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Commonwealth calls for withdrawal of military from Fiji’s govt

26 April 2013, London

1. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) held its thirty-ninth meeting in London on 26 April 2013.

2. The meeting was chaired by Hon Dr Dipu Moni, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh. It was also attended by Senator the Hon Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia; Hon John Baird, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Canada; Hon A J Nicholson, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica; Hon Dr Abdul Samad Abdullah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives; Hon Dr Samura Kamara, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sierra Leone; Hon Bernard K Membe, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Tanzania; Hon Winston Dookeran, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago; and Hon Nipake Edward Natapei, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade of Vanuatu.

3. CMAG welcomed the recent adoption by Heads of Government, and signature by The Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, of the Charter of the Commonwealth, encapsulating the core values and principles of the Commonwealth. It noted that the Charter reaffirmed the Commonwealth’s commitment inter alia to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, separation of powers, freedom of expression, good governance, tolerance, respect and understanding and the role of civil society. As the custodian of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values, the Group pledged to continue to promote these commonly agreed goals.

4. The Group reviewed developments in relation to the country currently on its formal agenda, Fiji.

Fiji

5. CMAG reiterated the Commonwealth’s unwavering solidarity with the people of Fiji, and CMAG’s commitment to Fiji’s reinstatement as a full member of the Commonwealth family, through the restoration of constitutional democracy, the rule of law and human rights, in accordance with the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth.

6. Ministers expressed their regret at the Government of Fiji’s diversion from the previously-agreed constitutional process, which had earlier been welcomed by CMAG and which had attracted widespread public engagement and confidence within Fiji.

7. CMAG called on the Government of Fiji to ensure that the steps now undertaken toward restoring constitutional democracy are credible and inclusive, and similarly enjoy the confidence and support of the people of Fiji, including:

a. a transparent and consultative process to achieve a constitution that accords with Commonwealth and internationally-accepted standards for democracy, good governance and the rule of law, and that genuinely enjoys the endorsement of the people of Fiji;

b. the restoration of the structures necessary for credible elections, including an independent Election Management Body;

c. the ability of political parties and candidates to contest elections freely under fair and consistent rules and on a level playing field;

d. withdrawal of the military from involvement in government; and

e. full respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms in accordance with international law and without undue restriction, including freedoms of speech, association and movement, and a free and independent media.

8. The Group expressed concern about ongoing restrictions on human rights and reports of human rights abuse in Fiji, and emphasised the necessity of full respect for human rights and the rule of law, to create the environment necessary for credible elections.

9. CMAG noted the visit to Fiji undertaken by the Pacific Islands Forum’s Ministerial Contact Group on 12 April 2013, and reaffirmed the Commonwealth’s commitment to continuing to work in co-operation with regional and international partners in relation to the Fiji situation.

10. CMAG encouraged the Commonwealth to remain engaged with Fiji in appropriate ways, including the Secretary-General’s ongoing engagement with the Government of Fiji and other stakeholders, also encompassing further exploration of options for the provision of assistance to Fiji in relation to democracy and the rule of law.

God bless Fiji

Abduction Attempts In Fiji

There is an alarming increase in the number of abductions taking place in Fiji. Children are going missing on Viti Levu, with reports on Facebook telling of at least 12 children missing from the Sigatoka area alone. A young man reported to police that he had been drugged and abducted by an Asian and two Fijians in April.

What the heck is happening?

Under the illegal regime, the rule of law in Fiji has fallen away completely. That Savnish Kumar’s attackers were an Asian and two Fijians suggests this was a training exercise. The Asian teacher is showing our locals ‘how to’ commit a dire criminal act. He is training them up.

Is this the rise of a new criminal element – taking our children, our young, vulnerable, beautiful children for criminal intentions?

Or is this part of a cold, calculated strategy of the regime to take a leaf out of Indonesia’s playbook so they can make our prominent citizens ‘disappear’ like they do in West Papua?

The illegal regime MUST be stopped.

Tabu soro.

God bless Fiji.

