Media Needs Regulation, Bainimarama says; Amnesty International Reports Human Rights Abuses in Fiji; Electoral Commissioner Says Fiji Elections Will Go Forward

By Ryan L. Maness
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji — The interim Prime Minister said today that the media needs to be regulated in order to ensure that the reporting is pro-Fiji.  Bainimarama followed this statement to say that he did not want the media to report with bias or be pro-government, only pro-Fiji.

“We don’t want to gag the media, we don’t want to stop media freedom,” Bainimarama said, but that it is “common knowledge” that the media has been trying to undermine the government.  This, he said, was why he wants someone from the outside to check up on the publishers and editors of Fiji’s media, rather than allowing them to regulate themselves.

Foreign Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau made a similar statement, saying that the interim government does not intend to gag the media, but that the interim government wants fair and balanced reporting.

Fiji Media Council chairman Daryl Tarte was wary of these statements.  “If the Government steps in to regulate the media, it would be a sad day for Fiji,” said Mr Tarte.

For more information, please see:

Pacific Magazine — News Media Must Be Regulated, Bainimarama Says — 01 June 2008

Fiji Times — Media must be pro-Fiji, says PM — 01 June 2008

Pacific Magazine– Fiji Foreign Minister: No Gag on Media — 31 May 2008

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LONDON, UK — Amnesty International, in its annual report of top human rights abusers around the world, has listed Fiji among the 150 other nations on its list.  According to the report, the state of human rights in Fiji have deteriorated since the coup in December 2006.  The report was particularly critical of the interim government’s intimidation of the media, its stance towards the judiciary, the complicity of the human rights commission and the military’s record of pursuit and detention of bloggers critical of the coup.

The interim government was quick to criticize the report.  Interim Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has said that the report damages Amnesty International’s international credibility by releasing a “outdated” report.  According to the interim AG, the report was short on specific allegations of human rights abuses, specifically he decried claims that the media or the judiciary are under attack because the media is free to express itself and the courts have freely expressed themselves.

Fiji Human Rights Commission chairwoman Dr Shaista Shamee, who herself was targeted by Amnesty’s report, has also called it outdated and inaccurate.  She also thought that it was ridiculous for the report to suggest that world leaders should apologize for any human rights abuses in their country.

For more information, please see:

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji human rights chairs says calls for apology for human rights abuses a publicity stunt — 30 May 2008

Australian Broadcasting Corporation — Amnesty tells Fiji to stop threatening media — 30 May 2008

Fiji Times — FHRC tells Amnesty International to get facts right — 30 May 2008

Fiji Times — Amnesty International undermines its credibility — 29 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji and PNG criticised in Amnesty report — 29 May 2008

International Herald Tribune — Amnesty International: Fiji human rights on downward spiral since military coup — 29 May 2008

FijiVillage — Amnesty International reports highlight serious concerns — 29 May 2008

Fiji Times — Amnesty information out of date: Shameem — 29 May 2008

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SUVA, Fiji — Fiji Election Chairman Mohammed Sahu-Khan has told Fiji Live that nothing will stop the Electoral Commission from carrying out its duties and holding an election.  This statement comes after several days of hard rhetoric from interim PM Frank Bainiamarama who has been adamant upon the fact that the 2009 election timetable will not be possible unless the People’s Charter is passed.  The Fiji Times reports that Sahu-Khan said that it is important for Fiji to have a free and fair election.

Despite the chairman’s commitment to the electoral process in Fiji, he believes that reforms are needed before elections should be held.  Specifically, the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation reports that Sahu-Khan believes that the voting system needs to be seriously looked at, despite the fact that any such changes would require a change to the Fijian Constitution.

In order to impress upon the people the need for free and fair elections in Fiji, Sahu-Khan is holding meetings with civil servants to provide a forum to allow them to discuss their comments and criticisms of the current system.

For more information, please see:
Fiji Times — Election work goes ahead — 28 May 2008

Fiji Times — Commission continues with poll preparations — 27 May 2008

Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited — Electoral reform needed: Sahu Khan — 27 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji’s Electoral Commission says elections will take place — 27 May 2008

Amnesty international Annual Report on China; India Police Stop March by Tibetan Exiles; Myanmar forcing Cyclone Victims Out of Shelters

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – In an annual report on human rights worldwide, Amnesty International urged China to “live up to the human rights promises it made around the Olympic.”  The report criticized China for shipping weapons to Sudan in defiance of a U.N. arms embargo and traded with abusive governments like Myanmar and Zimbabwe. “The Chinese government has too often pursued resources to fuel its growing economy at the expense of human rights, seeking relationships with oil- or mineral-rich countries such as Sudan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe”, Amnesty said.

The report also criticized China’s expansion of the “re-education through labor” program, which allows the government to arrest people and sentence them to a manual labor without trial.  Moreover, the organization condemned the crackdown on Tibetan protests. The Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile says more than 200 people have been killed since the protests erupted on March 10.  “Freedom of religion, expression and association for Tibetans continues to be severely restricted”, Amnesty said, “and peaceful expression of support for the Dalai Lama is harshly punished”.

China has rejected previous such reports. It says its human rights record has improved in recent years.

