SOLOMONS SQUATTERS WIN RIGHT TO FIJI LAND

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Feb. 1) - Descendants of black birders from the Solomon Islands have won a court battle to remain on land in Fiji they have occupied for 70 years.

About 100 of the Tamavua-i-Wai settlers said they were elated after the High Court ruled against the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

[PIR editor’s note: According to PIR news files, about 50 descendants of Solomon Islanders, taken to Fiji more than a century ago as laborers, won the right in court in April 2006 to stay on land a traditional Fijian chief gave them. An arm of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which bought the land in 1949, had tried to evict them from Tamavua, near the capital city of Suva, where they have lived for more than 55 years.]

Human Rights Commission director Dr. Shaista Shameem said Justice Roger Coventry ruled that the defendants, who are direct descendants of the original Solomon Island settlers, were not to leave the piece of land they had acquired and developed for 70 years or lose any claims or rights they had over it.

"In passing judgment, Justice Coventry described the case as a most difficult one in which to make to make a decision," she said.

"The Human Rights Commission has carried out a long detailed research not only into the history of this piece of land. The titles and ownerships of it going back over a century and indeed into the very history of Fiji on and around the piece of land," Shameem quoted Justice Coventry as saying.

Yesterday, clan elder Lui Wendt, 66, said it had been a long court battle for the past four years.

"It had reached a point when my brothers doubted if the case could be won by us because it was against the Seventh Day Adventist Church," he said.

He said his forefathers were black birders who had asked for the land from the landowners of Tamavua Village.

He said they were given 15 acres of land, where 28 families lived.

Mr. Wendt said their forefathers were black birders.

He said their third and fourth generation descendants were now living on the land.

'"We will definitely have a celebration probably next week because there is a death in our family this week because this is a really a milestone for us," he said.

Meanwhile, Shameem said the case has brought out the very history of one of the worst forms of the slave trade in the Pacific, namely black birding and the fact that there were no reparations for the trade on the part of the Governments involved in this trade in the 19th and 20th century.

"This case has demonstrated how the descendants of these early black birded laborers have remained on the piece of land in question only to be told 70 years later to vacate, is a gross insult of injury to them and the court had vindicated their right to remain on the land," she said.

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