The Outrigger  is the newsletter of the Pacific Islands Society. It includes news of the Pacific and of PISUKI, and other Pacific-related events in the UK and Ireland. A shorter news-sheet,   PISUKI Report   is published between issues.


  

 

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 Katya Göbel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       Akuila Yabaki

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From The Outrigger Issue 53, Summer 2010

Big efforts, small returns

The Islanders had a bitter taste in their mouths, reports Katja Göbel

THEY flocked to Copenhagen in December from all over the world for what was technically known as the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). There were 120 Heads of State and Government, over 10,500 delegates, 13,500 observers, and the proceedings were covered minutely by more than 3,000 media representatives.

But what do these record numbers say about the results of the big event? Not too much.

Big efforts were made by delegates and observers to establish an ambitious, fair and legally binding global climate agreement for the period from 2012 when the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol expires.

Whether at the Bella Center, where the conference took place, or at the “Klimaforum09”, the alternative climate summit located near the central station in Copenhagen, non-governmental organisations, governments and institutions were able to learn about different aspects of climate change and its consequences. There were various kinds of exhibitions, events and activities going on everywhere in Copenhagen. There were also many representatives and delegates (and also the youth) from the Pacific.

Furthermore, organisations in Europe, which are interested in the region, demonstrated their solidarity with their Pacific friends in practical ways. The Pacific Information Desk in Germany, in cooperation with the Pacific Networking in Europe organisation, presented an exhibition, Land Submerged in the Pacific, at different sites in Copenhagen as well as at the Bella Center to raise awareness for the devastating consequences of climate change for the Pacific Islands.

But in the end the conference “took note of” the “Copenhagen Accord”. The final document of the conference was not legally binding and did not contain any legally binding commitments for reducing CO2 emissions. The document only recognised that climate change is one of the great challenges of today’s world, and that action should be taken to keep any temperature increase to below 2 degrees C, although it contained pledges for adaptation measures for developing countries.

Most of the participants were frustrated, especially the representatives of the most vulnerable countries like those from the Pacific region. Their frustration was not only with the final result, but also about the way the conference was handled by the Danish government, in particular the drafting of the final document.

Tuvalu complained to the conference president about non-transparent processes. Prime Minister Apisai Lelemia made no secret of his discontent.

“We came here with the intention of signing on the bottom line and working out true, legally-binding agreements,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is not happening. The legal affects have been swept under the carpet.. .We came to this meeting expecting an open and transparent process. Unfortunately, this is not happening. We will leave this meeting with a bitter taste in our mouth, with the true victims of climate change not having been heard.”

Tuvalu, as all members of the AOSIS (Alliance of Small Islands States), demanded that temperature increases should be limited to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, but this was not considered in the outcome of the conference. Even with a current global warming of about 0.8 degrees C., low-lying islands like Tuvalu will suffer. Some of the islands will be uninhabitable in the immediate future. Fe’iloakitau Kaho Tevi, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, emphasised the AOSIS claim by stressing “1.5 to survive.. .this is our future”.

Representatives from the government of Kiribati as well as from the Australian-Pacific initiative, Pacific Calling Partnership, made big efforts to convince delegates about the threats to their countries. Tessie Eria Lambourne, the Kiribati Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, referred to the problem of leaving Kiribati due to sea level rise.

“We are on the frontline of climate change, we are on the front of the frontline. We will be the first to go if nothing happens here in Copenhagen. We want to protect our homeland to make sure that our children and grandchildren can live in a country called Kiribati,” she said, adding that the inhabitants of low-lying countries, with no chance of internal migration, faced an uncertain future.

A lot has to be done to slow down global warming and to support the most vulnerable countries in adapting to the changes. This year, climate change talks will go on to bring the negotiations at the COP16 in Mexico to a satisfactory end. It would be encouraging to see that, by this December, all the parties will have been heard, and that that there will be a fruitful co-operation between the developing and developed countries as well as the countries in transition.

Climate change is not only the business of vulnerable countries but also of developed countries like the USA (not a member of the Kyoto Protocol) or countries in transition like India and China. During a side event, Tangaroa Arobati, a teacher from Kiribati, found the right words: “My culture will be lost, lost to my people directly but also lost to the world.., we hold each other’s future in our hands.”

Katja Göbel is Secretary of Pacific Networking in Europe based in Neuendettelsau, Germany.

 

Fiji: what next?

Akuila Yabaki looks at the country's recent history following the April 2009 situational crisis, and appeals for dialogue. London - February 2010

      ON Dec 5 2006, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces took over Fiji, and their leader, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, appointed himself president with a caretaker prime minister. They claimed to uphold the 1997 Constitution.

           In 2008, the High Court ruled in favour of the Bainimarama administration in the case of Qarase v Bainimarama. The Appeals Court in 2009 overturned this ruling. Bainimarama resigned as prime minister and was immediately re-appointed. Decrees were promulgated creating a new legal and political order. A legal quagmire was created by the purported abrogation of the constitution and subsequent dismissal of judges and magistrates.

         The result of all this is lack of adequate legal protection for human rights. Militarisation is now compromising the perceived independence of law enforcement agencies and institutions. The Fiji Police Force, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the judiciary, have military officers in key positions.

