The week-long series of meetings for Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna began with the Polynesian Leaders Group, Smaller Island States Leaders, Pacific Leaders of the EU African, Caribbean and Pacific States, Forum Leaders Plenary, and the leaders’ retreat.
The key meeting of the week was the leaders’ retreat on Saturday. At this meeting the leaders issued strong statements on oceans, climate change and disaster risk, noting that meeting the challenges in these areas requires a coordinated regional approach.
The leaders also reiterated their support for fisheries and endorsed the Pacific Framework for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PFRPD) 2016 – 2025 to support Pacific governments to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
Another major development was the admittance of French Polynesia and New Caledonia as the newest members of the Pacific Islands Forum family.
“This is a momentous occasion for the Forum and cements our strong relationship with these two close friends particularly our ties with our nearest relative, French Polynesia,” Puna said.
The Cook Islands have long supported and advocated for the admission of both territories to the Forum.
The leaders’ communiqué also recognised the political sensitivities of the issue of West Papua (Papua) and agreed the issue of alleged human rights violations in West Papua (Papua) should remain on their agenda. Leaders also agreed on the importance of an open and constructive dialogue with Indonesia on the issue.
Of particular importance to the Cook Islands was the unanimous support from the leaders for this country’s candidacy to the UNESCO Executive Board 2017. Puna said he was happy that the support had been captured in the communiqué language as, “the advantage of lobbying with the backing of all 16 Forum countries adds serious weight for our bid for the UNESCO Board.”
The prime minister also conducted formal bilateral meetings with partners including New Zealand, China, Fiji, and the Federated States Micronesia.
He said he was pleased he could take full advantage of having all of the Cook Islands’ important partners at one meeting to progress and resolve important issues that gains extra impetus if discussed at the highest levels.
The Leaders Forum moves to Samoa for 2017, with Nauru (2018) and Tuvalu (2019) next in line. - Release