For more information, please see:

AP- Amnesty International condemns US, China in report – 28 May 2008

Bloomberg – Amnesty Accuses U.S., China, Russia of Rights Abuses – 28 May 2008

CNN – China, Russia, U.S. focus of human rights report – 28 May 2008

Turkish Court Rules Gay Group is Anti-Moral; Desmond Tutu Condemns International Complicity Regarding Gaza; Lebanon Ends Presidential Stalemate

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey – On May 29, a Turkish court ordered Lambda Istanbul, a gay association, to close, ruling that it violated public morality and family norms.  The government prosecutor said that Lambda Istanbul violated a constitutional provision on the protection of the family and an article banning bodies “with objectives that violate law and morality.”

The full name of the group is Lambda Istanbul Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transvestites Solidarity Association.  The alleged breach of morality and family norms occurred when Lambda refused to remove the words describing the sexual orientation or identities of the group’s members.

A member of the association, Baran Ergenc, said “If we take out the words of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transvestites then it is not an association for them.” “The court found the association’s name in violation of public morality.”

Lambda’s lawyer, Firat Soyle stated, “This is a mistake and we hope that the Appeals Court will correct it.”  According to Ergenc, the group is determined to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if Turkey’s Appeals Court upholds the decision by the local court in Istanbul.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Turkish Court Slaps Ban on Homosexual Group – 30 May 2008

BBC – Turkish Gay Group Will Fight Ban – 30 May 2008

FOXNews – Turkish Court Rules Gay Group Violates Public Morality – 30 May 2008

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GAZA CITY, Gaza – Desmond Tutu, ending a three day fact-finding mission in Gaza, called the Israeli blockade an “abomination.”  Tutu traveled to Gaza on a UN fact-finding mission into the 2006 killing of 19 Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun by an Israeli artillery attack.

Tutu denounced international inaction to stop the Israeli blockade of Gaza.  “My message to the international community is that our silence and complicity, especially on the situation in Gaza, shames us all… Gaza needs the engagement of the outside world, especially its peacemakers.”

British professor Christine Chinkin, traveling with Tutu, stated, “I think what we’ve seen shows plenty of evidence of at least the possibility of war crimes that needs much further independent investigation… I would certainly say the concept of collective punishment in a situation of occupation constitutes the notion of war crimes and possibly of a crime against humanity.”

For more information, please see:

AFP – Tutu Blasts International ‘Complicity’ Over Gaza – 29 May 2008

BBC – Tutu: Gaza Blockade Abomination – 29 May 2008

Reuters – UN Envoy Tutu Calls Gaza Blockade Illegal – 29 May 2008

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BEIRUT, Lebanon – On May 25, General Michel Suleiman was elected to be the next president of Lebanon.  He won the votes of 118 MPs in the 128-seat parliament.  In an address to the parliament following his election, Suleiman stated, “I call on you all, political forces and citizens, to build a Lebanon we all agree upon, setting the interests of Lebanon above our individual interests.”

Even though the parliament agreed to elect Suleiman as the next President of Lebanon, the parliament still delayed 19 times.  The delays resulted from disagreements between the March 14 majority and the Shia minority faction led by Hezbollah.  The May 25 election occurred as part of the Doha agreement.

Following the election, the March 14 majority unanimously nominated Fouad Siniora to return as the Lebanese Prime Minister.  On May 29, President Suleiman appointed Siniora  as Prime Minister and asked him to form a government.

For more information, please see:

The Daily Star – Some analysts see Doha as Stopgap solution to Lebanon’s Crisis– 28 May 2008

International Herald Tribune – Lebanon’s Sinora Set to Lead New Government – 27 May 2008

Ya Lebanon – Hollow Victory to Lebanon – 27 May 2008

(London) Times – Gunfire Welcomes Lebanon’s New Leader, General Michel Suleiman – 26 May 2008

Academic Concerned for Fijian Presidency; Bainimarama Warns, No Elections Without People’s Charter; NZ Law Society Fears for Fijian Rule of Law

By Ryan L. Maness
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji — Constitutional scholar, Brij Lal, has said that Fiji’s lack of a vice president has created problems that need to be addressed.  Fiji has been without a vice president since the military coup in 2006.  The trouble, according to Lal, arises because, under the Constitution, the role of appointing a vice president rests with the Great Council of Chiefs, but interim PM Frank Bainimarama suspended the GCC last year.

Without a vice president, if something should happen to the current president Ratu Josefa Iloilo, then a presidential power vacuum would ensue.  In such a situation, says Lal, Bainimarama would declare a state of emergency and assume the powers of the presidency. “He has done it before. Soon after the December 2006 coup, he simply asked the President aside and he assumed his powers,” he said.  “Given the power he has –he is the most powerful man in modern Fijian history: commander of the military forces, head of government, minister for Fijian Affairs and a host of other ministries including the Public Service—he can do anything he wants.”

Earlier this week interim PM Bainimarama addressed the question of the fate of presidential appointment.  While speaking with a group of villagers, Bainimarama indicated that the electoral system might be amended to allow the people to vote for the president and vice president, rather than have then appointed by the GCC.

For more information, please see:

Fijiive — Bainimarama may be President, again — 26 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji presidency needs attention, says academic — 26 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji interim PM says electoral system to by-pass GCC role — 23 May 2008
SUVA, Fiji — The interim administration has warned that democratic elections will not be held in 2009, as it has promised the international community, if local politicians do not support the People’s Charter.  Interim PM Bainimarama said that he wants the charter to be in place no later than March of 2009.  Reiterating a point he has made before, he declared at a church opening this week that, “We can’t have elections without the charter.”  He also said that the military would ensure that whoever wins the eventual election will uphold the charter’s ideals, including ending racist policies and thwarting corruption.

