In the lead-up to the 2006 coup in Fiji, New Zealand urgedCommodore Bainimarama and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) to respect their constitutional role and the rights of the elected government in Fiji. The NewZealand Government publicly declared, and directly informed Commodore Bainimarama, that it would have no alternative but to invoke serious measures in the event of an overthrow of the elected government.
Immediately following the overthrow of the government by the military on 6December 2006, New Zealand announced a comprehensive range of sanctions. These included restrictions on contact with the coup-installed regime and the military, travel bans, a reduction in sporting contacts and a refocusing of development assistance links. These sanctions were reinforced following the expulsion of the New Zealand High Commissioner from Fiji in June 2007.
New Zealand has not imposed any restrictions on trade, investment, tourism or business relations. Unless required to do so by a mandatory resolution of the UN Security Council, New Zealand has always been reluctant to adopt economic and trade sanctions.
New Zealand’s travel bans are “smart sanctions” targeted at the perpetrators of the 2006 coup and their supporters to encourage them to return Fiji to democracy and the rule of law. They also serve to discourage others who might be tempted in future to intervene unconstitutionally in the government of Fiji by bringing family and community pressure to bear on those responsible for the hardships created by the coup. These are consistent with other countries that have sanctions against Fiji.
The abrogation of the Constitution in April 2009 and subsequent actions by the regime give New Zealand no reason to modify its core sanctions settings that are directed against the regime and its supporters. New Zealand has, however, been willing to consider humanitarian exemptions to these bans for the purpose of medical emergency or family bereavement. Additionally, the government has also granted, on a case-by-case basis, exemptions for some visiting sports teams.
There was a realignment of New Zealand’s development assistance programme to Fiji following the 2006 coup, with a new focus on delivery through
non-governmental channels. The focus is on the poor of Fiji and in particular support to those in squatter settlements. The allocation for 2008/09 was approximately $5 million, managed by the NewZealand Agency for International Development (NZAID).
New Zealand responded quickly with assistance following the January 2009 serious flooding in Fiji. New Zealand has delivered assistance worth over $3.6 million and we continue to consult with the Fiji authorities on what further help is required as the recovery process continues.
New Zealand also extended assistance to help facilitate the holding of elections. Approximately $286,000 has been provided for this purpose since the 2006 coup.
The Suva High Commission is the centre for delivery of regional development assistance which is estimated to be worth about $20 million to the Fiji economy per year.
New Zealand is deeply concerned about the welfare of the people of Fiji, who continue to suffer as a result of Fiji's poor economic performance.
Fiji is facing a dire economic future as a result of its coups. The economy has been adversely affected by regime’s mismanagement and continued uncertainty about the country’s political and economic future. The regime is by its own actions making Fiji an increasingly unattractive place for tourism, business, and investment. This makes Fiji less able to cope with challenge of the global economic downturn.
Primary responsibility for Fiji's economic future rests with the Fiji regime. For the good of Fiji, the military must return to the barracks and let the people of Fiji, with the help of the international community, participate in a democratic election and start the process of recovery and reform.
New Zealand has never had trade or economic sanctions on Fiji. Our aid programme continues and we were quick to provide assistance following the floods in January.
New Zealand’s measures have been designed to focus on the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the coup. We receive many messages supporting our stance from Fiji citizens within and outside the country.
New Zealand development assistance continues, with a new focus on delivery through non-governmental channels. There are no New Zealand restrictions on tourism, trade, or investment, all of which create and sustain jobs for citizens of Fiji.
The solution to that is in the hands of Commodore Bainimarama and the regime. The purpose of our sanctions is to encourage Fiji to return to democratic government and the rule of law as soon as possible. NewZealand has consistently said that the question of travel sanctions remains firmly linked to Fiji taking concrete steps towards restoring democracy.
New Zealand and the international community – including the Pacific Islands Forum, the United Nations and the Commonwealth – have all made it very clear that they stand ready to engage and to help Fiji address its long term political and economic issues and return tolegitimate government.
Regrettably, political stakeholders within Fiji as well as the wider international community have seen no signal that the regime is prepared to take this path.
There is no legislative basis to prevent New Zealand citizens from accepting legal and judicial appointments in Fiji but the government would urge legal practitioners to consider the wisdom of accepting such positions very carefully.
The Government is aware that some regime supporters avoid NewZealand’s travel bans because they have permanent residence in this country. This is not acceptable and the government is looking closely at what can be done to prevent this type of behaviour.
Our approach has been consistent with our response to other coups, for example following the 2005 coup in Thailand and the 1987 and 2000 coups in Fiji. Measures imposed in these instances were not identical but have key features in common, notably restrictions on high level contacts and cessation of cooperation between defence forces.
