Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General
Statement to the High Level Segment of the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council
24th February 2021
Madam President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you for the opportunity to deliver a statement on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
The Pacific Islands Forum brings together 18 Member states to protect the people, place, and prospects of our Blue Pacific Continent.
My statement today will highlight three Forum Leaders’ priorities – COVID-19 response and recovery; the climate change crisis; and human rights in West Papua (Papua).
Your Excellencies, Forum Leaders have recognised COVID-19 as a major crisis for our Blue Pacific region and are deeply concerned about its effects across the globe.
Our Member States acted quickly to restrict the spread of COVID-19, putting in place exceptional national response measures and establishing the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19.
While such swift action resulted in a relatively low rate of infection across the region, it severely restricted our links to each other, and the world, with devastating socio-economic impacts.
Indeed, the Pacific region is said to have contracted by an unprecedented 6.1 per cent last year. Major job losses and plummeting incomes are resulting in family and community hardship, with poverty, hunger and malnutrition increasing. Gender based violence, which is already a major challenge for our region, is on the rise.
Today, the health and wellbeing of Pacific peoples, and our Ocean, remain our greatest priority.
Forum Leaders have called for a coordinated and sustained COVID-19 recovery in the Pacific – working through national and regional systems to protect the vulnerable, support economic livelihoods and ‘build back better’.
An example of a Pacific led solution is the Pacific Resilience Facility, which seeks to provide small grants to communities to build their resilience towards climate and disaster risks, including pandemics.
Our Forum Leaders have also called on global leaders to support the equitable and affordable distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 treatments and vaccines to all peoples.
In addition, Forum Leaders have called for support to build quality health infrastructure and systems. For the Pacific, this is important in the fight against communicable and non-communicable diseases.
We call on the Human Rights Council to ensure no one is left behind in rebuilding from COVID-19, and that all Members have the right to access medical supplies and vaccines at affordable prices.
While COVID-19 is our immediate crisis, Forum Leaders have reaffirmed climate change as the single greatest threat to our region.
Currently at 1.2 degree Celsius of global warming, our sea levels are rising, our ocean is warming, and more frequent and extreme weather events are inflicting damage and destruction. Indeed, four category 5 cyclones have hit our region since 2015 , and just this year, three cyclones have already wreaked havoc in Fiji.
Between 2008 and 2019, more than 616,000 new displacements have been recorded across the Pacific, from a total of 97 disaster events .
Recognising the urgency, Forum Leaders issued their strongest collective statement on climate change action in 2019 – the Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Change Action Now.
The declaration recognises that the prosperity and security of our Blue Pacific can only safely exist if the international community pursues efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
It calls on partners to join with the Blue Pacific in taking bold, decisive, and transformative climate change action.
Despite the fact that the climate crisis has cross-cutting impacts and requires urgent attention, there is no dedicated mechanism at the Human Rights Council.
Last year, our Forum Foreign Ministers endorsed the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change.
Today, I reiterate the call of our Forum Foreign Ministers, and encourage the Human Rights Council to act swiftly and decisively to establish a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change.
West Papua (Papua)
Excellencies, the violent conflict and subsequent human rights violations in West Papua (Papua) has been a concern for the Pacific Island Forum Leaders for over 20 years. In 2016, it become a standing agenda item for Forum Leaders.
Pacific Island Forum Leaders’ focus on West Papua has been squarely on human rights – calling on all parties to protect and uphold the human rights of all residents, and to work to address the root causes of the conflict by peaceful means.
In recent years, the escalation of tension and alleged human rights violations on both sides of the conflict, particularly against innocent civilians, has deepened the collective concerns of the Leaders of the Pacific.
When our Leaders met in Tuvalu two years ago, they welcomed the invitation by the Government of Indonesia for a mission to West Papua by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and strongly encouraged both sides to finalise the timing of the visit. Leaders also called for an evidence-based report on the situation in West Papua to be provided before their next meeting.
We call on distinguished Council Members to encourage all relevant parties to urgently facilitate a mission to West Papua by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Just like climate change and other pertinent challenges to our Blue Pacific, the COVID-19 pandemic must not hinder our efforts to address critical issues.
I thank you.
Hon. Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, CF (Mil),OStJ,MSD,JSSC,PSC, Prime Minister and Minister for iTaukei Affairs, Sugar Industry, and Foreign Affairs
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H.E. Casten N. Nemra, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Marshall Islands
Hon. Ms. Nanaia Mahuta, Minister for Foreign Affairs of New Zealand
Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum
Stuart Minchin, Director General of the Pacific Community