The Rule of Law, Custom, and Civil Society in the South Pacific An Overview


Western legal thought, at least as popularized in general literature, assumes the universality of certain principles contained in the “four freedoms” adopted by the membership of international organizations, treaties, and even most constitutions. The freedoms of association, of assembly, of speech, and of religion are taken for granted as applicable, if not always applied, in countries around the world.

Yet social structures, traditions, and even laws that frame human behavior in many parts of the world, some apparently benevolent and others not, contradict some of the assumptions beneath the “four freedoms.” In particular, in those societies that place the highest value on communal rather than individual rights, the application of the “universal” freedoms has been problematic at best.

This ICNL survey of the legal frameworks governing civil society and civil society organizations in new island nations of the South Pacific explores this discontinuity between the “universal freedoms” and “communal traditions.” It also looks at various ways to approach possible resolution.