Peacekeeping in the Pacific begins at home

By Lynley Hargreaves 17/12/2014

Dr Steven Ratuva
Dr Steven Ratuva

The last decade in the Pacific has brought civil wars, riots, and a military coup. In coming years, regional stability is likely to be complicated by increasing interest from China. The University of Auckland’s Dr Steven Ratuva investigates the traditional, community-based ways of solving problems that are strongly adhered to still. Sometimes, these can be effective in ways that state-based systems are not.

Do Pacific Island nations use formal justice systems, like the police or courts, less than other parts of the world?

Pacific island nations use both the formal justice system as well as the culture-based systems of reconciliation and peace-building. One of the fundamental differences is that the formal justice system is based on retribution where offenders are punished and in some cases, rehabilitated. The traditional systems of peace-building are based on restorative principles where the focus is on restoring good relations within the community.

There are areas where the two can work together and today the restorative justice system, which integrates the two, is being used in many countries around the world in recognition of how different cultural principles can be fused together for the benefit of humanity. A strategic and fine-tuned balance between the two should be provided to ensure that both the victims, perpetrators and the community at large have a place in the process as a way of creating a consensus. In New Zealand some community-based family courts use the restorative system. In Fiji, community-based systems of reconciliation have worked well over the years and courts can take these into their judgement, although there is still work to be done in terms of integrating the two. In the Solomon Islands, community reconciliation process formed the core of the national peace-building agenda after the civil war. In Tonga, the role of church and kinship groups helped heal some of the wounds of the 2006 riots Tonga and in New Caledonia, the role of traditional culture and leaders still provide guidance for people at the local village level in times of crisis.

Do community-based systems work better?

The two systems can complement each other. Although they have different methods, the ultimate aim is providing security. The role of the police is vital and this needs to be complemented by the role of the community. While the police represent an individualised and institutionalised justice system, community approaches are culture-based.

Are groups all willing to talk to you?

I have not had any problems talking to people in the four countries—in fact people are quite open about their situations. In the interviews I have done I have collected a massive amount of data which I have used in some Marsden publications—journal articles and forthcoming book. A lot of the data was collected by using the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) method where information is generated through group/community discussion. The views varied between those in the formal security sector and those in the informal sector while at the same time there were a lot of commonalities.

Is Chinese support in the Pacific changing the way justice or political systems work?

Chinese involvement in the Pacific has influenced the way regional security is reframed given the dynamic changes in the geopolitical configuration. Since Fiji’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), it has strengthened its political and economic links in China through its “look north policy” to balance the influence of traditional Pacific powers such as Australia and New Zealand. The formation of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) as an alternative to the PIF has created a new phase of tension in regional geopolitics. While this may not impact much on internal justice systems of individual Pacific states, it does have direct implications on the power balance and security configuration in the region.

What advice will you give Pacific leaders at the end of your Marsden study?

Part of the Marsden project is to link together the security research and security policy communities in the Pacific through a major symposium at the University of Canterbury in November 2015. There will also be security symposiums in the four countries. The whole idea is to promote research-based policy thinking amongst Pacific policy makers and leaders. Apart from a book on regional security as well as journal articles, one of the major outputs of the project is to produce a regional security manual that can be used by security experts, policy makers, leaders and researchers. Security is always changing in terms of the way it is framed and articulated so continuous research on the issue is of utmost importance, especially given the dramatic changes in the global security climate which directly impact on New Zealand and the Pacific.

These interviews showcase researchers supported by the Marsden Fund which, since 1994, has been supporting fundamental, investigator-led research in New Zealand.