Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hypocrisy over Fiji while East Timor atrocities are ignored

THE HYPOCRISY reeks. While Australia, NZ and the media went through the usual bleating about Fiji human rights violations, they remained silent about the ongoing struggle to gain justice for those Timorese who have suffered horrendous human rights violations for more than four decades. Alleged human rights violations in Fiji are a soft target - the tough target, the top Indonesian military commanders who have blood on their hands for their colonial adventure in East Timor, remain free with inpunity. Timor-Leste's Truth Commission appeals for an international tribunal and a "commission for disappeared persons" still remain an unlikely dream.

In spite of this climate of international indifference and a "bury the hatchet" approach of appeasement by the current Timorese leadership towards Jakarta, the release from jail of the notorious militia leader Martenus Bere has shocked many human rights advocacy groups. Calls have been made for the indictment of those in government who were responsible for his extra-judicial release and the buck apparently rests with the Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão.

The recent release of the Bob Connolly feature film Balibo, about the murders of the Balibo Five - Australian-based newsmen murdered in the border township of Balibo in 1975, has fuelled calls for justice. A sixth journalist, Paul East, who went to East Timor to investigate the killings was himself executed by the invading Indonesian forces.

According to ETAN, in February 2003, the United Nations-backed Serious Crimes Unit indicted Martenus Bere and other members of the pro-Jakarta Laksaur militia for crimes against humanity including murder, rape, torture, enforced disappearances and more. Bere and other Laksaur militia and Indonesian military officers were accused of carrying out the Suai Church massacre on 6 September 1999, killing more than 30 unarmed people and three priests, including Indonesian priest Dewanto.

Bere was arrested in Suai early last month by the Timor-Leste National Police. Until then, he and more than 300 others indicted by the Serious Crimes Unit had lived openly in Indonesia, which has refused to cooperate with any international justice mechanism related to crimes committed in Timor-Leste. An East Timorese judge ordered him held for trial.

However, on August 30 he was released into the custody of the Indonesian ambassador on orders of Gusmão and Justice Minister Lucia Lobato. Bere is believed to still be in Timor-Leste. This is a joint protest statement issued by 11 Indonesian and Timorese human rights groups:


Joint Statement on the Release of Martenus Bere – Indicted for Crimes Against Humanity in Timor-Leste

For the past ten years the disinterest of the international community and active efforts by Indonesia have blocked efforts to end impunity for serious crimes committed during the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste. Ignoring the pleas of the East Timorese people, the Timor-Leste leadership continues to dismiss their calls for justice and an end to impunity.

We were deeply distressed by the 30 August speech of Timor-Leste President José Ramos-Horta and the actions of the governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste which led to the release of indicted militia leader
Martenus Bere. His extra-judicial release violated international law and treaties and undermined the rule of law and the Constitution of Timor-Leste.

We firmly disagree with President Ramos-Horta that the pursuit of justice is “simplistic".

We disagree that it is necessary to try everyone who committed crimes between 1974 and 1999, or to try no one. Those who gave the orders must be held accountable before a credible court. We believe the pursuit of justice and accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes
committed during the occupation of Timor-Leste will build democracy and respect for the rule of law in both countries and reconciliation between the two nations. Until there is justice, neither country can “put the past behind.” We add our voices to those in Timor-Leste and elsewhere calling for an International Tribunal for Timor-Leste.

We recognise that victims of human rights violations in Indonesia and Timor-Leste have much
in common, including a desire to see those most responsible for their suffering brought to justice. We fully support the conclusions of the recently completed victims’ congress in Dili and
will work on joint campaigns against impunity and for reparations.
  • We urge the international community and Indonesia to respond to the recommendations included in the CAVR report released by Timor-Leste’s truth commission, including its call for an international tribunal.

  • Countries should not arm or train the Indonesian military until it has been shown to be accountable for past human rights crimes.

  • We urge the Indonesian government to fully implement the recommendations directed to it by the CAVR, starting with formally acknowledging receipt of its report and discussing it in the Indonesian Parliament.

