In recent times, people within and outside the Pacific region have become increasingly concerned about instability and conflict in Pacific Island countries. The region has witnessed instances of violent conflict, civil unrest, political crises, and rising rates of criminality. These have had serious consequences for internal stability and sustainable development in a number of countries, which also have the potential to reverberate across the region.
One of the guiding principles of the Biketawa Declaration, adopted in 2000, recognises ‘the importance of averting the causes of conflict…’, and the Declaration directs that action to be taken in times of crisis ‘must constructively address difficult and sensitive issues underlying causes of tensions and conflict (ethnic tensions, socio-economic disparities, lack of good governance, land disputes and erosion of cultural values)’.
Since the adoption of the Biketawa Declaration, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has been increasingly involved in regional support efforts to prevent and manage conflict and build peace. This typically involves: i) addressing underlying causes of conflict through development; ii) analysing conflict dynamics and monitoring their escalation; and iii) strengthening existing regional, national and community-based conflict resolution capacities.
Specifically, the Secretariat’s work on conflict consists of the following:
Over the past few years, broadening the discussions at the annual Forum Regional Security Committee (FRSC) meetings from a focus on traditional state security issues (eg. transnational crime, terrorism) to include issues of conflict prevention and peace building, including communities’ and individuals’ perceptions of security.
In addition, recognising the added value of civil society contribution to policy-making, the Secretariat has also initiated regional Track II dialogue processes on conflict, peace & security issues between officials and civil society organisations.
Policy development and co-ordination of assistance to address the underlying causes of conflict
In partnership with Member States, regional agencies and international donors, the Secretariat develops evidence-based policy to help address the underlying causes of conflict (such as socio-economic disparities, land) and potential exacerbating factors (such as climate change, natural disasters, urbanisation). For example, one important part of this work has been a focus on efforts to manage and reduce land-related conflict in the Pacific through the Land Management and Conflict Minimisation project.
Developing and strengthening regional conflict responses
Under the Biketawa Declaration, the Programme has developed a series of responses to conflicts and crises in the Pacific. The Declaration provided the framework for the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and the Programme supports the regional oversight and review mechanisms of RAMSI. The Programme is also actively involved in supporting the implementation of the Biketawa Declaration in other member countries facing political crises or instability.
The important contribution of women to peacebuilding efforts is widely acknowledged across the Pacific. At the same time, women, men, boys and girls also have different needs and perceptions of security. In recognition of this, the Forum Secretariat ensures that gender perspectives are mainstreamed across its work on conflict, peace & security and promotes dialogue on these issues at the Forum Regional Security Committee meetings.
Meaningful conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts require an integrated approach which includes a wide range of stakeholders. As a result, the Secretariat aims to ensure that where possible, its work on conflict is undertaken in close collaboration and partnership with Member states, regional agencies such as the Secretariat for the Pacific Community and the University of the South Pacific, international agencies and civil society organisations.