This item was first published in the Vanuatu Daily Post on February 3rd, 2017
There are lots of things that go on in the world that really are very little to do with us in the Pacific.
Quite often we have more important things to worry about in our own countries and region than what is happening on this or that global stage.
What is happening at the moment in the USA does not fall into this category. This is not about whether you wanted Hillary Clinton to win or whether you favour free market policies over Keynesian economics. Simply saying that Trump was democratically elected and the processes he is using are legal and then looking the other way is not acceptable. Apartheid was legal in South Africa, but we didn’t look the other way. We applied sanctions, we boycotted sporting events and we supported those who fought for what was right. According to the United Nations, Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua is legal but we in the Pacific do not look the other way and we call on other countries to stand with us to overturn a system based on injustice and oppression.
The importance of us knowing and understanding what is happening in the United States operates at several levels. It is naïve to think that the actions of President Trump and his team will not affect us here in the Pacific. The reintroduction of the ‘global gag’ rule will cut funding to organisations that provide sexual health services in our region, such as Marie Stopes International in Papua New Guinea. As Ashlee Betteridge & Camilla Burkot commented recently on the Devpolicy blog:
It’s difficult to describe the Global Gag Rule as anything other than a textbook case of terrible policy, even for those who are opposed to abortion. The Gag Rule does not prevent abortions from taking place, but instead drives them underground. More importantly, there is strong evidence that the number of abortions can be reduced by increasing access to effective contraception and comprehensive sex education. Perversely, the Gag Rule does the opposite, by cutting funding and putting pressure on organisations that deliver precisely these services. Reduced access to contraception also increases the risks of unplanned pregnancy and unsafe abortion, and thus maternal death.
And then there are the potential cuts to funding of international organisations. As Robin Davies argued earlier this week (also on Devpolicy) if US funding to international organisations is indeed cut by 40% (based on a draft executive order leaked to the New York Times), the likely targets are ones that are important to our part of the world. They include the Green Climate Fund, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Programme and even the International Red Cross.
Beyond the ‘enlightened self-interest’ argument for why we need to pay attention to what is happening in Washington, there are other more fundamental reasons. Trump’s recent actions – most notably the ban on people entering the country on the basis of their religion and/or nationality – are undermining the principles on which his country was founded. His refusal to operate within the established state systems has already caused civil disquiet and this is likely to continue and possibly escalate. Among our American family members, friends and colleagues are people who are fearful, angry and overwrought. They may be looking around them feeling that their lives have been turned upside down – those who experienced Cyclone Pam in 2015 will know just how that feels.
Others have noted that the ban on entry of refugees and asylum seekers from some of the most dangerous places on our planet was enacted on a day set aside to commemorate the Holocaust, a global event that took place while so many looked the other way. Before we are Christians, Melanesians or Pacific Islanders, we are human beings and we must stand against actions that harm other human beings when and where we possibly can.
We have yet to hear from Pacific island leaders their thoughts about the actions of President Trump since he took office. Perhaps, like the Australian prime minister, they don’t feel it is their job to comment on how other national leaders behave. I invite them and all of us to look to which side of history we want to find ourselves on. This is not a matter of policy or geo-strategic manoeuvring. This is a matter of humanity and common decency. Be very clear – this IS our circus, these ARE our monkeys.