3 Jun 2021

In brief: News from around the Pacific

4:24 pm on 3 June 2021

A petition asking the NZ government to apologise for the Dawn Raids closes soon, Vanuatu's new criminal defamation law enters into force, and Guam calls for US recognition of Samoa's newly elected government.

A selection of images from the 1970s, the era of the dawn raids, by photographer John Miller, as part of the exhibition.

Images from the 1970s, dawn raids era, by photographer John Miller, as part of an exhibition at Pātaka museum in Porirua. Photo: RNZ / Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor

Dawn Raids apology petition to be presented

A petition has been written to New Zealand's Parliament for a formal Government apology for the 1970s Dawn Raids.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Polynesian Panthers - the social justice movement which played a role in the eventual halt of the deportation scheme, which targeted Pacific Islanders.

Petition co-author Benji Timu has recently toured high schools with the Panthers. He hopes that the Dawn Raids events can be taught in all schools and kura.

"As a diaspora of the Pasifika people... I think it's really important that we understand this part of the history.

"We're coming into a time where we have third generation-born Samoans, Tongans in New Zealand. But we don't even know that story."

The petition closes on Sunday.

Vanuatu criminal defamation law enters into force

An independent journalist in Vanuatu says the new criminal defamation law is a ill-considered legislative overstep that will have negative human rights implications in the long-term.

On 27 April parliamentarians voted to change defamation from a civil liability to a criminal offence.

The law was gazetted and entered into force last week.

Journalist Dan McGarry says he believes the law change was a genuine but poorly conceived attempt to address public concerns about malicious speech on social media.

"I don't think anybody stopped to look at what the actual concerns were. And as a result we've got a law that overstepped significantly, and really directly impacts human rights and the right to free speech here in Vanuatu."

Date confirmed for third New Caledonian independence referendum

The French overseas minister has confirmed New Caledonia will hold an independence referendum on 12 December.

A weighty report on the implications of the next independence referendum for New Caledonia is expected to be made public next week.

Photo: 123rf

It will be the third and final independence referendum under the 1998 Noumea Accord.

The minister, Sebastien Lecornu, said it's in most people's interest for the referendum to be held as quickly as possible.

But pro-independence politicians have already declared their displeasure at the announcement.

They had wanted a referendum to be held after next year's French presidential election.

The result of last year's referendum was narrower than many expected, with 53 percent voting to stay with France.

Samoa: Legal action threatened over leaked photo

Samoa Police are threatening action against the staffer who leaked a photograph of a shirtless FAST Party MP, Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster, after he was Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster arrested for drink driving.

Schuster was arrested on Tuesday night after independence celebrations and the FAST party's first anniversary.

Samoa Global News reports that police commissioner Fuiavailili Egon Keil said his office was investigating.

He said the person responsible would face heavy penalties, which could include termination as well as criminal charges.

Guam calls for US recognition of newly elected Samoan government

Guam's Legislative Committee on Regional Affairs has called on the United States to uphold democracy by recognising the newly elected Prime Minister of Samoa.

Guam's capital Hagatna, seen from Fort Santa Agueda.

Guam's capital Hagatna, seen from Fort Santa Agueda. Photo: Supplied/ Abasaa/ Public Domain

It sent a letter to the US Secretary of State, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands, as well as to the chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

The letter urges the leaders to reaffirm their nation's commitment to the democratic process by recognizing Fiame Naomi Mata'afa as Prime Minister of Samoa.

In the letter, Chairwoman Tina Rose Muña Barnes and Vice Chairwoman Mary Camacho Torres state that democracy cannot be denied, and everyone must uphold the values of a free and fair election process and the long-held democratic norms of peaceful transitions.

"We have seen firsthand the end result of a sitting leader refusing a peaceful transition.

"As a nation that promotes a free and open Indo-Pacific, we must stand united in our commitment to the fundamental concept of democracy."

The Federated States of Micronesia and Palau have both acknowledged Fiame as Samoa's prime minister.

Vanuatu vaccinates first 100 people

The Covid-19 vaccination campaign in Vanuatu has reached its first small step, with 100 people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, the country's health director Russell Tamata says.

A march was held yesterday through the streets of Port Vila to the venue for the vaccinations, the National Convention Centre, where the first people began getting their jabs.

Vanuatu MP, opposition leader Ralph Regenvanu, after getting his first Covid-19 vaccination at Port Vila.

Vanuatu MP Ralph Regenvanu, after getting his first Covid-19 vaccination at Port Vila. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Hilaire Bule

Due to the current political turmoil, the Prime Minister Bob Loughman was not one of the first recipients, as had been planned. But Health Minister Sailas Bule and opposition leader Ralph Regenvanu both got their first shots.

Regenvanu said he was happy to get the vaccine to show the people of Port Vila it is safe, and to encourage them to get it to protect their community.

Fish exports top earner for Samoa

Fish exports continue to be the top export earner for Samoa, despite a drop in earnings by 25 percent for the quarter ending December 2020.

According to the Samoa Bureau of Statistics, fish exports earned almost US$3 million in the quarter (ST$7.5m, NZ$4m), but total exports were down 15.5 percent to US$8.5m (ST$21.5m, US$11.7m).

Vegetables exports, which were next in value after fish, dropped slightly, while fats and oils were up, reflecting growing interest in refined coconut oil.

Merchandise imports to Samoa were valued at $US92.27m (ST$233m, NZ$127m) for the same period.

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