Sep 22, 2018 Last Updated 4:57 AM, Sep 13, 2018

For four years, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been taking governments across the world to task, exposing human rights violations and robustly advocating for the rights of victims. His appointment by the Secretary-General back in 2014 was a landmark: he became the first Asian, Muslim and Arab ever to hold the post.

Before that, Zeid had already enjoyed a long and distinguished career, both at the UN and as a Jordanian diplomat. He served his country in several capacities, notably as Ambassador to the United States, and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, with a stint as President of the Security Council in January 2014.

The United Nations News first published this interview with Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Husssein on 16 August, 2018 and here are excerpts: 

UN News: When you compare the human rights landscape today to when you took over the UN human rights office back in 2014, what are the key differences that you see?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: When I took over, it coincided with the terrible videos put online by Daesh, or ISIS, which stoked a great deal of fear and horror. And we began to see a sort of a deepening of the crisis in Syria and in Iraq. And this then folded into two things:

One, a great determination to embark on counter-terrorism strategies, which we felt were, in part, excessive in certain respects. Every country has an obligation to defend its people, and the work of terrorism is odious and appalling and needs to be condemned and faced. But whenever there is excessive action, you don’t just turn one person against the State, you turn the whole family against the State. Ten or maybe more members could end up moving in the direction of the extremists.

And then, the migration debates, and the strengthening of the demagogues and those who made hay out of what was happening in Europe for political profit. As each year passed, we began to see a more intense pressure on the human rights agenda.

UN News: You have been very outspoken and you’ve called out governments and individual leaders around the world who have abused human rights. Do you see that as the most important role for the UN human rights chief?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: Yes. At the Human Rights High Commission, you’re part of the UN, but also part of the human rights movement and both are equally important. As I said on earlier occasions, governments are more than capable of defending themselves. It’s not my job to defend them. I have to defend civil society, vulnerable groups, the marginalised, the oppressed. Those are the people that we, in our office, need to represent. I always felt that that is the principle task: we provide technical assistance, we collect information, we go public on it. But in overall terms, the central duty for us is to defend the rights of those most marginalised and those that need it.

UN News: what if you come under pressure to stay silent?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: Well, the interesting thing is that the pressure on this particular job doesn’t really come very much from the governments. They all attack the office because we criticise all of them, but we also point to areas where there is improvement, and I sometimes will praise the government for doing the right thing. 

The real pressure on this job comes from the victims and those who suffer and expect a great deal from us. That’s the pressure that I think matters most in terms of the need to do the right thing.

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Recent scientific research in Tongan waters has unearthed significant findings that could lead to new cure for cancer. The research was carried out by Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) PhD graduate Taitusi Taufa, who has been credited with discovering new medicinal properties in marine sponges, including several unique anti-cancer compounds.

Taufa, who graduated in May with a PhD in Chemistry, worked on this research as part of his thesis and it involved dives in various locations in Tonga.

The dive on ‘Eua Island however was the most revealing as it was marked by the discovery of unique chemical properties in marine sponges, which is believed to be more than 30 million years old and thus has an unusually unique marine environment. Being an ancient island, ‘Eua is said to be geologically unrelated to other islands in Tonga so is thought to host organisms that produce “interesting and novel chemistry,” according to Taufa.

The high standard of his work, according to VUW, “was subsequently recognised by being selected for the Doctoral Dean’s List – a formal record and public acknowledgement of doctoral graduates whose thesis have been judged by their examiners to be of exceptional quality, and whose work makes an outstanding contribution to their field of research.”

IB interviewed Taufa to shed more light on the research.

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Fiji’s going Green on Bonds

In October last year, Fiji made a historic series of firsts in the international financial markets. It became the first emerging economy, first Commonwealth economy and the first economy in the southern hemisphere to issue a sovereign green bond in a bid to raise F$100 million to support climate change mitigation and adaptation. The offer received ‘overwhelming support’ from domestic and international investors and uptake was described as “unprecedented.” By the time it was listed on the London Stock Exchange in April, more countries had joined the green bond party with issuance of their own for all sorts of climate mitigation and green-related reasons. In Fiji’s case, the government was assisted by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), IFC’s sister organisation the World Bank and the government of Australia. From the World Bank, Senior Finance Sector Specialist Aaron Levine worked closely with Team Fiji, to put the bond offering together and take it to market. Islands Business (IB) spoke to Levine and IFC’s Country Manager, Australia, New Zealand, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific, Thomas Jacobs about this much talked about event:

IB: How exactly did IFC assist Fiji in the green bond exercise?

Jacobs: The IFC has been working with Fiji Government with the support of the government of Australia in-depth for the past year on a partnership programme. What we’re trying to do is pull more private sector investments and long term investments into the country. Climate change is central to our programme and I think this specific project came out from a conversation between the central bank governor and IFC resident representative Deva De Silva on trying to come up with ideas on how IFC/World Bank can help Fiji channel finance from international and from local financial capacities to green bonds, in part as part of government’s programme as president of COP 23. Aaron will explain more the technical side.

Levine: This was the first time that any emerging economy issued a sovereign green b o n d b u t green bonds have been issued by organisations for several years now. IFC is one of the pioneer issuers. So we have expertise in the process of issuing. We helped (Fiji) establish a Green Bond steering committee that was chaired by the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF). We helped develop a Green Bond Policy Framework. We helped identify the kinds of projects that might be eligible for the proceeds of the Green Bond. And we help them through that process of issuing right up through to the point where they get listed on the London Stock Exchange. And we provided a technical analysis on the merits of that. Right now, we’re helping them with monitoring how the money is being spent and issuing reports. So every year, they’ll issue a report on how the money is being spent and eventually what impact the green bond project have had.

