Fiji Suspends Talks with Working Group; Fiji Media Wary of Regulation; Newspaper Publishers’ Removal Overdue, FHRC Says

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

SUVA, Fiji –Despite calls from the Pacific Island Forum not to do so, Fiji has suspended suspended talks with the Forum Joint Working Group.  After the suspension the Ministry of Information acting deputy secretary, Major Neumi Leweni, was unequivocal that talks had not been terminated, only that they were suspended for the moment.  The suspension arose after the government of New Zealand imposed a travel ban against businessman Robin Storck soon after his appointment as chief executive of Fijian Holdings Limited.  New Zealand has been categorical in imposing travel bans against anyone associated with the interim government; however, when pulling out of the Working Group, interim Prime Minister Bainimarama credited the “hypocritical” stance of New Zealand and Australia.

The other members of the working group have expressed their hope that the dialogue with Fiji will renew and a path to return Fiji to democracy will be charted.  The chairman of the group. Tonga’s Prime Minister Dr Feleti Sevele. has called on Bainimarama to return to the table for next month’s scheduled meeting, despite his absence from the meeting this past week.  Without Fiji’s presence in the working group, Sevele said, there isn’t much point for continuing to meet.  Sevele went on to say that, while he hoped Fiji would return, he was sure that they will have conditions for coming back.”

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters has said that the travel bans will not be relaxed from their current configuration.

For more information, please see:
Fijilive — Travel bans remain, NZ tells Fiji — 29 June 2008

Fijilive — Pacific Forum chair pushes Fiji to rejoin — 29 June 2008

Fiji Times — Remain engaged in dialogue, Fiji urged — 26 June 2008

Radio New Zealand International — New Zealand Foreign Minister hoping for re-engagement with Fiji regime next month — 26 June 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Chair of Pacific Forum says Fiji must be encouraged to return to dialogue — 26 June 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Uncertainty over Fiji/Forum meeting after Fiji boycott — 26 June 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji’s interim Prime Minister suspends talks with Forum Joint Working Group — 22 June 2008

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SUVA, Fiji — Daryl Tarte, the chairman of the Fiji Media Council, says that the media in Fiji is under severe threat of governmental regulation.  Speaking at the launch of the Media and Developement Book this week, Tarte said that statutory regulation would harm Fiji’s media and that it would be better to have the media regulate itself.  The Fiji Media Council recently met with the interim PM, but Tarte said that he is looking forward to another meeting.

Perhaps worrying to those who oppose governmental media regulation, on 22 June members of the Fiji police began investigating an interview done for Close Up program to determine whether or not inciteful comments were made by  Suva Lawyer Rajendra Chaudhry and Close Up Show Host, Anish Chand.  The Fiji Police said that they received credible information that the tape contained inciteful comments, but have not yet taken either Chaudhry or Chand in for questioning.  The tape containing the interview was not played prior to the police seizure, but neither has it been returned to the television station, despite requests that it be.

For more information, please see:
Fiji Times — Police keep tape — 27 June 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji Media Council says media independence threatened — 24 June 2008

Fiji Times — Media faces State wrath — 24 June 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji Media Council Chair says media faces threat of regulation — 23 June 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji police probe Fiji TV programme — 23 June 2008

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SUVA, Fiji
— The Fiji Human Rights Commission created a report, which was leaked to the Sunday Star Times, which dealt with the recent deportations of newspaper publishers Evan Hannah and Russell Hunter.  According to the report, the deportation of the two men was not only appropriate, but actually long overdue.  In finding that none of Hannah or Hunter’s rights were breached, it went on to saw that both men, as well as New Zealand High Commissioner in Fiji Michael Green, were making persistent attacks on the administration of Justice in Fiji.  According to the report, although Green was made persona non grata in Fiji last year, he continues to interfere in Fiji’s internal affairs.

The New Zealand government has denied any attempts to infiltrate the Fijian government or to interfere with the administration of justice.

The report was commissioned after ousted opposition leader Mick Beddoes filed a complaint with the FHRC.

Opposition leaders in Fiji have condemned the findings in the report.  Beddoes told Radio Fiji that the substance of the report was in large part irrelevant to what he had originally asked about.  He also said, “I’m deeply concerned that someone who must administer matters concerning the rights of people in this country has such an obvious leaning toward a particular political party and to the government.”