         Secret decrees are passed by Cabinet, then assented to by the President, often unannounced for long periods of time. My own organisation, the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF), a politically-unaligned non-governmental organization that advocates good governance, human rights and multiculturalism in Fiji, has difficulty safeguarding human rights and advocating due political processes as the rules keep changing, shutting out opposition and dissent.

          In Fiji, a decree is now created by employees of the interim government and is promulgated by the President. There is no parliamentary consultation or debate. Most of the population are unaware of these new decrees and their legitimacy remains questionable.

          Free expression in Fiji has been under intense pressure since the imposition of the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) when the 1997 Constitution was abrogated. Newspapers, television and radio are censored. NGOs, politicians and ordinary citizens are unable to get their articles published. Several overseas journalists have been deported. The High Commissioners from Australia and New Zealand have been expelled and two former Fiji citizens have been forbidden to return to Fiji.

          Increased control of the police force was attempted by requiring police officers to participate in the religious activities of the pro Bainimarama New Methodist Church. This activity was particularly discriminatory against religious minorities, and Indo-Fijian police officers following the Hindu and Muslim faiths. The New Methodist Church was also seen as an attempt to lower the number of Methodist church followers in Fiji, which accumulated considerable political power under Prime Ministers Rabuka and Qarase, from 1987 to 2006. Religion had already been politicised prior to the December 2006 coup, but the Bainimarama government’s actions have been intimidating, violating human rights.

          The following articles of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) are affected by the current media censorship:

      Article 18                           Freedom of Thought, Conscience and                                           Religion,

      Article 19                           Freedom of Opinion and Expression,

      Article 20                           Right of Peaceful Assembly and                                           Association,

      Article 30                           Freedom from State or Personal Interference                       in the Above Rights

          The importance of a free media is paramount. Without it, government processes are no longer transparent or responsive to the needs of citizens, who cannot understand what is going on and cannot participate.

          The December 2006 coup and the purported abrogation of Fiji’s 1997 Constitution had serious implications for other developing countries in the South Pacific and elsewhere.

          The attempted civilian coup of 19 May 2000 in Fiji triggered what has been referred to as a ‘copycat’ attempted coup in the Solomon Islands, and may have influenced the rioting and civil unrest that took place in Tonga in November 2006. Fiji is the leading nation in the South Pacific in terms of social and economic development, hosting most of the key regional institutions’ headquarters, yet is the only country in the region with a history of “coup culture” and illegitimate governments. The disproportionately large size of the army in Fiji has been blamed for Fiji’s coup problems.

          After the Bougainville crisis, the Biketawa Declaration was created by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, setting out procedures for crisis intervention. The Biketawa declaration was successfully used by the Solomon Islands government when they requested Australian assistance after the 2000 uprising. In November 2006, Fiji’s ousted Prime Minister Qarase called on Australia and New Zealand to intervene, amidst public threats of a coup by Bainimarama. Both countries declined, fearing bloodshed.

          In the aftermath of the 2006 coup, CCF called on international organisations to assist Fiji in returning to sustainable electoral democracy through the processes provided under the Cotonou Agreement of the Asia, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the Milbrook Declaration of the Commonwealth.

          The Milbrook Declaration was activated after the December 2006 coup, with the European Union and the ACP countries calling on the Bainimarama regime to hold an election in Fiji by December 2008. The Fiji government agreed to elections by early 2009. However, the abrogation of the Constitution, with elections put back to 2014, means that the Bainimarama government is no longer trusted. The Cotonou Agreement, which provides for ‘informal discussions’ aimed at resolving conflict and dialogue, has been ignored by Fiji.

          The CCF and other non-government organisations have utilised international mechanisms to put pressure on the Fiji government to return to electoral democracy. In February 2010, Fiji was reviewed by the UN under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). I represented the CCF at these consultations in Geneva. We called on the interim government to have elections in Fiji at the earliest possible time, ensuring an independent judiciary in Fiji, and protecting human rights.

          The major attempt since December 2006 to address problems of political instability was under the aegis of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF), launched in October 2007. This was designed to lead to the creation of the People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress (PCCPP). The charter’s key recommendations, such as electoral reforms, were included for discussion in the mid-2008 President’s Political Dialogue Forum (PPDF), with facilitators from the UN and Commonwealth Secretariat.

          The process began promisingly with the dialogue process but, in April 2009, four of the major political parties were excluded and the talks collapsed. The interim government seems determined to push ahead with its own agenda regardless of whether or not it has popular or legal support. It has suggested that there will be further constitutional development in 2012.

          Current restrictions (PER) must be lifted so that citizens can express their views without fear of reprisal. The Melanesian Spearhead Group, the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth Secretariat have all offered their support for a dialogue process that leads to elections. Fiji’s two major political rivals, ex-PMs Qarase and Chaudhry, are working together to revive an inclusive PPDF. With the right attitude, dialogue can bring people together despite Fiji’s history of ethno-political conflict.

          The Rev Akuila Yabaki, a co-founder of the Pacific Islands Society of the UK and Ireland, is Chief Executive Officer of the Suva-based Citizens’ Constitutional Forum, which was established in 1991 as a platform for the discussion of constitutional issues. This article is based on a talk he gave to the society several months ago and does not take into account recent developments.