Fiji’s new constitution came into force after the president, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, gave his assent, Radio New Zealand International (RNZI) reported. Nailatikau said the document provided for an independent judiciary, equal access to the law, freedom of speech and expression, and a range of unprecedented rights for every Fijian. Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the prime minister—and leader of the most recent of Fiji’s four military coups in the past 20 years—said the new constitution marked the completion of the revolution the military and he had embarked on six-and-a-half years ago, according to the Fiji Times.
New Zealand has eased sanctions and increased aid to Fiji after the nation’s military regime adopted the new constitution, Al-Jazeera reported. New Zealand’s foreign minister, Murray McCully, welcomed the new constitution and Fiji’s progress towards holding democratic elections.
The attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, said there had been good feedback about the document from local people and the international community, but it has been heavily criticised by Fijian political parties, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
In what seems an inauspicious start to life under the new constitution, Fiji police released 14 people arrested outside Government House in the capital, Suva, in a silent protest against the assent of the document. Those arrested were from the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, the Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding and other Fiji citizens, including trade unionists and lesbian and gay activists, Fijileaks reported.
The executive director of Amnesty International in New Zealand, Grant Bayldon, told RNZI: ‘Amnesty International believes that the new constitution actually weakens human rights protection in Fiji. We’re especially concerned that the new constitution upholds decrees we’ve seen the military government put in place since 2006. And those decrees severely restrict freedom of speech. They even give the state the power to detain people without charge or trial in times of emergency.’[AQ1]
Most worrying, he said, was the issue of immunity: ‘The new constitution grants military police—government officials even—absolute immunity for past, present and even future human rights violations committed if they can show that they were done for state security.’
One of the Government House protesters, Sia Lealea, called the constitution a farce, saying the government should have stuck with a draft prepared by an independent constitution commission led by Yash Ghai, which the regime threw out earlier this year: ‘They didn’t like what the public wanted in the Ghai draft, the importance of fundamental rights.’
Pacific Media Centre reported: ‘These Fiji citizens were arrested by police simply for exercising their human rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,’ said Virisila Buadromo of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement.
The Forum also issued the Majuro Declaration on climate change. The document condemns the ‘gross insufficiency of current efforts to tackle climate change’, asserts ‘the Pacific Islands Forum’s climate leadership in the form of their ambitious commitments to reduce emissions’ (they only produce less than 0.1% of the world’s emissions as it is and some island nations, such as the Cook Islands and Tuvalu, have ambitious plans to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2020) and calls on developed nations to list ‘specific commitments that contribute more than previous efforts to the urgent reduction and phase-down of greenhouse gas pollution’.
RNZI reported: ‘Australia and New Zealand will cut their emissions by 5% by 2020 but they will commit to more if other industrialised countries also make stronger commitments. The leaders want their Post Forum Dialogue Partners, who include the United States and China, to also make urgent reductions. They want an acceleration of efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change and more effective delivery from aid donors of the support promised to the small island states.’
In an encouraging sign of the attention now given by the US to the Pacific nations, the Obama administration sent the interior secretary, Sally Jewell, to the Forum. Jewell pledged a rather token $30m (the CIA will get about $15bn this year) towards climate change projects in vulnerable coastal communities, but provided a little moral support for the declaration: ‘Climate change is the defining challenge of our time,’ she told the Forum.
‘The Pacific is fighting for its survival. Climate change has already arrived,’ said Christopher Loeak, president of the Marshall Islands, the Observerreported.
In words that are likely to haunt anyone reading them in 30 years’ time, Loeak, whose home island of Buoj has almost been washed away in the last few years, said: ‘We will not stop telling people that it is a real issue for humanity. We will be the first to feel it, but it will come to them and they should realise it.’