  • The Indonesian government together with Timor-Leste should fully implement the recommendations of the Commission on Truth and Friendship (CTF), especially the one calling for a Commission for Disappeared Persons to gather data and provide information.
Jakarta, 12 September 2009

Asmara Nababan – Koordinator, KKPK (Indonesian Working Group on Truth Recovery)

Galuh Wandita – ICTJ JKT (International Center for Transitional Justice)

Rafendi Djamin – HRWG (Human Rights Working Group)

Usman Hamid – KontraS (Commission on the Disappeared and Victims of Violence)

Miryam Nainggolan – KKPK

Garda Sembiring – PEC (People Empowerment Consortium)

Mugiyanto – Ikohi (Indonesian Association of the Families of the Disappeared)

Hilmar Farid – JKB (Network of Cultural Works)

Rusdi Marpaung – Imparsial (Indonesian Human Rights Monitor)

Dedi Ali Ahmad – PBHI Nasional (Indonesian Legal and Human Rights Association)

John M. Miller – ETAN (East Timor and Indonesia Action Network)

During President Ramos-Horta’s speech at the commemoration of the August 30 referendum, he said: “Let’s put the past behind. There will be no International Tribunal.” Inexplicably, he
continued that “I beg to disagree with their simplistic assertion that the absence of prosecutorial justice fosters impunity and violence.” He also said “We will not replace the Indonesians in their own fight for democracy, human rights and justice.”

Last week, President Horta took the unusual step of awarding a Timorese journalist and his newspaper a medal for "courageous journalism" following a recent similar award to Australia's SBS for its contribution to diversity broadcasting. Horta decorated José Belo and Tempo Semanal, which ironically have been a thorn in the side of the current Timorese government with persistent allegations of corruption. They are currently being sued for defamation by the Justice Minister.

Café Pacific congratulates José Belo and his team for their contribution to a free press in Timor-Leste.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Amnesty blasts the Fiji regime while Indian commentators slam 'biased' media

HOW IRONICAL that in the same week that Amnesty International unveiled its damning report on human rights violations since the Fiji post Easter putsch, a number of Indo-Fijian journalists and commentators sounded off “enough is enough” warnings on alleged biased reporting by the NZ media about Fiji. According to Pacific researcher Apolosi Bose’s report on Fiji (he himself is indigenous Fijian, which is a curious departure from AI policy seeking nationally neutral researchers for any in-country probing):
Security forces in Fiji have become increasingly menacing towards people who oppose the regime, including journalists and human rights defenders. Fiji is now caught in a downward spiral of human rights violations and repression.

Only concerted international pressure can break this cycle.
China was singled out as the most serious culprit for ignoring human rights while propping up the Bainimarama regime with aid. This was just a week after Fiji had been fully suspended from the Commonwealth.

However, while the 48-page Amnesty report, Fiji, Paradise Lost, described a litany of repression and censorship against the media (and a host of other human rights violations against the public at large) and arbitrary arrests of some 20 journalists under the notorious Public Emergency Regulations (PER) since April 10, other journalists and the media were singling out Australia and New Zealand as the main culprits for failed policies over Fiji.

