Communique 2001


The sixth Student Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders (SPICOL) was held in Port Vila, Vanuatu from the 24"' of September to the I" of October 200 1. The meeting was held under the auspices of the University of the South Pacific, with financial support from the USPSA, the New Zealand High Commission, RICS Foundation (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors), SSED, SOH, FDB (Fiji Development Bank), the University Book Centre, the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre, and assistance from the Department of History/Politics, the Department of Education and Psychology, the Journalism Programme and CELT. It was attended by the Heads of Government (accompanied by their ministers and advisers) of the Cook Islands, East Timor, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. This year, the conference also admitted for the first time the participation of Aotearoa/New Zealand and a Native Hawai'lan delegation. The presence of Aotearoa/New Zealand at the conference was made possible with the collaboration and assistance of the Auckland University of Technology (AUT), MFAT and the Pacific Studies Programme at the Victoria University of Wellington. The Hawai'lan Delegation was kindly supported by the Ford Foundation and the Center for Pacific Island Studies at the University of Hawai'l. SPICOL also invited the participation of Jamaica as an observer nation. This w as made possible by the special exchange scheme between the University of the South Pacific and the University of West Indies. On the second day of the conference, SPICOL was approached by a delegation from West Papua seeking membership of this forum. After much deliberation, West Papua was accepted as the 19th member of SPICOL. They were accepted on humanitarian grounds and as fellow Pacific Islanders whose concerns needed SPICOL's urgent attention and support. Also in attendance, were two United Nations special advisers (from the Victoria University of Wellington) a number of conference consultants (including several presentations from the Fiji School of Medicine and the Fiji College of Agriculture), officials, lobbyists, activists, journalists and members of the public.

Under the general theme of land, the conference discussed a wide range of issues including:

  • the effects of deforestation, improper fanning methods, planting on slopes, burning, unwise use of technology in farming practices, and of adopting more sustainable and conservative approaches.
  • the importance of a free press in reporting sensitive land cases
  • the threat of rising sea-levels to a growing number of Pacific Islanders and the need to make arrangements to provide alternate places to resettle our region's environment refugees.
  • the need to find and adopt preventative measures to protect the islands from coastal erosion, and to urge industrial powers to ratify the Kyoto protocol
  • the need to initiate action at the highest international legal levels for reparation and/or compensation for damage caused by rising sea levels
  • the need to implement measures to preserve biodiversity
  • the need to involve landowners in devising equitable mechanisms for the distribution of returns from the mining of minerals
  • the tendency for ordinary people to be deprived of sufficient access to land
  • the possibilities offered to the region from the commercialisation of forest by products such as bamboo and hemp
  • the discrimination of women in land ownership and inheritance
  • the need to revise land laws and make them more gender neutral and to educate women about their land rights
  • the importance of recognising the economic and material value of land without neglecting the wholesome and spiritual significance of it
  • the inseparability of land and health
  • the rriainstream. media's claim of objectivity when reporting on issues of land and sovereignty, particularly in Hawai'i.
  • The historical and political context of the extortion of land particularly in Hawai'i and West Papua, and current attempts by indigenous populations to reclaim ownership and control of these lands.



The issue of traditional methods for the administration, distribution and care of land came into contention with modem legal approaches. The participating nations were anxious to find a workable solution to land problems, which encompassed both of these systems. An urgent need to review current land policies was identified. The following recommendations were made:

Recommend that countries review their current land legislation taking into account other pacific nations successes. Aotearoa and the Cook Islands were put forward as practical examples of nations successfully combining traditional and modem land policies. Kastom land courts in Palau were also acknowledged as a viable option to settle customary land conflicts. These nations will provide technical advice, knowledge and support for SPICOL.

An organization called the Pacific Lands Commission (PLC) will be fori-ned to carry out research and share information, knowledge and produce educational material for use in schools and other institutions about land'issues throughout the Pacific. This entity will be funded by the member nations. The funding formula will be finalised once the final cost of this institution is known and after consultations with the region's people. Additional assistance will be sought from the relevant arms of the United Nations. It was decided that the PLC will be located in Niue.