Bainimarama has tirelessly extolled the charter, despite mounting resistance.  Radio New Zealand International reports that he said that the military would like to see unanimous support for the charter, but that if the people did not support the military and the interim administration then there would be no election.

Ousted opposition leader, Mick Beddoes, said that he has become used to these kinds of statements from Bainimarama.  However, he said that he expects that the interim PM’s mind will change many more times before the election deadline, but that it is unfortunate that he resorted to threatening people.

For more information, please see:

The Press Association — Fiji leader gives democracy warning — 23 May 2008

Pacific Magazine — No Election Without Charter Says Bainimarama — 23 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Former Fiji Opposition leader not surprised by latest threats over elections from military leader — 23 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji Interim PM says next year’s election dependent on passage of People’s Charter — 22 May 2008


WELLINGTON, New Zealand —  The New Zealand Law Society has issued a statement this week that they fear that the rule of law is being eroded in Fiji.  The Law Society indicated that they had been concerned since the suspension of Chief Justice Fatiaki last January 2007, since then, they say, other acts have further indicated the interim government’s disregard for the rule of law.

Specifically, the Law Society is concerned about the recent deportation of Fiji Times publisher Evan Hannah.  According to Law Society president John Marshall, “What made Mr Hannah’s deportation of even more concern was that it was made in defiance of a court order staying his deportation and requiring him to be brought before the court.”

Marshall also expressed his concern about comments by interim Attorney General and Minister of Justice Aryaz Sayed-Khaiyum who said that Fijian judges are entering the political arena and are prejudging cases before they are officially tried.  “The constitutional role of the Attorney General is to defend judges from public attack, not to criticise them publicly,” said Marshall.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International — Law Society fears for rule of law in Fiji — 23 May 2008

TV3 — Law Society voices concern about Fiji government — 21 May 2008

Nauru’s Controversial Election Pronounced ‘Credible’; CNMI Investigates Increase in Human Trafficking; Concern For Solomon Islands’ Donor Dependency

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

YAREN, Nauru — Concerns over Nauru’s April elections were mollified yesterday when the Pacific Islands Forum Monitoring Mission reported that the elections were ultimately credible.

Released today, the report emphasized that the results “accurately reflected the will of the people of Nauru.” The Mission stated, “Both polling and counting were conducted without problems and the Mission commended the Returning Officer and her election staff for this achievement, especially given the extremely short preparation time for the election.”

Absent any signs of foul play, the Mission did admit that the timing of the elections was far from ideal because the elections took place with little notice during a parliamentary deadlock and a State of Emergency.

While declaring the elections “credible,” the Mission also made three recommendations: first, the government should allow at least three weeks prior notice before holding elections to maximize candidate preparedness and voter participation, second, recommendations made by the 2007 Forum Election Observer Team should be implemented as soon as practicable with the help of the Forum Secretariat if needed, and third, Constitutional reforms, set up prior to the elections, should be implemented without delay as to promote political stability, leaders’ accountability, and transparency among Nauru’s political institutions.

The election afforded President Marcus Stephen two additional MPs who support the ruling government.

For more information, please see:
Pacific Magazine –- Nauru Elections ‘Credible’ Says Forum –- 22 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Nauru Government ticked off by monitors over election under state of emergency — 22 May 2008


SAIPAN, Northern Marianas Islands
— Shared Hope International has chosen the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) as one of ten U.S. locations to be part of a study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.

CNMI was selected in part because local authorities are committed to combating the increase in human trafficking. One report stated that incidents of underage human trafficking went up almost fifty percent in 2007. The average age of children entering prostitution is 12.

In addition, CNMI is one of only 10 other U.S. communities to have formed a Human Trafficking Task force. The Justice Department praised CNMI for its willingness to devote energy and resources to the study. CNMI Attorney General, Matthew Gregory, stated, “The CNMI was chosen as a site to review by Shared Hope International not because of an inordinate number of cases in our jurisdiction, but because of the progressive approach the CNMI has taken to identify trafficking, combat its occurrence, and investigate and prosecute wrongdoers.”

Shared Hope International hopes to identify what additional resources local law enforcement requires to combat the human rights issue.

For more information, please see:
Saipan Tribune — CNMI takes lead against human trafficking –- 23 May 2008

Saipan Tribune — Human trafficking in CNMI up almost 50 percent –- 22 May 2008

HONIARA, Solomon Islands -– Outgoing Central Bank Governor, Rick Hou, announced today that politician’s “unproductive” use of funds in the Solomon Islands ultimately may be causing greater harm than benefit.

Hou explains that since the Solomon Island’s independence in 1978, donations have not only increased but diversified. Politicians have taken advantage of the relative ease with which funds from donors can be obtained.

“Easy money options in this country are creating the disease I call ‘Donor Dependency Syndrome’ where the country, its institutions and citizens become paralyzed to normal hard work and shy away from being agents of real economic activity,” Hou said. Rather than promoting political stability and honest policies, the increasing reliance on outside donors has popularized pyramid and other get rich quick schemes.

