Forty participants from around the South Pacific attended the first conference on civil society law September 26-28, 2007 in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Attendees were drawn from the legal community, civil society, academia, and government of Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu. In addition, representatives of regional organizations, experts from New Zealand, the Pacific Forum Secretariat, the University of the South Pacific, and UNDP attended the gathering.
Participants discussed topics ranging from the relationship between tradition/custom and introduced law; bread-and-butter issues such as resources available for reform; legal capacity in the region; legal drafting issues; and the relationships between CSOs, government, customary associations, and local villages. The conference was unique in that it was the first time partners from the government, CSOs, local and international community had gathered together to discuss civil society. At the conclusion of the conference, participants issued a statement to be forwarded to their respective governments and international organizations in the region. Further, each country group established a local inter-sector working group to carry out agreed-upon goals. These range from legislative review to awareness-raising activities. ICNL will be supporting intensive follow-on work in each participating nation to assist in the implementation of these goals.
The meeting was convened by ICNL as part of its multi-year NZAID-funded Pacific Civil Society Law Program; conference support was also provided by the Commonwealth Foundation.