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FOCUS September 2007 Volume 49

Pacific Regionalism

Jefferson R. Plantilla*

* Jefferson R. Plantilla is a staff of HURIGHTS OSAKA.

The thirty-seven-year-old Pacific Islands Forum[1] has undertaken steps toward regional integration. The Forum is composed of the Cook Islands, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

It adopted in 2004 the following vision for the Pacific:[2]

Leaders believe the Pacific can, should and will be a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that all of its people can lead free and worthwhile lives. We treasure the diversity of the Pacific and seek a future in which its cultures and traditions are valued, honoured and developed. We seek a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values, and for its defence and promotion of human rights. We seek partnerships with our neighbours and beyond to develop our knowledge, to improve our communications and to ensure a sustainable economic existence for all.

This vision can be achieved through, among others, The[3]

recognition that the Forum has to exist for the practical benefit of Pacific people, and of the importance of cultural identity, regional inclusiveness, sub-regional representation, human rights, women and gender, youth, and civil society and invited the Secretary General, in preparing the Pacific Plan, to consult, assess and make proposals on how cultural identity could be best strengthened through the work of the Forum and [Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific] CROP agencies, in particular the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

This vision for the Pacific was incorporated in the Pacific Plan for Strengthening Regional Cooperation and Integration(Pacific Plan), which aims to "... create stronger and deeper links between the sovereign countries of the region and identify the sectors where the region could gain the most from sharing resources of governance and aligning policies." The Pacific Plan was drafted through "broad-based national and regional consultations," and was endorsed initially in the October 2005 meeting of the Leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum, and amended in the Leaders Meeting in the following year.

The goal of the Pacific Plan is to "enhance and stimulate economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security for Pacific countries through regionalism." It has four main pillars: Economic Growth, Sustainable Development, Good Governance, and Security.

Good Governance is defined as

the transparent, accountable and equitable management of all resources. Good governance is a prerequisite for sustainable development and economic growth.

Under Good Governance, the activities for immediate implementation are the:

  • Regional support to the Forum Principles of Good Leadership and Accountability
  • Enhancement of governance mechanisms, including in resource management; and in the harmonisation of traditional and modern values and structures
  • Where appropriate, ratification and implementation of international and regional human rights conventions, covenants and agreements and support for reporting and other requirements
  • Development of a strategy to support participatory democracy and consultative decision-making (including NSAs [Non-State Actors], youth, women and disabled), and electoral processes.[4]

For the ratification and implementation of international and regional human rights conventions, covenants and agreements and support for reporting and other requirements, the Plan aims to establish by 2007 a regional support mechanism that include the

drafting, harmonisation and promotion of awareness of rights-based domestic legislation within the Pacific, including: CEDAW [Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women] on gender; CRC [Convention on the Rights of the Child] on children; CERD [International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination] on racial discrimination; ILO Convention 169 on rights of indigenous peoples; Article 50 of the Cotonou Agreement on labour rights; 1990 International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families; the Biwako Millennium Framework for people with disabilities; UNSCR1325 involving men and women in conflict resolution; human rights; and reciprocal enforcement.

These efforts are expected to intensify for "full implementation by end of 2008."

It lists as subject to further analysis the establishment of a "regional ombudsman and human rights mechanisms to support [the] implementation of Forum Principles of Good Leadership and Accountability, etc."[5]

The Task Force,[6] created to draft the Plan, listed as an identified regional initiative under the Good Governance pillar, the creation of a "Pacific Charter of Human Rights under a regional human rights commissioner, and national human rights mechanisms with associated education and training links."[7] This suggestion was not completely included in the Pacific Plan since the Forum Leaders decided to do further study on the issue of regional human rights mechanisms.

Under Security (defined as the stable and safe social [or human] and political conditions necessary for, and reflective of, good governance and sustainable development for the achievement of economic growth), there are also human-rights-related activities in relation to the aim to

13.3 Strengthen law enforcement training (e.g. regional policing initiative), coordination and attachments.

This covers "[R]egional training courses, coordination initiatives and attachments [to be] upgraded by the end of 2008" on issues such as

customs; immigration; intelligence; family, domestic, gender and sexual violence; human rights; juvenile justice; drug control; exclusive economic zone (EEZ) patrol programmes; accountability mechanisms; and military police.)

The Pacific Plan states that "[P]olitical oversight and guidance to the Secretariat is provided, during the year, by a Pacific Plan Action Committee (PPAC) , chaired by the Forum Chair and comprising representatives of all Pacific Island Forum Countries and Pacific territories."