For more information, please see
:
Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited — Military looks into FHRC report — 25 June 2008

Fiji Times — Commission report irrelevant: Beddoes — 25 June 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Editor of Fiji Times expresses renewed concern over Human Rights Commission — 22 June 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji’s ousted opposition leader says report into deportation backs backs move of military regime — 22 June 2008

Fijilive — NZ diplomat interfering in Govt, Fiji claims — 22 june 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji’s Human Rights Commission claims interim regime right to deport publishers — 20 June 2008

Center for Torture Victims Opens in Bahrain; Donors Pledge $242 Million to Support Palestinian Security; Summit on Jewish Arab Refugees

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By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain – Bahrain is set to open a rehabilitation center for torture victims on June 26, World Torture Day.  Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS) put forward the idea and has coordinated its efforts with a variety of local, regional, and international organizations, with substantial NGO participation.

According to BHRWS regional and international director Faisal Fulad, “This center will be run by the NGOs and will be linked to the International Red Cross. The UN Human Rights Council and civil societies in the region will also coordinate with the rehabilitation center.”

The center, the Bahrain Rehabilitation Center for Torture Survivors (BRCTS) will take up the cases of political prisoners, activists, migrant workers and women who are victims of torture.  The center will provide legal consultants to the victims, whether Bahraini or non-Bahrainis, who are victims of torture.

Additionally, a center for torture victims opened in Lebanon in November 2007.  While, only operational for a few months, center specialists say that positive results are already visible.  The Centre Nassim provides assistance to torture victims from the Lebanese civil war, which ended in 1990, as well as victims of more recent torture.  At the center, torture victims receive legal and financial advice, and medical treatment for the physical and mental effects of torture.

For more information, please see:

AHN – Bahrain Set to Have Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims – 24 June 2008

BBC – Helping Lebanon’s Torture Victims – 24 June 2008

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BERLIN, Germany – On June 23, more than 40 states attended a conference on the Middle East in Berlin.  Those in attendance included members of the Middle East Quartet: the US, EU, Russia and the UN.

At the Berlin conference donor states committed $242 million for security projects in the West Bank.  The money will be passed to the Palestinian Authority over a period of three years.  The money will fund projects with aims of putting more trained police officers on the streets, rebuilding courthouses, and training judges.  For example, the European Union Police Mission in the Palestinian Territories, which trains police officers, will be expanded with help from these funds.

Tony Blair, the Quartet envoy, stated that a functioning criminal justice system was “fundamental for a two-state solution.”  “There will never be a two-state solution just by people sitting in a room negotiating … a state will only be created when people take the action to create the reality that allows a state to be credible.”

Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad agreed that better security was important to the creation of a Palestinian state, but also argued that these improvements must be accompanied by accompanied by other measures such as an immediate freeze on new Israeli settlements and the dismantling of Israeli checkpoints.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Donors Agree $242m for Palestinians – 25 June 2008

AFP – Berlin Conference Pledges Security Aid for Palestinians – 24 June 2008

Associated Press – Countries Commit $242M to Strengthen Palestinians – 24 June 2008

Human Rights Watch – Occupied Palestinian Territories: Donors Should Press Security Forces to End Abuse – 23 June 2008

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LONDON, United Kingdom – June 23 marked a three day summit, organized by Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), to highlight the rights violations endured by hundreds of thousands of Arab Jews.  JJAC is an international coalition of 77 organizations from 20 countries.

This is the inaugural summit organized by the JJAC and serves dual purposes: first, to put the issue of Arab Jewish refugees on the international agenda; second, to record testimony from individual refugees and others affected by Arab states’ discriminatory policies and practices.

The group estimates that over 900,000 Jews have been forced to leave their homes in Arab countries since the creation of Israel in 1948.  600,000 absorbed by the new Israeli state and others immigrated to the US, UK, and France.  Advocates state that the scale and extent of the violation of Arab Jews’ rights is equivalent to the plight of the Palestinian refugees, which receives more international attention.