According to an editorial in the upstart - but increasingly impressive - new Auckland-based Indo-Fijian newspaper Indian Weekender, the West’s attitude to Fiji “has changed the region’s geopolitics”. The isolationalist policy driven largely by “belligerent” Australia and New Zealand has created the power and influence vacuum that China is now happily filling. Wrote editor Dev Nadkarni, a longtime resident of Fiji as a former journalism school coordinator:
Fiji is too important to be trivialised with the insensitive approach that New Zealand and Australia have had toward it over the past two and a half years. It has always been the gateway to the South Pacific and will remain so.
Any attempts to shift it to a neighbouring country like Samoa – which Samoa’s leadership has repeatedly sought – is wishful thinking and well nigh impossible for reasons of its inferior infrastructure, costs and sheer logistics, which New Zealand and Australia simply cannot afford.
The Weekender added:
The geopolitics of the Pacific has been in slow ferment for about two decades now with Asian powers like China, Taiwan and Japan playing increasingly important roles in its development. It will now begin to accelerate. And the West’s handling of the Fiji situation since early 2007 has already proved to be the catalyst.
Writing in the same paper, academic and political commentator Subhash Appana attacked the “hostility, speculation and demonisation” of Fiji in the Western media, particularly Australia and New Zealand. He claimed most of the NZ reporting was being done by biased journalists who had either “run foul of the coup regime" or had a “hard done by acquaintance”. Before citing a range of alleged biased reporting examples by Television New Zealand, including by Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver, Appana wrote:
Their takes on Fiji have been … tainted. This article analyses blinkered reporting on Fiji in New Zealand, and attempts to place on the public platter a more dispassionate view on the Pacific’s pariah state.
He was also highly critical of how most reporters in NZ kept playing a race card in their stories.
Continued reference to Indians and how they ‘support’ this coup is not only lazy, it is unprofessional. If the Fiji Indian succumbs to the human weakness of feeling perverse pleasure at the forced education of fence-sitters and coup-supporters, should he be blamed for it? … The media [in NZ] would do well to rethink the need for balance in reporting.
The previous week, the established rival Indian Newslink editor Venkat Raman returned from a seven-day trip to Fiji and published a 24-page “special report”, including a contributed article by self-declared interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama. Raman was also scathing about biased reporting in the NZ media.

But the strongest comments came from former Fiji Daily Post publisher Thakur Ranjit Singh in his characteristic feisty style. In a commentary for Pacific.Scoop railing against a press that “did not understand Fiji democracy”, he claimed:
When journalists from Samoa and Tonga have a field day in either the Pacific Freedom Forum or other media outlets in shedding tears for a Fiji democracy that failed to deliver social justice, there was no Indo-Fijian journalist in sight to rebut the nonsense coming out from Polynesian countries which themselves are bereft of the democracy they want for Fiji.
Pictured: Amnesty International researcher Apolosi Bose. Photo: PMC/Del Abcede

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Telling Pacific stories with a difference

INTERESTING development at Scoop, the largest and most influential independent website in New Zealand ... Scoop Media is tomorrow launching Pacific.Scoop - a new department of the website devoted to telling the "untold" stories of the Pacific with flair and insight. This is a partnership with AUT University's communication studies school, which already produces an award-winning newspaper, radio station and regular television stories. Undoubtedly, the web content will be rather different from what mainstream news sites in New Zealand offer on the Pacific. The new Pacific offering was pushed by Scoop co-editor Selwyn Manning and carried on by co-editor and manager Alastair Thompson. Scoop already has a cutting edge with several specialised sections, notably Gordon Campbell's political and current affairs blog and Jeremy Rose's Scoop Review of Books. Pacific.Scoop is being edited by Café Pacific’s David Robie and his team at AUT University's Pacific Media Centre. There will be a strong educational core with student journalists filing from AUT, USP, Papua New Guinea and Samoa and elsewhere. And some development journalism tackling resources issues in the region. The team promises "independent news and comment" on a shoestring. Next March, the university is introducing a new Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism. Watch this space ...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bougainville's New Dawn FM comes into the limelight

CONGRATULATIONS to Aloysius Laukai and the team at New Dawn FM in Bougainville. They have become the first Pacific group to win the global Communication and Social Change Award, hosted and sponsored by the University of Queensland. The "brave and pioneering" community radio station was charged with the mission in 2008 of helping rebuild the shattered province after a decade-long civil war with estimates of up to 20,000 people dying in the conflict or related health and poverty issues because of the blockade imposed by Papua New Guinea. An estimated 40,000 people were internal refugees at the height of the war.

UQ’s head of the School of Journalism and Communication, Prof Michael Bromley, says 19 entries were received for the award, which recognises and honours outstanding contributions to the theory and practice of communication and social change. Café Pacific understands at least two other nominations were from the Pacific – femLINK Pacific in Fiji and the Pacific Media Centre in New Zealand. Nominations also came from 11 other countries - Bangladesh, Burundi, Canada, Congo, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda and the US.

