FIJI: Women Sidelined By Military Regime

Analysis by Anne S. Walker
MELBOURNE, Apr 30 (IPS) – Fiji, a multi-racial, multi-cultural country of 300 islands in the South Pacific, has undergone another coup – the fourth in 22 years. The women of Fiji want their voices to be heard as they work on ways to bring peace back to their country, and they are asking for the United Nations to support their efforts. 

Fiji is the preferred destination for myriads of sun-loving tourists worldwide. It is in many respects a tropical paradise with almost all of its land protected in perpetuity for its indigenous peoples. Hotels lease the land from the relevant ‘mataqali’ (tribe) and provide jobs for the mataqali lease-owners. 

From 1962 to 1972, the Fiji YWCA helped to establish programmes for women and young people in job training, early childhood education, and rural and community development. 

During this time, the YWCA became involved in Fiji’s independence struggle and the fight against nuclear testing in Mururoa, French Polynesia, joining forces with other community groups, and with students from the newly established University of the South Pacific. 

With a broad-based constituency that represented all races and cultures, all religions and generations, the women and young people of Fiji were encouraged to speak for themselves and to make themselves heard. A space was provided for emerging leaders, and for many years there seemed to be no limit to what Fiji could achieve as a multi-cultural, multi-racial example to other emerging democracies across the Pacific region. 

This optimism was shattered in 1987 when the soldiers of the Fiji Military Force (FMF), under Corporal Sitiveni Rabuka, stormed Parliament House and took over the government of Timoci Bavadra, Fiji’s democratically elected Prime Minister who headed Fiji’s first truly multi-racial government. 

Fiji YWCA’s former General Secretary, Amelia Rokotuivuna, was Campaign Director for Bavadra’s political party. She had played a major role in the Bavadra government’s rise to power one month earlier, and was overjoyed to see a multiracial democracy taking place in Fiji. The military coup destroyed this optimism and hope. 

Fiji experienced 3 more “coups,” in 2000, in 2006, and most recently on 10 April 2009 – when the country’s Supreme Court deemed the current administration of Col. Frank Bainimarama illegal, prompting Fiji’s President Ratu Josefa Iloilo to dismiss the members of the judiciary, to abrogate the 1997 Constitution, and to reinstate the 2006 coup instigator and military chief, Bainimarama as Prime Minister for the next 5 years. 

A generation of young people has grown up in Fiji never knowing anything but a “coup culture” and the power of the gun in taking over the government. Fiji’s women, who played such an important early role in the development of Fiji’s democracy, have been sidelined and ignored.

In fact, this “coup culture” has weakened and demoralised much of Fiji’s once-vibrant and optimistic peace and justice community. However, the defiant and powerful work of groups such as femLINK Pacific, a community media group led by Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, has kept the dream of a peaceful, equitable and visionary Fiji alive. 

FemLINK Pacific focuses its work on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 and constantly calls on the government to make women part of the peace mediation process. 

Initially, the world’s media blamed racial struggles for the many coups in Fiji, inferring that the Fiji-Indian population, brought in as indentured labourers by the British in the 19th and 20th century to work the sugar cane plantations, and who represented more than 50 percent of the population at the time of the first coup, had caused the indigenous Fijian population to rise up against them. 

Events that have unfolded since have shown this to be only a minor cause of Fiji’s unrest. Power struggles have involved an ever-growing and mighty military having disagreements with the government, business men wrangling over government permits, chiefs not wanting commoners to have power, and a host of other causes. 

Regardless, each coup has served to stifle voices calling for a Nuclear Free Pacific. 

Fiji has suffered dramatically as skilled and experienced professionals have left the country to make their lives elsewhere. Many of these have been Fiji- Indians whose families had lived and worked in Fiji for generations. 

The women of Fiji have shown enormous courage and resilience through all these years of coups and unrest. Groups such as the Fiji YWCA, femLINK Pacific, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and more have stayed active and outspoken. Yet, they have little say in negotiations and are largely ignored by people in power – currently the military. In fact their activities have been severely curtailed and they are under constant intimidation. 

International Women’s Tribune Centre (IWTC), headquartered in New York, took an active role in each of the four U.N. World Conferences on Women from 1975 to 1995 and in all subsequent Special Sessions and meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) of ECOSOC, including the lobbying to get Security Council Resolution 1325 endorsed in October 2000. 

IWTC believes that, as recommended in resolution 1325, the U.N. should demand that women in Fiji be given a role as peace mediators, peace builders and peace keepers as Fiji works its way out of a military dictatorship and back to being a respected and stable democracy. 

