Friday, September 9, 2011

Pacific Islands Forum shuns West Papuan issue

Photo: Del Abcede / PMC

THE MOST astonishing unreported story in this week’s Pacific Island Forum in Auckland was a remarkable shift by the United Nations chief over West Papua. And the local media barely noticed. For all the hoo-ha about “converting potential into opportunity” at the predictable annual political talkfest, this was the most dramatic moment.

It was thanks to the probing of a young Papua New Guinean journalist studying in New Zealand who knew the right question to ask. But the significance was lost on local journalists – and even the Pacific and international journalists present. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested that the West Papuan issue should be discussed by the Decolonisation Committee of the United Nations General Assembly.

What? Coming in the wake of the Indonesian repression in West Papua throughout August in the face of a wave of unrest by Papuans more determined than ever for self-determination, this was almost unbelievable.
Question: [unclear] With regards to human rights - for more than 42 years, there’s a struggle in West Papua as people seeking their [own] government in the province of West Papua.

What is the United Nations stand on that?

BKM: This issue should also be discussed at the Decolonisation Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. And when it comes again, whether you are an independent state or a non-self-governing territory or whatever, the human rights is inalienable and a fundamental principle of the United Nations.

We will do all to ensure that people in West Papua, their human rights will be respected.

Question: Does a human rights fact-finding mission has be dispatched to West Papua at some time?

BKM: That is the same answer [to a previous question on Fiji] that should be discussed at the Human Rights Council amongst the member states.
Normally the Secretary General acts on the basis of a mandate given by inter-governmental bodies.
Because journalist Henry Yamo’s question was overshadowed by queries about Fiji, it probably slipped below the media radar. Was it a slip-up that officials were keen to brush aside? However, NGOs such as the Auckland-based Indonesia Human Rights Committee were quick to seize on the moment. Overnight a media declaration was produced by 15 Australian and NZ NGO signatories with the help of four West Papuans being hosted on the AUT University marae.

They called for the UN Secretary-General to:
  • appoint a Special Representative to investigate the situation in West Papua – to review the circumstances and outcome of the 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice’, as well as the contemporary situation; and

  • use his good offices to persuade the Indonesian government to allow free access to West Papua for media representatives from the international community and for non-governmental human rights organisations.
The statement also called on the Pacific Islands Forum to:
  • send a fact-finding mission to West Papua to investigate the human rights situation;

  • support the West Papuan people in their call for peaceful dialogue with the Indonesian government;

  • grant observer status to West Papuan representatives who support the people of West Papua’s right of self-determination; and

  • recommend to the United Nations General Assembly that West Papua be put back on the agenda of the Decolonisation Committee.
But the Forum simply ignored the West Papua issue.

In spite of a West Papuan protest outside the Forum opening and later at the summit hotel, the local media were only interested in a parallel protest against the Fiji military regime and the Forum communiqué failed to mention West Papua. Hypocrisy. While the Forum has already welcomed New Caledonia and French Polynesia as associate member status, and Timor-Leste (another former Indonesian former colonial possession) as an observer and is now granting American Samoa the same privileges, it remains silent about the atrocities and human rights violations in a Melanesian territory of the Pacific.

At the West Papuan protest, Green MP Catherine Delahunty grabbed a protest placard and tried to attract the interest of Pacific delegates in the plight of the Papuans. A gagged young man who was symbolically “locked up” in a bamboo cage, also had a story to tell. He was Amatus Douw, one of 43 Papuan political asylum seekers who fled to Australian in 2006. The other marae-based activists were Dr John Ondawame (West Papua People’s Representative Office in Vanuatu); Rex Rumakiek (secretary-general of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation - WPCNL); and Paula Makabory ( Institute of Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights – IPAHR).

The absence of West Papua from the final communiqué was not the only blot on the Forum’s outcomes. While New Zealand was busy talking up the success of the Forum – “[Murray] McCully scores with his A-list forum”, as the New Zealand Herald billed it – most social justice and human rights issues were sidelined. There were structural problems too.

Violence against women
Although the issue of Sexual and gender-based violence against women was cited in the communiqué again this year, it was remarkable that media took little notice. Amnesty International collected a petition of 21,000 signatures and to his credit, President Anote Tong, accepted this while no other Pacific leader did.

