Seasonal solidarity #3: Fiji’s democracy hopes up in flames
UPDATE: there’s a great interview on ABC radio in Australia with Prof Yash Ghai who has been chairing the Constitutional Commission. He confirms that the printed copies of the draft constitution have been seized by police and some of them burned. (28 December 2012)
Fijian trade unionists live in what should be a Pacific island paradise. But the brutal military dictatorship that has run – or rather ruined – Fiji since 2006 has harassed, persecuted and victimised the trade union movement. Leaders have been subject to aribtrary arrests and travel bans, as well as violent beatings. The rights of the workers they represent have been slashed and the ability of trade unions to defend them has been stripped away. Meanwhile the economy has collapsed and working people live in poverty.
The Fijian regime has become an international pariah. Suspended by its nearest neighbours in the Pacific Islands Forum and by the Commonwealth, Fiji’s European aid has been held back and its free trade agreement with the USA is under review. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has excoriated the abuse of workers’ rights, and the most recent ILO delegation there was told to leave.
In an attempt to win back international favour, Fiji’s military regime has announced that democracy will be restored with elections in 2014, and have appointed a Constitutional Commission to draft a new constitution, led by respected Professor Yash Ghai. Key international critics – Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US, operating together as a quartet – have seen this as a step forward. But the latest news from Fiji suggests such confidence is seriously misplaced, and that the international community and Fiji’s people are being taken for a ride.
Co-ordinated by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the trade union movements of the quartet countries (the TUC, ACTU, AFLCIO and NZCTU) wrote to Foreign Ministers in November, warning them not to trust the regime over the Constitutional Commission. We reported the scepticism of the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) about a body unable to challenge the blanket immunity the regime demanded as a condition of the return to democracy. And a body where all evidence sessions were watched by the police and the military.
Now we hear from the FTUC that the regime has decided the report of the Commission will not be made public, and will only be reported to a Constituent Assembly whose members will be hand-picked by the illegitimate Prime Minister. Indeed, there are even reports that the 600 copies of the report printed for public distribution have been seized from the printers and burned!
The Constitutional Commission was due to brief civil society, political parties and trade unions before Christmas on the submission it had made, but the first meeting planned for 18 December was postponed due to Hurricane Evin, and a second meeting scheduled for 22 December was permanently cancelled.
FTUC General Secretary Felix Anthony says:
The regime has also put a pre-condition on anyone who wishes to be part of the Constituent Assembly and that is to accept all the “non-negotiable” matters it had earlier dictated. This includes the immunity that it will grant to itself until the first sitting of the new Parliament. So no debate on the immunity issue will be entertained by the Assembly. It is becoming clearer that the Constituent Assembly will be used to rubber stamp the regimes agenda and that the people will have no real say nor will the Constitution reflect the will of the majority of the people of Fiji.
Despite the tropical climate, it looks like being a bleak New Year in Fiji.