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Fiji PM - Address To UN General Assembly

Mr Laisenia Qarase
Prime Minister and Minister for National Reconciliation
and Unity


New York Saturday, 16th Sept

Mr President,
Heads and Members of Delegations,
Ladies and Gentlemen;

I bring you greetings from the people of the Fiji Islands.

On their behalf, I also convey our warm congratulations to you Mr President, along with the pledge of my delegation to support you and to closely co-operate with you, in ensuring the success of this Session.

To our distinguished Secretary-General, I would like to express to you the sincere gratitude of the people of Fiji for all that the United Nations family is doing every day, in every part of the globe, to bring relief to those in need, and to promote peace, security and development.

I would like to take this opportunity, Mr President, to warmly welcome our neighbor and close friend, Tuvalu, as the newest member of the United Nations. Fiji is very proud to see the flag of this very important Pacific island country taking its place alongside the other 188 Members of the United Nations. We look forward to the admission in the future of more Pacific island States.

Mr President, I address this august Assembly today on behalf of the Interim Administration in Fiji, which I have been entrusted by our President to lead.

In the wake of the Coup d’etat in my country on 19th May this year, and the political crisis it triggered, my Interim Administration has two very important tasks to undertake within the 2-year time frame we have set for ourselves.

Firstly, it is to return Fiji to constitutional democracy.

And secondly, it is to stabilize our economy and to lay the foundation for a return to sustained growth and expansion with increased investment.

I would like to take this opportunity, Mr President, to thank all those Governments who have shown sympathy and understanding, who recognize the complexities of the situation in Fiji as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country, and who readily accept that solutions to the present political crisis can be developed within Fiji, by the people of Fiji themselves, without external interference in any form.

Mr President, with the disappearance of the Cold War and the dual division it created in World Order, it would seem that a new form of imperialism has emerged along with its twin-brother, neo-colonialism. As if the corrosive influence and impact of their mass culture of consumerism and materialism are not enough, this new form of domination is being propagated by the “purists” of the Liberal Democracies, in the name of good governance, human rights, accountability and transparency. In themselves, these are important general standards to ensure the integrity of the present system of Government in a country, and the just and fair treatment of its citizens. But what is of concern is that we are being told to apply these standards and values of liberal democracy strictly according to their standards, without regard for the particular or complex circumstances in each country.

Our concern, Mr President, is that some of the fundamental principles upon which this unique World Organization was founded fifty-five years ago, are being eroded and violated. The principles of respect for national sovereignty and of non-interference in the internal affairs of an independent State.

We appreciate, Mr President, that we now live in a closely inter-linked global community, and we are all part of one humankind, we are children of one divine Creator. We must, therefore, be concerned about each other, about our common well being, and common basic standards of rights and freedoms.

This, however, does not give a country the right to impose on another its own standards of democratic governance, and what it perceives or considers to be right and acceptable.

If within each of our countries, we believe and accept that civilized behaviour among the citizenry can only be one based on mutual respect, mutual understanding, and a willingness to assist and support each other, why is it that some countries today should think that these rules of civilized and respectful behaviour within a country, should not apply in their dealings with other members of the international community of nations.

I have raised this point, Mr President, not only that we here at the United Nations should be ever watchful of this disturbing negative trend, but also to remind my own country’s friends and neighbours that stridency of political rhetoric, smart sanctions and threats of more sanctions, will not really assist us in bringing about a speedy and amicable resolution to our political situation. In fact, the very opposite is true; they have only served to harden attitudes of one community against the other. I, therefore, make a plea to members of the United Nations to show greater understanding of, and sensitivity to, the complexity of the situation in Fiji.

We are a country of many communities and many cultures. All have contributed to Fiji’s development. We have all accepted each other as citizens and as communities, and Fiji is our common and permanent home.

But we also have peculiar features, which bear directly on inter-communal relationships within our society.

We have a total population of around 800,000. Indigenous Fijians and Rotumans make up 52% and are growing at 1.8% every year. The second major ethnic group is our Indian community. They make up 43% of the population, but with a low birth rate and emigration, this is continuing to decrease at 0.3% each year. The other communities in Fiji are Europeans, Chinese and Pacific Islanders.

Ethnicity is only one basis of distinction and difference in Fiji. Then there is land ownership. Indigenous Fijians and Rotumans own, by custom, 84% of all land in Fiji. Much of the best of this, however, is on lease for various purposes, residential, commercial and agricultural, and more than 60% of the tenants are members of our Indian community. Most of the agricultural leases are sugar cane farming leases, and more than 75% of these are held by Indian tenants, and most of these tenants have lived on their leased land for three generations.
In our urban areas, the situation is the reverse. The majority of property owners, of businesses, of those in the professions, of those working for a regular income, are non-Fijians, and mostly Indians.

In religion, more than 57% of the population, the indigenous Fijians and Rotumans, and the other minority groups, are mostly Christians. On the other hand, the remaining 43%, the members of the Indian community mostly belong to the Hindu, Muslim and other faiths.

Then, there are our culture and value systems.

Indigenous Fijians and Rotumans have a hierarchical social structure. Traditional hereditary Chiefs and commoners alike have their place and role in society, and are bound together by reciprocal obligations of loyalty, obedience, and of sharing with, and caring for, each other, and everyone in the community. Fijians value their democratic rights as individuals, but as a community, they know their place in their traditional society.

With our Indian and other communities, people are much more individually based. There is, therefore, greater consciousness and emphasis on one’s individual rights and freedoms – the right to equality, the importance of education, success in one’s professional life, security of property rights.