But the media took even less interest, apart from reports by the student journalist team from Pacific Scoop. Jocelyn Lai of the Young Women’s Christian Association spoke harrowing tales and provided case studies of violence against women and girls in the Solomon Islands, a culture of silence and impunity because of the stigma. A report about Solomon Islands slums denied sanitation and safety was devastating, yet no SI journalist turned up for this let alone any other Forum journalists. Two thirds of women and girls aged between 15 and 49 had experienced physical or sexual violence from their partners and other family members.

In fact, the Forum’s engagement with civil society was dismal. While Pacific leaders recognised in the communiqué many of the issues identified by civil society were ones already on the regional agenda. There is still much rhetoric and not enough action. Female representation, or rather lack of it, is nothing short of “scandalous”. Move over Gulf Arab states, the Pacific is far worse. Six out of the world’s 10 countries without female representation are in the Pacific.

Little will change politically in the Pacific region without more women and greater diversity in the parliamentary representation. Yet women’s and other civil society groups were largely marginalised, if not actually excluded, by the Forum establishment elite. Next year in the Cook Islands an actual “dialogue” is needed between the region’s political leaders and the NGOs.

Think tank excluded
An independent think tank, the Pacific Policy Institute based in Vanuatu, was actually excluded from the Forum. While the conservative Australian-based Lowy Institute enjoyed a privileged position, including having a day-long conference in an Auckland hotel just two days before the Forum opened and had the opportunity to launch a controversial Fiji opinion poll, its opposite number – a real Pacific think tank, was being denied any accreditation.

It is believed that this is because of its policy on Fiji where it seeks “positive engagement”.

The Forum wasn’t all negative by any means. It certainly put the “Pacific” of Aotearoa on a world map with the presence of UN and European Union at the top level – plus the largest Chinese and US delegations - in a manner that has never been achieved previously in four decades of leader summits. The opening Pacific Showcase at the Cloud on Queens Wharf is a drawcard. And NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully can take the credit for this.

Also some NGOs welcomed the “responsiveness” of Forum leaders to climate change needs, civil society involvement in the future and the UN Arms Trade Treaty. Trade still remains a problem – it has been a very thorny issue in the past – and while Fiji will now be allowed back into the Pacer Plus (a pragmatic decisions based on necessity rather than any “softening up” of policies by Australia and NZ), negotiations are still likely to be delicate. Fiji has achieved some diplomatic successes in recent months and may force Australia and New Zealand to take a more pragmatic line rather than leaving a regional political void to China.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pacific violence against women – an ‘epic’ human rights disaster left on the Forum margins

Peering into a contaminated water well: The Solomon Islands report on sanitation and safety in the Solomon Islands. Pictured below: Joycelyn Lai of the SI Young Women's Christian Association and the 20,000 signatures of the Amnesty International petition in support of Pacific women's human rights.

HARDLY surprising for the Pacific cynics. At the beginning of the Pacific Islands Forum week, Wadan Narsey warned in an article for Pacific Scoop about five "real" issues important to the region but unlikely to get too much attention in the Auckland 40th anniversary talkfest in the shadow of the World Cup. How right he was, by the end of the week many of the issues were still marginalised. Top of his list:

1. The liberation of West Papua: “It is a sad indictment of the past few years of PIF gatherings that 'Big Power Diplomacy' has emasculated the Forum Island Countries (FIC) from expressing their solidarity with the oppressed Melanesian people of West Papua.” Out of the 192-odd Forum accredited journalists, only three were present for a major public about the 'forgotten' issue with an outpouring from three West Papuan human rights activists.

2. Labour mobility: Only two locally accredited journalists were present for a seminar attended by 20 Pacific journalists about NZ’s recognised seasonal employment (RSE) scheme involving more than 7000 workers.

3. Defence cooperation: No serious discussion about this topic, which involves a proposal for a surplus of Pacific islands labour being recruited for the Australian and NZ military forces and navy, especially Tuvaluans and i-Kiribati.

4. Ending rugby colonialism: For all the hype about the Rugby World Cup, there was previous little debate about a better deal for Pacific rugby in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga from the white-dominated Australia and NZ rugby administrations and governments. (Wouldn't it be a delight if Tonga actually beat the All Blacks like Samoa dealt to Australia in July).

