Pacific Human Rights Champion Shares Experiences with Members of Parliament

Majuro, Marshall Islands – South Australia’s former director of public prosecutions and more recently justice of the High Court in the Solomon Islands, Justice Stephen Pallaras QC, last week (22-26 February) shared his experiences on taking leadership on domestic violence in the region with newly elected parliamentarians of the Republic of Marshall Islands.

The exchange, jointly supported by the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was part of the Marshall Islands 2016 induction for its members of the Nitijela.

Speaking at the workshop, Justice Pallaras said, “During my time in court and the 40 years of practice in criminal law, I have heard all the excuses. Some will say it’s traditional, cultural; we’ve always done it this way. Some men have told me I have the right to beat my wife, have sex with her, I have paid the bride price and therefore she is mine. Other men have told me that they are entitled to have sex with my daughter because I am the man.”

In the Marshall Islands a Family Health and Safety Study (2014) found that 69 percent of women interviewed aged between 15 and 49 revealed they had experienced sexual and, or, physical violence. The majority of these incidents go unreported and of those that are reported, only a handful of cases end up in the courts.

Justice Pallaras implored the Marshallese parliamentarians to stand up and influence the direction of their nation.

“The scale and dimensions of this problem are not simply personal, they are financial, they are social, they are national, they are international and more, they are human. It will take people with leadership, vision and courage. Are you one of them?”

“Don’t tell me it’s not your problem. Don’t tell me it’s a women’s problem. It is a national problem about which the citizens are entitled to look to and expect their leaders to be working their absolute hardest to resolve, and moreover it is a human problem,” Justice Pallaras added.

According to Justice Pallaras, “The true measure of a country’s greatness is how we treat each other as human beings. A measure of a leader’s effectiveness, of a politician’s commitment and integrity, is not what they say. You will leave your mark on this nation, if you leave a mark, by what you do. Doing is a quantum leap from imaging.”

Australia’s Labour Federal Member, Hon. Alan Griffin, also joined the SPC and UNDP team to give support and advice to the Nitijela.

SPC’s staff supported the Nitijela in understanding the treaties Marshall Islands has previously ratified, namely Convention on the Rights of the Children (CRC), Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

SPC’s Deputy Director of the Social Development Division, Mark Atterton said, “this was an excellent intervention and it was clear that the members of the Nitijela, old and new, were outraged by the statistics we presented and committed to support local NGO Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI) in their  service for a women’s counselling centre and sheltered accommodation.  This was a great outcome of the induction programme.”

SPC supports all 22 Pacific Island member countries and territories in building a culture of human rights, and assists nation states to commit to, and observe, international human rights standards. SPC’s work in this area is supported by the Government of Australia and European Union.