The Outrigger Issue 53, Summer 2010
Big efforts, small
The Islanders had a bitter taste in their mouths, reports
THEY flocked to Copenhagen in
December from all over the world for what was technically known as the 15th
session of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). There were 120 Heads of State
and Government, over 10,500 delegates, 13,500 observers, and the proceedings
were covered minutely by more than 3,000 media representatives.
But what do these record numbers
say about the results of the big event? Not too much.
Big efforts were made by
delegates and observers to establish an ambitious, fair and legally binding
global climate agreement for the period from 2012 when the first commitment
period under the Kyoto Protocol expires.
Whether at the Bella Center, where
the conference took place, or at the “Klimaforum09”, the alternative climate
summit located near the central station in Copenhagen, non-governmental organisations,
governments and institutions were able to learn about different aspects of
climate change and its consequences. There were various kinds of exhibitions,
events and activities going on everywhere in Copenhagen. There were also many
representatives and delegates (and also the youth) from the Pacific.
Furthermore, organisations in
Europe, which are interested in the region, demonstrated their solidarity with
their Pacific friends in practical ways. The Pacific Information Desk in
Germany, in cooperation with the Pacific Networking in Europe organisation,
presented an exhibition, Land Submerged in the Pacific, at different sites in
Copenhagen as well as at the Bella Center to raise awareness for the
devastating consequences of climate change for the Pacific Islands.
But in the end the conference
“took note of” the “Copenhagen Accord”. The final document of the conference
was not legally binding and did not contain any legally binding commitments for
reducing CO2 emissions. The document only recognised that climate change is one
of the great challenges of today’s world, and that action should be taken to
keep any temperature increase to below 2 degrees C, although it contained
pledges for adaptation measures for developing countries.
Most of the participants were
frustrated, especially the representatives of the most vulnerable countries
like those from the Pacific region. Their frustration was not only with the
final result, but also about the way the conference was handled by the Danish
government, in particular the drafting of the final document.
Tuvalu complained to the
conference president about non-transparent processes. Prime Minister Apisai
Lelemia made no secret of his discontent.
“We came here with the intention
of signing on the bottom line and working out true, legally-binding
agreements,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is not happening. The legal affects
have been swept under the carpet.. .We came to this meeting expecting an open
and transparent process. Unfortunately, this is not happening. We will leave
this meeting with a bitter taste in our mouth, with the true victims of climate
change not having been heard.”
Tuvalu, as all members of the
AOSIS (Alliance of Small Islands States), demanded that temperature increases
should be limited to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, but this was
not considered in the outcome of the conference. Even with a current global warming
of about 0.8 degrees C., low-lying islands like Tuvalu will suffer. Some of the
islands will be uninhabitable in the immediate future. Fe’iloakitau Kaho Tevi,
General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, emphasised the AOSIS
claim by stressing “1.5 to survive..
.this is our future”.
Representatives from the
government of Kiribati as well as from the Australian-Pacific initiative,
Pacific Calling Partnership, made big efforts to convince delegates about the
threats to their countries. Tessie Eria Lambourne, the Kiribati Secretary of
Foreign Affairs and Immigration, referred to the problem of leaving Kiribati
due to sea level rise.
“We are on the frontline of
climate change, we are on the front of the frontline. We will be the first to
go if nothing happens here in Copenhagen. We want to protect our homeland to
make sure that our children and grandchildren can live in a country called
Kiribati,” she said, adding that the inhabitants of low-lying countries, with
no chance of internal migration, faced an uncertain future.
A lot has to be done to slow
down global warming and to support the most vulnerable countries in adapting to
the changes. This year, climate change talks will go on to bring the
negotiations at the COP16 in Mexico to a satisfactory end. It would be
encouraging to see that, by this December, all the parties will have been
heard, and that that there will be a fruitful co-operation between the
developing and developed countries as well as the countries in transition.
Climate change is not only the
business of vulnerable countries but also of developed countries like the USA
(not a member of the Kyoto Protocol) or countries in transition like India and
China. During a side event, Tangaroa Arobati, a teacher from Kiribati, found
the right words: “My culture will be lost, lost to my people directly but also
lost to the world.., we hold each other’s future in our hands.”
Katja Göbel is Secretary of Pacific Networking in Europe based in
at the country's recent history following the April
2009 situational crisis, and appeals for dialogue. London
- February 2010
ON Dec 5 2006,
the Republic of Fiji Military Forces took over Fiji, and their leader,
Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, appointed himself president with a caretaker
prime minister. They claimed to uphold the 1997 Constitution.
In 2008, the High Court ruled in favour of
the Bainimarama administration in the case of Qarase v Bainimarama. The Appeals
Court in 2009 overturned this ruling. Bainimarama resigned as prime minister
and was immediately re-appointed. Decrees were promulgated creating a new legal
and political order. A legal quagmire was created by the purported abrogation
of the constitution and subsequent dismissal of judges and magistrates.
The result of all this is lack of adequate
legal protection for human rights. Militarisation is now compromising the
perceived independence of law enforcement agencies and institutions. The Fiji
Police Force, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the
judiciary, have military officers in key positions.