The Unintended Consequences of Fiji’s peace keeping operations

By Jone Baledrokadroka

Great socio-economic promise was envisaged for newly-independent Fiji in the 1970s but due to a series of military coups in 1987, 2000 and 2006, this promise has remained unfulfilled. While many scholars explain the coups with reference to ethnic politics, I’d argue that the politicisation of the Fijian military is partly due to the fact that it has developed a self-image as a mediator of political tensions and executor of coups d’état. Unlike the Indonesian military, the Fijian military’s raison d’être wasn’t determined by internal security threats; in fact, it was historically apolitical. And the development of this self-image appears to be an unintended consequence of the Fijian military’s involvement in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations.

Much of this development has its roots in the Fijian military’s first deployment on a UN peacekeeping operation as part of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in 1978. Participation in UN peacekeeping operations had obvious benefits to the fledgling Fijian nation, including being seen as a good international citizen, the generation of foreign exchange and improved youth employment.

However, rather than staying in Lebanon for a year or so as originally intended, the soldiers served for more than two decades, withdrawing only in 2002. Moreover, the confidence the Fijian military gained from serving with larger nations’ militaries in UN peacekeeping missions has given it an inflated corporate self-image. Participation in UN peacekeeping missions also necessitated that the military increase in size beyond what would be required to defend Fiji. By making peacekeeping the centerpiece of foreign policy, Fijian governments have unwittingly enhanced the military’s capability to intervene in domestic politics.

Fijian soldiers were also indelibly affected by the mediator role they performed when trying to defuse communal factional conflicts as part of UNIFIL. By the time the battalion pulled out of Lebanon in 2002, this mediator role was engrained in the collective military psyche and valorised by the deaths of 37 Fijian soldiers. Hailing from a small south Pacific nation, relatively isolated from partisan global politics, the Fijian military has been seen as impartial, an important quality for PKO forces. The involvement of Fijian troops in peacekeeping in the Middle East attracted much international attention, including a 1980s UN documentary featuring Fijian soldiers which further enhanced their self-perception. It also gave them a sense of self-belief in being part of a complex diplomatic solution of global proportions. Looking at Fiji today, officers who have been central to the military’s role in the successive coups—Rabuka in 1987, Filipo Tarakinikini in 2000 and Pita Driti in 2006—were all previous commanders of the peacekeeping battalion in Lebanon. The implication of a ‘Lebanon situation’ is quite obvious in Rabuka’s coup operational orders (OPORD 1/87). In the conclusion to the OPORD Rabuka clearly states that ‘You will see that the sit [sic] Fiji is in is dangerous and will develop into something much worse and resembling Lebanon and other troubled areas of the world.’

The self-styled mediator role also stems from a patron–client, or chief-warrior (Turaga-bati),relationship that has developed between elite indigenous chiefs (and their associates) and the predominately indigenous military (99 per cent indigenous Fijians). This relationship has its origins in the intensive peacekeeping tempo and swelled military numbers over the last 25 years.

The security and development agenda of the current Fijian leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama is also a throw-back to Malaya in the 1950s when, as part of British Commonwealth forces, Fijians were imbued with the notion of successfully quelling Communist insurgents. Many of the top government positions are ‘militarised’. This process of setting apart the military from society was carried into the post-independence period by the ruling elite. The military has now entrenched its authoritarian rule until September 2014 at least. The big question is whether the military will continue to play a key role in Fiji politics after the 2014 elections.

Jone Baledrokadroka is a former colonel with 26 years of service in the Fiji military and he recently completed PhD studies in the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program at the ANU. Image courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Photo.

The article on which this post is based is published in the December special volume of Security Challenges on ‘Security in the Pacific arc’.

A workshop was held on 8 February 2013 at the ANU to discuss the special volume. Details and registrations are available here.

God bless Fiji.

The People of Fiji Matter: Who is Standing up for Them?

Thursday, January 31, 2013 – 07:56 By Sir Ronald Sanders

By any objective measure of the Commonwealth’s own criteria, Fiji should by now be expelled from the Commonwealth of Nations. Since September 1st 2009, Fiji has been suspended from the Commonwealth, which means that it cannot   participate in any inter-governmental meetings or in events such as the Commonwealth Games.

