Posted July 13 2010
In the past 24 hours we have witnessed the occurrence of events which have isolated us further from our neighbours.
We will not go into the pros and cons of the decisions leading to these events, for to do so would not achieve any positive outcomes for Fiji.
But we have to admit that the cancellation of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) meeting scheduled here next week is a heavy blow from which it may take us long to recover. And worst still, it comes close to the Pacific Islands Forum meeting scheduled next month in Vanuatu.
The expulsion of an Australian diplomat, the second within nine months, is regrettable as it will further estrange relations between our two countries.
Early this morning, the Acting Australian High Commissioner in Suva, Ms Sarah Roberts received a letter from the Fiji Government declaring her a persona non grata and giving her 24 hours to leave Fiji.
Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola claims she had been “interfering with the internal affairs of Fiji and conducting unfriendly acts”.
But it is clear that Fiji has been miffed by what it sees as efforts by the Australian Government to engage “in strategies to undermine Fiji’s sovereignty and weaken the economy. This has been further highlighted by calling on MSG countries, especially Vanuatu, not to attend the MSG Leaders’ Summit.”
Australian High Commissioner James Batley was expelled by Fiji on November 4th last year. The Fiji administration gave similar reasons for the expulsion then.
The decision to expel Sarah Roberts follows close on the heels of an announcement by the Chair of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), Vanuatu Prime Minister Edward Natapei deferring the Group’s scheduled meeting in Fiji next week.
In a statement Mr Natapei said the decision was a collective one “in the light of the current impasse within the grouping over the chairmanship of the MSG”.
“There are basic fundamental principles and values of democracy and good governance that our organisation is built on and we must continue to uphold them.”
The Bainimarama administration, suspended from the South Pacific Forum, had pinned high hopes of upstaging the Forum by hosting an extended meeting of the MSG with non-Melanesian countries in the region invited to attend as observers.
The decision by MSG members to defer the Suva meeting is clearly an embarrassment for Fiji.
Ostensibly, the stand-off is over Vanuatu’s objection to Fiji chairing the MSG meeting in Suva next week, and Commodore Bainimarama is still hoping that the meeting will take place, whether under the MSG banner or not.
But, it appears that the MSG may have suddenly woken up to its commitment to uphold the values and principles of democracy and the rule of law, under its charter of association (the MSG Agreement)
Under Articles 5 and 6 of the MSG Agreement, member States have agreed that:
"Respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law shall underpin the domestic and international policies of the parties and constitute the essential elements of the contractual nature of the relations between the parties to this agreement." (Article 6:2)
"The parties affirm that democratisation, development and the protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights and mutual reinforcing are interrelated. In addition, thereto, the parties affirm that, democratic principles are universally recognised principles underpinning the organisation of the State to ensure the legitimacy of its authority, the legality of its actions reflected in its constitutional, legislative and regulatory system." (Article 5:3)
Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that there is now a significant rift within the MSG over Fiji – the Group had hitherto appeared, surprisingly, to be firmly in support of Bainimarama’s agenda for Fiji vis a vis the uncompromising stand taken by the rest of the Forum countries.
The current move is clearly yet another indication that the international community does not condone what is happening in Fiji - the suppression of basic human rights and the continued erosion of democratic values and principles.
Attitudes around us are hardening as it becomes clear that the interim administration shows no intention of engaging in inclusive political dialogue leading to the holding of early elections and returning Fiji to democratic and constitutional rule.-Fiji Labour Party website