We all live together side by side in Fiji, yet we remain apart, separated by our ethnicity, religion and cultural differences and our value systems. We communicate with each other, not through the languages of our communities, but through the English language.

And in our general standards of living, even though indigenous Fijians and Rotumans own 84% of the land in Fiji, they have, on average, the lowest level of household income, and they also lag well behind the other communities in almost every aspect of life in a rapidly expanding market based economy.

I have explained all these, Mr President, to highlight the delicate and sensitive nature of our multi ethnic and multi cultural society in Fiji.

The crux of our political crisis in Fiji is that indigenous Fijian and Rotuman communities felt threatened by certain policies which the non-indigenous leadership of the People’s Coalition Government had implemented following their decisive victory in our National Elections in May 1999.

It was this fear and anxiety about their future as the world’s only indigenous Fijian and Rotuman community of just over 420,000 people that led to mass demonstrations and ultimately the Coup d’etat on May 19th this year. It manifested itself also in the mass looting of shops, destruction of property, and threats to people and their families, and unfortunately and tragically, the victims were mainly members of our Indian community.

It was in this serious and deteriorating law and order situation that the Fiji Military Forces responded to a request from our Police to take over direct control of law and order and the protection of citizens. To facilitate this role, the Fiji Military Forces abrogated our 1997 Constitution on 29th May.

However, as a civilian Interim Administration, we have ourselves taken over from the Army and as I have said, we are firmly committed to returning Fiji to Constitutional parliamentary democracy. We intend to promulgate the new Constitution in August next year. General Elections will then follow within twelve months. The new Constitution is to be prepared by a Constitution Commission, which we shall be appointing early next month. It will be representative of all our communities and it will consult widely throughout the country giving the public at large every opportunity to submit their advice and recommendation on the new Constitution.

I should also mention, Mr President, that a new initiative I have taken to deal with the inter-ethnic crisis in Fiji, is to establish a Ministry of National Reconciliation and Unity, together with a Council for National Reconciliation and Unity. It is my sincere hope that this Council will bring together the representatives of the various communities in our rich multi-cultural society, as well as representatives of the various sections of the wider community, including employers, trade unions and civil society, to discuss and make recommendations on various ways through which we can promote greater inter-communal understanding and co-operation. What we have realized, Mr President, is that it is not enough simply to focus attention on the Constitution as the framework for our different communities in Fiji to live together peacefully and harmoniously. We need to do more. We have to build and reinforce foundations for living together in all aspects of our lives in our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. We are making good progress in education, and proposals are now under consideration to broaden the curriculum in schools to include compulsory study of the Fijian language, Fijian culture and the ethno-history and ethno-geography of Fiji. We also need to encourage and to promote a more social interaction and cohesion at the neighbourhood and community level. Most importantly, it is my sincere hope that this Council for National Reconciliation and Unity will develop a consensus on National Leadership and power sharing in Fiji. I believe sincerely, Mr President, that the most enduring foundation for unity in Fiji is one that is built in a spirit of give and take, of justice and fairness for all, and of responsibility for one another.

Mr President, very recently the United Nations launched a decade for celebrations from January 1995 to December 2004 to commemorate the theme of Indigenous Peoples: A New Partnership, which seeks the formation of new relationships, founded on mutual respect and understanding between indigenous peoples and States and the United Nations. In the context of Fiji, what we hope to build is a new partnership between the indigenous Fijian and Rotuman communities, and the other communities, as the basis of living together in our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society, in the 21st Century.

Mr President, I again assure the international community that within the two years of our transitional administration we shall return Fiji to constitutional democracy. A new Constitution will address the concerns of the indigenous Fijians and Rotumans about their future. At the same time, however, it will also maintain and protect the equal fundamental rights and freedoms of all citizens and groups without distinction based on ethnicity, religion, culture, gender or economic and social status.

Indeed, as the Interim Prime Minister in the Transitional Administration in Fiji, I am committed to building a united Fiji with a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society where all the different communities can live together in peace, harmony and prosperity, where the aspirations of the Fijians and Rotumans are realized and the paramountcy of their interests is secure, and where the provision of important social services such as education and health to all our communities, is a priority, so that the quality of life and standard of living of all our people are continuously improving.
Mr President, Fiji commends and supports the Brahimi Report on Peacekeeping. It is a timely and thoughtful Report which, if implemented, will considerably enhance United Nations ability to discharge its peacekeeping abilities.

On Fiji’s continuing participation in the United Nations peacekeeping activities, I am pleased to confirm our positive response to the Secretary–General’s request for a further increase in our troops serving in UNIFIL. Along with that Mr President, I also commend the efforts of all those involved in the Middle-East process. Fiji earnestly hopes that these negotiations will be successful in resolving long standing differences and bring about long term peace in the region.

Mr President, we have been greatly inspired in Fiji by the positive developments on the Korean Peninsular, with the growing rapprochement between the South and North. We express the hope that the same spirit of goodwill and readiness to enter into dialogue will also spread to the great country of China, between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. And on the very important country of Japan, I reaffirm Fiji’s support, Mr President, for Japan’s admission as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

The Secretary-General’s report, “We, the Peoples” has inspired the entire UN community with its vision for a more humane and more holistic future for our children and our world. We agree entirely that the United Nations should focus not just only on the relationship between and amongst States but more increasingly on the well being and development of the peoples of this world.

Mr President, once again my congratulations and best wishes to you on a successful Millennium Assembly.

- end -

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