Who We Are

A society is defined by how it treats those in its care. In Vanuatu, that often means that community rights trump the individual’s. In the Western legal justice system, individual rights are paramount. This creates a tension that subverts the ability of the community to police itself. In Vanuatu’s case, it erodes the chief’s mandate with regard to justice and social order, placing police and legal justice in his place. If they fail, the entire system fails.

More than anything else, kastom’s continuing influence has kept Vanuatu from falling into the same pit of lawlessness and disorder as PNG and the Solomons.

It is not, therefore, the mere idea that the VMF beat and killed Bule that I find troubling. It is the fact that, by allowing some to act without restraint, without any rules whatsoever, we as a society are moving further towards a culture that sanctions lawlessness. We have only to look at Port Moresby, with its rampant, uncontrollable violence and its often deadly law enforcement, to see where Port Vila will be in a decade.

If, that is, we don’t take steps now to bring our troublemakers back within society’s grasp.

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

After more than a month’s delay, prison escapee John Bule’s body was finally put to rest this week. While his family may have some degree of solace now that they can properly mourn his passing, and in spite of Government entreaties to allow the justice system to work, many feel that much remains to be said about how we treat our prisoners.

In a searing letter to the Editor earlier this week, one man described how his children and their nanny had been terrorised by knife-wielding thieves. The nanny was only saved from rape or worse by the man’s timely arrival.

If we had Capital Punishment,” he writes, “I would gladly pull the trigger on this criminal.

I know exactly how he feels. Nearly a decade after the fact, I have only to think about one man and I begin to shake with rage.

Years ago, I lived in a frontier town smaller than Port Vila. I found evidence that one of its residents had been molesting children for over a decade, and that one of them, a 12 year old girl, had since committed suicide.

I sat at home for hours, trying to decide whether to call the police, or simply to pull my rifle from its locker and shoot him myself. In the end, I picked up the telephone, not the gun.

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