‘Australia and New Zealand’s interference with Fiji’s judiciary’
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
The following is the full text of Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama’s statement delivered at the Ministry of Information Conference Room, Tuesday November 3, 2009 at 6pm. “The Chief Justice has already highlighted the interference into our Judiciary, the Fijian Judiciary by the governments of Australia and New Zealand.
“It is a matter of great shame that Madame Justice Anjala Wati a respected member of our High Court bench was harassed and humiliated by the New Zealand High Commission in Fiji when she applied for a visa on medical grounds to take her baby son to New Zealand.
“In fact had the Attorney General not highlighted the matter in the media she would not have been granted a visa.
“In addition to this shameful incident the Sri Lankan judges who have been appointed to serve in the Fijian judiciary were told that they would not be able to travel through and to Australia because they had taken these positions.
“Again when this matter was highlighted in the media by the Chief Justice there was frenzied denial that visas had been refused by the Australian government.
“However, we now know that one of these Sri Lankan judges had the foresight to tape the conversation in which she was informed by the Australian official in Colombo that travel sanctions would apply because she had taken the position in the Fijian judiciary.
“The culmination of these incidents displays a consolidated effort to attack Fijis independent judiciary. It also shows that the Australian and New Zealand Governments have been dishonest and untruthful over the matter of travel ban for judges.
“In the circumstances it is not surprising that the Chief justice took the rather unusual step of holding a press conference on Sunday 1st November.
“This morning he had a meeting with me.
“In that meeting the Chief Justice reiterated his position that the interference by Australian and New Zealand governments in our judiciary undermines the judiciary.
“The Chief Justice told me that this policy of the Australian and New Zealand governments stops him from nominating credible, well qualified individuals to serve on the Bench.
“He also highlighted the fact that such interference is unheard of in particular in the absence of evidence that members of the judiciary are breaching any laws, either internationally or in Fiji.
“If anything, the brave men and women who have joined our judiciary are contributing to the enforcement of the rule of law. They have shown fortitude and a commitment to the law.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, following the meeting with the Chief Justice, given the seriousness of the matter at hand, I visited His Excellency the Vice President, who will be sworn in on Thursday as our 4th President.
“I briefed the Vice President of my meeting with the Chief Justice.
“We discussed the impact of the Australian and New Zealand governments position in relation to members of our Judiciary.
“We discussed the importance of our national interest to maintain an independent Judiciary with credible and well qualified judicial officers.
“We also discussed and agreed that the mandate given to my Government by the former President which includes a reformist and modernising agenda, as supplemented by the Peoples Charter for Change, must be implemented.
“Indeed, we agreed that we cannot be deterred from this path.
“We also discussed that we must engage with the international community and inform them, and indeed, partner with them to take Fiji forward.
“We discussed the need to have an equitable and just society based on common and equal citizenry and an economy which is liberalized, investor friendly and which improves the living standards of all Fijians.
“I am this evening holding this press conference to inform the public of Fiji about these events since it has an enormous impact on our country, on all our people as it affects our day to day living.
“I am, to be candid, baffled by the position taken by the Australian and New Zealand governments.
“On one hand they are our largest trading partners; they are members of the Pacific Islands Forum; 60 per cent of our tourists come from these countries and their numbers are growing on a daily basis; majority of our people who have migrated have gone to these countries; we have studied, worked and holidayed the most in these countries.
“They claim to be our friends yet on the other hand they fail to recognize the efforts that we are making in being a good international citizen; they fail to understand that we are creating a country that will be based on equal and common citizenry, a country of modern laws, a country which will have true democracy.
“Only today Cabinet approved a new Crimes Decree, a new Criminal Procedure Decree and a new Sentencing and Penalties Decree that will make us compliant with CEDAW, with international standards on human trafficking and with the Rome Statute.
“We have ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC); we have introduced new laws and strengthened existing laws in relation to corruption and bribery; we have introduced Domestic Violence laws; given protection to our children, paving the way for compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“We have consistently said that we want to engage with our neighbours and indeed all our international and multi-lateral partners. We have also left the door open for bi-lateral engagements.
“My focus is not disengagement rather it is engagement. My focus is on the future not the past.
“My focus is to deal with ills of the past to create a better future.
“My focus means that in my engagements I am upfront, candid and honest.
“That is why I cannot understand why Australia and New Zealand are engaged in a dishonest and untruthful strategy to undermine our judiciary, our independent institutions and our economy.
“I can accept their ban on me and my senior officers given the personalisation of matters. But why punish those individuals both Fijians and non-Fijians who join the Judiciary?; those Fijians from the private sector who want to contribute to a better, progressive and modern Fiji by way of joining Boards of Statutory Organizations – even the Fiji National Provident Fund is targeted.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is not only a short sighted policy but it constitutes an attempt to sabotage national building, economy strengthening and the modernising efforts.
“When the Rudd and Key Governments came to power, I believed that we would encounter enlightened thinking and policies based on friendship and understanding. Unfortunately, it has not happened.
“Instead all we have had is their heads of missions refusing to engage with government and engaging only with those Fijians who have a political interest in holding Fiji back.
“They misinform Canberra and Wellington and wage a negative campaign against the Government and people of Fiji.
“By contrast the ordinary men and women and companies of Australia and New Zealand continue to come to our shores, they continue to do business in Fiji, and they continue to give us their good wishes.
“My message to them is – you are most welcome, we value your investment, your visit and your best wishes.
“We are a safe destination and the people of Fiji are the most hospitable in the world.
“We are also proud of our country and our sovereignty and we believe in living in dignity. Therefore, we should ensure that our sovereignty, our Judiciary and key institutions are allowed to function with independence and integrity.
“It is my Governments duty to ensure that no foreign Government should interfere with such judicial independence and integrity. We must always protect and be proud our sovereignty.
“I wish to declare that my Government fully supports the Chief Justice. We will always ensure that his independence and that of his judges remains unassailable.
“It is for these reasons that I have told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to issue communications to the Australian and New Zealand Governments that their respective heads of missions are to be recalled within 24 hours.
“I have also informed them that our High Commissioner in Australia is to be recalled, with immediate effect. Vinaka vakalevu.