While Hou criticizes funds stemming from “unproductive channels,” Human Rights organizations have targeted the Solomon Islands as a place in need of aid. Only two months ago, the Australian government announced it would donate over 1.2 million (AUD) to promote Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific region. The funding was intended to promote good governance, and just practices.

Specifically, AUD45,000 was donated to assist the Solomon Islands in addressing the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). Recently, reports surfaced from UNICEF, UNESCAP, ECPAT, and the Christian Care Centre which analyzed the practice of exploiting children in the Solomon Island.

For more information, please see:
Solomon Times — Unproductive Use of Aid Results in Donor Dependency: Hou –- 22 May 2008

Solomon Times — Australia Promotes Human Rights in Solomon Islands –- 19 March 2008

Turkey Faces Hate Crimes; Bahrain Elected to UN Human Rights Council; Saudi Court Drops Abuse Charges

by Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

NEW YORK CITY, United States – On May 22, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting systematic discrimination and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Turkey.  The report called on the Turkish government for a change in law and policy to offer greater protection to LGBT people. It also called on the European Union to make Turkey’s membership aspirations contingent on ending abuses relating to gender and sexuality..

“Democracy means defending all people’s basic rights against the dictatorship of custom and the tyranny of hate,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Where lives are at stake, Turkey needs to take concrete action and pass comprehensive legislation to protect them.”

The report includes over 70 interviews and documents how gay men and transgender people face beatings, robberies, police harassment, and the threat of murder.  It also documents how lesbian and bisexual women confront physical and psychological violence within their own families.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Facing Hate Crime in Turkey – 23 May 2008

Human Rights Watch – Turkey: Homophobic Violence Points to Rights Crisis – 22 May 2008

NEW YORK CITY, United States – On May 22, the United Nations General Assembly elected fifteen member states to the Human Rights Council for three year terms.  Bahrain was one of six states contesting four Asian seats.  In the vote, Bahrain followed Japan, but was ahead of South Korea and Pakistan; Sri Lanka and East Timor failed to secure enough votes.

In a written statement, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, Bahrain’s prime minister, said, “The achievement is an honest international recognition of the good human rights situation in the kingdom and comes to crown the government’s successful policies to protect human rights.”

However, several rights groups described Bahrain as “not qualified” to sit on the Human Rights Council. For example, Paula Schriefer, the director of advocacy for Freedom House, said,  “Bahrain does not have any right to be on the Human Rights Council… It organizes crackdowns on its political opposition, it remains a monarchy, it has arrested many activists that remain in prison and we have reports of torture of those people.”

For more information, please see:

Gulf Daily News – Societies Hail New Rights Role – 23 May 2008

The National – Bahrain Celebrates UN Post – 22 May 2008

United Press International – 15 Elected to U.N. Human Rights Council – 22 May 23, 2008

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – A High Court judge reviewed the case of Nour Miyati, an Indonesian maid whose toes and fingers were amputated following alleged abuse by her sponsor and his wife.  In a previous ruling all abuse charges against Miyati’s male employer were dropped.  The female employer confessed to abuse and was sentenced to 35 lashes.  Reviewing a previous ruling, the judge dropped charges against the wife of Miyati’s sponsor and overturned the female employer’s 35 lash sentence.

Miyati told Human Rights Watch that her employers “withheld her passport, knocked out a tooth and caused damage to one of her eyes.”  Miyati received treatment in a Riyadh hospital in March 2005 for “gangrene, malnourishment and other injuries” and that delays in treatment resulted in her losing her toes and fingers.

The court ruling granted Miyati 2,500 riyals as compensation, or approximately US$670, a small fraction of what such injuries would normally garner in Saudi Arabia.  “The meagre compensation of 2,500 riyals is a slap in the face… showing that a foreign domestic worker’s life and limb is not valued on the equal basis of a Saudi,” said Nisha Varia, senior researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.

“Instead of instilling confidence among migrant workers that they can seek redress through the Saudi justice system, this decision shows that even a case involving egregious abuse, ample evidence, and intense public scrutiny has not been given fair treatment.”

For more information, please see:

AFP – HRW Slams Saudi Ruling over Abused Indonesian Maid – 22 May 2008

Human Rights Watch – Saudi Arabia: Nour Miyati Denied Justice for Torture – 21 May 2008

The MEMRI Blog – Abused Indonesian Maid Gets Paltry Compensation – 21 May 2008

PINA Says it Will Stay in Fiji; Commonwealth Votes to Continue to Exclude Fiji; Death Threats to Australian Diplomat in Fiji Cause Tension

By Ryan L. Maness

Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

HONIARA, Solomon Islands — The president of the Media Association of Solomon Islands and publisher of  publisher of the Solomon Islands Star, John Lamani, has called for the Pacific Islands News Association to relocate to the Solomon Islands’ capital of Honiara.  Lamani, who spoke during a World Press Freedom Day celebration in Honiara, said that the relocation is necessary in light of the interim government’s track record of media intimidation.

Lamani said that PINA will be unable to fulfill its role of fighting for media freedom if it remains in Fiji.  Radio New Zealand International reports that Lamani also said that the Solomon Islands would be an ideal location for the media watchdog because the Solomon Islands cherish the fundamental human right to freedom of expression.

The head of PANI, Joseph Ealedona, however, said that it is more vital now than ever that PANI remain in Fiji.  He said that it is incredibly important that PANI engage in the interim government in a dialogue.  “You have to justify where is freedom of media, what is freedom of media, and for us, PINA, right now, freedom of media is definitely being threatened in Fiji. So therefore we must stay there, we won’t be seen to be running away from where the threats are coming from.”

