The word Fiji conjures images of palm trees and golden beaches, but behind its tropical paradise veneer lies a repressive military dictatorship.
One of its key political players was heckled by a group of protesters during a high profile event in Brussels on Wednesday.
The protest occurred as Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum prepared to chair the meeting of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Ministerial Trade Committee taking place in the European capital.
As well as being the country´s Attorney-General, Sayed-Khaiyum holds four key government portfolios: Justice; Electoral Reform; Anti-Corruption and Public Enterprises; and
Industry, Investment, Tourism and Communications.
Activists have condemned the escalation of repression of labour and human rights activists in recent months which were endorsed by Sayed-Khaiyum.
Fijian human rights groups have reported that violent attacks on workers attempting to organise have reached “unprecedented levels”.
Last week, Fiji’s Trade Union Congress National Secretary, Felix Anthony, voiced concerns about the environment of intimidation that he and his colleagues have to operate in.
Anthony himself was beaten up by the police and spent eight days in jail “for no reason”.
With a population of over 800,000 people, Fiji has been led by a military junta since a 2006 coup d’etat.
In 2009, the government put several measures in to repress public gatherings, censor the media and crackdown on organised civil society groups.
In his position as Attorney-General, Sayed-Khaiyum was personally responsible for drafting and promulgating the majority of the new, repressive executive decrees.
Fiji’s extreme anti-union legislation has been severely criticised by the International Labour Organisation, prompting the UN body to send a mission to the island last month.
However, the group – which included a member of the International Court of Justice – were expelled from the island hours after its arrival.
This happened after the delegates objected to new rules imposed by the Prime Ministers´ office restricting their investigations and preventing them from speaking with union members.
Fijian authorities have denied any lack of transparency.
“We welcome such visits as long as they are conducted by an independent delegation with no predetermined outcomes and focused agenda,” the government said in an official statement.
The incident has caused the further deterioration of an already turbulent relationship between the country’s authorities and the international community.
Earlier this year, the United States decided to accept a petition to suspend Fiji´s trade preferences based on its violations of workers´ rights.
On similar terms, the Council of Europe extended trade sanctions against the country based on its continuing restrictions on human rights.
On Wednesday in Brussels, the Fijian dictatorship attempted to sweep some of this dirt aside by taking a leading role of the ACP event, attended by 79 countries.
“You are honouring the regime by allowing them to chair this meeting, which we find simply shameful,” said Jaap Wienen, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Trade Union Confederation, to an ACP official that came to speak to the protesters gathered outside its headquarters in Brussels.
But Fijian authorities were quick to use the high profile event to its advantage.
“Being invited to chair the ACP meetings is another major achievement for Fiji. This further solidifies Fiji’s role as a key player in the international arena,” said Sayed-Khaiyum in a press statement.