Resolutions such as 1325 are of no use whatsoever if the U.N. member states take no actions to implement them. 1325 is the most important resolution for women ever passed by the Security Council, according to IWTC.

Women caught in violent and exploitative conflict situations in every corner of the world deserve to know their rights so that their voices can be heard in decision making on their behalf. Unfortunately, at this time, Fiji is one of those countries. 

The women of Fiji need the support of the U.N. and the world in recovering their once-peaceful and democratic country. According to IWTC, the U.N. could help by ceasing to build up the Fiji Military Forces as contracted “peacekeepers.” These same soldiers are simultaneously being used to overturn the rule of law in their own country, they say. 

U.N. peacekeeping funds have been paid to Fiji for more than 30 years and have made it possible for Fiji’s soldiers to be amongst the best equipped and trained in the world. Fiji meanwhile is not at war with any of its neighbours. 

Push to block Fiji from UN peacekeeping

Sydney Morning Herald – THE Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, says the United Nations should look at punishing Fiji’s military rulers by further limiting the involvement of its soldiers in peacekeeping forces – a move that would seriously damage the country’s economy.

Australia and New Zealand have been leading efforts to pressure Fiji’s interim government over its recent abrogation of the constitution and crackdown on the media and the judiciary.

The country’s military ruler, Frank Bainimarama, seized power in a bloodless coup in 2006 and has backed away from earlier plans to hold elections this year.

Mr Rudd discussed the crackdown at a meeting in Canberra yesterday with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare. The two agreed to press ahead with efforts to suspend Fiji from the Pacific Islands Forum. “Australia’s position is hardline,” Mr Rudd said. “You cannot sustain within a family of democracies [such as] the Pacific Island Forum or the Commonwealth a government like that of Fiji which simply treats with contempt the most fundamental democratic institutions and press freedoms.

“Through our interventions with the United Nations, supported by New Zealand and other countries, the UN now is not going to engage future Fijian troops for new operations. There is a question which now arises as to whether there should be a further tightening on top of that.”

Fiji’s economy is heavily reliant on UN payments for peacekeeping contributions and remittances from soldiers abroad. About 600 soldiers serve as peacekeepers in Lebanon, Iraq, East Timor and in the Sinai.

Fiji’s interim government dismissed claims it would not be allowed to provide further peacekeepers, saying the UN had not taken action against other countries that have had coups.

“Precedents have been set, like Pakistan, Thailand, all these are very big troop contributing countries to the UN, so what are they talking about?” a government spokesman, Neumi Leweni, told the news website Fijilive.

Two commentators on Fiji from the Australian National University, Jon Fraenkel and Stewart Firth, have argued in a new book that UN peacekeeping operations helped build up the strength of Fiji’s military and led to the coups in 1987 and 2006.

“Over the 30 years since 1978, around 25,000 Fiji soldiers have served on overseas peace-keeping missions, bringing home an estimated $US300 million [$428 million],” they write in The 2006 Military Takeover in Fiji: A Coup to End All Coups?, published by ANU E Press.

“In recent years the Iraq War has brought more income to Fiji … Tens of thousands of Fijians have served in foreign theatres in almost 30 years of peacekeeping … The overall effect has been to boost the morale of officers and troops … and to professionalise the [force] as a military institution.”

Jonathan Pearlman Foreign Affairs Correspondent
April 29, 2009

God bless Fiji

Think Outside The Box

The overwhelming disappointment at the UN’s failure to censure Fiji’s illegal government, through banning all peacekeeping missions, has struck a sour note for those who would see Fiji return to the path of democracy.

Are we being too narrow minded in seeking a solution? 

It appears to me that the prime instigators of this illegal regime are

a)     Vore Bainidia

b)    The malodorous Chodokant (who might be crying over spilt milk now, but have no doubts – as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, Chodo is the one pulling Vore’s puppet strings)

c)     The Tui Vuda, who is a few flowers short of a salusalu, if you know what I mean

d)    Soldiers / officers who follow Bainidia because they are scared of what might happen to them if they turn on him, but perhaps if they were assured of safety would happily turn on him

e)     Attorney General MyArse and a handful of fat, corrupt lawyers, some pretending to be judges

f)     A handful of fat, corrupt has-beens with chiefly titles who could not earn themselves a decent living and prefer to live off the labour of others

Thinking outside the box, what if we were to just ask the ANZ governments to send in their troops and just take these f***ers out?  There are so few of them.  It would be easiest thing in the world for properly disciplined forces to step in and neutralise them.  Then appoint a caretaker government to return us to free and fair elections under the 1997 Constitution within 12 months, ensuring the coupsters are brought to justice with a full and fair trial. 

