Fiji Interim Official Denies Threatening IBA

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – The International Bar Association claims that Fiji’s interim attorney general threatened the group of lawyers planning to conduct a review of Fiji’s justice system.

According to the IBA, Mr. Sayed-Khaiyum, Fiji’s interim-attorney-general sent a letter to the IBA on Monday which made clear that the interim government would not welcome the group and would take “appropriate steps” if IBA delegates came to Fiji.

Mr. Sayed-Khaiyum has denied the IBA’s claims, calling the organization ‘biased.”  In addition, the interim attorney general has accused the IBA of being condescending in its correspondence with the interim government.

But this would not be the first time Fiji’s interim government has barred the IBA from conducting a review of Fiji’s justice system.  Last February, a delegation of senior lawyers from Australia and Malaysia were turned away during a scheduled visit.

The London-based IBA represents nearly 30,000 attorneys around the world. The group had planned for senior Australian and Malaysian jurists to travel to Fiji in December to perform an in-country review of the justice system. Delegates would review the law since the interim government assumed control during a 2006 military coup of the federal government.

Last month, a High Court in Fiji legitimized the 2006 takeover. Fiji’s ousted prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, has challenged that judgment, calling it a “miscarriage of justice.” An appeal of that decision is scheduled to be heard in March 2009.

Mark Ellis, director of the IBA, says that the threatening letter reflects Fiji’s political instability:

“The threat made by the attorney-general against the delegation is unacceptable in a free and democratic society and reflects badly on the state of affairs in Fiji.”

Mr. Ellis says that the IBA will conduct their review, even if it means finding alternative methods.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Fiji interim AG denies claims he threatened IBA group – 26 November 2008

AFP – Fiji blocks International Bar Association visit – 26 November 2008

ABC News – Fiji bans International Bar Association members – 26 November 2008

The Age, Australia – Fiji’s A-G ‘threatening lawyers’ group’ – 26 November 2008

FijiLive – Interim AG Rejects IBA Suggestions – 26 November 2008

Author: Impunity Watch Archive