Our Rights and Duties in the Constitution
TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL VANUATU recently met again with Mr. Sokomanu, the first President of Vanuatu. We asked him these question; what did it feel like to be stateless? How valuable was the relationship between the independence leaders?
While sipping on a warm cup of coffee, he began by saying “rights and duties are an international obligation for any country that is going through Independence,” referring to chapter two of the Constitution which outlines our rights and duties Ni-Vanuatu citizens.
Mr. Ati George Sokomanu said that before New Hebrides gained its Independence in 1980, the people were stateless.
During those days “we had nothing to protect us. If we did something wrong, whether it be the French or English Court, you have to face it,” Mr. Sokomanu explained. “Assessors from the Islands Courts, who are chiefs from certain areas, can be present in the courts as assessors to argue and give judgment” on cases including indigenous matters.
“Being stateless did not empower us to claim our land, and even claim ownership of our indigenous lands,” he added.
But when the country gained its independence the environment changed, and the people of
Vanuatu became entitled to the rights and the freedom that are enshrined and safeguarded in the constitution. But the journey to gaining independence was not short, or pleasant, it took years of hard work by committed individuals, sometimes risking their own safety’s for the greater good.
Mr. Sokomanu was a member of the group of independence activists and leaders who signed the Vanuatu’s Constitution; he related how they worked hard for independence, at times they ‘risked their own lives to confront aggressive individuals and groups. But they were very energetic activitists, and they were passionate and eager to fight for our freedom, and most importantly to get the land back to the indigenous customary land owners.
They patriotically strived to gain independence from the British and French colonial powers during the 70s up to the 80’s.
In the 70’s a cultural association was initiated to promote independence, “I was working at Lakatoro during that time when I was approached by Johnson Iolu Abil who gave me some documents about this new association” Mr. Sokomanu explained, he continued to say that this events followed up to eventually bring about the birth of the Vanua ‘aku Party.
Most of the individuals who participated in these groupings were British government employees like Mr. Sokomanu. “My workmates were always complaining to our superiors because I was getting paid while I was attending the party congresses. Finally, in 1975 after a meeting with Father Walter Lini, I resigned from my position to join” the independence movement he said.
“My house in Mele was codenamed the ‘Blue House’” said Mr. Sokomanu. “By orders of the British administrator my letters in my mail box, which was P.O Box 478, were being opened and checked at the Post Office. Once I was informed of this through my sources within the British government I revised my plan and began writing and receiving my letters in Fijian…I am fluent in the Fijian language” he said.
Eventually, the group toured the whole of the New Hebrides Islands to document what the people wanted to be included in the Constitution, the message they received was clear, they “wanted to protect their values, beliefs, cultures, faith and be free” Mr. Sokomanu said.
The workings of this group guided them to constitute chapter two of the constitution which gives us the rights that we are enjoying today. These rights also have allowed us never to feel stateless again, thus it is our moral duty to defend this rights and also to use them in a rightful manner.
“It was around 3 o’clock early in the morning when we completed the signing of the constitution,” Mr. Sokomanu said, smiling as he reflected on those memories.
“We were so happy, we hugged each other and sang songs together…we sang ‘We Shall Overcome’”.
The signing took place at L’Houstalet, “that place should be a monumental site” he remarked.
The finalizing of the constitution took hours, it was grilling process, they amended some parts and they discussed and debated throughout the night, “the legal officer representing the colonial powers cried” during the process.
Mr. Sokomanu eventually became the first Minister for Internal Affairs during the National Unity Government and in the newly independent Vanuatu government led by Prime Minister Walter Lini.
Mr. Sokomanu says that he will resign from his civic activism duties next year; as he sets forth with writing about his life’s story in his biography.
“We are human beings, we have our own customs and values and we want to move freely but we need to establish some boundaries to help us exercise our rights and freedoms in the rightful manner,” this is why the second chapter of the constitution was formed he said.
Mr. George Sokomanu emphasizes that our rights and duties is something that should bind us together as we move along, he says that the result of their strong relationship produced the constitution, “the constitution is our relationship” he said while pointing at a copy of the constitution lying on the table, “our relationship made that possible”.
With that, he carefully got up, said his good byes’ and headed for the Capitol FM 107 to co-host the Talk Back Show with Mr. Moses Steven.
Transparency International Vanuatu would like to encourage us to remind ourselves of our history, take note of the time and the commitment made by those that made our independence possible. Protect our constitution, develop our country, rid away the corrupt behaviors’ and play your part to vote in the election.
More stories will be published next week; Transparency International Vanuatu will be getting in touch with those that signed the constitution to get their story and to share it. We believe it is important that today’s generations are aware of these stories. We also believe that taking ownership of the freedom that we have today can empower us to develop Vanuatu in the rightful way.
Part of Chapter 2 of our Constitution:
“When the country gained its freedom, all citizens have the right to life; liberty; security of the person; protection of the law; freedom from inhuman treatment and forced labour; freedom of conscience and worship; freedom of expression; freedom of assembly and association; freedom of movement; protection for the privacy of the home and other property and from unjust deprivation of property”.
Moreover, the Indigenous’ Duties are:
“To respect and to act in the spirit of the Constitution; to recognise that he can fully develop his abilities and advance his true interests only by active participation in the development of the national community; to exercise the rights guaranteed or conferred by the Constitution and to use the opportunities made available to him under it to participate fully in the government of the Republic of Vanuatu; to protect the Republic of Vanuatu.
To safeguard the national wealth, resources and environment in the interests of the present generation and of future generations; to work according to his talents in socially useful employment and, if necessary, to create for himself legitimate opportunities for such employment; to respect the rights and freedoms of others and to cooperate fully with others in the interests of interdependence and solidarity; to contribute, as required by law, according to his means, to the revenues required for the advancement of the Republic of Vanuatu and the attainment of national objective”
“In the case of a parent, to support, assist and educate all his children, legitimate and illegitimate, and in particular to give them a true understanding of their fundamental rights and duties and of the national objectives and of the culture and customs of the people of Vanuatu; in the case of a child, to respect his parents.
Nevertheless it is the duty of all public authorities to encourage compliance with them so far as lies within their respective powers”.
- http://www.snipview.com/q/New%20Hebrides – Natives of Tanna.
- http://www.snipview.com/q/Ati_George_Sokomanu – Ati George Sokomanu