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The Cook Islands lie in the South Pacific Ocean, between French Polynesia and American Samoa. Formerly a British protectorate, the territory is now a self governing State in free association with New Zealand. Though not a full member of the United Nations, the Cook Islands ratifies human rights treaties in its own name and has been criticised by treaty bodies for failing to address violence against children and sexual abuse.
The Cook Islands form a web of 15 islands located in the South Pacific Ocean. The islands sit between French Polynesia to the east and American Samoa to the west, with New Zealand to the north east. The islands are grouped in two: the South Cook Islands and the North Cook Islands. Rarotonga is the main island and Avarua the capital.
Population and Language
The population of the Cook Islands is approximately 20,000. However, the population is in sharp decline as people leave the Islands in search of better economic prospects. Cook Islanders are also citizens of New Zealand, and some 50,000 Cook Islanders are reported to live there . The Cook Islands' current Prime Minister, Henry Puna, promised a $770 "baby bonus" to the mother of every child born to stem this decline prior to his election in December 2010.
The population is mainly made up of the following groups: Cook Island Maori (Polynesian) 87.7%, part Cook Island Maori 5.8%, other 6.5% (2001 census).
The official languages are English and Maori.
History and Politics
They were a British protectorate between 1888 until 1901 when the New Zealand government annexed them. New Zealand granted the island self-governing status in 1965, but retains responsibility for the Islands' defence and external affairs. The Cook Islands are, however, gradually developing their own foreign policy, and now have independent relations with 30 States.
The Cook Islands are a self-governing parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand. The head of government is Prime Minister Henry Puna, of the Cook Islands party. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, represented on the islands by Sir Frederick Goodwin.
The Cook Islands has a unicameral parliament with 24 elected members as well as a house of 'Ariki' – traditional leaders – who advise the government on issues of customary and land use.
The Cook Islands' economy is one of the strongest in the Pacific Islands region.
Tourism is the mainstay of the economy and is estimated to account for 60 per cent of the GDP. This industry has, however, been hit hard by the global financial crisis. Black pearls are the country's main export. Agriculture and the sale of fishing licences and offshore finance are also important.
The economy faces a number of challenges including: environmental damage, vulnerability to natural disasters, labour shortage, weak infrastructure, among others.
Media and Civil Society
Despite its small population, the Cook Islands has some 150 civil society organisations, according to Cook Islands Association of NGOs (CIANGO). ACP states that many Cook Islands belong to religious charities, sports groups, youth organisations, cultural associations, and welfare-based NGOs.The Cook Islands Association of NGOs (CIANGO) is a national umbrella for all NGOs. The Cook Islands are in free association with New Zealand which has one of the best records on press freedom in the world. However, they attracted criticism from Reporters Without Borders when the Prime Minister's chief adviser promoted Zimbabwe's press law as a good example of controlling the media.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
The Cook Islands do not enjoy full membership of the UN, but participate actively in a number of UN organisations. The Cook Islands also ratifies international human rights treaties in their own right and is responsible for implementing these. Treaties entered into by New Zealand have not extended to the Cook Islands since 1988 unless stated. The Cook Islands has independently ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol. However, Cook Islands' government was able to comment on New Zealand's draft report to the UPR, which only examines the human rights records of UN Member States.
There are a number of children's rights concerns at present, including violence against children and the early age of marriage.
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Cook Islands
- BBC: Cook Islands Profile
- Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2003 - New Zealand
- Universal Periodic Review: New Zealand, May 2009, paragraph 18
- BBC,Cook Islands Profile
- UNDP: Cook Islands Profile
- Asian Development Bank and Cook Islands Factsheet, (December 2010)
- Universal Periodic Review: New Zealand, May 2009
- Cook Islands Association of NGOs (CIANGO), "Civil society is finally acknowledged as a partner in the development process"
- Index Mundi