Drug Trafficking in the Pacific Islands: The Impact of Transnational Crime

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Dedicated to Ned Cook, Salvation Army, killed in Nuku’alofa, Tonga on May 20, 2020.

This analysis is based on a literature review and interviews with government officials, regional and national law enforcement agencies, civil society, regional organizations, academia and the private sector. Interviews were conducted in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Samoa, Hawai’i, Australia and New Zealand between November 2018 and December 2019. Due to the highly sensitive topic and implications for individuals and communities, some interview participants were not identified.

Main image: Flags of Pacific island countries fly on the final day of the Nauru-Pacific summit of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), September 5, 2018. On the day, members of the PIF signed a security agreement promoting cooperation on issues such as transnational crime, illegal fishing and cybercrime. The agreement, called the Boe Declaration, also recognized the need for joint action against “non-traditional” threats, primarily climate change (Mike Leyral/AFP via Getty Images)


The references

[1] This analysis uses the term “transnational crime” as opposed to “transnational organized crime” following Bruinsma’s clarification that “transnational crime is not synonymous with organized crime, even when organized criminal groups very actively cross borders with their crimes. States, governments, armies or corporations, as well as many entrepreneurs, also have a long tradition of perpetuating and facilitating transnational crimes. » See Gerben Bruinsma, Transnational Crime Stories (New York: Springer, 2015), Chapter 1: Criminology and transnational crime, 1.

[4] Joe McNulty, “Western and Central Pacific Ocean Fisheries and Opportunities for Transnational Organized Crime: Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) Operation Kurukuru”, Australian Journal of Maritime and Ocean Affairs, Flight. 5, No. 4 (2013), 145–152.

[11] Simon Mackenzie, Transnational Criminology: Trafficking and Global Criminal Markets(Bristol University Press, 2021), 21.

[12] Sandeep Chawla and Thomas Pietschmann, “Chapter Nine: Drug Trafficking as a Transnational Crime”, in Handbook of Transnational Crime and Justice(ed) Philip Reichel, (Sage Publications Inc, 2005), 160.

[16] Interview with the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Wellington, August 12, 2019.

[18] Ibid, 9. For a waste water analysis on the rise in methamphetamine and cocaine use in Australia, see Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program: Report 9, 10 March 2020, https://www. acic.gov.au/publications/national-drug-monitoring-programme-reports-for-waste-water/national-drug-monitoring-programme-for-water-report- usees-09-2020; for similar findings on methamphetamine use in New Zealand, see New Zealand Police, National Wastewater Testing Program Quarter 2, 2019, https://www.police.govt.nz/about-us/publication/national-wastewater -testing-programme- 2-quarter-2019; and New Zealand, Ministry of Health, Annual Update of Key Results 2019/20: New Zealand Health Survey, November 14, 2019, https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/annual-update-key-results- 2019-20-new-zealand-health-survey.

[19] Interview with Fijian law enforcement officer, Nadi, March 2020.

[20] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-20183.

[24] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-2018.

[26] Interview with Pacific Islands security sector official, Suva, Fiji, September 11, 2019.

[28] Sue Windybank, “The Illegal Pacific Part 1: Organized Crime”, Politics, winter 2008, vol. 24, no. 1, 32–38.

[36] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-20186.

[37] Interview with Tongan law enforcement official, Nuku’alofa, February 26, 2019.

[38] Offense statistics for the period 2016-2019 provided by the Attorney General’s Office, Tonga, 25 February 2019.

[39] Interview with an official from Tonga’s Attorney General’s Office, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, February 25, 2019.

[43] Takashi Riku, Ryuichi Shibasaki and Hironori Kato, “Pacific Islands: Small and Dispersed ‘Sea-locked Islands'”, in Ryuichi Shibasaki, Hironori Kato and Cesar Ducruet (eds), Global Logistics Network Modeling and Policy: Quantification and Analysis for International Freight(Elsevier: 2020), 276.

[48] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-201816.

[50] Interview with a regional security sector official, 2019.

[51] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-201816.

[53] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-201816.

[55] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-2018.

[59] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-2018, 17.

[62] American Samoa, Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.

[66] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-201817.

[67] Interviews, Apia, Samoa, August 22, 2019; Nuku’alofa, Tonga, February 27, 2019.

[69] Interview with a Tongan deportee, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, February 27, 2019.

[70] Leanne Weber and Rebecca Powell, “Ripples across the Pacific: Cycles of Risk and Exclusion After Criminal Deportation to Samoa”, in Shahram Khosravi (ed), After deportation: ethnographic perspectives(Global Ethics Series, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).