“But Canberra and Wellington don’t mind refusing visas to any rugby player related to anyone in the military regime [of Fiji]. Rugby in the Pacific is not just sports, but also part of the economy, and trade earning valuable foreign exchange. It could also become a great boost to Pacific tourism. But with lack of support from Canberra and Wellington, their rugby unions have let a great opportunity fort FICs go begging for more than a decade."

5. PACER Plus: “It is guaranteed that PACER Plus negotiations will drag on for years. Pacific Island politicians and civil servants won’t mind because they are guaranteed endless free trips to meetings and conferences, while endless compromises are sought on every little issue. Someone needs to do a PhD on the endless trivial negotiations over the dead PICTA horse.”

But as Nic Maclellan reported for Islands Business: “As leaders gather in Auckland there are serious obstacles to regional trade talks, including the resignation of Chief Trade Adviser Chris Noonan, allegations of Australian bullying over OCTA’s funding and a recommendation from Forum officials that leaders reject OCTA’s bid for observer status with the Forum.

"The OCTA (Office of the Chief Trade Adviser) crisis comes at the same time as political developments in Fiji complicate trade policy for the regional organisation.”

Languishing in the sidelines outside the shortlist of Dr Narsey – who incidentally was recently forced to step down from his economics professorship from the University of the South Pacific in scandalous circumstances after pressure from the Fiji regime over his outspokenness – was another thorny issue: the trampling of human rights of women and girls in the Pacific.

At the launching of Amnesty International’s report on the plight of women in the Solomon Islands “Where is the dignity in that?” before a packed audience at AUT University, there was no journalist to be seen. Wrong. Two young journalists were actually there - Victoria Young attached to the Pacific Media Centre, who wrote an excellent article, and a Nigerian male journalist Myles Idoko Ojabo, who also filed a good piece. Some comments from the address by Amnesty International Aotearoa’s chief executive Patrick Holmes are worth noting here:

The issue of violence against women in the Pacific is a human rights issue of epic proportions and the need to address it is urgent. As leaders meet for the Forum leaders’ meeting in Auckland this week, daughters, sisters, mothers and wives continue to be beaten, raped and killed. Many of the accounts that Amnesty International has received are truely horrific and yet so often the issue does not make headlines. This violence is not only a reality; it is our reality and it is one we all have a responsibility to address.

Gender discrimination in the region is systemic and permeates through all levels of society. Violence against women is the ultimate physical manifestation of this entrenched discrimination and the human rights violations that occur are perpetuated by inadequate and outdated legislation throughout the region. Some Pacific Island constitutions even fail to prohibit discrimination based on “sex” or “gender” and in those countries whose constitutions do prohibit discrimination, it is not enforced. In many Pacific nations marital rape is not a crime.

Simply put, it is not illegal for men to rape their wives. In Papua New Guinea cultural practices such as bride prices, polygamy and sorcery all serve to deepen the discrimination and violence felt by women. If you are considered a piece of property, it is very difficult to instil the understanding that you have rights, that you are part of the fabric of humanity. But this understanding is not impossible to achieve. While the issue is complex and at times seems overwhelming, effective legal protection for women can be achieved.

The reality is that violence against women in the region is rife with some nations having the worst rates out of any country on earth. On average two out of every three Pacific women have suffered abuse. In Kiribati 68 percent of women have been abused and violence against women in the Marshall Islands has been reported to be at almost 90 percent. With figures such as these, it is sadly unsurprising that sexual and gender based violence is considered standard practice by many in the region.

Amnesty International has statistics from a recent survey in Samoa showing that 85 percent of women who had been abused never asked any formal agency for help. Of these, the same percentage failed to do so because they thought such abuse was the “norm”, or “not serious enough”.
In recent years some small progress has been made. In Cairn’s in 2009 at the Pacific Island Forum leaders’ meeting, Pacific leaders recognised gender-based violence as a risk to human security and a potential destabilising factor for communities and societies alike. In a milestone decision for Pacific women, Pacific leaders pledged to take action to eradicate sexual and gender based violence.

For the first time in 40 years, the widespread issue of violence against women in the region was taken seriously by Pacific leaders. In 2010 in Vanuatu Pacific leaders commended actions in the region to take forward the directions from Cairns and acknowledged the initiative of the Forum Regional Security Committee to establish a Reference Group on sexual and gender based violence to support the Forum Secretariat and national efforts to address the issue.
Since then, the Reference Group has met in Fiji and conducted country visits to Tonga and the Solomon Islands; meeting with a range of stake holders and interest groups.