The decision to suspend Fiji from the Commonwealth association of 54 states followed the failure of the unelected regime of Commodore Frank Bainimarama to negotiate with the opposition and to commit to hold credible elections by October 2010.

Bainimarama deposed Fiji’s democratically elected government on 5th December 2006 in the country’s fourth coup in 20 years.  Since then, he has ruled the country with an iron fist abrogating its 1997 Constitution, imposing harsh public emergency regulations curtailing
freedom of speech and assembly, violating human rights of persons targeted as dissidents, dissolving elected municipal councils, and disestablishing the Great Council of Chiefs – the umbrella body of indigenous Fijians.  His regime has also presided over the economic decline of a once prosperous country.  The economy performed poorly for three consecutive years from 2009 to 2011 and the IMF identified “resolution of political uncertainties” as one of the priorities to spur investment and raise the growth rate. There has also been heavy emigration of both Indo-Fijians and indigenous Fijians.

The Commonwealth has remained engaged with Fiji throughout the period of its suspension.  The late Sir Paul Reeves – former Governor-General of New Zealand- as the special representative of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, worked valiantly to promote dialogue between Bainimarama and other key political leaders.  Reeves died in August
2011 having had no success.  There was no interest in discussion and compromise by the ruling regime which wanted only acceptance of its own agenda.

Bainimarama has been remarkably cunning at manipulating the international community including his largest two Commonwealth neighbours, Australia and New Zealand — both of which have been criticized for not applying stringent sanctions that could have brought down the regime.  The two largest Pacific countries have broken-off and resumed diplomatic relations with the Fijian regime in efforts to persuade it to allow the preparation of a broadly-acceptable new constitution and to hold general elections.

Early in 2011, the regime agreed to the appointment of a five-member Constitution Commission headed by the well-known Kenyan Constitutional lawyer Professor Yash Ghai.  But, Bainimarama was flattering to deceive.  On January 10, in a TV broadcast, he dispensed with the draft constitution drawn up by the constitutional committee, and assigned his Attorney General to produce a new draft by the end of the month.  Just days earlier, police confiscated 600 copies of the draft constitution that had been released by Yash Ghai.  There can be no more blatant a process of spurning the Commonwealth’s   urging for a return to democracy and the rule of law in Fiji, including a broadly-acceptable new constitution and free and fair general elections by 2014.

Once again, Bainimarama demonstrated no interest in anything but his own agenda.  In this, he is backed by his military.  Nearly 50 military officers now occupy important posts in the civil service and district administrations, and the military want to retain a significant role in the country’s governance  guaranteed by the constitution.  Bainimarama says that elections will be held in 2014 but it seems obvious that his new Constitution, to be framed by his
Attorney-General, will be such that any general elections will resolve none of Fiji’s problems or hasten its return to democracy.

On January 16, the regime issued a decree dictating new and difficult requirements for political parties to be registered.   Existing parties had only 28 days from January 18 to re-register. Many of the 16 existing parties will most likely be eliminated under the rules
laid down by the unelected regime.

All of this has become further complicated by the interests in the region of the world’s two largest economies and rival nations -– China and the United States. In 2010, in response to closer relations being developed between China and Fiji, the US announced policy of “pivot to Asia” witnessed the re-opening of a USAID office in Fiji that had been closed since 1995.  Then in September 2012, China signed several investment agreements with Fiji said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Therefore, efforts by Fiji’s Commonwealth neighbours in the Pacific, including the Pacific Islands Forum,  to urge a return to democracy by the Fijian regime are being undermined by the clash for influence by China and the US.   Of course, as countries in the Caribbean know
well, when this kind of ‘cold war’ struggle ends (as it did between Russia and the US in the Caribbean), its benefits end with it.  In any event, none of this resolves the fundamental problems in Fiji; it merely perpetuates them.  The people of Fiji continue to endure an
unelected government that has ruled, according to its own wishes, for over six years.