According to the BBC Arab Affairs analyst, Magdi Abdelhadi, the issue is extremely controversial as the number of refugees and the reason for leaving remains disputed.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Lyn Julius: Recognising the Plight of Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries – 25 June 2008

BBC – London Summit on Jewish Refugees – 23 June 2008

Ha’aretz – Mideast Jewish Refugees Launch Campaign for International Recognition – 22 June 2008

Gaza Rocket Attack Threatens Cease-Fire

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TEL AVIV, Israel – On June 24, the Islamic Jihad fired several rockets into the southern Israeli town of Sderot. While there were no causalities, the rockets did cause damage to residences.

In claiming the rocket attack, the Islamic Jihad stated that the attack was in retaliation for the Israeli assassination of two members in the West Bank, which was not included in the Hamas-Israeli agreement. The Islamic Jihad also stated that the attack was exceptional and in response to a specific action.

This is the first challenge of the five-day old ceasefire effective in Gaza. In response to the “clear and grave violation” of the cease-fire agreement, Israel has closed its border crossings with Gaza. The crossings were to have opened at 8am on June 25.

Israeli military liaison official Peter Lerner said they would stay closed until further notice. “Any reopening will be in accordance with security considerations,” he told Reuters.

In addition, the International Middle East Media Center reports that Palestinian medical authorities confirmed that Salem Abu Raida, 80, was wounded with several live bullets in the shoulder fired by Israeli soldiers manning the borders. When he was injured, he was standing outside of his home, located close to the Israel-Gaza border. The incident occurred less than 24 hours after the rocket attack.

Not only does the rocket attack challenge the viability of the cease-fire agreement, but it also challenges the authority of the parties involved; especially Hamas and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert.

Hamas must prove to Israel and the international community that it has control over Gaza in order to be included in future negotiations. However, it is also necessary for Hamas not to be seen as supporting the Israeli government. For example, Hamas’ reaction to the rocket attack was a cautious one: they condemned the Israeli killings in the West Bank, but at the same time, they called on Palestinians “to exercise self-restraint and continue observing the agreement.”

In addition, Prime Minister Olmert is facing a Knesset vote which would dissolve his government, bringing new elections, on June 25. Many analysts saw a successful cease-fire agreement as Olmert’s last chance to remain in office.

One minister in Olmert’s government stated, “If he thought that making peace was going to save him, he learnt a serious lesson — that you need two people to make peace, and not one desperate man… I think his time is up; the break in the truce was the last straw. The Knesset will not give him another break.”

For more information, please see:

International Middle East Media Center – Israeli Army Wounds an Elderly Palestinian in Southern Gaza – 25 June 2008

Reuters – Israel Closes Gaza Crossings after Rocket Attack – 25 June 2008

Times (London) – Ehud Olmert’s Leadership Faces Final Hours as Rocket Attack Threatens Ceasefire – 25 June 2008

Al Jazeera – Violence Threatens Gaza Truce – 24 June 2008

The Christian Science Monitor – Gaza Rockets Strain Israel-Hamas Truce – 24 June 2008

Marianas Islands’ Governor to Sue U.S. Over Immigration Law; Public Employee Union in Solomons May Strike Friday; UPDATE: $6 Million Needed to End Blackouts in Saipan

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SAIPAN, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands — Northern Mariana Islands Governor, Benigno R. Fitial, is preparing to sue the U.S. Federal government over labor provisions in the federal immigration law.

In a pre-recorded statement, Fitial argued that the U.S. is imposing a new immigration law that violates the document set up between the two countries describing the U.S. and the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) political relationship, or the “Covenant.” By its terms, the Covenant ensures CNMI the right to self-government, and provides that the U.S. promote the CNMI’s economic growth and development.

Fitial’s main concern is that the new immigration law will violate the U.S.’s commitment to the CNMI through the Covenant. The current cap on foreign workers allowed in CNMI has hurt major construction projects, and many foreign investors have backed out of projects due to the uncertainty of CNMI’s workforce.

The new immigration law calls for 20,000 foreign workers in CNMI to obtain federal visas by at least December 31, 2014. At present, very few foreign workers hold U.S. working visas, and the fear is that these workers will no longer qualify once the federalization law is in place.

“Let me be clear. We do not question the authority of the Congress to apply the existing federal immigration laws that apply to every other part of the United States except American Samoa. We agreed to that in the Covenant. Our complaint focuses on the labor provisions of the legislation, which are not, and never have been part of the federal immigration laws,” Fitial said.

