Bougainville votes for independence

The results of the Bougainville referendum were announced last week. After two weeks of polling, verification and counting proceeded smoothly and quickly. The level of participation was high, with 85% of eligible voters casting their votes. The result was overwhelmingly in favour of “Box 2” with 97.7% voting for independence from Papua New Guinea. The Prime Minister, James Marape, travelled to Arawa on Friday, where he addressed a crowd of 10,000 people amid scenes of celebration. Under the terms of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, the result must be ratified by the Parliament of Papua New Guinea. Before that, the governments of PNG and Bougainville will negotiate the terms of what will be put forward to the PNG Parliament. The referendum results will have a lot of influence over what happens in the elections to the next Autonomous Bougainville Government to be held next year.

‘Nauru 19’ found guilty

The group known as the ‘Nauru 19’ have been found guilty of offences related to a protest outside Parliament in 2015. The case has been very controversial. Last year, Geoffrey Muecke J was engaged specifically to hear this case and his decision was that the proceedings should be stayed. That decision was overturned by Nauru’s Court of Appeal and the case was restarted before Daniel Fatiaki J. There have been many concerns expressed about the way the case has been run, including that the defendants did not have adequate legal representation, and that there was no consideration of granting them bail while they awaited sentence. Three of the original group are in Australia, seeking asylum. One of the group, Sprent Dabwido, died earlier this year after being denied the opportunity to leave Nauru for medical treatment for a long period of time.

ACP Heads of Government support investigation of human rights issues in West Papua

Heads of governments from the Africa Caribbean Pacific group have passed a resolution calling for an investigation of human rights issues in West Papua. The leaders of 79 countries have called on the parties to facilitate a visit by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights to the region. They have also called for the government of Indonesia to allow foreign journalists to enter West Papua to report on what is happening there. The increased prominence given to this issue by leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum earlier in the year paved the way for this resolution to be passed at the Heads of Government summit that was held recently in Kenya. This landmark decision, driven by the government of Vanuatu, brings together the largest number of UN countries to address the question of human rights in West Papua.

COP 25 concludes amid disappointment

COP 25 has concluded in Madrid. There have been mixed responses to what was achieved. However, there are several aspects of what happened that have caused disappointment on the part of Pacific participants. The call for greater ambition when it comes to cutting carbon emissions appears to have gone unheeded by the large emitters, including India, Brazil, and the United States. Despite extending the period for negotiation, the meeting ended with no agreement on rules relating to global emissions trading schemes. In relation to loss and damage, there was some progress in the establishment of the Santiago Loss and Damage Network and an expert group. However, disagreement about the governance of the Warsaw International Mechanism for loss and damage remains unresolved. Australia’s intention to use credits achieved under the Kyoto agreement to achieve its Paris targets has been strongly criticised by many nations at the COP.

New faces in Pacific High Commissions

A number of new faces will be taking up diplomatic appointments in the Pacific islands region as we head towards 2020. For the UK, the new High Commissioner to Solomon Islands is Dr Brian Jones, who is also non-resident High Commissioner to the Republic of Nauru. Dr Jones’ most recent posting was to Freetown, Sierra Leone. He replaces Mr David Ward, who has been appointed as the UK’s High Commissioner to Samoa, with the opening of a new post there. Dr Jones will be joined in Honiara by Dr Lachlan Strahan, who has been announced as the new Australian High Commissioner. Dr Strahan was very involved in the negotiations for the PACER Plus trade agreement. Australia has also announced that the new High Commissioner to Vanuatu will be Ms Sarah de Zoeten. Ms de Zoeten was recently Counsellor in the Australian High Commission of Papua New Guinea.

This is the last ‘Weekly Pacific Bulletin’ for 2019 – we will be back in the New Year!


Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.