SPICOL expressed concern that land abandoned through natural sea level rises would be used for the storage of nuclear waste. The existing South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone treaty is to be amended accordingly.

Legislation referring to women's access to land is covered in the next section.

SPICOL acknowledges that there exist problems in current agricultural practices. We recommend countries concerned are discouraged via legislation from practices such as planting on slopes over 15 degrees, use of pesticides and promote the use of terraces and sustainable agricultural practices.


It was highlighted that there exists a need for recognition of women and their rights regarding land. SPICOL acknowledges the sensitivity of the issue since traditions and cultures often differentiate between men and women. However the mood and tenor of SPICOL delegates was such that it was agreed custom could no longer justify the exclusion of women from equal access to land. The following recommendations were made:

The conference saw a need for greater education and awareness amongst women concerning their rights to land through the PLC.

The conference agreed that the knowledge held by women regarding land use and resources is often overlooked by governments.

SPICOL pushed for nations that do not support equal land rights for women to review their current and existing legislations.

Signatories of the UN charter convention on the elimination of discrimination against women, recommit to their pledge and amend existing legislations to that effect. Also that non-signatories review their laws.



A major concern throughout SPICOL was the issue of sea level rises for low lying atolls. Issues of environmental regulation and rese'ttlement of displaced people arose from this. SPICOL acknowledges the sad reality of this situation and the following recommendations have been put forward:

SPICOL is to petition major polluting nations for compensation and reparation. The following countries were identified USA, Japan, China, Australia and the nations of the European Union. The money acquired will be used to form a fund to assist displaced people in whatever way necessary. (to be determined at the time)

A number of low lying states sought the support of larger countries. SPICOL recognises the need to devise a scheme by which displaced people as a result of sea level rise will be granted special recognition in their host country. This is discussed further in the 'Migration/ Displacement' section

While displacement and relocation measures were the main focus of this issue, preventative measures were also highlighted. See the discussion on Kyoto Protocol.

An immediate but short term solution was proposed by Tokelau. Countries affected are encouraged to note the example of their sea walls which help protect from coastal erosion.


This proposal was recognised as a positive step towards redressing environmental issues especially concerning sea level rises. SPICOL also voices its disappointment with the non recognition of this protocol by the USA, Australia and Japan. SPICOL reiterates its strong commitment to this International agreement to protect the livelihood and environment of all Pacific peoples. The following recommendations have been made:

The clause on carbon sinks needs to be excluded. SPICOL wishes to encourage the regeneration of native species and agroforestry.

SPICOL petitions all the countries who have yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, with special emphasis on the USA, Japan and Australia. SPICOL can apply pressure to the USA and Australia by negotiating UN votes that the US requires. For instance the vote to apply a UN ratification of the US 'war against terrorism' will be withheld until they have signed the amended Kyoto Protocol.

SPICOL insists that the protocol requires regular, continuous and immediate assessment and review to strengthen its stance and purpose. Within the Pacific the Kyoto Protocol will be policed by a strengthened SPREP (South Pacific Regional Envirom-nental Program).

SPICOL recommends a more proactive approach to reduce greenhouse gases, and that developed countries consult with scientists and technical experts to achieve this.


The issue of development had implications for many of the areas discussed in the forum. Most pertinent were culture, tourism, agriculture and sustainability.

SPICOL members will provide aid and financial assistance where possible into research and technology with special emphasis on sustainable development and awareness of cultural values.

SPICOL advocates that the PLC undertake research into the viability of establishing a cash crop industry on fast growing fuel tree species (charcoal).

SPICOL strongly advocates the consumption of local produce.

SPICOL will work with the expertise that the Forum Secretariat could provide in identifying viable economic incentives for small local farmers. This limits the need for large amounts of foreign imports.

Government to acknowledge the importance of indigenous people in tourism by raising the awareness of indigenous peoples capabilities for example by providing cultural festivals.

