New research shines spotlight on Conflict Management and Access to Justice in rural Vanuatu


UntitledNew research maps how conflicts within rural communities in Vanuatu are managed and shines a spotlight on the interface between community management of conflict and state management of conflict of all types. The research considers access to justice for people in rural communities with a particular focus on women’s experience of and access to justice.
The Conflict Management and Access to Justice in Rural Vanuatu report is the result of research conducted by the Policing and Justice Support Program with and on behalf of the Government of Vanuatu, with funding support from the Government of Australia. The research is the result of several years of engagement by the program in partnership with the Vanuatu Ministry of Justice & Community Services. The report makes findings and notes key issues in relation to courts services, police services, chiefs and community justice, and women and access to justice, and makes recommendations to address the issues and significant barriers to justice identified in the report.
Key findings show the impact of many barriers to justice for all citizens in rural Vanuatu and the importance of a more sophisticated understanding of “access” to justice which includes both well understood geographic and resourcing issues, as well as many other intangible barriers to access. The majority of interviewees reported that in the past year, they received assistance with managing a conflict from leaders in the community including chiefs, family members and religious leaders. State justice is limited across the island and for most interviewees. However, people at the community level, including leaders responsible for managing conflicts, clearly articulate a desire for greater support from state justice and value that support. Men, women and community leaders who manage conflict all identified state justice as the best place to deal with some matters if only it were accessible to them.
The report was launched on Tuesday 16 August at Lakatoro on the island of Malekula, the provincial centre for Malampa Province, by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, and Ronald Warsal, Vanuatu’s Minister for Justice and Community Services.
The Australian Minister for International Development commended the Vanuatu Government for its close partnership with the program in undertaking the research:
“As stated in the Director General’s foreword, the research is the first of its kind for Vanuatu. For the first time, we have a statistically sound basis to evaluate how justice is actually administered and experienced in Vanuatu’s rural areas.” Australian Senator Fierravanti-Wells stated that it demonstrates that the justice system is very complex and also that state justice can be quite limited. She reiterated Australia’s commitment to support policing and justice in Vanuatu. The next phase of its support will have a stronger focus on women and children, and provincial service delivery.
In response, Minister Warsal stated that the research and its findings would assist the Government of Vanuatu in its commitment to delivering justice to the people of Vanuatu regardless of their location and status within society, and to find ways to navigate the challenges across this richly diverse country.
“While the capacity of state and community-level justice institutions and processes are often discussed in Vanuatu, there has been little research to date that has practically mapped how community level justice – through chiefs mainly, but also religious leaders and family members – and state justice (including courts and police) actually function in Vanuatu, both on their own and as part of a broader system. Understanding this broader system – and some of the assumptions upon which it is based – is crucial for Vanuatu to be empowered to navigate its own path towards access to justice for all its citizens. This research supports us to do this. Solutions will need to be careful, complex and nuanced and not simplistic if true progress is to be made,” the Minister said.
This report includes clear, practical recommendations which will inform the program’s programming in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Community Services and other stakeholders.