[71] For example, in the United States alone, street gangs like the Tongan Crip Gang (TCG), Sons of Samoa (SOS), Tongan Style Gangsters (TSG), Salt Lake Posse (Tongans and Samoans), the Park Village Crip (PVC), the Samoan Pride Gangsters (SPG), the Baby Regulators and the Park Village Compton Crips all had members deported to the Pacific.

[72] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-201817; Interview with a Tongan policeman, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, February 27, 2019.

[73] Tim Fadgen, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand’s Deportation Policy and Practice in Regional Context, Australian Outlook, Australian Institute of International Affairs, 20 April 2021, https://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australianoutlook/australia-and-aotearoa-new -zeeland-deportation-policy-and-practice-in-the-regional-context/; Henrietta McNeill, “The ‘Crimmigration Creep’ in Oceania: Are deportation and reintegration standards disseminated?”, Journal of Criminology, Flight. 54, no. 3, 305–322.

[75] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-201817.

[76] Interview with an official from the Pacific Islands, Suva, 2019.

[77] Interview with member of Tongan civil society, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, February 27, 2019.

[80] Danielle Watson and Sinclair Dinnen, “History, Adaptation and Adoption Problematized”, in Sara N Amin, Danielle Watson, and Christian Girard (eds), Mapping Security in the Pacific: A Focus on Context, Gender and Organizational Culture(Routledge: New York, 2020).

[88] Interview with senior Tongan health official, Ministry of Health, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, February 27, 2019.

[89] Interviews with law enforcement officials in Suva and Nadi, Fiji, Port Moresby Papua New Guinea and Nuku’alofa, Tonga.

[90] Carolyn Nordstrom, The shadows of war: violence, power and international profiteers in the 21st century(University of California Press: 2004).

[91] Interview with Tongan church leader, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, February 28, 2019.

[94] Interview with Ned Cook, Salvation Army, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, February 28, 2019.

[96] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-2018seven.

[97] Email communication with Ned Cook, Salvation Army, April 28, 2019.

[98] Interview with a health advocate, Suva, Fiji, 2019.

[99] Barbara Dreaver, “Tonga Children Targeted by Methamphetamine Dealers”.

[100] Email communication with Ned Cook, Salvation Army, April 28, 2019. In 2018, 92% of clients were male and 8% female. The youngest client was 13 and the oldest 63.

[101] Interview with health advocate, Apia, Samoa, August 20, 2019.

[103] Interview with health advocate, Suva, September 10, 2019.

[104] Interview with Ned Cook, Salvation Army, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, February 28, 2019.

[106] Danielle Watson, Jose Sousa-Santos, and Loene M Howes, “Transnational and Organized Crime in Pacific Island Countries and Territories: Police Capacity to Respond to the Emerging Security Threat,” in Pamela Thomas and Meg Keen (eds) , Perspectives on Pacific Security: Future StreamsDevelopment Bulletin 82, Australian National University, February 2021, 151–155.

[108] The Honiara Declaration (1992) on Law Enforcement Cooperation; the Aitutaki Declaration (1997) on Regional Security Cooperation; and the Nasonini Declaration (2002) on regional security.

[114] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-2018.

[115] Pacific Island Police Chiefs, Pacific Methamphetamine Action Plan2018.

[116] Interview with Tongan official, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, February 29, 2019.

[117] “Fijian Drug Taskforce Gets US Help,” July 19, 2019, Radio New Zealand, https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/394745/fijian-drug-taskforce-gets-us-help; and “United States Embassy in Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu, “US Sponsoring Methamphetamine Drug Enforcement Training,” September 10, 2018, https://fj.usembassy.gov/slide/us-sponsoring-methamphetamine-drug -enforcement -training/.

[119] A Kumar, China’s alternative Indo-Pacific policy(Delhi: Prashant Publishing House, 2018).

[121] Interviews with officials, Suva and Apia.

[122] mackenzie, Transnational criminology21.

[123] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-2018.

[126] Interview with a Papua New Guinean customs officer, Port Moresby, September 23, 2019.

[127] Interviews with law enforcement officers, Port Moresby, Apia and Nuku’alofa.

[128] Interview with Tongan official, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, February 29, 2019

[129] Pacific Transnational Crime Network, Transnational Crime Assessment 2017-2018.

[130] Interview with Brigadier General Lord Fielakepa, Chief of the Defense Staff, His Majesty’s Armed Forces, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, 28 February 2019

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