Fitial plans on suing unless his attorneys in a U.S. based firm advise him otherwise.

For more information, please see:
Pacific Magazine — Governor To Challenge Washington Takeover In Courts — 25 June 2008

Saipan Tribune — Fitial poised to sue US govt — 25 June 2008

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HONIARA, Solomon Islands — Public servants are planning a nation-wide strike Friday in response to dissatisfaction with Prime Minister, Derek Sikua’s government.

A Solomon Islands Public Employees Union (SIPEU) is behind the proposed strike. According to a SIPEU representative, the Union is upset with the Government ministers’ performance. The Union is demanding a 49 percent wage increase, and has given the government 14 days to address their concerns.

Paul Belande, general secretary to SIPEU, confirmed that public servants will walk off their jobs this Friday in a nationwide strike.

“[T]he current government miserably failed to fulfill some of its planned obligations which we, the workers, will feel and know if a certain government is not actively driving things forward,” Belande said.

Some sources have said workers will walk off their jobs Thursday. If demands are not met, a full strike will take place Friday.

For more information, please see:
Solomon Star News — Gov’t workers say they’ll walk off jobs Friday — 25 June 2008

Solomon Star News — Govt Workers Planning National Strike, Newspaper Reports — 20 June 2008

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SAIPAN, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands — An international leasing firm will put in a bid for $6 million to end electricity outages that have plagued Saipan.

Aggreko, an International firm from the Netherlands, will provide 15 units of one-megawatt generators, personnel, and materials as part of a one-year contract for $6 million. In return, the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC) will run the generators on its own diesel fuel.

Poorly maintained generators and finance troubles have plagued the CUC, and by extension has troubled residents for some time. The new generators will arrive from Singapore in roughly 26 days and should provide a stable source of electricity to residents.

For more information, please see:
Saipan Tribune — $6M Deal To Lease Power Generators For Saipan — 24 June 2008

Iranian Student Alleges Sexual Harassment and is Arrested; Female Suicide Bomber Kills 15 in Iraq; 2 US Soldiers Killed as Iraqi Councilmen Opens Fire

By Ben Turner
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ZANJAN, Iran – A female student who alleged that she was molested by the vice-chancellor of the university has been arrested.  It is unclear what charges she is being charged with, but the prosecutor in the case has been quoted as saying that publicizing certain crimes is worse than the crimes themselves.

After the initial allegations were made, large demonstrations broke out all over the university’s campus.  Sit-ins were staged and students grabbed the vice-chancellor and handed him over to authorities.  The woman alleged that the vice-chancellor harassed her after she went to discuss a problem with him.  Both the victim and the vice-chancellor are currently in custody.

For more information, please see:
AKI – Iran: University Protests Over Sexual Abuse – 20 June 2008

BBC – ‘Harassed’ Iran Student Arrested – 20 June 2008

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BAQUBA, Iraq – A female suicide bomber killed 15 people and wounded 39 others at a government building in the northern Iraqi city of Baquba.  Among those dead are eight police officers, two women and one child.

The attacker stepped out of a car and walked toward a group of police officers and detonated the explosives she was wearing.  The attack marks the second time this year that a suicide bomber apparently intent on killing police officers attacked the crowded downtown area of Baquba.

The attack also follows a recent trend of increased use of women as suicide bombers.  Female suicide bombers have carried out at least 21 suicide attacks this year in Iraq, up from eight in all of 2007.

For more information, please see:
Washington Post – At Least 15 Killed by Female Bomber in Iraq – 23 June 2008

BBC – Suicide Bombing Rocks Iraqi City – 22 June 2008

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BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi council member Raed Hmood Ajil opened fire on U.S. soldiers after a meeting in a town just south of Baghdad.  Two U.S. soldiers were killed and three U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were wounded.

The councilmen came out of his car with an assault rifle and shot at American soldiers until he was killed by return fire.  The attack occurred after U.S. soldiers and Iraqi officials had attended a ceremony to open a new park.

For more information, please see:
Washington Post – Two U.S. Soldiers Killed as Iraqi Council Member Opens Fire After Meeting – 24 June 2008

CNN – Iraqi Councilman Kills U.S. Soldiers – 23 June 2008