IB: How do you identify ‘eligible projects’?

Levine: There’s an international set of principle called the Green Bond Principle that provide guidance on what categories of projects might be eligible and then that would match with Fiji’s priorities and needs under the government budget and so a list of projects have been identified by government. So, a good amount of time is needed to ensure that the money raised is actually matched towards projects that are actively being pursued.

IB: Fiji has traditionally issued Fiji-denominated bonds in the local market. Why go offshore now?

Levine: There’s a bigger picture here that you have to consider and that is that Fiji is the COP23 president. They’ve just got this unique role where they’re able to show global leadership on the climate front. And by listing on the London Stock Exchange, they’re showing the world that even small island nations like Fiji can be a player on the global financial stage.

IB: And do they get attention?

Levine: Oh yes they do. The response globally has been huge. I was at a London Green Bond conference featuring financiers and investors from all over the world and it (Fiji’s Green Bond) was particularly showcased at that conference. They won a Green Bond Pioneer Award

Jacobs: It really puts Fiji on the map in front of international investors’ eyes, who may not have known about Fiji, didn’t know how forward-thinking Fiji can be and now they have the opportunity, if they’re based in London, Europe or anywhere, if they want to take Fiji risk, if they want to invest in Fiji, they can go to the London stock market and buy directly. Of course at the moment, they’re doing that as an indirect investment but once they learn about Fiji, then maybe they’ll be inclined to actually come in in the form of foreign direct investment. So it really puts Fiji on the map in a way that wasn’t possible before this green bond, in international investors’ eyes.

IB: You were talking about monitoring – what does that involve?

Levine: IFC has been providing advice for Fiji on how they will implement monitoring and reporting. It’s the responsibility of the issuer. What they do is they agree that an external auditor will come in and check that the funds raised is used for the green purposes and then over time, start to take measures on what impacts those projects have had on the environment.

IB: Have you had any interest from other Pacific Island countries?

Levine: We have had interest from the North and the South Pacific. We wrote a guide to sovereign green bond issuance and that’s been distributed globally and in response to requests, further information have been provided, copied to that guide and we stand ready to provide support to any future transaction in green bonds.

IB: Any other general comments?

Levine: I want to acknowledge the leadership that the Government of Fiji has shown in this process and the support of the IFC/World Bank Group and the Government of Australia in helping us to do this and we see this as both the Fiji Government and Government of Australia are key partners and the IFC/WB just support the government and the private sector. It bodes very well for cooperation going forward to be able to find a robust programme of support to the private sector and of course a series of interventions in tourism, gender and special economic zones, investment, policy plus their own investment programmes so we think Fiji has done a fantastic job with this green bond.

Jacobs: Another crucial part of the equation here is that this green bond is part of the domestic capital markets development programme that IFC has initiated in Fiji to build up the long term financial capacity of the domestic capital markets, which really would be underpinned by these type of structures. So by doing this first bond together, we’ll be able to understand how that process works, so that when other investors, local investors primarily, want to raise long term funding from the capital markets, you have the processes, the legal and regulatory environment, you have the computer systems, the market knowledge to make these things happen and you’ll be able to build – not just to issue them but also the liquidity, to be able to buy and sell, and that would make the market much more attractive both to local and international investors who want to have that liquidity and who want to know that the system is safe and up to international standards.

IB: When does the money come in?

Levine: It’s coming in throughout the year and it’s being spent through the budget as we speak.

Kiribati under the spotlight after ferry disaster

ATOLL nation of Kiribati in the northern Pacific was consumed with grief in January when 80 people including children died presumably drowned in a ferry incident.

Grief turned to anger later when it was learnt that authorities did not initiate a search for the passengers and crew of the MV Butiraoi until one week after it sunk.

Former President of Kiribati Anote Tong has been among those who have been vocal about the government’s handling of the sea tragedy, believed to be the country’s worst to date.

In a visit to Fiji last month, President Tong spoke to Indepth about the tragedy.

IB: Given the Kiribati Government’s handling of the tragedy, do you believe things could have been handled better?

Former President Tong: It would be pretentious on my part to pretend that I know the whole story but I think what has happened is that there has been very strong public reaction to what I call the very long silence. That’s really what the public was so upset about. There was nothing coming from anybody especially government until a week later, a week after the boat has been lost. They are asking, why did that happen? How come something like a boat could be lost for a week and it was not reported?

IB: In your experience, does Kiribati has adequate laws which if enforced could avoid this type of sea disasters?

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Destined for servitude

At the helm of Solomon Islands politics, Rick Houenipwela became the country’s 17th PrimeMinister.He came into power after his predecessorManasseh Sogavarewas voted out. This change in leadership came barely a year to go before the country’s next election scheduled for 2019. He spoke to Mereseini Marau-Totoka about his new appointment.

IB: How are you settling in as Prime Minister of Solomon Islands?

PM Houenipwela: Very well. I am supported by a solid collation of four political parties with my own party of eleven members.

IB: Were you expecting this Mr Prime Minister, that one day you will become the leader of Solomon Islands?

PM Houenipwela: Yes indeed - when I was elected into Parliament I look forward to the opportunity to serve my country in that capacity one day, although I did not think it would (happen) in my second term.

IB: You made a name for yourself as a bold and shrewd manager of public finances during your term as Governor of the Central Bank of Solomon Islands. Should we expect a similar kind of legacy during your term as PM?

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Guide to the 49th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting – Nauru 2018

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