Published on Sunday, March 5, 2000 by Agence France-Presse
Paradise Found - And Lost - In The Pacific
Paradise has been found, buried deep in a heavyweight Washington document which tells of an egalitarian, democratic state where no one can remember the last time a crime was committed.
But it is no haven to those who live there, and its very existence is on the line.
The US State Departments annual reports on human rights do tend to focus on the grim and the difficult.
In its latest country-by-country analysis released last week, though, was a largely overlooked report on one tiny Pacific state.
"Society is egalitarian, democratic, and respectful of human rights," it said.
"There have been no serious crimes within the memory of local officials. It is rare for a prisoner to spend as long as a week in a cell; more commonly, a person is incarcerated overnight because of drunkenness.
"While prison conditions are somewhat Spartan as regards to food and sanitation, complaints seem to be minimal or non-existent."
The Paradise that a diplomat in the US embassy in Suva writes of is Tuvalu, where 10,000 Polynesians occupy a land area of a little more than 26 square kilometres (10 square miles) on nine atolls.
The State Department says there has never been an extrajudicial killing, no one has disappeared for political reasons, violence against women is rare and children are never abused.
But Tuvalu may become a case of paradise lost.
Last month its Prime Minister Ionatana Ionatana was in New Zealand asking for a place for his people to flee too thanks to global warming which is feared will eventually submerge the atolls.
"Tuvaluans are seeking a place that they can permanently migrate to, should the high tides eventually make our home uninhabitable," he said.
Tuvalu's main island and capital, Funafuti, was last month hit by spring tides of 3.2 metres (11 feet). No point of land in Tuvalu is more than 4.5 metres (15 feet) above mean sea-level.
Perhaps it is no surprise that this Paradise exists in the South Seas, the very place explorers and artists have been looking for it since Captain James Cook returned to Europe in the 18th century with tales of the exotic and the beautiful.
He was actually fairly scientific about it and quickly had occasion to groan about the way people in the various paradises he came across were always nicking bits of his precious ship.
It was the Frenchman Louis de Bougainville who really gave Paradise its capital P in European minds.
"One would think himself in the Elysian fields," he wrote of Tahiti, saying that the people there were like Greek gods.
"I thought I was transported to the garden of Eden; we crossed turf, covered with fine fruit trees, and intersected by little rivulets, which kept up a pleasant coolness in the air, without any of those inconveniences which humidity occasions.
"We found companies of men and women sitting under the shade of their fruit trees ... everywhere we found hospitality, ease, innocent joy, and every appearance of happiness among them."
Bougainville, who died in 1814, thought of the South Seas as paradise before the fall of man. But these days his name is only remembered for the civil war torn island in Papua New Guinea which he gave his name to.
Maybe in time he will be right for, despite the war and its malaria, Bougainville Island is easily one of the most beautiful spots on Earth.
The US State Department report found some of the classic human rights problems elsewhere in the Pacific.
PNG suffered from appalling human rights abuses, particularly with extrajudicial killings by the police force.
Fijis Indian-Fijian ethnic divisions were detailed and in Palau, it said, the locals are given to severe abuse of foreigners. Tongans, meanwhile, are unable to change their government.
In paradise, so far as the US is concerned, the biggest single human rights problem is the violence of men towards women and children.
"Incidents of spousal abuse, often of increasing severity, continue to rise," the Federated States of Micronesia report says, echoing words found in other country reports.
On Vanuatu, for example: "Violence against women, particularly wife beating, is common, although no accurate statistics exist."
Copyright © 2000 AFP