It restores us to democracy more quickly.  It stabilises the region.  It kicks into touch this ridiculous Chindia axis that Bainidia is trying to create.  It saves our natural resources before Vore is able to completely sell them out and devastate our ecology.  Similarly it saves our national resources which Vore is milking dry and hoping none of us will notice.  

But why would the ANZ governments take this kind of action if they see that We The People are not even bothering to register our protest against this regime with marches, strikes and civil disobedience? 

Why should they step up the pace for us if we are not even willing to cast the first stone, except via anonymous blogs? 

Time for public protest, people. 

God bless Fiji

Frank’s Order of Fiji? F-OFf

So, the Tui Vuda is awarding Vore the medal for the Order of Fiji?  

This is an opportunity for our Great and Good to show their rejection of all Vore stands for.  

If you have been awarded the Order of Fiji, Vore’s inclusion in your group completely devalues the Award.  

Show your distaste by publicly handing back, throwing away or giving away your own Order of Fiji medal.  Make sure you take pictures of your action, and circulate them to the blogs, the media in Fiji (who won’t be allowed to publish it but will at least have your protest on record), the international community and their media outlets.  

If enough dignitaries showing their disgust at having Vore included in their ranks, it will send a powerful message to the international community that this tyrannical terrorist is definitively rejected by We The People, and that we want our country returned to the path of democracy.  

God bless Fiji

NZ Govt mulls more Fiji sanctions

The Government is considering strengthening sanctions against Fiji but won’t impose tourism and trade restrictions, Foreign Minister Murray McCully says.

The situation in Fiji was “pretty bad”, and self-appointed prime minister Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama had effectively declared himself dictator for life, Mr McCully said today on TV One’s Q&A programme.

“Sacking the judges, clamping down on personal freedoms, media freedoms, it doesn’t get much worse than that,” he said.

“That’s a traditional mould for a military dictator and it hasn’t had a happy ending anywhere in the world.”

Fiji’s President Ratu Iloilo scrapped Fiji’s constitution and fired the judiciary earlier this month after three Appeal Court judges ruled the military takeover in 2006 was illegal.

Cdre Bainimarama was re-appointed prime minister and immediately issued decrees which included media censorship and immunity from prosecution for soldiers.

His explanation has been that he won’t hold elections until reforms have been implemented to change the system, and the timeline has been extended to 2014.

The Pacific Island Forum, the Commonwealth and the European Union are urging Cdre Bainimarama to return Fiji to democratic rule but the military leader has so far ignored them.

Mr McCully said the situation should not be seen as a contest to make Fiji hold elections.

“We can’t make them have elections and we actually can’t stop them wrecking their economy either if that’s what they’re intent on doing, and that appears to be the case,” he said.

“What we can do is make it clear that the international community is there to lend a hand. . . they’re not ready to be helped at the moment, we’re just going to have to let them work it out.”

Mr McCully said there was more New Zealand could do in terms of sanctions, which were imposed by the previous Labour government soon after the bloodless coup.

“We’ll fine tune our sanctions regime as we talk to other countries,” he said.

“There are some things we could do, perhaps toughen up on the sanctions that target members of the regime or their families.”

He said restricting the freedom of New Zealanders to travel to or trade with Fiji would make the Government no better than the Fijian regime.

Mr McCully has previously said targeting Fiji’s tourist industry would hurt ordinary Fijians.

The sanctions that are in place affect travel to New Zealand, and transit through it, by members of the regime, its officials and their families.


God bless Fiji

Bravo, SWM and Welcome Fiji Freedom & Democracy Movement

Sydney, Australia – The Fiji community in Sydney has condemned the abrogration of Fiji’s constitution and launched an international campaign to restore democracy in their homeland.

A highly charged meeting of the Fiji community issued what it calls the Sydney Declaration condemning the abrogration of the 1997 constitution and calling on coup leader Frank Bainimarama to respect the Court of Appeal’s recommendation that a neutral government be appointed to take Fiji to immediate elections. 

Fiji’s former Land Forces Commander Jone Baledrokadroka said the Bainimarama regime is illegal.

”We tell Bainimarama your day is up,” he said to applause. “The writing is on the wall.”

The former land forces chief said non-violent action and tougher sanctions are needed to bring the Fiji government to its knees. 

The Sydney meeting endorsed a plan to set up an overseas movement for democracy. 

The movement plans to establish branches in other Australian cities and in New Zealand, Britain and the United States.

God bless Fiji