For more information, please see:

Fiji Times — Relocate media outlets: Lamani — 13 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — PINA says it’s important to remain in Fiji — 12 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Regional news organization vows to stay in Fiji — 12 May 2008

The Age — PINA urged to quit Fiji for Solomon Is. — 12 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Calls for Pina and Pacnews to move from Fiji — 11 May 2008

LONDON, UK — The  Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has decided to continue to exclude Fiji from the councils of its organization.  The CMAG, which met on 12 May to consider the readmission of Fiji and Pakistan, declared that they had “grave concerns” that Fiji would not live up to its commitments to return free and fair elections to Fiji within the year.

The Commonwealth, a 53 member nation organization, originally decided to suspend Fiji in the wake of the December 2006 coup.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, explained the CMAG’s rationale, “The group continued to be concerned at reports which indicated the independence of the judiciary, and freedom of the media, were being seriously compromised, including the deportation of media personnel in contravention of court orders, and the continued militarisation of key Fiji institutions. It also expressed concern at reports of continued human rights abuses.”  However, Winston Peters, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister and Ministerial Action Group Member, said that Fiji could still come around.  “The group continued to be concerned at reports which indicated the independence of the judiciary, and freedom of the media, were being seriously compromised, including the deportation of media personnel in contravention of court orders, and the continued militarisation of key Fiji institutions,” said Peters, “It also expressed concern at reports of continued human rights abuses.”

The interim Prime Minister criticized the CMAG’s position, saying that the international community does not understand the difficulties of holding elections in Fiji and has not given the country sufficient credit for the gains that have been made.  According to Bainimarama, the interim government is commited to restoring democracy to Fiji and continues to foster a culture of dialogue and consensus building in order to find a way forward to Fiji.  Bainimarama said that Fiji has demonstrated its commitment with the Fiji/Forum Joint Working Group along with the efforts of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji.

For more information, please see:
Matangi — Commonwealth calls on Fiji to expedite election process — 15 May 2008

Pacific Magazine — Fiji PM Rebuffs Common Wealth Criticism — 14 May 2008

TradingMarkets.com — Fiji unhappy with CMAG decision — 13 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Commonwealth decision lacks understanding, says Fiji regime — 13 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji remains suspended from Commonwealth Council — 12 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has many concerns over Fiji — 12 May 2008

SUVA, Fiji — In the last month, Australia’s High Commissioner in Fiji, James Batley, has received two death threats.  The most recent threat, which Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has described as “vile and repugnant”, came last Thursday.

In response to these threats, Batley requested that the interim government allocate two unarmed Australian police to the High Commission to increase security.  The interim government denied this request, saying that it was Fiji’s responsibility to maintain the security of the High Commission.

Smith said that he was very disappointed that Fiji had not approved that allocation of Australian Federal Police personnel to the High Commission, but officers of the Fijian government insist that they continue to take the death threats seriously.  Fiji’s Foreign Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikausaid that the High Commission is in Suva and that the Australians had requested extra security, but that Fijian police were already providing that.  He also said that an active investigation of the death threats was underway because threats against foreign diplomats are a very serious matter and will not be tolerated.

The interim government’s reassurances will likely come as cold comfort to the Australian government, as Australian authorities have claimed that the military is responsible for the death threats.  Due to the increased threat to their diplomatic personnel, the Australian government is offering to foot the costs and allow personnel at the Australian High Commission to return to Australia.

Nailatikausaid responded, saying that there is no reason for Australian diplomats to leave.  He also said that the accusation that the Fijian military was responsible for the threats was “preposterous and unsubstantiated.”

For more information, please see:
Fiji Times — Offer for family evacuation — 21 May 2008

The Age — ‘Vile’ death threats against Aussia diplomat — 20 May 2008

Fiji Times — Regime stand upsets Australia — 20 May 2008

News.com.au — Don’t leave, Fiji tells Australians — 20 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Australia offers to fly families of High Commission staff out of Fiji following threats — 20 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji death threats vile, says Australian Foreign Minister — 20 May 2008

ABC News — Fiji blocks police guard for death-threat Commissioner — 19 May 2008

Fiji Times — Batley wanted unarmed officers: Spokesman — 19 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji military behind death threats against Australian diplomat, says paper — 19 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji administration says it is responsible for security at foreign embassies — 18 May 2008

BRIEF: Marianas House Criticizes Government Takeover

SAIPAN, Northern Marianas Islands — Yesterday, Northern Marianas Governor, Benigno R. Fitial, defended his plan to takeover of the Commonwealth Ports Authority as a necessary measure to preserve the government’s financial integrity.

The ports authority has been in financial trouble for some time and is close to a technical default on the 1998 indenture on its airport bonds. In order to avoid a potential default, Governor Fitial announced last week that the executive branch would assume control of the ports authority under its state of emergency powers.

The House of Representatives voted 18-0 to pass a resolution that firmly disapproves of the Governor’s actions. Representatives claim the Governor’s “state of emergency” powers does not include assisting a “ government agency in repaying a debt.” But Governor Fitial insists that if the default happens, the ports authority would be required to pay the full principal and interest of the bonds. In addition, it is within the Bank of Guam’s authority, as the bond trustee, to issue a default notice and take over the Saipan International Airport.

