Development In Fiji and The Elections Process
Ratu Epeli Nailatikau Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Civil Aviation - Speech at the 17th MSG Foreign Ministers Meeting
I wish to thank the Chair for this opportunity to provide our fellow MSG Members with an update on the security and political situation in Fiji.
National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF)
The NCBBF has been tasked to develop a People’s Charter for Change, Progress and Peace (PCCPP) that has the ultimate objective of rebuilding Fiji into a non-racial, culturally vibrant and united, well-governed and truly democratic nation that seeks progress and prosperity through merit-based equality of opportunity and peace.
This is to be realized through a process of inclusive and wide ranging dialogue on actions and measures to address, in a systematic and comprehensive fashion, the longstanding political, social and economic challenges faced by Fiji. The Charter, which is independent of political influence, will provide a strategic framework for a holistic development by successive future Governments in a way forward towards a better Fiji for all.
On 15th April, 2008, the NCBBF passed the following resolution “Calling a forum in collaboration with the NCBBF to be held by the end of May, 2008 if not earlier, backed by appropriate expertise and resources for key stakeholders in Fiji, including all the political parties, to discuss the steps needed to reform Fiji’s electoral system to conform, inter alia, with the principles enunciated with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Fiji’s Pacific Forum development partners may be invited to join in the discussion.
It should also be noted, that the PCCPP initiative will not undermine the current commitment to holding parliamentary elections in 2009. His Excellency the President has directed that the PCCPP be handed to him by 10 October, 2008 which is a deadline that is well before the first quarter of 2009, the timeline for the holding of the parliamentary elections.
Rule of Law
The 1997 Constitution remains the Supreme Law of the land and the rule of law continues to be upheld throughout the period covered in this report. In addition, the rights of all individuals, communities and groups continued to be fully respected as enshrined in the Constitution.
Fundamental human rights guaranteed in international law and Fiji’s Constitution remains intact and continues to be observed and respected. Allegations of infringements of human rights are dealt by the court and as of recent; police officers involved in the death of one Tevita Malasebe were jailed and sentenced to life in prison by the court. All other cases concerning allegations of human rights abuse and assault by members of the security authorities are also now before the Courts awaiting trial.
Independence of Judiciary
The Judiciary remains independent and will continue to operate independently from external or, for that matter, any undue influence.
Initial hearings of the court case brought by former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase against the Interim Government and the State had commenced without any interference on October 4, 2007 and is in progress. Hearings were completed in the first quarter of this year and the High Court is now expected to deliver its judgment.
Despite allegations to the contrary, no party has come forward with or offered the slightest proof that the independence of the judiciary had indeed been compromised. On the contrary, the judiciary remains firmly committed to upholding the rule of law and continues to exercise its powers as enshrined in the Constitution.
Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom
With regards to all cases of complaints of brutality by the security forces or deprivation of other human rights lodged with the Police authorities, internal investigations are being conducted to ensure that such infringements, if any, will be dealt with appropriately according to law and offenders have been put through the courts and sentenced accordingly.
The Fiji Government continues to reiterate that it has and always will uphold the freedom of the Media and the freedom of expression. The Interim Government maintains that it has never at any stage planned to gag the media. What it did emphasize continuously however was the need for fair and responsible reporting based on facts and verifiable evidence to prevent racially based insinuations, incitement of the public to engage in violence or riots and ultimately to avert actual or perceived unrest and instability.
On the removal of Mr. Russell Hunter, Editor of the Fiji Sun and Mr. Evan Hannah, the Fiji Times Publisher, it must be emphasized that they were removed on the basis of credible evidence that they had conducted themselves in the manner that were deemed prejudicial to national security. They were removed under the provision of Section 13(2)(g) of the Immigration Act, Cap 89 which states “that a person who, prior to or after entry into the Fiji Islands, as a result of information received from any country, through official or diplomatic channels, or from any other source that the Minister considers reliable, is deemed by the Minister, to be a person who is or has been conducting himself in a manner prejudicial to the peace, defense, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, security or good governance of the Fiji Islands”. The due process of law pertaining to their removal was strictly followed to the letter.
On the issue of the Court Order issued by the High Court intended to stop their removal were not received by the Director of Immigration or any staff of the Department on the day of their departure. For the Court Order to be effective to stop departure, it had to be received and sighted by the Director of Immigration before officials could act on it. Given that this specific requirement was not satisfied to the letter of the law, the Immigration Officials had no other legal obligation but to execute removal proceedings. Court proceedings on the matter are now in progress.
I thank the members for their attention.