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Australia: launch of new book on wars of dignity in the Pacific

02-10-2009 News Release 09/202

Sydney (ICRC) – A new book, Under the Protection of the Palm: Wars of Dignity in the Pacific, reveals that in Tuvalu killing women and children was considered shameful, that in the Solomon Islands captive warriors were treated with respect and in Samoa, fighters differentiated themselves from civilians by wearing white hats.

The book tells how, over a period of centuries, the people of Oceania developed behaviour and rituals that protected women and children, captive warriors, sacred sites and stocks of food during times of war. It also highlights similarities to modern-day international humanitarian law as set out in the Geneva Conventions and their three Additional Protocols. The publication has been launched in Brisbane on 29 September by the governor of Queensland, Penelope Wensley, at an event commemorating the Geneva Conventions'60th anniversary.

The idea for the book came from the late Langi Kavaliku, former deputy prime minister of Tonga and pro chancellor at the University of the South Pacific who suggested to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that it explores international humanitarian law from a Pacific perspective. This prompted the ICRC to ask a group of nine students from seven Pacific countries to investigate whether there were historical examples of humanitarian limitations on armed conflict in the Pacific, and similarities between the region's traditional rules of warfare and norms laid down in international humanitarian law.

" Even in tribal days, in a male-dominated society such as Vanuatu, women and children were considered an important part of society and protected in wartime, " says Beverleigh Kanas, one of the researchers. " Through researching the book I discovered so much about my own history. "

" We hope that Under the Protection of the Palm will stimulate reflection and debate about international humanitarian law in the Pacific, and also help to dispel the misconception that this body of law represents a purely Western set of values,” says Jean-Luc Metzker, who heads the ICRC’s regional delegation for the Pacific.

According to the chief executive officer of the Australian Red Cross, Robert Tickner, " the laws of war are part of every culture and in marking the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions it is timely to remind ourselves that there are no cultural or historical limits to the concept that'even wars have laws'. "

For further information, please contact:
  Pauline Wall, ICRC Sydney, tel: +61 2 9388 9039 or +61 418 485 120
  Claire Kaplun, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2405 or +41 79 244 6426
  ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 3443