But these promises, policies and draft bills, while significant for setting the foundations to address the issue, nevertheless, do nothing to protect Pacific women and their families from violence.

In Amnesty International’s largest petition ever in New Zealand, well over 20,000 individuals have called on Pacific leaders to: make their country a safe and secure place for women and their families; to put in place laws to prevent violence, punish offenders, and compensate survivors; and to sign, ratify and put into practice international human rights conventions that protect women from violence.

This number of signatures is one fifth of the population of Tonga, two times the population of Nauru and over 10 times the population of Niue. The size of this petition shows the depth of concern of the public for Pacific women to have real protection from violence.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mild-mannered Dusautoir has fierce will to lead France to first ever World Cup triumph

Thierry Dusautoir ... beat the All Blacks in New Zealand in 2009 in his first match as France captain. Photo: L'Êquipe

By Jerome Pugmire

THIERRY DUSAUTOIR comes across as the mild-mannered type, softly spoken to the point of being shy when he's outside the playing arena.

Then there's Dusautoir the France captain, who morphs into the ferocious tackling flanker when he enters the field of play and ensures that his actions speak louder than words.

"Before a match, I think about the battles ahead, the rhythm," he told sports daily L'Êquipe in a recent interview. "I expect my head to spin, my heart to beat at 2,000, to no longer know where I am."

One of the rare times he has taken a public stand was in defence of Marc Lièvremont when the France coach came in for brutal criticism following a defeat to Italy in the Six Nations championship in March.

With voices of discontent growing louder and louder, as the domestic media criticised Lièvremont, and as rumours abounded that there were rifts forming within the French camp, Dusautoir knew it was time to show his colours.

He rallied the players behind the coach, and they've patched up their differences and now are focused on the World Cup.

"I think we can go far. The most important factor will be how we go about making this tournament our own, so we have no regrets afterwards," Dusautoir said. "The team will become like a substitute family. In a way that's good, because it will bring the squad closer together."

Improving form
France won its two warmup matches against Ireland, 19-12 in Bordeaux, and 26-22 in Dublin, and Dusautoir is optimistic that the team's form is improving.

"We're going to get better and better," Dusautoir said. "It's good to see where we stood with regards to Ireland. We know what we need to work on to improve."

The 29-year-old Dusautoir has won 44 caps since making his debut against Romania five years ago, and is widely respected on the international scene.

In June 2009, he guided France to its first win on New Zealand soil since 1994, and to an impressive home victory against World Cup champion South Africa. A year later, he led France to the Six Nations title and the Grand Slam.

But all that came after Dusautoir truly made his mark, on a special night in Cardiff during the last World Cup.

Dusautoir, who was only called up to the 2007 World Cup squad as a replacement for Elvis Vermeulen, stood out by making more than 30 tackles against the All Blacks and scoring a decisive try as France rallied to win an epic contest 20-18.

Stunning performance
It was a stunning performance from a player making only his eighth international appearance.

"We were on another level during that match," said Dusautoir, who grew up learning judo.

Dusautoir waited until he had completed his studies in chemical engineering before playing rugby full-time for Biarritz in 2004. He was soon scaring even the most intimidating opponents in French rugby.

Fabien Pelous, France's all-time record-holder for appearances with 118 caps, recalls being on the receiving end of one of Dusautoir's huge hits during a French league match.

"I remember a tackle that hurt me. He was playing for Biarritz, I didn't know who he was," Pelous said. "When he signed for (Toulouse) I was happy because he's a player you would rather have with you than against you."

While he's earned the respect of everyone in the domestic league, he's determined to expand on that at the World Cup, where he's hoping to become the first France captain to win the trophy.

"New Zealand is the motherland of rugby," he said. "The team that manages to become world champion over there, that manages to win on All Blacks soil, will gain more respect than all of those who came before them."

Jerome Pugmire is a journalist with the Associated Press.
  • France plays its first World Cup match against Japan on September 10.
  • Rugby World Cup

Friday, August 26, 2011

Welcome to Libya's Quagmire City

Post-Gaddafi Libya ... doomed by the oil and water hijack? Photo: Neon Tommy, USC: Annenberg School for Journalism. Below: Pepe Escobar.