Eminent Persons Group

The Pacific Plan was first recommended by an Eminent Persons Group (EPG), which was established upon the agreement of the Leaders during their 34th meeting in Auckland. The Forum Leaders wanted the EPG to review the Forum and its Secretariat.

The EPG consisted of former Kiribati President Teburoro Tito, former PNG Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan, Samoan Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma, University of the South Pacific pro-Chancellor Dr. Langi Kavaliku, and retired Australian diplomat Bob Cotton. A larger Reflection Group, chaired by a Prime Minister and made up of other experts from the Pacific, acted as the sounding board for the EPG in the review process.[8]

The EPG while acknowledging that the Pacific Islands Forum is "a cohesive regional force and an effective means of projecting the region's concerns to the wider world" observed that "...there are clear signs that the Forum needs re-interpreting and updating to meet changing needs, and a growing array of global and regional challenges."

Of the four major suggestions of the EPG on human rights, three were adopted for immediate implementation (ratification and implementation of international and regional human rights instruments, harmonization of traditional and modern values and structures, and development of strategy for participatory democracy and consultative decision-making), while the fourth one (regional human rights mechanism) was tabled for further analysis.

Relevance to ASEAN

The reinterpretation of the role of existing regional mechanism to meet present challenges provides an opportunity for the establishment of a mechanism for human rights. Both ASEAN and the Forum face the challenge of agreeing to a subregional human rights mechanism.

Both ASEAN and the Forum have agreed on concrete steps related to human rights. ASEAN has its Vientiane Action Programme (VAP). The Forum has a set of activities for immediate implementation during the 2007-2008 period under the Pacific Plan.

The Forum Leaders agreed to accelerate the integration of trade in services, including "temporary movement of labour" in the trade agreements. This is under the Economic Growth pillar.[9] They are also studying the issue of "labour mobility" under the future regional economic integration scheme.[10] Under the Good Governance pillar the Forum Leaders urged the ratification and implementation, "where appropriate," several international human rights instruments including that on the migrant workers rights. The ASEAN has agreed to form a committee on migrant workers to implement the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.[11]

One major issue that has been considered by ASEAN, but not included in the Pacific Plan, is the role of the national human rights institutions. ASEAN has recognized under the VAP human rights section the need to strengthen the networking among the four existing national human rights institutions in Southeast Asia.[12] With the planned ASEAN human rights body, these national human rights institutions may play a role also.

Finally, it is worth noting that both ASEAN and the Forum employed the services of an Eminent Persons Group to collect suggestions from various sectors of society and draft a set of proposals on a subregional document. ASEAN and the Forum have a special body that drafted the final document - the Task Force for the Forum, and the High Level Task Force for ASEAN. Both task forces, in varying ways, solicited suggestions from civil society in preparing their draft documents.

The July 2007 decision of the foreign ministers of ASEAN member-states to create a human rights body as well as a committee on migrant workers puts ASEAN in a better light than the Pacific Islands Forum in the field human rights. Much is to be seen however on how this headway will translate into an effective ASEAN machinery in the future.


1. This is formerly the South Pacific Forum until 2000.

2. The Auckland Declaration, The Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders Retreat, April 2004, Auckland in

3. Ibid.

4. The Forum Leaders further narrowed the activities for immediate implementation to encouraging participatory democracy and implementation of international human rights instruments, Nadi Decisions on the Pacific Plan (October 2006) in,%20%20Annex%20A%20to%20the%202006%20Forum%20Communique.pdf

5. The Principles of Good Leadership, defined during the Leaders Meeting, have several human rights provisions:

i) Respect for and upholding of democratic processes and institutions, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and the legislature.
iii) Protection of fundamental human rights.
Respect for cultural values, customs, traditions and indigenous rights and observation of traditional protocols in the exercise of power.
Respect for religious belief and practice.

6. Pacific Plan Background Papers, October 2005, pages 2-3, for the terms of reference of the Task Force. It was composed of senior officials representatives from all Forum countries and representatives of regional organizations.

7. See Pacific Plan Background Papers, page 14.

8. See Group named to review Pacific Forum issues in

9. See Attachment A: Implementation Strategy: Initiatives for the First Three Years (2006-2008), Pacific Plan, page 11.

10. Pacific Plan, page 8. The "labour mobility" is a crucial issue particularly for Australia which is being challenged to show its commitment to "free and open labour markets." Hugh White, "Pacific Plan puts Howard to the test" (October 10, 2005) in

11. See Statement to Establish the ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, 31 of July 2007.

12. They exist in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. In the Pacific, Australia, Fiji and New Zealand have national human rights institutions.