Governor Fitial’s plan is to place the ports authority under the Governor’s Office for 120 days. But before any reorganization plan can be put into effect, the Legislature must have 60 days to review the proposal including the ability to amend or void it.

For more information, please see:
Saipan Tribune — House questions Fitial’s takeover of CPA — 18 May 2008

Pacific Magazine — ‘Dire Consequences’ Face Northern Marianas Agency — 16 May 2008

BRIEF: Rule of Law Underseige, says PCPI

SUVA, Fiji — Fiji’s Pacific Centre for Public Integrity has taken issue with recent actions of Fiji’s interim administration and they have questioned their adherence to the rule of law. They specifically charged that the interim Prime Minister’s administration had publicly demonstrated that they operated above the law and had no intention of abiding by the Fijian Constitution.

These statements were redoubled after the deportation of Fiji Times publisher Evan Hannah.  According to a PCPI spokesperson, “The deliberate measures taken by the immigration officials to avoid being served the court order to prevent the deportation of Evan Hannah shows once again the deceit and arrogance that is the hallmark of this military interim regime.”

Angie Heffernan, the executive director of the PCPI, also took issue with the solicitor general’s recent request for a dismissal of Evan Hannah’s claim.  Heffernan says that the dismissal request, which is predicated on the argument that the court order to stop the expulsion has expired, demonstrates that the interim government does not respect the Fijian judiciary.  “The interim government went to extraordinary lengths to try and avoid the court order being served on the immigration officials. The nuts and bolts of the case will be dealt with, but in our view this signifies that the interim government has absolutely no respect for the court order, or for the courts in general.”

For more information, please see:

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji’s PCPI says rule of law under pressure — 09 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji solicitor general asks court to throw out Hannah case — 08 May 2008

Fijilive — Rule of Law Undersiege in Fiji: PCPI — 06 May 2008

Beirut ‘Occupied’ by Hezbollah in ‘Armed Coup’

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon – On May 10, Lebanon’s army overturned two government measures in an attempt to diffuse escalating tensions between Hezbollah opposition and the Lebanese government.  Following two key decisions on May 5, Hezbollah and other Shia opposition groups called for general strikes, which quickly resulted in armed confrontations between the opposition and pro-government supporters.

On May 5, the Lebanese government, led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Sunni majority leader Saad Hariri, issued two decisions sparked the opposition’s anger.  First, the cabinet removed Beirut’s airport security chief for alleged ties to the militants.  Second, the cabinet also determined that Hezbollah’s communication network, including its own telephone system, was illegal and threatened Lebanese sovereignty.

Following the government’s decision Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, called for general strikes in protest.  Shia opposition members set up road block on all major roads leading to Beirut’s airport and well as major roads within and around Beirut.

On May 8, Nasrallah stated that the government’s decisions were a declaration of war against Hezbollah.  Following this public statement, street violence between armed members of the Shia opposition group and pro-government supporters broke out in Beirut.  As of May 10, the violence has resulted in at least 25 deaths and dozens of injuries.

Most recently, on the morning of May 10, two people were killed when gunmen targeted a funeral procession for a Sunni, pro-government supporter.  Also, according to Reuters, five gunmen and two soldiers died in clashes in northern Lebanon.

On May 9, Shia opposition fighters launched a rocket-propelled grenade at the outer perimeter of Hariri’s home in west Beirut.  While Hariri was at home, he was not harmed.  Also on May 9, opposition gunmen forced Future News TV, owned by Hariri, off air.  Following a warning from the gunmen, security forces evacuated station employees.

Opposition forces also took over the offices of Hariri’s Al-Mustaqbal newspaper.  According to the paper’s managing editor, gunmen fired on the office with guns and rocket-propelled grenades, and later set fire to one of the floors.

Prime Minister Siniora responded to the recent violence in a public statement on May 10.  He accused Hezbollah of carrying out an “armed coup.”  In addressing the army, Siniora said, “I call on it once again to impose security on all, in all areas, deter the gunmen and immediately remove them from the street … to restore normal life.”

Rula Amin, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Beirut, said that Siniora had described Beirut as being “occupied” and “besieged;” an attempt to appeal to Lebanese inside and outside the country, as well as the mostly Sunni population in the Arab world.

Pro-government supporters accuse Iran and Syria of supporting Hezbollah and of approving their take over of Beirut.  Iran accuses US and Israeli interference in creating tensions that led to current crisis.  Syria and Israel both state that the crisis is an “internal affair.”

The violence has led Saudi Arabia and Egypt to call for an emergency meeting of the Arab League to discuss the political crisis.  This meeting is scheduled for May 11.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Lebanon PM Calls for Action by Army – 10 May 2008

Al Jazeera – Who’s Who in Lebanese Politics – 10 May 2008

Associate Press – Lebanese Prime Minister Accuses Hezbollah of ‘Armed Coup’ – 10 May 2008

BBC – Lebanon Army Moves to End Crisis – 10 May 2008

Herald Sun – Militants Attack a Top MP – 10 May 2008

International Herald Tribune – Lebanese Chief Calls on Army to Restore Order – 10 May 2008

Reuters – Hezbollah Fights Start Withdrawing from Beirut – 10 May 2008

Al Jazeera – Timeline: Crisis in Lebanon – 9 May 2008

BBC – Cabinet Condemns Hezbollah ‘Coup’ – 9 May 2008

Violence Erupts in Beirut

By: Julie Narimatsu
Impunity Watch Managing Editor – Journal

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Violence was rekindled Thursday when Hezbollah supporters and Lebanese government supporters exchanged rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades.  The violence was sparked after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused the Lebanese government of declaring “open war” when it tried to shut down Hezbollah’s telecommunications network.  In a televised speech, Nasrallah stated that “we will cut the hand that will reach out to the weapons of the resistance no matter if it comes from the inside or the outside.”  He further defended Hezbollah’s use of the telecommunications network, avering that it is a right of any militia during war.  He referenced the Taif Agreement, which marked the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1989.  The agreement demilitarized all militias except Hezbollah because of its efforts against the Israeli occupation.