BRAZILIAN journalist Pepe Escobar, author of Globalisation: How the Globalised World is Dissolving into Liquid War, has an uncanny knack of slicing through the hypocrosy and exposing Western duplicity. His articles since the start of the so-called Arab Spring in January have been revealing reading, if rather gloomy. Today on Radio New Zealand's Saturday interview slot with Kim Hill, he exposed the realities of post-Gaddafi Libya. He warned that an Al Qaeda extremist was rebel military commander (Abdel Hakim Belhaj) in Tripoli and the country could now slide into a protracted conflict with two guerrilla forces warring with a weak new central regime - Gaddafi loyalists and Jihadist fundamentalists. Libya is about to be carved up over the control of oil and water - coveted by France - reserves by the "right to plunder" (R2P) doctrine. This is also a theme Escobar has explored in his latest article for Asia Times Online. Welcome to Quagmire City:

The white man's burden doesn't allow asking Africans what they think about the current Western/monarchical Arab onslaught on the northern shores of their continent. At least some are not beating around the bush.

Over 200 African leaders and intellectuals released a letter in Johannesburg, South Africa, stressing the "misuse of the United Nations Security Council to engage in militarised diplomacy to effect regime change in Libya", as well as the "marginalisation of the African Union".

As for the Western "winners" in Libya, they are not even playing smoke and mirrors anymore. Richard Haass, president of that Gotha of the US establishment that is the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a Financial Times op-ed blatantly stating: "The 'humanitarian' intervention introduced to save lives believed to be threatened was in fact a political intervention introduced to bring about regime change."

As for those lowly bit part local actors - Libyans from Cyrenaica - Haass already dispatched them to the dustbin of history: "Libyans will not be able to manage the situation about to emerge on their own", and with "two million barrels of oil a day" at stake, the only solution is an "international force". Translation: occupation army - as in Afghanistan and Iraq. Welcome to neo-colonialism 2.0.

Payback time
So the US establishment is now as brazen as the wealthy right-wing nut jobs of the Donald "that thing on his head" Trump variety. Trump told Fox News: "We are NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation]. We back NATO in terms of money and weapons. What do we get out of it? Why won't we take the oil?"

In geopolitical Groundhog Day mode, it's indeed Afghanistan and Iraq all over again - an orgy of looting, statue-smashing, eye-catching TV reality show segments, even street banners cheerleading NATO (imagine Americans thanking the Chinese for "liberating" New York by bombing).

Not to mention prime corporate media idiocy. CNN has moved Tripoli east - to the eastern Mediterranean, somewhere near Lebanon. The BBC showed a Tripoli Green Square "rebel" celebration set in ... India, with Indian flags. Hail the total integration of NATO and Western/GCC media; GCC is the Gulf Cooperation Council, the six wealthy fundamentalist satrapies also known as the Gulf Counter-revolution Club.
And what next: a Green Zone remix near Green Square?

On the Rotary rounds ... Taveuni , the garden island of Fiji

Bouma school kids singing in the rain. Below: Alan fishing - "it all helps"; Claire with the fishing family. Photos: Alan Eyes

CAFÉ PACIFIC publisher’s sister Claire and her husband, Alan Eyes, currently governor of Rotary District 9920 with a responsibility for the Pacific islands, are currently on a field trip to Fiji looking over a number of school and water aid projects. The trip has been a welcome eye opener. And they are now enthusiasts of the “Pacific Way”.

Some brief snippets from her diary:

August 24:
Bula, bula

We’re surviving the busy schedule … just! What an experience. We have been treated like royalty at the special water for life opening ceremonies and can now sit crossed-legged for almost an hour on the ceremonial mats … Have now downed many bilos of kava and been clapped by the elders. Cutting the ribbons and turning on the water taps in the villages is amazingly moving.

We met Sitiveni Sitivatu's mum in her village yesterday, and saw all that he has done for her. All Black No 11? But we see in the newspaper headlines today that he’s been left out of the World Cup team. She will be so disappointed.

Ni sa bula vinaka

PS: David, I met one of your ex-journalism students from USP - Emily Moli. She is a journalist still over here and has just joined the Suva Peninsula Rotary club. She says hi to you.

August 15:
The day starts sitting on Geoff’s covered outdoor deck under a coconut palm and looking out to the sea. Raining here in paradise this morning - a commodity needed to fill all those water tanks on the Rotary projects that Geoff is constantly finding funds for.