The Commonwealth’s record on Fiji has been commendable so far, but it should now deal firmly with the military government by again expelling the country.  In 1987, the Commonwealth expelled Fiji after two military coups.  Re-admitted 10 years later in 1997 after it introduced a non-discriminatory constitution, the Commonwealth suspended it again in 2000 after another Coup.  It was again re-admitted in 2001 until its suspension in 2009 following Bainimarama’s military coup in 2006.

Sadly, in their struggle for influence in the region, and by ignoring the unconstitutionality of the Fiji regime and its abuses, both the United States and China exert pressure on Commonwealth countries not to expel Fiji from the Commonwealth in accordance with its own rules.

But, the people of Fiji deserve better, and the 9-member Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) should hold the people’s plight uppermost in its collective mind when it meets in April.  It should also be faithful to the Commonwealth’s own principles and rules.

(Sanders was a member of the Eminent Persons Group (2010-2011) commissioned by Heads of Government to produce a report on n reform of the Commonwealth.  He is a former Caribbean Diplomat and now Visiting Fellow, London University)

Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com

Tabu soro.

God bless Fiji

Final Petition of William R Marshall

The Petition of the regime’s former Justice of Appeal has kept lawyers amused all day.

The only version currently online is in reverse order. If anyone has a copy in natural order, please send it through via Comments and it will be posted on this blog.

God bless Fiji

See how far we have fallen

The regime’s new buddies who are helping them control our cyberspace, monitor our emails and flood our blogs with anti-matter, constantly use deceptions and sleights of hand to obscure how very, very bad things are for us now in Fiji.

One of the great things about the internet is that anything sent via a server is now pretty much ‘held’ somewhere in cyberspace. We can revisit documents, images and snapshots – like long forgotten photo albums – to remember where we have been.

This letter from Human Rights Watch Asia Executive Director, Brad Adams, to Bainivore and the later Tui Vuda, back in early 2007, makes for sobering reading.

For one thing, it reminds us of what life was like under the protection of our 1997 Constitution.

For another thing, it reminds us of what life was like when the idea of innocent civilians being taken to barracks and beaten was still horrific to us.  Nowadays, we are almost blase when we hear someone has been detained, whether a leader or an ordinary person.

It reminds us of what it was like to be able to have the courage to say to the regime that we felt what they were doing is unacceptable.

It reminds us of how it felt to have fundamental rights of expression, assembly, association and to feel that we had a right to humane treatment while in detention.

February 6, 2007

Interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama
President Ratu Josefa Iloilo
Republic of the Fiji Islands
Government Building
Suva, Fiji

Dear interim Prime Minister Bainimarama and President Iloilo,

We write to share our concerns regarding developments in Fiji since the December 5, 2006 military coup. We urge you to ensure the swift transition to an elected government, and call on you and your officials to immediately and publicly make an unambiguous commitment that fundamental human rights will be respected and those who exercise them will be protected. The conduct of an independent investigation into the death of a person in military custody and allegations of arbitrary detentions, beatings, and harassment of more than a dozen individuals by the military should be a first step towards helping to restore confidence. In addition, we call on you to publicly state that all legal civil society groups are free to continue with their work. Finally, we urge you to protect the independence of the judiciary and the media.

We are particularly concerned about allegations that your government has engaged in arbitrary detention and abuse of particular individuals.

On the evening of December 24, 2006, Ms. Virisila Buadromo, executive director of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Mr. Arshad Daud, Ms. Buadromo’s partner, Ms. Laisa Digitaki, a businesswoman, Mr. Imraz Iqbal, a businessman and former journalist, and Ms. Jacqueline Koroi and Mr. Pita Waqavonovono, both youth activists, were taken from their homes by members of the military. No arrest warrants were produced. Between the coup on December 5, 2006 and this incident, some members of this group had received threatening phone calls from individuals who identified themselves as members of the military. The six were taken to the Queen Elizabeth Barracks, where they were questioned and beaten by military officials. At least two were hit in the face in the course of their questioning, and one required a neck brace following her release. Another suffered a broken leg and broken ribs. Early the following morning, they were forced to run 10km in the rain to Lami, where they were made to dismantle pro-democracy banners. They were subsequently informed by the Immigration Department that they would not be allowed to leave the country.

