomons; conducted training workshops and seminars on IHL and HR for police forces in the Pacific; and held seminars on IHL for the military.

“It is extremely important that we work on a preventive basis. All people need to know that there are minimum standards enshrined in international law to lessen the impact of conflicts or disturbances.”

“These are standards that are accepted by most governments, through ratification of international humanitarian law treaties such as the Geneva Conventions, and that are compatible with the private moralities of most people.”

“Respect for these standards provides some of the best safeguards for people caught up in disturbances, and will help protect victims such as women and children.”

Dr Gurtner said the seminar provided an opportunity to highlight with law enforcement officers the areas of mutual concern to both armed forces and humanitarian agencies.

The three-day seminar begins on Thursday 27 September, in Auckland, and will be open to the public on Saturday 29 September. Speakers will discuss issues of global and regional relevance, including the changing face of conflicts, the challenges faced by the military and police in dealing with complex conflicts or internal tensions, and the role of IHL in these situations.


For more information, please contact Andrew Macalister at 025-6228135.

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