Also a cooling for the humid temperatures, so good for the group of us being shown the sights of Taveuni. Geoff is an inspiration and even at breakfast, provided for us by Joey, he is promoting Rotary and its projects as he maps out our morning.

We have been instructed that we will leave at 0815 sharp as we have a lot to see. The programme is very “light” today, Geoff says. We all bundle into his Toyota Prado, Joey, Alex Oehlmann, (an ambassadorial scholar from Germany currently studying in Auckland, and hosted by Auckland East Rotary Club), Alan and me, with Geoff driving.

Then we stop at the TovuTovu Resort, to pick up Ken and Angela who are over from Melbourne - Rotary club of Templestowe - promoting the ABCD -Art programme for schools. This Rotary initiative may join with Fiji clubs to create sponsorship for disadvantaged children to assist with education costs through this programme.

Off we set south, past Taveuni Airport, which is very close to where Geoff and Joey live. Then past “Tromoto” Restaurant on a cliff overhanging the sea where we shared a beautiful meal together on our first night. We pass first the Marist Training Centre/Waica Water Project which is currently under construction. Gradually the villages of Taveuni are being supplied with piped running water, a commodity we all take for granted. All these projects on Taveuni are possible thanks to Rotary clubs' financial and physical support, and the Rotary Foundation.

Next we head up the winding bumpy dirt track to the Buculevu Secondary School perched up on a hill and also overlooking the sea and surrounded by palm trees and gorgeous brightly coloured foliage. Here we view a working project with local village men learning on the job building skills overseen by Geoff … The Buculevu 40 bed girls dormitory will enable students from the final two years of schooling to have some more space and privacy.

Currently 140 female boarding students are housed in two small accommodation houses. We are privileged to view the dormitory which is nearing completion. Alex had contributed some time and energy painting the wall of the laundry area yesterday. Many local volunteers are also giving their time.

And still there is so much work to do on Taveuni …

PS: Later in the day, Alex and Alan were being taught how to fish from the beach with a Taveuni woman and her three sons. She couldn’t understand much English but when we mentioned Rotary, her eyes lit up. She beamed at us and said: “Rotary has done so much for us here."

All Pacific power to you, Claire and Alan.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Libya is no Iraq – this revolution is the real deal

Libyan rebels celebrate the capture of Muammar Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli. Photo: Hamza Turkia/XinHua

By Mohamed Salem
via MediaMonitor

MUAMMAR GADDAFI and his sons are now on the run, fleeing from the Libyan people, yet already the doomsayers and prophets of disaster have lined up to tell the world it isn't worth it, that Libya is destined to go down the route of chaos and fragmentation. Libya will be another Iraq and Afghanistan, we are told.

They are wrong, because the post-conflict scenario in Libya differs from those two examples of failed Western intervention in several crucial aspects. Indeed if you study the indicators, Libya is poised to be the most complete and potentially most successful of any the Arab uprisings so far.

The roots of Iraq and Afghanistan's tragedy lie in the abrupt and imposed nature of change. It's easy to forget that Libya's organic and intense popular uprising preceded any international intervention. UN security council resolution 1973, which authorised the use of force to protect civilians, was only passed when it became clear that a massacre in the east was imminent. This is not Nato's revolution, not by a long way. The Libyan revolution remains very much the real deal.

The reason this matters is because it means no foreign power can now assert a moral right to meddle in Libya's future. Libya's destiny is now rightfully in the hands of its people, having been hijacked by Gaddafi and his cronies for almost 42 years. It also means the West must to a degree absolve itself of direct responsibility for what happens next in Libya and leave the planning to Libyans themselves.

The worst idea of all would be to send in foreign ground troops now, even under the peacekeeping banner. Not only would this be met with fierce opposition by the Libyan people, it would send the message that the West still feels that Arabs cannot be trusted to look after themselves.

Even without foreign bases on Libyan soil, some commentators have raised the spectre of a Ba'athist-style insurgency against the new Libyan government by regime loyalists. This prediction does not stand up to scrutiny either. The moment Gaddafi is captured or killed and his regime put to bed, there will be nothing left for his supporters to support.

There are no sectarian, ethnic or ideological cleavages to be exploited to foment unrest and violence. The onus is now on the Libyan people to show restraint and respect for the rule of law in dealing with regime officials and soldiers, and to refrain from vigilantism and retributive justice.

