marae_rekohuAt the end of September, I had the great privilege to visit the Chatham Islands as a guest of the Moriori people and part of a 50-strong delegation of officials and peace activists from New Zealand and overseas. We went to renew the Moriori code of non-violence and passive resistance and, in that special way, “bless” the World March for Peace and Nonviolence that began in Wellington on 2 October 2009 and will end in Argentina three months later. (more…)

dsc_0110My friend bought me a gift back from her mid-winter vacation in Fiji, a bottle of “Freedom Water” that promises the consumer the “power or right to act, speak, of think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” I guess the thought is carefree, but hardly applicable to Fiji right now.

According to my friend, Kiwis holidaymakers should no longer expect a warm welcome in Fiji (no matter what you pay). Locals expressed support for the interim government put in place by the military regime two and a half years ago, while local media reported fluff and nothing of substance.

Fiji was the subject of collective hand-wringing at the Pacific Forum leaders meeting in Cairns last week. Human Rights Watch called for stronger action to tackle Fiji’s ongoing abuses. Australia and New Zealand secured “agreement” for a free trade deal with Pacific nations barring Fiji, while they weakened the climate change goal in the final communique.

“Freedom Water” is bottled of Fijian company Aqua Pacific, which has been criticised by pro-military bloggers. We should probably all be wary of bottled water – it might taste good, but it ain’t helping the planet…

fijiOver the past month the situation in Fiji has deterioated dramatically. The past two years since the military took power in December 2006 were bad, but now the situation is untenable. According to my count, four people have died in or after being held in military and/or police custody and dozens more have been detained and assaulted.  It was not exactly a “bloodless” coup nor is the situation as “calm” now as some portray it. (more…)

I just found out that Palau joined the Mine Ban Treaty on 18 November 2007 (my birthday!), bringing the number of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty to 156. The announcement of the accession was made on the first day of the Eighth Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in Jordan. Palau’s close military ties with the United States, which has not joined the Mine Ban Treaty, complicated its ability to join the treaty. The announcement is really nice as I provided the Landmine Monitor update on Palau for this year’s report and have on several occassions met the diplomat who made the accession happen. Here’s a photo of Marvin T. Ngirutang that I took in Zagreb in 2005.

I’ve accepted an invitation to participate on a committee that oversees the Peace and Disarmament Education Trust Fund, a body established by the government in 1988 uusing $1.5 million in reparations that France paid to New Zealand for its bombing of the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior ship in Auckland harbour on 10 July 1985. It was a grant from the fund that enabled me to get started on my work banning landmines fifteen years ago so

From 3-4 May 2007, I participated in a Pacific-wide workshop on the Mine Ban Treaty held in Port Vila, Vanuatu. On the way out of the country I snapped this photo of a World War Two era unexploded bomb sitting by the airport departure lounge!

From 18-19 April 2007, I was in Fiji for a people’s consultation on the proposed global Arms Trade Treaty, basically a workshop convened by the Pacific Concerns Resource Center (PCRC). This was the only people’s consultation held in the Pacific region to help draw public attention to the need for governments to provide feedback on the scope, feasibility and need for stronger government restrictions on transfers of conventional weapons.

I did some shopping today at the heavily secured Boroka Foodworld supermarket. My expat colleague from the highlands wanted to pick up some hard-to-find produce like yoghurt and spinach. My shopping criteria was for products made in PNG that were not perishable. Picked up some ground coffee from Goroka for NZD$4.20/K8.20 per pound, a few cans of “Diana” tuna, a jar of banana-ginger jam, a pot of honey, and few savoury wafer biscuits that seem to be popular. While the packaging looked great, I decided against the cans of corned beef… Customs in Australia were a bit annoyed, but let me keep everything! Returning to New Zealand via Oz was a bit of a shock – poverty/wealth, black/white – all less than 2 hours apart…

I’ve only had a glimpse in, but Papua New Guinea seems like an amazing country. It is overwhelming rural and Port Moresby felt more like a town than the capital of the country with 5.8 million people divided between the mountainous highlands, coastal areas, and islands. Over 850 indigenous languages are spoken, while Pidgin English or “Tok Pisin” is principal unifying language. Trying to follow Pidgin is a lot of fun. Woman is “meri” so my name came in for some humourous name-calling (like “razor meri” or “sharp/fine woman.”

Since independence in 1975 from its Australian administrators, the government has struggled to govern under the Westminster-style parliamentary system. Infrastructure is minimal. Airplanes are the only means to get around most parts of the country and the flights aren’t cheap (US$500+). Corruption is rampant and crime serious. Tribal warfare continues in the highlands and conflicts have arisen over foreign exploitation of the country’s vast oil, gas, and mineral reserves. During the week I read articles in the national Post-Courier newspaper with headlines such as: “gang taunts cops as they rape woman” and “infant devoured by dogs” and “terror on Mt. Hagen streets.”

Just one national TV station, EM TV, screening news at 6pm and music videos from around the Pacific as well as copious amounts of cricket. One of the biggest stories that week was the cancellation of an A$8 billion gas pipeline from the southern highlands down to Queensland.

In 2006, Oxfam started working with some local health, women’s and youth groups in Tari who were concerned to try and reduce violence in and around their town. After a State of Emergency was declared in September, there was a fear that police would enter communities to seize weapons by force. So the civil society groups worked together with the community police in Tari to encourage the peaceful surrender of weapons and no police raids took place. Since the emergency, security in Tari has improved markedly; a road project is now underway and services are being restored (banking, post office). Still basic education and healthcare are apparently abysmal and Tari is pushing for the establishment of a separate Hela province to try and improve access to services. I went to PNG to meet with these and other groups to plan Oxfam’s research and advocacy into gun violence prevention. This photo shows James Palona from Tari Urban Youth Group (left) and Joseph Worai, who runs Community Based Health Care from Tari.

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