In April 2010, New Zealand judge Nevin Dawson, who had led an investigation into the 2009 death of a detainee in police custody, fled Vanuatu after reportedly receiving death threats from the paramilitary Vanuatu Mobile Force. While Dawson later returned, the government remained silent about the report’s findings and recommendations through year’s end. Prime Minister Edward Natapei failed a vote of confidence in December and was replaced by Sato Kilman.
Vanuatu was governed as an Anglo-French “condominium” from 1906 until independence in 1980. The Anglo-French legacy continues to split society along linguistic lines in all spheres of life, including politics, religion, and economics.
Widespread corruption and persistent political fragmentation have caused governments to collapse or become dysfunctional. No-confidence votes have forced several changes of government in recent years, and parliamentary coalitions are frequently formed and dissolved.
In the 2008 parliamentary elections, the Vanua’aku Party (VP)won 11 seats, the National United Party (NUP) took 8, while the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) and the Vanuatu Republican Party (VRP) each captured 7. Parliament chose Edward Natapei of the VP as prime minister.
While some progress has been made in creating jobs and increasing per capita income, the unemployment rate remains high. Economic reform and advancing the rule of law have been difficult, as politics continue to be dominated by ethnic, tribal, personal rivalries. Moreover, progress has been slowed by a lack of transparency and accountability. A proposal put forth by legislators in November 2010—which would sharply increase their monthly allowances and discretionary funds—was criticized as excessive given that the minimum wage remained unchanged.
Allegations of police abuse and intimidation continued in 2010, and the government’s response remained weak. In March, Nevin Dawson—a New Zealander on a two-year appointment as a Vanuatu Supreme Court justice—released the findings of his investigation into the 2009 death of a detainee in police custody. Dawson found that the detainee had suffered nine broken bones and 23 other injuries during an "interrogation" by officers of the 300-member paramilitary Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF). The report noted that other detainees captured by VMF around this time were also deliberately beaten and maimed by the VMF. Additionally, the investigation uncovered the use of intimidation by VMF officers, who displayed firearms during courtroom hearings. Following the release of his report, Dawson was forced to leave the country in early April after reportedly receiving death threats from senior VMF officers. He returned to his post later that month, though the government remained silent about the report’s findings and recommendations through year’s end.
Natapei was ousted in December after losing a vote of confidence, and Deputy Prime Minister Sato Kilman was chosen by Parliament as his successor. A total of $91,000 was allegedly paid to cabinet ministers and appointees who were laid off following the change of government.