Secret decrees are passed by Cabinet, then
assented to by the President, often unannounced for long periods of time. My
own organisation, the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF), a
politically-unaligned non-governmental organization that advocates good
governance, human rights and multiculturalism in Fiji, has difficulty
safeguarding human rights and advocating due political processes as the rules
keep changing, shutting out opposition and dissent.
In Fiji, a decree is now created by
employees of the interim government and is promulgated by the President. There
is no parliamentary consultation or debate. Most of the population are unaware
of these new decrees and their legitimacy remains questionable.
Free expression in Fiji has been under
intense pressure since the imposition of the Public Emergency Regulations (PER)
when the 1997 Constitution was abrogated. Newspapers, television and radio are
censored. NGOs, politicians and ordinary citizens are unable to get their
articles published. Several overseas journalists have been deported. The High
Commissioners from Australia and New Zealand have been expelled and two former
Fiji citizens have been forbidden to return to Fiji.
Increased control of the police force was
attempted by requiring police officers to participate in the religious
activities of the pro Bainimarama New Methodist Church. This activity was
particularly discriminatory against religious minorities, and Indo-Fijian
police officers following the Hindu and Muslim faiths. The New Methodist Church
was also seen as an attempt to lower the number of Methodist church followers
in Fiji, which accumulated considerable political power under Prime Ministers
Rabuka and Qarase, from 1987 to 2006. Religion had already been politicised
prior to the December 2006 coup, but the Bainimarama government’s actions have
been intimidating, violating human rights.
The following articles of the UN Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (1948) are affected by the current media
Article 18 Freedom of Thought,
Conscience and Religion,
Article 19 Freedom of Opinion
Article 20 Right of Peaceful
Assembly and Association,
Article 30 Freedom from State
or Personal Interference in
the Above Rights
The importance of a free media is paramount.
Without it, government processes are no longer transparent or responsive to the
needs of citizens, who cannot understand what is going on and cannot
The December 2006 coup and the purported
abrogation of Fiji’s 1997 Constitution had serious implications for other
developing countries in the South Pacific and elsewhere.
The attempted civilian coup of 19 May 2000
in Fiji triggered what has been referred to as a ‘copycat’ attempted coup in
the Solomon Islands, and may have influenced the rioting and civil unrest that
took place in Tonga in November 2006. Fiji is the leading nation in the South
Pacific in terms of social and economic development, hosting most of the key
regional institutions’ headquarters, yet is the only country in the region with
a history of “coup culture” and illegitimate governments. The
disproportionately large size of the army in Fiji has been blamed for Fiji’s
After the Bougainville crisis, the Biketawa
Declaration was created by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, setting out
procedures for crisis intervention. The Biketawa declaration was successfully
used by the Solomon Islands government when they requested Australian
assistance after the 2000 uprising. In November 2006, Fiji’s ousted Prime
Minister Qarase called on Australia and New Zealand to intervene, amidst public
threats of a coup by Bainimarama. Both countries declined, fearing bloodshed.
In the aftermath of the 2006 coup, CCF
called on international organisations to assist Fiji in returning to
sustainable electoral democracy through the processes provided under the
Cotonou Agreement of the Asia, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the
Milbrook Declaration of the Commonwealth.
The Milbrook Declaration was activated
after the December 2006 coup, with the European Union and the ACP countries
calling on the Bainimarama regime to hold an election in Fiji by December 2008.
The Fiji government agreed to elections by early 2009. However, the abrogation
of the Constitution, with elections put back to 2014, means that the
Bainimarama government is no longer trusted. The Cotonou Agreement, which
provides for ‘informal discussions’ aimed at resolving conflict and dialogue,
has been ignored by Fiji.
The CCF and other non-government
organisations have utilised international mechanisms to put pressure on the
Fiji government to return to electoral democracy. In February 2010, Fiji was
reviewed by the UN under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). I represented the
CCF at these consultations in Geneva. We called on the interim government to
have elections in Fiji at the earliest possible time, ensuring an independent
judiciary in Fiji, and protecting human rights.
The major attempt since December 2006 to
address problems of political instability was under the aegis of the National
Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF), launched in October 2007. This was
designed to lead to the creation of the People’s Charter for Change, Peace and
Progress (PCCPP). The charter’s key recommendations, such as electoral reforms,
were included for discussion in the mid-2008 President’s Political Dialogue
Forum (PPDF), with facilitators from the UN and Commonwealth Secretariat.
The process began promisingly with the
dialogue process but, in April 2009, four of the major political parties were
excluded and the talks collapsed. The interim government seems determined to
push ahead with its own agenda regardless of whether or not it has popular or
legal support. It has suggested that there will be further constitutional
development in 2012.
Current restrictions (PER) must be lifted
so that citizens can express their views without fear of reprisal. The
Melanesian Spearhead Group, the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth
Secretariat have all offered their support for a dialogue process that leads to
elections. Fiji’s two major political rivals, ex-PMs Qarase and Chaudhry, are
working together to revive an inclusive PPDF. With the right attitude, dialogue
can bring people together despite Fiji’s history of ethno-political conflict.
Akuila Yabaki, a co-founder of the Pacific Islands Society of the UK and
Ireland, is Chief Executive Officer of the Suva-based Citizens’ Constitutional
Forum, which was established in 1991 as a platform for the discussion of
constitutional issues. This article is based on a talk he gave to the society
several months ago and does not take into account recent developments.