In response, government officials attributed this “new round of horror” solely to Nasrallah, asserting that Nasrallah’s speech was a “direct threat of assassinating” them and claiming that the network was being used to oversee Hezbollah’s enemies in the western-backed government.

So far, it is being reported that six people have been killed and fifteen wounded.  While it had been previously limited to Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods in downtown Beirut, it appears that the violence has expanded to include its surrounding neighborhoods.  Further, Hezbollah supporters have blocked the roads to the airport, resulting in the cancellation of flights, a disabling move given Lebanon’s strategic location between Syria and Israel.  The United Nations Security Council called on all parties to begin dialogue again.  The U.S. government is urging Hezbollah to “start playing a constructive role and stop their disruptive activities.”

Saad Hariri, the leader of Lebanon’s parliamentary majority has urged fighters to disarm and “to save Lebanon from hell,” while also calling for a meeting with Nasrallah to discuss the “misunderstanding” over the telecommunications network.  Nasrallah stated that the government must “withdraw their decisions, and there would be no war.”  It is unclear where this stand-off will lead, but the violence does not appear to be subsiding.

For more information, please see:

CNN.com – Gunbattles break out in Beirut – 8 May 2008

MSNBC – Violence rekindles fears of Lebanese civil war – 8 May 2008

Reuters – Fighting rocks Beirut, Hezbollah defiant – 8 May 2008

BBC News – Fierce clashes resume in Beirut – 8 May 2008

Al Jazeera – Beirut wracked by street battles – 8 May 2008

Investigation Reveals Impunity for Police Abuse

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

NEW YORK CITY, United States – Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Moroccan authorities closed its investigation into police abuse allegations made by two human rights activists.  On May 5, the two activists were informed by police that the prosecutor at the El-Ayoun Court of Appeals had closed the investigation into their complaints for “lack of evidence.”

In January 2008, Dahha Rahmouni and Brahim al-Ansari, two Sahrawi human rights activists, filedcomplaints to the office of the prosecutor at the El-Ayoun Court of Appeals.  The complaints alleged that on December 14, 2007, police in the city of El-Ayoun, in the Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, arbitrarily arrested them.  While in custody, the men claim that they were beaten and forced to sign a statement that they were not permitted to read.  Rahmouni and Ansari were released without charges on December 16.

“A real, impartial investigation would have included testimony from both the police officers accused of abuse and the rights advocates making the allegations…Instead, Moroccan authorities chose to hear only one side, showing they’re not impartial,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Whitson said that HRW welcomed dialogue with authorities on human rights issues, “but in this case, we received a cynical string of falsehoods, a response that indicates that the government will back up police abuses.”

Ansari is a member of the El-Ayoun chapter of the legally recognized Moroccan Association of Human Rights. Rahmouni is a member of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations (ASVDH), an unrecognized organization based in El-Ayoun.  However, ASVDH, has followed the proper procedures for obtaining legal status.

Morocco effectively annexed the Western Sahara following the withdrawal of Spanish troops in 1976 and Mauritania withdrew from the remainder in 1979.  Since the withdrawal of Spanish troops in 1976, the Moroccan government engaged in a guerrilla war with the Polisario Front, a Western Saharan nationalist group.  The UN brokered a cease-fire between the two parties in 1991.

Recently, on April 30, 2008, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1813, which calls on Morocco and the Polisario Front to continue negotiations for a “mutually acceptable” self-determination solution in the disputed Western Sahara.

The resolution was highly disputed.  The US and France, both strong backers of the Moroccan government, supported statements permitting Saharwi autonomy.  South Africa, Costa Rica and Panama voted for the resolution but ultimately favored a resolution recognizing Saharwi’s right to independence.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Morocco: Sham Inquiry Highlights Impunity for Police Abuse – 8 May 2008

Middle East Online – Security Council Urges More Talks On W Sahara – 1 May 2008

International Herald Tribune – Security Council Calls for Realism and Compromise  on Western Sahara – 30 April 2008

Human Rights Watch – Letter to Moroccan Minister of Justice Abdelwahed Radi on Mistreatment of Human Rights Activists – 28 December 2008

Human Rights Watch – Morocco: Investigate Police Beating of Rights Activists in Western Sahara – 28 December 2008

No Appeal of Hannah Deportation Possible

By Ryan L. Maness
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji — While interim Minister for Immigration Ratu Epeli Ganilau have still not commented on the exact cause of Hannah’s deportation, he has said that Hannah will not be allowed to appeal the decision.  The interim minister issued this statement yesterday to clarify a story run by the Fiji Times over the weekend that Hannah would be able to appeal his deportation to a Fijian court.  Ratu Epeli said that the Hannah would not be able to appeal because of an amendment made to the Immigration Act of 2003.