There are many varieties of hemp species many of which have valuable uses. Thus SPICOL resolved to conduct more research more into the use of hemp in areas such as medicine and textiles as a future regional cash crop.

A regional education campaign is to be launched on the dangers of deforestation, aimed at all local communities.

A nationwide seed propagation programme to establish community native forest tree and shrub nurseries. Specifically this is in order to help replant hillsides and eroded areas throughout the region.

SPICOL accepts the wisdom of conducting 'Environmental Impact Assessment' prior to every land development project taking place and inline with the interests of the aboriginal people of the land. Henceforth SPICOL participating countries will always undertake an EIA before land development projects.


With regard to the impending sea level rises that many scientists are suggesting over the next 50 years, it appears to SPICOL delegates that contingency plans need to be thought out and put into place in advance. SPICOL realises that the science of sea level rises is not definitive, however in the event that they may need to migrate the following recommendations are being made:

SPICOL recognises that should the need arise for nations to be relocated, that full citizen status will be accorded to the relocated people in the host countries. SPICOL will undertake to make strong petitions to ensure that this will eventilate.

SPICOL accepted a recommendation from small low lying countries to accommodate their people, grant them equal rights (voting, citizenship etc) and constitutional provisions that safeguard their identity, culture and security. Their recommendation included SPICOL taking the case of small low lying countries to the highest international courts for compensation for the potential disappearance of the islands. In return the small low lying island countries offer access to their Exclusive Economic Zones and recommend that the Forum Fisheries Agency find the necessary funds for a regional fishing fleet.

Furthermore, SPICOL will undertake to petition for displaced Pacific Islanders to be apportioned equivalent fishing rights in their host countries.

Australia, New Zealand and the US are to be petitioned (should the need arise) for legislation to be relaxed on immigration laws for displaced people (due to sea level rises).

SPICOL recommends that the US federal government should take land conservation action in the Marshall Islands.

PLC is to undertake an initial study which would set out limits or quotas on the number of people being moved into the new nation hosts.


SPICOL recognises that in the Pacific region, land issues are an integral part of what it is to be a 'Pacific Islander'. As such the region needs to be aware of land development issues that have a social impact on Pacific Islanders. The following recommendations are made with this social/spiritual aspect of land use in mind.

Revitalise traditional technologies such as navigation and indigenous fanning techniques

Educational programmes and institutions to promote cultural values on land and land issues, beliefs and myths in the Pacific.

SPICOL recognises that rural communities still have the storehouse of cultural memories on land use and its values to Pacific communities. Therefore SPICOL will seek ways to strengthen rural development projects.

Intellectual property and copyright to be explored and utilised appropriately for native medicinal plants.

SPICOL will adopt a regional policy which recognises the land mineral rights of traditional landowners. In order to draft these policies, SPICOL countries will investigate alternatives such as the Papua New Guinea Land Mineral Act.

SPICOL commits itself to develop school curricular within 5 years so that they have significant sections on Pacific culture and cultural conservation techniques.'


A motion was passed by SPICOL to admit West Papua as a full member of the forum on humanitarian grounds. The implications of this decision with respect to the position of Indonesia, Australia and the United States of America were discussed at the leaders' retreat. While the concerns of these nations were noted, SPICOL's position was maintained on the grounds of their recognition as an indigenous people of Oceania. It was also suggested that the individual SPICOL member nations take up the matter at their respective bi-lateral levels, in respect to their relationships with these nations where necessary. The Hawaiian delegation also asserted a claim for the return of their Ceded Lands and recognition of their land-based sovereignty, which the member nations of SPICOL supported in principle.

The issue of inclusion of both West Papua and Hawaii on the United Nations list of non-self governing nations was addressed, however it was noted that, due to procedural barriers, it was not the place of SPICOL members to implement this process. Discussion concerning the review of this procedure also occurred, and the leaders recommend that SPICOL petition the nations of Indonesia and United States of America to include their colonies on this list (thus complying with the current UN procedure).


The leaders decided that next year's SPICOL will be hosted by Tuvalu.

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