New Dawn’s chairman and manager Aloysius Laukai was delighted with the station's recognition and he will fly to Brisbane to receive the award next month. The jury for the award included ABC foreign editor Peter Cave, AusAID Deputy Director General Annmaree O'Keeffe and former secretary-general of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union Hugh Leonard. They were joined by chair Prof Ken Wiltshire and three other senior Queensland University academics.

The award constitutes a commemorative plaque and a cash prize of $2500. The jury also awarded a special meritorious commendation for Communication and Social Change Award to Indian graphic designer and artist Lakshmi Murthy for her “innovative and ground-breaking use of graphic design to promote communication and social change”. She will receive A$1500 and a plaque.

New Dawn FM was established after early planning in 2000 with the assistance of several Australians who had worked in broadcasting in PNG, including Keith Jackson AM, Phil Charley OAM and Prof Martin Hadlow, now director of the Centre for Communication and Social Change at UQ.

The radio was dubbed New Dawn FM to “mark our optimism about the future of Bougainville following a terrible civil war that left countless thousands of people dead, injured or internally displaced”, explains Laukai on the radio website:
We believed the project would contribute to establishing a public sphere of community discourse, enabling discussion and giving a voice to a community dispossessed by civil insurrection and seeking to rebuild a democratic society.

The [planning] talk continued and reached a lunch table in Sydney, Australia, where our board member Carolus Ketsimur met his old Papua New Guinea broadcasting buddies Phil Charley, OAM, and Keith Jackson, AM. They sought the assistance of Martin Hadlow of UQ, himself formerly a radio station manager in PNG and a senior UNESCO executive.

Together we developed a concept that saw UNESCO and the German government provide funds for studio equipment and a transmitter. After a number of false starts, we finally started testing the station in April 2008. Then, at the end of June, our transmitter was destroyed when strong winds damaged the telescopic mast. We paid for another and a standby transmitter and went back on air in November 2008.

We are now on air with a transmitter power of 300w. Since our establishment we have covered the Bougainville presidential byelection and also the celebrations of the inauguration of the second Autonomous Bougainville Government. This was done in Arawa in Central Bougainville and we covered it live for listeners in the north.
Pictured: A pro-peace protest in Bougainville calling for a speeding up of the destruction of guns. Photo: New Dawn FM.

Pilger on the 'change' myth of President Obama

A LINK in case you missed this gem from John Pilger (as Café Pacific did, being on leave in remote parts of the Pacific with non communications at the time) about propaganda, disinformation and the rise of Obama. Pilger was speaking at Socialism 2009 on US independence day last month and filmed by Paul Hubbard in San Francisco. Pilger says that in reality President Obama promises not change, but more of the same (a view long shared by Café Pacific) – and even embarking on a new war in Pakistan. Behind the illusion, says Pilger, Bush and Obama have much in common:
The clever young man who recently made it to the White House is a very fine hypnotist … partly because it is indeed extraordinary to see an African-American at the pinnacle of power in the land of slavery. However, this is the 21st century and race together with gender, and even class, can be very seductive tools of propaganda. For what is so often overlooked, I believe above all, is the class one serves.

George Bush’s inner circle was perhaps the most multiracial in presidential history. It was PC par excellence… It was also the most reactionary. Obama’s very presence in the White House appears to reaffirm the moral nation. He is a marketing dream… he is a brand that promises something special, something exciting, almost risqué, as if he might be radical, as if he might enact change. He makes people feel good, he is a post-modern man with no political baggage – and all that’s fake.

Monday, August 17, 2009

MoJo slams eco-chic branding of Fiji's 'junta water'

FIJI WATER has come out with a spluttering response to Mother Jones’ investigative story condemning the South Pacific “pure water” company as creating a marketing illusion in the United States that is far from reality. In a nutshell, freelancer Anna Lenzer’s story given splash cover treatment by the magazine proclaims “the spin” as “pure”, “fancied by celebs (including President Obama)”, “every drop is green”. “untouched by man” and “living water” is flawed.

The “facts”, claims MoJo, are that Fiji Water produces “twice the plastic”, puts “lipstick on the junta”, is “diesel-powered”, “hides its profits in tax havens” and “locals drink dirty water”.

