Democracy and human rights in Fiji
The Fiji international rugby union team is on a short tour of England and Ireland this month. Unlike most rugby-playing nations, Fiji is no democracy, as the country is run by a vicious military dictatorship which overthrew the previous elected government in 2006.
On the occasion of Fiji's games against England at Twickenham (Saturday 10 November), Gloucester at Kingsholm Stadium (Tuesday 13 November) and Ireland A at Limerick's Thomond Park (Saturday 17 November), the trade union movements of Britain, Fiji and Ireland are releasing this statement under the umbrella of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) of which we are all proud members.
Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC Fiji)
Trades Union Congress (TUC Great Britain)
Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU Ireland)
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
Fiji should be a tropical paradise, but its economy is collapsing, its people are increasingly in poverty, and its international reputation is in tatters. About 60% of Fijians live below the poverty line, and GDP has shrunk by considerably over the last six years.
The military regime of Commodore Frank Bainimarama has seen Fiji suspended from the Commonwealth and from the Pacific Islands Forum and censured by the International Labour Organisation for its abuse of workers' rights. The European Union has withdrawn all but emergency aid in protest at the absence of democracy in Fiji and the US Congress is reviewing its preferential trade agreement with Fiji as a direct result of the regime's abrogation of workers' rights.
Democracy and human rights
People in Fiji lack the most basic, fundamental human rights. The freedom of speech and freedom of the press are radically restricted. Public meetings may only be held with the permission of the authorities, and that permission has increasingly been withheld in recent months - as well as trade unions, even the Methodist Church has been prevented from meeting regularly.
Freedom of association and freedom to bargain collectively - as well as other workers' rights such as overtime payments, redundancy compensation and so on - have been whittled away, with some unions told they can only continue to negotiate with employers if the police are present.
Unions and others deemed to represent a threat to the military dictatorship have faced harassment, threats, arbitrary arrest and travel restrictions and even savage beatings.
Free and fair elections?
Elections were suspended by the military coup in 2006, and whilst the regime has promised to restore free and fair elections in 2014, the chances of that are slim.
The regime has established a Constitutional Review Commission under the respected Professor Yash Ghai, but the police presence at public hearings do not inspire confidence. The original terms of reference required the Commission to report this December so that a public consultation could be held before two further Government-appointed bodies were allowed to review and amend its proposals.
The regime insisted that whatever the Commission recommended, some red lines could not be crossed - notably unlimited immunity for all those involved in the 2006 coup for any and all illegal acts committed from the coup until the elections scheduled for 2014.
But even those limited terms of reference have just been changed by government decree, removing the scope for public consultation on the Commission's recommendations, and preventing the Commission from reviewing existing laws that violate the Draft Constitution the Commission is drawing up.
Professor Ghai has now gone on record to say that he thinks free and fair elections are unlikely under these latest restrictions.
Turning rugby into a political football
As trade unionists from England, Fiji and Ireland, we have no desire to stop the tour currently underway.
But we do want to use the opportunity to demand fair play for Fiji's people, and draw attention to the way that - even in rugby - the military dictatorship can't stop itself from exercising domination and control.
The manager of the Fiji rugby team is Asieri Rokorua, a Major in the island's military, and the Prime Minister's personal official. He was appointed personally by the illegitimate Government of Fiji to run the national rugby team.
Major Rokorua is directly implicated in some of the worst behaviour of the military regime. Victims report that he has ordered the beating of trade unionists and other activists, and that he has threatened not just trade union leaders, but their families, including their children.
The international trade union movement has identified Fiji as a priority country at risk because of the abuse of trade union and other fundamental human rights.
We have called on the international community to keep up the pressure on Fiji to restore democracy and civil rights.
The International Labour Organisation, whose mission to Fiji was summarily expelled in September, must condemn the regime's flagrant abuse of workers' rights and trade union freedoms.
The Commonwealth and Pacific Islands Forum must demand that Fiji's regime meet the most basic standards of human rights and democracy before allowing it to return to membership.
Governments around the world should insist that the Fijian government abandon its restrictions on human and civil rights, and its interference with the work of the Constitutional Review Commission - in particular the demand for blanket immunity for all crimes committed by Fiji's dictators - before any credence is placed in the path to free and fair elections and the restoration of democracy.
Above all, the military dictatorship that rules Fiji must respect the people of Fiji and desist from abusing and repressing them.
Visit the Fair Play for Fiji Take Action page
Issued: 8 November, 2012