New Zealand still has travel bans in force against a number of persons involved in the 2000 coup and mutiny.
New Zealand firmly supports the process of democratic reform in Tonga which is being internally driven and directed. Tonga’s constitutional monarchy is leading the process of democratic reform, with the King having recently outlined plans to relinquish many of his executive powers. Elections are planned under the new system in 2010. These developments indicate substantial progress towards democratisation in Tonga. There is no such evidence in Fiji.
New Zealand and Fiji are old friends, sharing links through history, culture, migration, business, education and sport as well as through engagement between the two governments across a wide spectrum of issues. Both countries subscribe to Commonwealth and Forum statements of principles regarding good governance and to remedial processes laid down in those agreements when members deviate from the principles they have endorsed.
New Zealand has a record of assistance to governance in Fiji, including in recent times financial and expert support for the promotion and protection of human rights and for the conduct of Fiji’s previous general election. Our stance since the coup is simply standing up for same principles that motivated that assistance.
New Zealand has reasonable and legitimate concerns about the impact of the coup on regional stability, given Fiji’s central location in the region and its hosting of numerous regional organisations. These concerns are not just NewZealand’s. A wide range of countries and organisations have decided upon measures to reflect their concern about the coup and its consequences.
New Zealand has a range of very good sources of information, including but going well beyond its High Commission in Suva, and understands well what has been happening in Fiji. Even so, New Zealand is always keen to hear from others.
New Zealand closely followed the planning of the 2006 coup and the activities of its perpetrators, whose intentions and actions were clearly signalled by their own statements and demands. This information provided a good basis for assessing the likely course of events after the coup.
New Zealanders might ask why Fiji doesn’t understand New Zealand, which took similar measures for similar reasons in response to Fiji’s previous coups.
New Zealand supports democratic constitutional government but does not advocate any particular model of democracy. We know from our own experience that democracy evolves and that many workable variants are possible. Whatever model of democracy is in place, the key is that it underpins the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens.
New Zealand cannot support the use of illegal and unconstitutional means, including the removal of a validly-elected government by the threat of armed force and the abrogation of the Constitution, however good the ends are proclaimed to be.
Commodore Bainimarama and his regime say that they want to protect and improve Fiji’s democracy. New Zealand believes that democracy is improved through practice, not by suspending it and removing properly elected governments. Fiji’s Constitution – abrogated by the regime in April – provided mechanisms by which its democratic systems could be legitimately amended. A coup was not necessary to achieve this.
The behaviour of the regime diverges significantly from its rhetoric. The practices adopted by the RFMF and Fiji regime, allegedly to achieve these positive ends, involve violations of key principles of good governance (transparency, due process, electoral and judicial accountability), suppression of the media, and abuses of basic rights of citizens.
New Zealand has made significant efforts to engage with the Fiji regime on a way forward. A mediation meeting was held in Wellington between Bainimarama and Qarase before the December 2006 coup. New Zealand supported Sir Paul Reeves’ role as Commonwealth Special Envoy during efforts to facilitate political dialogue. Further efforts were made by the United Nations and Commonwealth to facilitate a political dialogue process. These have also been rebuffed.
Forum Foreign Ministers have met three times to discuss Fiji with its representatives, including establishing a senior officials level Joint Working Group, from which Fiji has withdrawn, re-joined, and then refused again to participate in.
Forum leaders have sought to engage with Fiji in three leaders’ meetings – in Tonga, where Bainimarama undertook to hold elections by March 2009, and in Niue and Port Moresby, both of which Bainimarama refused to attend. They have also made overtures on an individual basis in an attempt to resolve the situation.
New Zealand Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, received an ultimatum from Bainimarama regarding New Zealand sanctions before he had received his ministerial warrant. He travelled to Fiji in December 2008 as part of the Forum Ministerial Contact Group (Australia, New Zealand, PNG, Tonga, Samoa, and Tuvalu) and made himself available to meet Bainimarama to discuss what could be done to improve relations between New Zealand and Fiji. The Minister expressed the government’s desire to moderate and remove sanctions as soon as a clear path to democratic elections was identified. This approach was met with threats and ultimatums.
New Zealand nevertheless remains ready to engage with Fiji on a way forward as soon as the regime is ready to commit to genuine engagement with stakeholders within Fiji and with regional partners. We have seen no indication of this yet. Instead while Bainimarama calls for international engagement, this is only if on his terms.