The comment from you, Interim Prime Minister Bainimarama, that, “If we need to call [activists] in and say you’re speaking too much, we’ll do it,” would appear to be an unacceptable endorsement of this behavior.

Other detentions and assaults by members of the military are of equal concern. According to our information, at least two dozen people, including civil society activists, but also members of the business and media communities as well as private citizens, have been detained. None appears to have been detained with a warrant. Those detained include:

  • Mr. Kenneth Zinck, former government minister of Labour, who was detained twice (6 December, 9 January). On the occasion of his second arrest on January 9, Mr. Zinck was taken by members of the military to the Namaka barracks near Nadi after he made comments in a publication against the military regime. He was allegedly beaten during his detention.
  • Mr. Mesake Koroi, Fiji Daily Post General Manager (December 8), was taken to Queen Elizabeth Barracks for speaking out against the military.
  • Mr. Peceli Kinivuwai, United Fiji Party (Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua, SDL) National Director (December 9), was also taken to Queen Elizabeth Barracks for speaking out against the military.
  • Mr. Robert Wolfgramm, Editor-in-chief of the Fiji Daily Post (December 14), was not given a reason for his detention and was taken to Queen Elizabeth Barracks.
  • Mr. Jagannath Sami, former Sugar Cane Growers Council chief executive (December 23, and January 18), was taken to the police station in Lautoka for making statements to discredit the military.
  • Ms. Laisa Vulakoro, Musician (December 28), was questioned by the police after voicing his criticisms of the military.

We note that these actions violate Fiji’s constitution, which guarantees the fundamental rights of expression (section 30), assembly (section 31), and association (section 32). They appear to also violate the rights to be treated “with humanity and respect for his or her dignity” if arrested and detained (section 27 (1)(e)).

The death in military custody of Mr. Nakelo Verebasaga, a land surveyor, particularly merits independent investigation. Mr. Verebasaga did not appear to be suffering from any life-threatening injuries or illness when he was taken into custody on January 5, 2007 for alleged disputes with his neighbors. He too was taken to Queen Elizabeth Barracks, and was pronounced dead on arrival at the barracks hospital. His body was then taken to Colonial War Memorial Hospital mortuary at 11:30am for a post mortem examination. Military officials have claimed that Mr. Verebasaga had been injured in fights the previous week, and that he had developed breathing problems en route to the barracks. As Mr. Verebasaga died whilst in the custody of the military an independent investigation is essential to establishing a credible explanation for the cause of death and the culpability of any of the military officers in charge of him at the time.

The military’s placing on leave on January 3, 2007 of Chief Judge Daniel Fatiaki and Chief Magistrate Ms. Naomi Matanipobua also raises concerns about your present and future commitment to the rule of law. These two senior members of the judiciary appear to have been dismissed because they are likely to oppose your efforts to suspend the Constitution. An independent judiciary is fundamental to the protection of human rights, and military interference in it constitutes grave disregard for the rule of law.

President Iloilo’s January 4 statement supporting the extension of legal immunity to all coup members and interim Prime Minister Bainimarama’s similar statement on January 7 send a worrying signal that you intend to prevent investigations into allegations of serious human rights abuses perpetrated by members of the military. Any attempt to grant impunity for abuses will undermine efforts to re-establish a stable and democratic Fiji for the foreseeable future.

Human Rights Watch urges that you publicly reiterate your commitments to basic freedoms as guaranteed by Fiji’s constitution, and instruct your officials to conduct themselves accordingly. Finally, you must ensure that elections consistent with international standards are held as soon as possible, and that the results of those elections are honored. Should you fail to do so, the future of human rights in Fiji remains in jeopardy.

Sincerely,

Brad Adams
Executive Director
Asia Division

How very, very far we have fallen.

How very, very badly we need to stand.

Tabu soro.

God bless Fiji.