Thirty island court justices from island courts throughout Vanuatu came together in Port Vila at the end of August to attend a consultation on human rights organised the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT).
Speaking at the opening of the consultation, Chief Justice of Vanuatu, Vincent Lunabek challenged the island court justices to grasp the concepts of human rights and apply the relevant concepts to their work to ensure justice for all through the local courts.
“People come to the island courts with high expectations of fair judgments and equality. As island court justices, you need to put aside your chiefly titles or other titles. Do not let your traditional titles influence your work. You need to come down to the level of your people and consider their human rights when dealing with their cases to ensure justice for everyone” Chief Justice, Lunabek said.
With increased knowledge of human rights, the justices will take into consideration the different needs or situations of all citizens – men, women, children and persons with disability – when administering a case. This will ensure that justice prevails at all times in the courts.
“I see there are more male justices than female justices in the room. Whether you are a male or a female, you have the same power and responsibilities as justices of the island courts in Vanuatu” Chief Justice Lunabek added.
Vanuatu has a total of around 300 Island court lay justices serving 10 established island courts through-out the country. It is the most accessible court of the country. The island courts deal with both minor civil and criminal matters with majority of cases being child maintenance claims. In addition, land disputes and family related disputes such as domestic violence including other civil and criminal matters are also dealt with at the island courts.
Vanuatu is a State Party to five human rights conventions: the Convention Against Torture, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Under these conventions, Vanuatu is required to 'respect, protect and fulfil' human rights by taking positive action that protects the rights of its citizens.
SPC is the principal scientific and technical agency supporting development in the Pacific Island region. It works to build a human rights culture that enhances the rule of law and democracy in the Pacific region. Promoting the use of human rights standards in law, practice and policy is part of SPC’s Regional Rights Resource Team’s broad, long-term strategy for achieving that goal.