Mohamed Salem is the pen name of a British-Libyan journalist who writes for The Guardian.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Religion and reality laid bare in Fiji

Flashback to when then Methodist Church president Laisiasa Ratabacaca, with glasses, led a delegation to offer moral support to deposed prime minister Laisenia Qarase. Photo: Fiji Times

By Dr Crosbie Walsh

THE DIFFICULTY for overseas readers in reading this story about the Fiji military clampdown is that they will equate the Methodist Church in Fiji with the Methodist Church (and other churches) in Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere. They do, of course, share similar spiritual roles and both are engaged in "politics".

But there the similarity ends.

"Politics" for overseas church leaders means working to promote social and moral issues for the perceived benefit of all the population. "Politics" for the Fiji Methodist leadership means advancing what they perceive to be the interests of indigenous Fijians (or, more precisely, perceived traditional relationships) with scant regard for other races, many of whom are neither Christian nor Methodist. Some 95 percent Fiji Methodists are ethnic Fijians. Some 43 percent of Fiji's population is not ethnic Fijian.

To better understand the situation one needs to trace its roots. The separation of spiritual and secular authority, and economic and political power, which emerged in the West as societies evolved from feudal to capitalist societies, was not evident in Fiji. And what was assumed to be traditional practice was left untouched by colonial authorities, who found it cheaper to administer ethnic Fijians indirectly, through their chiefs.

"Fijian 'collective consciousness' and 'identity' was — and is" — what a former, and more liberal, Church leader, the Rev. Ilaitia Tuwere, in 1997 called the "inseparable union of vanua (land), lotu (church) and matanitu (state). Their union is so complete that if one is affected, the whole is affected." [My emphasis.]

The Methodist Church assumed the mantle of lotu in this triumverate, and for this reason some of its leaders endorsed the 1997 Rabuka and 2000 Speight coups when ethnic Fijian hegemony — and control of the Fiji matanitu (state) — was seen to be threatened following elections which resulted in their "approved" political party losing power.

Church leaders promoted and took part in the Speight coup which overthrew the legally elected government led by Mahendra Chaudhry. And they supported Qarase's SDL-led party that was ousted by Bainimarama in 2006. This is why they oppose the Bainimarama government, the People's Charter and early attempts at dialogue, and why their leadership refuse to comply with government's insistence that "politics" be kept out of the annual conference meetings.

Overseas Methodists do not tell their members to support a particular political party. The Fiji Methodist Church endorses one or another ethnic Fijian political party. This is a very important difference. "Politics" has a different meaning.

In the current standoff, the Fiji Church had the right to decide who would chair its meetings, even if asked not to do so by government. It chose to ignore government requests because its leaders were upholding their lotu role, handed down from an idealised and largely fossilised tradition that is under threat from social change — no less than from the Bainimarama government. They are part of the ethnic Fijian "establishment" (a role they share with the Great Council of Chiefs, the Fijian Affairs Board, the Native Lands Trust Board or Fiji Holdings Ltd) that has perverted democracy in Fiji for many years.

If Fiji is to move towards a more genuine and inclusive democracy, its institutional structures need to be modernised: with the role of the Great Council of Chiefs limited to ethnic Fijian matters and the Methodist Church limited to spiritual, social and political affairs — without party political strings attached. Fiji now belongs to all its people, not just the iTaukei, and governments must ensure it remains so.

One wonders what the Rev. Tuwere would advise. Would he have urged the Church to take the political step of defying government, or would he have recommended the Church adopt a more conciliatory position, with the intention of allowing the conference to proceed? And what would he have advised the government, whose answers to too many issues seem to rely on force rather than persuasion, no matter how many times the persuasion has failed?

This is what he said two years ago as reported on ABC's Pacific Beat:
"A former president of the Fiji Methodist Church has called for the controversial church conference next month to be cancelled to save the country from further unrest. Several top church leaders are now facing charges over their decision to go ahead with the annual conference in open defiance of the interim government's decision to ban it.

"Reverend Ilaitia Tuwere says blame for the standoff should be equally shared between the church and the interim government. The former church president says that the Methodist leadership should have dropped all political issues from its conference agenda, but the has government overreacted with its series of arrests. "
Former University of the South Pacific professor Crosbie Walsh publishes a specialist blog on Fiji affairs.

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