Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Indigenous Fijians fear their rights under siege

Indigenous Fijians fear their rights under siege - 7/8/2008

Eighteen months after the 2006 coup there is an element of fear within the Fijian people.
They now feel that their right as indigenous people are under siege.

Former Vice President Turaga na Roko Tui Bau Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi in delivering the keynote address at the Fijian Teaches Association annual general meeting this year said: “There is a feeling among many Fijians that their rights as indigenous people are under siege. Whether by the marginalisation of their elected representatives and preferred political party, the reversal of affirmative action programmes, arbitrary changes to Fijian institutions such as the Bose Levu Vakaturaga and the perceived targeting of the Fijian elite: ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark,’ to quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.”

It is this fear that prevents them from openly supporting the interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama’s interim government.

This fear has also created suspicion of the leadership.

Support for the interim government would have gathered if the clean-up campaign had produced results.

However, they never dreamed the clean-up would start with Fijian institutions.

The Fijian people have so far watched in silence as they witnessed the reforms in the Great Council of Chiefs.

They have witnessed the unceremonious removals of Fijian chief executive officers.

Now they know their communal representatives will not be in the next parliament.

Ratu Joni said: “Both the interim regime and the National Council For Building A Better Fiji have provoked the ire of certain sections of Fijian opinion by advocating a one vote, one value electoral system. Fijian protagonists have interpreted this as an attack on indigenous identity and the right to have their representatives elected on their own electoral rolls.

“Articles 3 and 4 of the Declaration guarantee the right of self determination. Article 5 assumes the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political institutions. Those views are held passionately and sincerely. However, in our present circumstances the rationale underpinning the Declaration does not equate. If one accepts that the principle of self-determination enables indigenous people to govern themselves, the dynamic must necessarily change where they form a majority.

“The paramountcy of Fijian interests as a protective principle (as stated in the Compact of the present Constitution) more aptly captures the spirit of the Declaration as opposed to the paramountcy claimed in the 1990 Constitution. In the present situation, Fijians are able to exercise predominance over other communities as well. So the insistence on having separate electoral rolls and representatives becomes less obvious. The irony is that in this different setting, it is the minority communities who then need to be protected.

“The long term solution for Fiji lies neither in communal seats nor in a one vote, one value electoral system. The answer lies in proportional representation that provides the most appropriate safeguards for minorities.”

The indigenous Fijian people are aware through reports of the team that reviewed Fijian institutions the people they elected to represent them in parliament did not do their jobs properly but with no concrete evidence.

They are usually comfortable to be represented by one of their own

They are also aware of the removal of the affirmative action programme and the reason behind it is it is a racist policy.

They are also aware of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly

Ratu Joni also told the Pacific Cooperation Foundation at Wellington on the title `The Challenges In Building A New Fiji’ that: “In challenging Fijian institutions such as the Bose Levu Vakaturaga, the Methodist Church and the Soqosoqo Duavata Ni Lewenivanua Party, the Commander has also provided opportunities for reflection and soul searching. What real difference do the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (BLV) and the Fijian Administration (of which the BLV sits at the apex) make in the lives of ordinary Fijians? Does the latter serve any purpose in view of the fact that the Government has responsibility for infrastructure and economic development? What place has the traditional system in the scheme of things? The Fijians themselves need to be heard on those issues.

“Their leaders have a responsibility to listen and discern what it is they want. In what form do they wish their indigenousness (and all that attaches to it) survive? My preoccupation has not been with the form and the hierarchy. It is with the values of kinship, reciprocity and mutual respect that provide a bridge to the other communities. These are qualities that can be harnessed to enhance the vision we seek.”

Here are Dr Brij Lal’s comments on the issue.

“There is a great deal of anxiety among the Fijian people. As they see it, everything has gone wrong for them. Their cherished institutions have been hobbled and marginalised, such as the Great Council of Chiefs. Institutions to which they looked up for leadership and guidance have now been disabled. And what is particularly perplexing for them is that all this is being done by an institution, the military, which was supposed to be the guardian of their interests. So the Fijian peoples’ sense of fear and anxiety and powerlessness is real - and understandable.

“There will be little argument that some, and not only Fijian, institutions need reform to bring them into line with modern thinking. But this should be done through sensitive handling and in cooperation with the people whose lives will be affected by the reforms.

“Commodore Bainimarama may mean well, but he is going about things the wrong way. He seems to prefer monologue to dialogue. Instead of winning the hearts and minds of his people for his reforms, he has alienated them, pushed them into a corner, hardened their resolve not to cooperate, leading them to adopt stances which, in the normal course of events, they might not. The prospect for genuine dialogue is thereby dimmed. Sullen silence is not consent.

“What is particularly galling for many Fijian people I have spoken to is the gleeful gloating among their opponents, erstwhile, fair weather democrats who have no compunction supporting a regime that is anything but democratic, and who are enjoying political power that has come from the barrel of the gun. What can they make of supposedly learned academics calling the military coup a ‘Lesser of the Two Evils’ (what was the other Evil: a Labour-SDL Multiparty cabinet?).

“I have never seen race relations as fraught as they are now. It will take a great act of statesmanship to heal the wounds.”

The Fijian people bear the pain of the reforms silently.

They have no say in the reforms and are continually blamed for their reliance on government help.

Government must be mindful of the fear of the indigenous people.

They must be fully engaged in the reforms in the Fijian institutions.

They need to be engaged in open and honest dialogue, with the government of the day.

It requires patience, forbearance, humility and goodwill to deal with the issues that they want as this will lead to bridging the divide that continues to widen.

The special interests of the Fijian people, including their right of ownership to their natural resources, must be seen by them as firmly protected.

We all want to live happily in a truly multiracial nation.

However, this atmosphere can only be put in place if all ethnic groups realise and respect the rights of the indigenous people.

They are to be reminded that rights co-exist with each other. They are inherent and we possess them as individuals or as part of a collective.

However Fijians have rights as indigenous people and as individuals. It does not mean that their rights are superior to that of our non Fijian brothers and sisters.

Ratu Joni said: “As indigenous people, Fijians have rights that derive from that characteristic. They are different because they focus on the fact of indigenousness. The fallacy of arguing that indigenous rights are superior to individual rights is simply demonstrated. The rights one has as a Fijian do not deny our rights to freedom of speech and conscience as an individual. Similarly, the rights a Fijian has in relation to a non-Fijian arise by virtue of our definition as indigenous people. However, this does not give Fijians superior or special status in legal terms.”

The fears of the Fijian people need to be addressed now.

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