Bainimarama’s 1 July 2009 “roadmap to democracy” will not address Fiji’s issues, because he insists on imposing it on the people of Fiji, and nor does it meet the expectations of the international community. It does not meet Forum Leaders’ call to:
Our position remains that if Bainimarama is confident that his agenda enjoys broad support then he should be confident to go to the polls and seek a mandate for it.
All the main political parties in Fiji have called for a prompt return to democracy and the rule of law, as has the international community, including the Pacific Islands Forum, United Nations and the Commonwealth. But, as the “roadmap” shows, these calls are being ignored.
However good the Fiji regime might claim their motives to be, seeking to achieve such motives by illegal and unconstitutional means through a military coup and then seeking to force change on the people of Fiji without popular mandate are not actions that any responsible member of the international community could support.
On 10 April 2009, Public Emergency Regulations were issued to curtail freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, including new controls on media. The Public Emergency Regulations include giving police and military immunity from prosecution if they harm or kill someone in the course of “maintaining public safety”.
We are deeply concerned by recent actions taken by the regime under the Public Emergency Regulations – including the ban on the annual conference of the Methodist Church and the detention of church leaders. These arbitrary and repressive actions demonstrate yet again the regime's lack of respect for free speech and freedom of association, and its complete lack of respect for civil society in Fiji.
The Public Emergency Regulations are now extended to the end of 2009. Such draconian measures to suppress any criticism belie the regime’s assertions that they enjoy popular support.
Forum Leaders in Cairns in August 2009 issued the following statements on Fiji:
44. Leaders noted activities carried out under the Biketawa Declaration in relation to Fiji and reaffirmed their unanimous and resolute support for the January 2009 Port Moresby decisions.
45. They noted the implementation on 2 May of the Port Moresby decisions. Leaders took note of the Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) report and its recommendations. They took careful note of the grave concerns about the situation in Fiji, as expressed directly to Leaders from respected individuals and organisations in Fiji.
46. Leaders strongly condemned the actions of the Fiji military regime which have led to a severe deterioration in basic liberties and democratic institutions in Fiji since Leaders last met, including the abrogation of the Constitution, the imposition of media controls, restrictions on freedom of assembly, and the ongoing erosion to the traditional pillars of Fijian civil society, including the churches and chiefs. They deplored the recent detentions of church Leaders by the regime.
47. They welcomed the clear solidarity and support for Forum positions shown by the Commonwealth, and by other members of the international community, for a prompt and credible timetable for the restoration of democracy. They expressed their deep concern at the rejection by the military regime of the Commonwealth’s call for elections.
48. Leaders reaffirmed the importance of continued strong solidarity for the region’s position on Fiji from the United Nations, the EU and across the international community.
49. Leaders expressed their deep concern for the people of Fiji in the face of Fiji’s deteriorating economy as a consequence of the military regime’s actions, including the undermining of the private sector and the negative effect on business confidence in the absence of the rule of law.
50. Leaders called again for political dialogue in Fiji between parties on the principles of genuine, inclusive dialogue without preconditions or pre-determined outcomes.
51. In this context, Leaders reiterated a commitment to engage Fiji on an early return to democracy so that Fiji could again take its proper place in the community of the Forum. They noted that the MCG and the PIF-Fiji Joint Working Group remained important mechanisms for continued dialogue and called on Fiji to re-engage.
The Forum has taken a very responsible approach to the political crisis in Fiji following the December 2006 military coup. Its actions have been supported by the wider international community who look to the Forum for leadership on Fiji.
That the military regime in Fiji has failed to cooperate with the Forum or the people of Fiji to restore democracy should be seen for what it is: a failure of the Fiji regime, not a failure of the Forum.
How will the Forum engage with Fiji now that Fiji is suspended?
Fiji has been suspended from meetings and events of the Forum, but it has not been suspended as a member.
In conveying the Forum’s decision to suspend Fiji from Forum meetings and events, Forum Chair Premier Talagi reiterated that “the Forum stands ready to assist Fiji’s return to democratic rule”.
Following Fiji’s full suspension from the organisation on 1 September 2009, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma, released a statement outlining the provisions that would apply to Fiji with immediate effect:
The Secretary-General emphasised that the Commonwealth remained open to engaging with the Fiji Interim Government towards the restoration of constitutional democracy in the country, and expressed hope that Fiji would take the necessary steps to restore its full participation in the Commonwealth.
The regime’s ongoing existence rests on Bainimarama’s control of the military. Continued access to peacekeeping is key, providing financial sustenance and legitimacy. It is contradictory for the United Nations to employ soldiers who have overthrown the elected government of their own country to promote stability and represent the UN’s core principles elsewhere.