Vanuatu: Citizens holds protest against political instability while civil society submits information ahead of rights review
The state of civic space in Vanuatu is rated as ‘narrowed’. Among ongoing concerns are the criminalisation of freedom of expression online under the Cybercrime Act No. 22 of 2021, as well as criminal defamation provisions in the country’s Penal Code Act that could be used to silence the media and critics.
Vanuatu elected former leader Charlot Salwai as prime minister on 6th October 2023 after its parliament voted to boot out prime minister Sato Kilman through a no-confidence motion. The extraordinary turn of events means Vanuatu has had three prime ministers in the space of a month, with Kilman having won the job following another no-confidence motion against the then-leader Ishmael Kalsakau.
Six civil society organisations in Vanuatu submitted their stakeholder reports on 11th October 2023 to the UN Human Rights Council ahead of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2024. The reports submitted include two joint and four individual submissions. Among those that made submissions were V-Pride that focused on developing anti-discriminatory legislation and policies to protect people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Transparency International Vanuatu recommended the urgent enactment of bills for Political Parties Registration and the Anti-Corruption Authority and the implementation of the Right to Information Act.
Protests to demand a resolution of the political situation
In August 2023, a group of concerned citizens held a protest that coincided with the ongoing parliamentary session debating a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister.
According to the Daily Post, the protest by young women and activists outside the parliament was held to demand a resolution to the political situation. They held posters with messages that urged parliamentarians to cease switching sides, allow the existing government to fulfill its term, and urged both the government and opposition factions to collaborate in the interest of forming a stable government.
Anne Pakoa, a human rights activist, affirmed that the protest was not influenced by political motives. Jenny Ligo, another woman activist, highlighted that “this peaceful demonstration symbolises unity on behalf of many citizens who want steady and progressive governance.”
Access to information hampered by political turmoil
Transparency International Vanuatu says "squabbling" politicians are hampering citizens' rights to access official information.
According to RNZ, the organisation's executive director Willie Tokon said that in Vanuatu work has been under way since 2017 to fully operationalise a department that gives citizens the right to access government documents. However, there is not enough capacity in government departments to meet the 13-day-deadline prescribed in the Right to Information Act for processing information requests.
He said the Commissioner is supposed to appoint focal points in all government ministries to be responsible for making sure that information requested is provided to the person who makes the request. However, that has not happened due to the political turmoil and changes of government in Vanuatu.