Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A petty despot

Do we need any more evidence that Fiji's Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama is a petty despot? First, he threatens a coup over the government's plans to grant amnesty to those involved in the 2002 coup. Then, he threatens a coup over proposed legislation to put Fiji's foreshore in the hands of its indigenous people. And now, he's threatening a coup over the prospect that he will be charged over his repeated threats, and threatening the life of the police commissioner. Democracy? The rule of law? All must bow to the demands of the big man with the big gun.

This is nothing more than terrorism, by an agency of the state rather than a non-state actor. Unfortunately, there seems to be little the Fijian government can do about it. The military has already refused lawful orders replacing Commodore Bainimarama, effectively declaring themselves independent of civilian political control. The long-term course of action is clear - disbanding the army as a clear threat to democracy - but the problem is surviving long enough to do so.


I was trying to think of some grounds for Bananarama to be arrested before leaving NZ:

- if the Fijian authorities issued a warrant for his arrest on the military charge of "disobeying a lawful order" (which I'd guessthey have in Fijian law) he could be held pending extradition. I'm not sure if we could delay extradition until such time as the situation in Fiji had stabilised?

- they could charge him with sedition in the same fashion. Possibly a case where a sedition charge *is* justified?

- his faction of the Fijian military could justifiably be declared a terrorist organisation. That would allow his arrest and detention on terrorism charges.

The anti-aircraft defence systems on Te Kaha could be accidently switched on and lock onto his private jet as it leaves Auckland airport. This would of course be state sponsored murder - but hey, everyone's doing it nowadays!

Posted by Rich : 11/28/2006 02:04:00 PM

Rich: if it was the NZ Army the correct charge would be mutiny - or possibly treason. As for sedition, this might indeed pass a US-style "clear and present danger" test - but it really depends on what the Fijian law says.

I looked at the possibility of terrorism charges this morning. the Crimes Act allows for extraterritorial jurisdiction for any "terrorist act" (and presumably attempts or conspiracies) where there are no plans to extradite. But while Bainimarama's planned coup certainly meets the first limb of the definition (being aimed at coercing a government to a particular course of action), it would be very difficult to argue that a coup would be intended to bring about the death of any person or widespread destruction etc. So I don't think we can prosecute him sadly, even if the coup goes ahead.

And state-sanctioned murder is wrong, even if done with the best of intentions.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/28/2006 03:37:00 PM

The extra-territorial jurisdiction in the Crimes Act in relation to terrorist acts is limited also to situation where there is an offence against the Crimes Act.

That is to say - there is extra-territorial jurisdiction for any offence in the Crimes Act if the offence is committed in the course of carrying out a terrorist act.

E.g. if someone commits attempted murder "in the carrying out of a terrorist act" New Zealand can assert its extra-territorial jurisdiction.

This is where attempts and conspiracy would come in - if the attempt of a particular offence, or conspiring to commit a particular offence is an offence against the Crimes Act, then doing either in the carrying out of a terrorist act gives rise to extraterritorial jurisdiction under the Crimes Act. Committing a crime in the course of carrying an attempted terrorist act would not be enough.

Extra-terrorial jurisdiction of course exists in relation to various offences under the Terrorism Suppression Act, but that's where you'd need to find an applicable offence against that act (i.e. terrorists bombing, financing of terrorism or a nuclear material offence) in order to use that jurisdiction.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 11/28/2006 04:45:00 PM

I wasn't serious about shooting down aircraft. He probably flies Air NZ anyway.

I'd have said a charge of refusing a lawful order would be less archaic and easier to prove than one of mutiny or treason.

I think that under the Extradition Act the Fijians could have then had him held for up to two months, assuming he surrendered immediately.

Not longer though - unless something like the "Pitcairn Trials Act" was passed to allow him to be tried under Fijian law in an NZ court.

Posted by Rich : 11/28/2006 04:45:00 PM

Graeme: sure - but most coups are at least going to involve technical assault ("threatening by any act or gesture to apply such force to the person of another" - i.e. sticking a gun in the Prime Minister's mouth and telling him to sign the letter of resignation), which might be enough for a keen prosecutor. But as I said, a coup probably lacks the requisite intent to be considered "terrorism" under New Zealand law.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/29/2006 12:36:00 AM

You may think disbanding the army is a good idea, but you must be aware that such a course of action has often led to disastrous results. What happened to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers who suddenly found themselves unemployed in 2003, for example? Unless you find jobs and training, and manage it very carefully, disbanding a large military force will cause chaos.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/29/2006 01:29:00 AM

You need to read the Fiji media to get a fuller picture of the issues, eg, Cheerieann Wilson in the Fiji Sun (interviewed on Campbell Live last night):


Posted by Anonymous : 11/29/2006 09:09:00 AM

While listening to an interview on Radio NZ about the background to Bainimarama's stance a few minutes ago, I thought, "here's someone who understands Fiji politics better than most commentators so far" (it should be online at www.radionz.co.nz later today). I was surprised to find it was John Hayes, National MP and Associate Spokesman for Foreign Affairs & Trade(Pacific Affairs and ODA). He's also put out a statement congratulating ALL the participants at yesterday's meeting, including Helen Clark and Winston Peters. He seems a reasonable man with a genuine interest in Fiji and its people.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/30/2006 08:52:00 AM