UN calls for democracy to be restored in Fiji

Sophie Rodger 12 June 2009

Expressing deep concern over recent developments in Fiji, the United Nations Security Council has condemned Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s newly re-appointed military regime and called for the restoration of democracy to the South Pacific island as soon as possible.

Earlier this month, Mr Bainimarama’s military government that seized power in 2006 was ruled illegal by a panel of senior judges at the Court of Appeal – Fiji’s second highest court. Promptly after the ruling, however, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo – a close ally of the military chief – dissolved the constitution, dismissed the judiciary and reinstated Mr Bainimarama’s military government with even greater powers in what he called a “new order”.

“The members of the Security Council are deeply concerned about the situation in Fiji, where undemocratic decisions were made, including the abrogation of the constitution,” said Mexico’s ambassador to the UN, Claude Heller, in a statement on Monday. “The members of the Security Council express hopes that Fiji will make a steadfast advancement towards democracy and that fair elections will be held as soon as possible.”

However, despite repeated calls from the international community for immediate elections to take place in Fiji, Mr Bainimarama seems set in his refusal to hold any until 2014. The indigenous Fijian – and former UN peacekeeper – ousted the Qarase government in 2006 on charges of corruption and discrimination against Fiji’s ethnic Indian minority and insists, two years on, that before democracy can be restored, he must remedy the ills of the political system and create a fairer, multi-racial society.

A statement by the UN Secretary General’s office said that “perpetuating illegitimate military rule in Fiji has only added to the country’s woes and exacerbated tensions and divisions.” Such are the findings of a recent Amnesty International report which warns of the existence of a “climate of fear” in the South Pacific island owing to the “draconian measures” implemented since the military regime was reinstated.

According to the report, the media has been heavily censored, journalists have been detained while others have received death threats, and government critics have been silenced. Daryl Tarte, chairman of the Fiji Media Council told the BBC: “the Bill of Rights no longer exists and that means we no longer have the right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.” In addition, Amnesty suspects the government may also be monitoring emails, blogs and online diaries in an attempt to suppress criticism and opposition. “What is developing is a culture of extreme fear and intimidation,” warned Amnesty’s Pacific researcher, Apolosi Bose.

In light of these recent developments marking “a step backwards”, preparations that were underway for the UN and the Commonwealth to mediate political dialogue in Fiji have been suspended. Further, the 53-nation Commonwealth has described Fiji’s present circumstances as “a breach of fundamental Commonwealth political values”. However, it seems as though Mr Bainimarama will continue to remain indifferent to such international condemnation.

Sophie Rodger