NZ ENVOY CHALLENGES DELAY IN JUSTICE OVER COUP

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By David Robie

USP's Pacific Journalism Online

SUVA, Fiji Islands (November 24, 2000 – Pasifik Nius/USP Pacific Journalism Online)---New Zealand High Commissioner Tia Barrett today challenged the delay in prosecuting the leaders of Fiji's coup and mutiny, saying "dictatorship, one-party states and other forms of demagogy do not belong in the Pacific."

Speaking at the annual University of the South Pacific journalism awards, Barrett said the continued absence of democratic institutions in Fiji to express the will of the people was disturbing.

He also criticized the view that indigenous rights were pre-eminent over other more fundamental rights.

"This just cannot be so, not in today's world," he said.

Rebel leader George Speight and 13 of his alleged ringleaders are detained on Nukulau Island, off Suva, awaiting trial on treason charges over the May 19 coup.

Military and police investigations are continuing after the November 2 mutiny, which claimed the lives of eight soldiers.

"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," Barrett said.

"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."

Turning to indigenous rights issues, Barrett, who made the point that he was indigenous Maori, said 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 global 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 echoed the recent views of former High Court judge, Justice Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, saying that chiefs needed to listen more to the needs of their people.

He added that the same applied to modern churches, which needed to "lighten the financial burdens they place on their followers."

Barrett said journalists were a vital part of the information "food chain."

"Although they are people like the rest of us with the same strengths and weaknesses, journalists wield enormous influence and this demands high levels of accuracy in research and reporting," he said.

Barrett paid tribute to the educational and training foundation provided for journalists at the University of the South Pacific, and to the coverage by students during the crisis.

Four students won awards, which he presented for their role in covering the coup for the journalism program's website and training newspaper, Wansolwara.

He also appealed to Pacific journalists to always bear in mind the needs of their people as they made changes to improve their lives in the global world.

This document is for educational and research use only. Recipients should seek permission from the copyright source before reprinting.

PASIFIK NIUS service is provided by the niusedita via the Journalism Program, University of the South Pacific.

Please acknowledge Pasifik Nius:  niusedita@pactok.net.au   http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/nius/index.html 

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