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Indigenous rights are not pre-eminent

Indigenous rights are not pre-eminent - NZ High Commissioner
Issue No: 228; 26 November 2000

New Zealand's High Commissioner to Fiji, and Maori Chief, Tia Barrett, states that it is "difficult to accept" that indigenous rights "are pre-eminent over other more fundamental human rights. This just cannot be so, not in today's world".

Barrett was speaking at the USP's journalism awards function on Friday.

According to the USP's Pacific Journalism Online (see, Barrett stated:

"There is little doubt that the political, social and economic upheaval emanating from the [coup and mutiny] has had a profound effect on the life of this nation".

"This is why the tourism promotion in New Zealand of a pristine beach with the caption, 'Fiji before the coup, Fiji after the coup, the only difference is the price', or words to that effect, is so distasteful.

"Those responsible for the upheavals in Fiji are yet to face justice, and it seems incredible that this has not been done, despite the wealth of information available.

"More disturbing still, and a cause for wide concern, is the continued absence of democratic institutions in Fiji to express the will of the people.

"The recent High Court decision is a reminder that there is still time to bring Fiji back on the path of responsible nationhood," he said.

"We from New Zealand express ourselves in this way, not to browbeat Fiji, but to remind Fiji that the alternatives to democracy are ugly and undesirable.

"Dictatorships, one-party states, and other forms of demagogy do not belong in the Pacific. All of us in this part of the world must be concerned if our ocean of peace becomes a sea of turmoil."

On indigenous rights issues, Barrett stressed that he was an indigenous Maori, and stated that varied traditions, custom and culture, even in the Pacific, made a common cause difficult.

"What is difficult to accept in this dialogue on indigenous rights is the underlying assumption that those rights are pre-eminent over other more fundamental human rights. This just cannot be so, not in today's world," he said.

Barrett said there was confusion over the notion that indigenous people had a prior right over land and the sea and their resources and therefore by extension over the political, economic and social institutions of a country.

"The former might be true and could and often is disputed. But political, economic and social predominance is a function of individual ability and capability and flair.

"Nowhere is it written in any holy scripture that because you are indigenous you have first rights over others in their daily lives. You should be respected and highly regarded as an indigenous person, but respect is earned not obtained on demand."

Indigenous people might even be accorded a special place in the polity of the nation - which the compact in the 1997 Constitution tried to incorporate - but again respect needed to be earned.

However, there was an important place for being indigenous in countries such as Fiji.

"Being indigenous, in my view, demands high levels of achievement and competency in both our traditional cultural values and in demands of today's globalised world," Barrett said.

"That is a tall order, and requires more of us indigenous peoples than of the non-indigenous.

"I think the well-educated, well-rounded, successful indigenous person stands tall as an outstanding achiever."

Barrett's hard-hitting statements came in the wake of the revelations that the New Zealand's High Commission in Fiji approved aid funding and issued a visa for a terrorist banned from entering New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Fiji police have condemned Barrett for making the statements on prosecution of terrorists. Today's Sunday Times states that a Police spokesman told Barrett to refrain from making such comments unless he had new information which could help the police on their investigations.


Land can not be farmed - Fiji Times Issue No: 227; 26 November 2000

Land taken over by the landowners have lost nutrients and can not be immediately farmed, says the Fiji Times.

Today's Sunday Times editorial, titled `Of Laws and Land', states:

"Many landowners too are realising that the land they are getting back have lost most of its nutrient resources. They are realising too that it is not worth the low annual rental they have been receiving..

"They may not be able to re-farm immediately as the land needs time to regain its nutrients".

This is the same line as that which appeared in Native Land Trust Board letters to the editors of the Fiji dailies last week. (see:

The Fiji Times has not explained how only those pieces of land taken over by the landowners can not be used to produce an output while those pieces which have had their leases renewed continue to produce agricultural output.

The Fiji Times is owned by the media magnate, Ropert Murdoch. Its publisher is Australian Alan Robinson. Locals, at least one of who has close links with the terrorists, prepare the paper's editorials (see:

Today's Sunday Times also has a full page on the NLTB's view on land. Over 90% of the article are quotations from the NLTB questioning the decisions of the Agricultural Tribunal, and stating that other crops which can earn more than sugar cane have been ignored in the past, though it is not stated that during the past decade, this was by the Rabuka regime. The spin given is that the compensations awarded to some farmers is more than the rental they paid during the lease, totally ignoring the fact that the compensation is for the value of approved improvements which the tenants have made and are leaving behind on the land.


Rumours of instability - military Issue No: 226; 26 November 2000

The military is worried about the rumours of instability in Fiji.

Explaining why the military supported the cancellation of a peace campaign rally permit, military's spokesman, Major Howard Politini told today's Fiji Sun: "lately there has been rumours going around, which has had the security forces on their toes".

What the rumours are was not elaborated on, and is not clear now.

The Council of Chiefs' meeting, scheduled to start from 27 November, has been postponed to next year.

There are still dozens of army issued weapons with the terrorists. At least one Parliament Complex soldier-cum-terrorist, Tevita Poese, is on the run, while several terrorists, including Simione Drole, have still not been arrested. Drole, who entered the Parliament with Speight and others on 19 May, is now the making statements on behalf of the Monasavu Landowners Association.

Today's column by veteran journalist, Robert Keith-Reid in the Sunday Times, states:

"the question to ask is who ultimately is the real government of the land?

"Is it some little in-house committee of army officers who asked Big K [President Mara]. to `step aside' with the aim of eventually restoring him to Government House, as is now rumoured?"

Fiji is still governed by the Emergency Decree which provides the military sweeping powers.


Regime bans peace campaign Issue No: 225; 26 November 2000

The Qarase regime has ordered that no peace campaign be held today as planned by a women's ngo.

The peace campaign, `Rainbow not Rambo Peace Campaign', organised by the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, was to be launched today 26 November at Suva's Sukuna Park. Due permit was obtained by the organiser.

The police, however, handed the organiser a notice cancelling the permit on Friday evening, saying the notice was given after a directive from the Ministry of Home Affairs. An advertisement in today's papers by the Fiji women's Crisis Centre stated: "We understand that members of the public who were interested in working towards genuine peace and reconciliation in Fiji may be disappointed".

The Military's spokesman, Major Howard Politini is quoted by today's Fiji sun as saying that he saw no reason for the rally to go on, and that the revocation of the permit was made "after considering that certain elements could be provocative to some people".

What is noteworthy is that the nation, and particularly the People's Coalition, has lived with the provocations from the interim regime all these months. There have been clear provocations from the interim regime, right wing politicians, the Chairman of the regime's Constitution Committee, and other racists. There have been flagrant breaches of the Public Order Act, by people including the interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. Yet, the regime, in fear of possible provocation from a multi-racial women's ngo well-known for championing non-violence, cancels the permit for the women to gather.

It is understood that the order cancelling the permit, which was against the advise of the officials, came from the interim ministers.


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