The amendment, which was passed just days after the deportation of Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter, reads that, “No appeal shall lie from decisions made by an immigration officer acting in accordance with the directions of, or instructions given in respect of any particular case by the minister.”

The Fiji Law Society has said that they do not think that the amendment is permissible under the current Constitution.  The Fiji Times reports that, according to Society president Isireli Fa, the law is improper because a provision that makes a Minister’s decision final and unreviewable by the courts is actually unenforceable.  Fa referred to this kind of provision as an “ouster clause” because they oust the jurisdiction of the courts.  He also said that there are many precedents in Pacific and Fijian common law that are on point and support his contention that the amendment is unenforceable.  He concluded by pointing out that section 120 of the Fijian Constitution confers upon the High Court unlimited original jurisdiction to to hear and determine any civil or criminal proceedings under any law.

Regardless of the criticism, interim AG Aiyaz Sayed-Khayum has stated that the process of Hannah’s deportation was legal.  He denied any allegation that there was a High Court order halting Hannah’s deportation.  “There was no High Court order to stop his deportation. You will see that there was a writ of habeas corpus which is very different from an injunction stopping someone from being deported. The matter is before the courts at the moment and is being called again on Wednesday this week, thus the matter rests until such time.”

For more information, please see:

Fiji Times — Society claims State not well advised — 07 May 2008

Fiji Times — Wife and son not included in order — 06 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji interim attorney general defends Hannah deportation process — 05 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji interim Government called on to reverse controversial immigration law change — 05 May 2008

Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited — Hannah CANNOT appeal his deportation — 05 May 2008

Taiwan Vice Premier Quits Amid Embezzlement Scandal

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s vice premier quit on Monday after announcing he had taken part in transferring $29.8 million to a man who has disappeared.

The money was reportedly sent to a Taiwanese intermediary, Ching Chi-ju, and was to provide economic aid to Papua New Guinea on the condition that the country support Taiwan’s international recognition over China. Instead, the payments were made to two businessmen: Wu Shih-tsai from Singapore, and Ching.

In late 2006, the Taiwanese government decided to abandon the deal, believing Papua New Guinea was unlikely to take it. For almost 60 years since civil war split Taiwan and China, the two countries have called on other nations to take sides. China has used its economic prowess to lure some of Taiwan’s allies. In response, Taiwan has been offering economic incentives to keep allies from abandoning support.

On Monday, Taiwan police questioned Chiou, after allegations surfaced that senior members of the Taiwanese government may have accepted bribes from Wu and Ching as part of the deal.

“I feel deeply ashamed in the face of my country and people,” Chiou said in a brief statement. “In addition to helping with judicial investigations, I will withdraw from my beloved Democratic Progressive Party.”

As of now, authorities have been unable to locate either Ching or the $30 million.

For more information, please see:
Sydney Morning Herald — PNG govt denies Taiwan’s missing money — 06 May 2008

Taipei Times — Spreading Controversy Over Botched PNG Diplomatic Ties — 06 May 2008

Associated Press — Taiwan’s vice premier quits party amid scandal — 05 May 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Taiwan’s vice-premier quits over PNG graft claim — 05 May 2008

The New York Times – Man pocketed millions in Taiwan affair – 03 May 2008

BBC News —  China’s new South Pacific influence — 03 May 2008

Shameem Comes Under Fire Regarding Hannah Deportation

By Ryan L. Maness
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji — In the wake of Evan Hannah’s deportation, the High Court has ordered for the Immigration Department to explain why it was that Hannah was not produced on Friday as the High Court had ordered.  Along with the High Court’s inquiries, opposition leader Mick Beddoes has also called for Chairman of the Fiji Human Rights Commission and Ombudsman, Shaista Shameem, to conduct an inquiry into Hannah’s deportation.

Shameem acknowledged that she had received a letter from Beddoes and told FijiVilllage that she had responded to Beddoes’ letter.  She would not say, however, what the contents of her reply letter were.  She also said that she would not comment further regarding Evan Hannah, because the matter is currently before the courts.  The country will know the court’s decision on Wednesday, she said, and the FHRC will abide by that decision.

As for Beddoes, he has been vocal in his opposition for Shameem and her treatment of the situation.  He said that Shameem has been pro interim government since she took office and that her recent actions illustrates this.  Because of this, Beddoes has called for the next parliament to review the position of Ombudsman to ensure that the new office holder does not compromise the situation.

The Young Peoples Concerned Network has echoed Beddoes’ sentiment, calling for Shameem to resign from her position in the FHRC due to her inaction with regard to human rights offenses in Fiji.  Their call is a renewal of the resignation request that they made a month ago.  They also told the Fiji Times that the interim Government and the FHRC had embarked on a personal vendetta to intimidate and malign Fiji’s press.

For more information, please see:
Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited — Immigration Department ordered to explain — 05 May 2008

FijiVillage — FHRC Queried by Beddoes — 05 May 2008

FijiVillage — Fiji Human Rights Commission Has No Comment — 05 May 2008

Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited — Beddoes Criticises Shameem — 05 May 2008

Fiji Times — NGO calls on Shameem to resign — 05 May 2008

Fiji Times — Beddoes calls for probe on incident — 05 May 2008