After nearly two weeks of silence, Minister of Internal Affairs Andrew Napuat has answered some—but not all—of the important questions arising from his decision to deport six Chinese, four of whom were Vanuatu citizens.
To his credit, Mr Napuat fronted up to New Zealand and Australian media as well as to our own journalists. It can’t have been an easy day for him.
His responses raise serious concerns.
He admitted that Vanuatu does not know what crimes the six people he deported were accused of. He admitted he didn’t know what agency the 11 Chinese law enforcement officials were from. He said he didn’t want them to wear uniforms. He admitted he didn’t consider that at least some of the deportees were Vanuatu citizens. He appears to have issued orders without fully considering his responsibility to follow the law himself. He appears to have instructed Police to act as they did.
Every one of those statements is cause for deep concern. Because whatever the Minister may think, we are not subject to Chinese law. And we don’t do things the Chinese way.
Everyone has a right to know why they’re being arrested.
Police are required to identify themselves, and to say why they are arresting you.
People may not be detained without charge, except under strictly limited circumstances.
Everyone has a right to legal counsel.
A citizen may not be deported. They may be extradited if they broke the law elsewhere, but that’s not what happened here.
Anyone having their citizenship stripped from them has the right to appeal that decision.
These are not finicky details. They are fundamental to justice. They may not be ignored.
Joe Natuman set an important precedent when he accepted that he had done wrong by issuing unlawful orders to Police. It cost him his political career, but he did the right thing.
Mr Napuat should submit himself to the same scrutiny.
If he has done nothing wrong, then his actions will be vindicated, and people in Vanuatu will know where they stand. If he has done wrong, then he needs to take responsibility for his actions. They’re that serious.
If we had a functioning Ombudsman’s office, we could settle the matter there. But our politicians have made it clear they don’t want a watchdog.
The Prime Minister must tell the public whether he supports his Minister or not. If he does not support him, then he should consider establishing a commission of inquiry to investigate whether the Minister acted lawfully.
Parliament should state clearly whether they support the government’s actions, or not.
Party Leader Ralph Regenvanu should stop hiding and tell the public whether this is what GJP stands for, or not. As Foreign Minister, it’s astonishing that he’s had so little to say so far.
The Public Prosecutor should investigate whether these actions represent a perversion of the course of justice, by using Police powers in an arbitrary and unlawful way.
Our development partners—who claim to stand for an international rules based order—should remind Vanuatu what those rules are. They claim to care about these things. They should act like they do.
Most importantly, the public should make its feelings known. If they support these actions, so be it. Then we are more like China than many would like to admit.
But if, like the millions of Hong Kong residents who have relentlessly demonstrated against arbitrary extradition, we stand for rule of law and human rights, we should defend them.
Maybe these six people did wrong. If they did, they should stand trial. But looking at what’s happened, how do we know?
How do we know the next one bundled onto the plane won’t be an activist fleeing the security state? How do we know it won’t be a Christian fleeing religious persecution? Or just an average person, wrongly accused?
Vanuatu is not China. But today, it’s looking more like it than ever before.
By Dan McGarry