Lenzer’s article, "Fiji water: Spin the bottle", proclaims: Obama sips it. Paris Hilton loves it. Mary J. Blige won't sing without it. How did a plastic water bottle, imported from a military dictatorship thousands of miles away, become the epitome of cool?

The article has riled executives of Fiji Water, a company that reputedly employs 350 people in a rural part of the Pacific country. Company spokesman Rob Six replied on MoJo’s Fiji Green Blog:
We strongly disagree with the author’s premise that because we are in business in Fiji somehow that legitimises a military dictatorship. We bought Fiji Water in November 2004, when Fiji was governed by a democratically elected government. We cannot and will not speak for the government, but we will not back down from our commitment to the people, development, and communities of Fiji.

We consider Fiji our home and as such, we have dramatically increased our investment and resources over the past five years to play a valuable role in the advancement of Fiji.

It is true that Fiji is a poor country, but we believe that the private sector has a critical role to play to address the under served areas of Fiji’s development, with special attention to economic opportunities, health, education, water and sanitation.
MoJo co-editor Clara Jeffery replied through comments by Lenzer, saying Six didn’t respond to key questions raised in the MoJo article: from the polluting background of Fiji Water’s owners past and present, to the company’s decision to funnel assets through tax havens, to its silence on the alleged human rights abuses of the Fijian government. Lenzer's piece "doesn’t argue that Fiji Water actively props up the regime, but that its silence amounts to acquiescence. In contrast to the progressive image projected by the company in the US":
The regime clearly benefits from the company's global branding campaign characterising Fiji as a "paradise" where there is "no word for stress." Fiji's tourism agencies use Fiji Water as props in their promotional campaigns, and the company itself has publicised pictures of President Obama drinking Fiji Water. This is a point repeatedly made by international observers, including a UN official who in a recent commentary (titled "Why Obama should stop drinking Fiji water”) called for sanctions on Fiji, and singled out Fiji Water as the one company with enough leverage to force the junta to budge.

Yet the most pointed criticism the company has made of the regime was when it opposed a tax as "draconian;" it has never used language like that to refer to the junta's human rights abuses.

It’s worth remembering that there aren’t very many countries ruled by military juntas today, and Americans prefer not to do business with those that are. We don't import Burma Water or Libya Water.
Lenzer herself pointed out:
I did contact Fiji Water before my trip, and [Rob] Six mentioned that the company "takes journalists to Fiji"; I didn't follow up about joining such a junket. Despite news reports showing that Fiji wouldn’t cooperate with journalists who went there independently, I chose to do so and visited the factory on a public tour. I had planned to speak to Fiji Water’s local representatives, and to visit the surrounding villages, afterward. But it was at that point that I was arrested by Fijian police, interrogated about my plans to write about Fiji Water, and threatened with imprisonment and rape.

After that incident, personnel at the US Embassy strongly encouraged me not to visit the villages. I did discuss my trip to the islands with Six after I returned, and had extensive correspondence with him on numerous questions, many of which he has not addressed to this day, including:

- Why won't the company disclose the total amount of money that Fiji Water spends on its charity work? Do its charitable contributions come close to matching the 30 percent corporate tax rate it would be paying had it not been granted a tax holiday in Fiji since 1995?

- Will Fiji Water owners Lynda and Stewart Resnick, who in the company’s PR materials contrast our tap water supply with the “living water” found in their bottles, disclose the full volume of pesticides that their farming and flower companies use every year? Could limiting those inputs create better water here at home?

- Fiji touts its commitments to lighten its plastic bottle (which is twice as heavy as many competitors’) by 20 percent next year, to offset its carbon emissions by 120 percent, and to restore environmentally sensitive areas in Fiji, but its public statements never acknowledge that these projects are, in many cases, still on the drawing board or in the negotiating stages. Why?
Picture: Fiji Water reportedly became the first bottled water company to publish its carbon footprint in 2007. But is a bottle of Fiji Water truly green? Photo: Inhabit.

Meanwhile, it's good to see a despatch posted at Pacific Media Centre from AUT postgrad journalist Keira Stephenson, who is on internship with the Philippine Star, about Manila communities' daily struggle for water.

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