Puna, who is also the Attorney-General, opened the three-day meeting attended by the law officers, who are the prosecutors and legal advisers to the governments of 16 Pacific islands member nations, at the Edgewater Resort and Spa on Tuesday.
He said the prospect of climate change refugees was real for PILON members, adding now is the time to contemplate the reality of this.
“Such a powerful group of Pacific legal minds might consider how we as a region might address our survival of the effects of climate change at an international judicial level,” Puna said.
“Our membership of PILON provides a legitimate platform from which we might launch proceedings to resolve the issues which have become ‘the elephant in the room’.”
The meeting will hear presentations on a number of topics including international developments in cybercrime investigations and prosecutions, developments in the taking of evidence from vulnerable witnesses, and experiences in the region of investigation and prosecution of corruption.
Puna said bringing together the members of PILON on an annual basis was a valuable initiative because it was an avenue for training, mentoring and networking for Pacific law officers.
Much was gained from the sharing of ideas, of skills and lawyering techniques, he said.
“The common denominator that brings us together is the ocean from which we gain our sustenance, across which our ancestors travelled purposely to trade and resettle and which we are required more and more to guard and protect,” Puna said.
“Te Moana Nui a Kiva ties our nations together just as PILON does for the law officers. This network has a common goal: the promotion and maintenance of the rule of law in the Pacific.”
Puna also said Pacific countries gained much from the work they did in collaboration with the members of PILON in surveillance of the oceans, and in the investigation and prosecution of criminals active in the region.
He said the Financial Intelligence Unit and the police had strong connections with PILON members and were able to lawfully share information to fully meet their law enforcement obligations.
Puna said the Cook Islands government was undergoing huge change as it built the country to manage its growing tourism industry and worked on building the resilience and sustainability of infrastructure.
He noted there was a growing demand for law officers’ skills and knowledge, giving legal advice and advocating for the public interest on various issues.
“Our people have received many benefits from our membership of PILON. When PILON members identified domestic violence as an issue that needed addressing in the Pacific, the Cook Islands was able to take advantage of the collaboration from Pacific regional organisations such as SPC, RRRT and UNDP to receive training and advice for our government and civil society organisations dealing with domestic violence in the community.
“In 2017 Parliament passed the Family Protection and Support Act, a comprehensive piece of legislation which assists family members across many areas but most importantly domestic violence.
“Thank you to those regional entities for their support.”