By Angela Marie Watkins
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania
SUVA, Fiji – The Commonwealth will suspend Fiji on September 1 unless the South Pacific island nation re-activates a multi-party political forum intended to pave the way for a credible national election by October 2010.
After a seven-hour meeting, ministers agreed that Fiji must commit by September 1 to holding elections by October next year or face full suspension from the Commonwealth. “The group noted that Fiji’s situation with regard to fundamental Commonwealth values had deteriorated strikingly since March,” the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group said in a statement.
In March, the Commonwealth gave Fiji a six-month deadline to restore democracy, three years after military leader Bainimarama overthrew the elected government.
If a country is fully suspended, it loses access to Commonwealth advice and technical assistance. Commonwealth member states are encouraged to take further steps such as limiting government-to-government contacts. Full suspension from the Commonwealth would also mean Fiji athletes would not be able to compete in the Commonwealth Games next year.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, who represented New Zealand at the meeting, said he was not optimistic that the new deadline would bring about a change of heart for the Fiji regime. “The economic situation in Fiji has been deteriorating. There’s got to be a point where the regime decides it’s time to re-engage with the international community and accept some help. I hope this is the time but I’m not holding my breath,” McCully said.
Bainimarama has already said that the Commonwealth could go ahead if it wanted to suspend Fiji.
The Commonwealth groups 53 countries, mainly former British colonies. Fiji is already suspended from its meetings and the Commonwealth threatened in March to fully suspend Fiji at a September ministerial meeting if it did not make progress in restoring democracy.
Fiji was suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum last May.
For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – CMAG gives Fiji till September to restore democracy or face full suspension – 31 July 2009
Radio New Zealand International – NZ’s foreign minister says Commonwealth has sent Fiji a clear message – 31 July 2009
New Zealand Herald – ‘Clear ultimation’ given to Fiji – 1 August 2009
Reuters Canada – Commonwealth sets September 1 ultimatum for Fiji – 31 July 2009