Thursday, 19 June 2008 11:50 PM

Pacific Islands Forum-Fiji Joint Working Group on the Situation in Fiji

The Working Group held its thirtieth meeting at the Forum Secretariat Headquarters in Suva on 12 June 2008, attended by senior officials from Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu.

In accordance with its mandate to monitor human rights issues including freedom of expression, the Working Group discussed recent events in Fiji, particularly in relation to media freedom and responsibilities, with the Chair of the Fiji Media Council. The Working Group acknowledged the importance of free, professional and balanced media in Fiji. The Working Group noted concerns expressed by the Chair of the Media Council about the lack of transparency surrounding the deportation of two senior media figures in 2008. The Working Group welcomed the dialogue recently opened between the Media Council and the interim Prime Minister, and recognised the importance of complaints about the media being lodged with the Media Council in order for the existing mechanisms to work effectively in resolving such complaints.

The Working Group was briefed by the interim Attorney General on the electoral reforms presently proposed, and discussed the relationship between the People's Charter process, the proposed electoral reform process and the agreed election timing of March 2009.

The Working Group welcomed the appointment of the Supervisor of Elections and the interim government's progress towards full staffing and resourcing of the Office of the Supervisor, including with assistance from international partners. Working Group members urged the interim government to move quickly on finalising Ministry of Finance processes to allow further agreed donor assistance to be provided without delay.

The Working Group was advised by the interim Attorney General that the interim government's election timetable was yet to be finalised and would depend upon the progress of the electoral reform process over the next few months. The interim Attorney General advised that the proposed forum to discuss electoral reform was an attempt to ensure inclusive political dialogue with the major political leaders and parties in Fiji.

The Working Group reiterated its support for inclusive and meaningful political dialogue, emphasising the importance of such dialogue allowing for truly independent discussion without preconditions or preconceived outcomes. The Working Group also noted that the interim government's present position represented a modification of Fiji's commitments to Forum Leaders and Foreign Ministers to conduct elections by March 2009, and that the Forum's response to such a change would require further consideration by Forum members at the political level.

The Working Group discussed the standing issues (the restoration of civilian rule, upholding the 1997 Constitution, the cessation of human rights abuses and addressing allegations of abuse, and support for a credible and independent anti-corruption commission).

With regard to investigations into the deaths in custody of Nimilote Verebasaga and Sakiusa Rabaka, the Working Group noted advice from the interim Attorney General that the former case had been returned to the Director of Public Prosecutions for further work, and the latter would come before the High Court on 15 July.

The Working Group noted the visit to Fiji by the European Union troika taking place this week, including the meeting held between the interim Prime Minister and the EU representatives on 18 June.

The Working Group will hold its next meeting on 3 July 2008.