Monday, January 15, 2007

Fiji: looking the other way on thuggery

Last week, Fiji nominally returned to civilian rule, when President Iliolo appointed Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama as head of an interim government. But despite the nominal change in power, there has been no change on the streets; soldiers still man checkpoints around Suva, and they still detain and beat (and even murder) those reported as speaking out against the coup. So, the Fiji Times had the interesting idea of asking the civilian ministers in the interim regime how they felt about this. To their credit, several denounced it openly. Others however seemed quite happy to look the other way on the thuggery which keeps them in power:

Interim Lands Minister Tevita Vuibau reserved his comments, saying this was because the country was in a State of Emergency.

"Interim ministers are there to lead the country forward. Abuse cases are a side issue that should be dealt with separately," he said.

Interim Minister for Sports Lekh Ram Vayehnoi said, "I don't need to comment."

Unfortunately it can't be separated off so easily; the beatings and thuggery are a distinctive feature of the military regime without precedent in Fiji's post-independence history. And they are a clear violation of Fijian law and the rights affirmed in the Fijian constitution. To the extent that the interim cabinet is actually in charge, rather than just being a rubber-stamp for the military, those serving in it are collectively responsible for this policy of oppression. If they do not end it, it will be on their consciences and their heads. And if they can not end it, then they should not serve such a regime.