Immunity clause ripples public opinion in Fiji

Some people are uncomfortable with the ‘Immunity’ provision contained in the draft constitution in Fiji.

According to this provision, none of those responsible for the coup led by Commodore Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama on December 5, 2006 and those in the interim government (until the new Parliament is convened following the next general election) can be prosecuted or punished by anyone including Parliament, Judiciary, Government or any other authority.

It was an illegal act and ideally, the perpetrators should face the full force of the justice system.

Established precedence

However, precedence was set following the first coup held on May 14, 1987 when everyone associated with it was not only set free but also treated as national heroes.

Coup leader, Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka eventually became the Prime Minister, displacing Sir Kamisese Mara, father of the nation and a paramount Chief.

Later, Rabuka traded his position from serving his life sentence in prison for treason.

In the 2000 coup, the perpetrators of similar crime headed by George Speight were destined for similar rewards.

The Laisenia Qarase Government, which was the beneficiary, was in the process of introducing a legislation to set free Speight and his associates.

Some of those implicated had become lawmakers, effectively trading their places from prison to the Parliament.

However, this legislation could not be enacted as the Fijian Army insisted on the coup perpetrators facing the full force of the justice system.

The Government relented and reluctantly charged people, whose participation was unequivocal. Some were jailed and a few were subsequently pardoned.

Speight received life sentence for treason and may have qualified for pardon but the Qarase Government vacillated. The Fijian Army’s stance against it became vociferous, following an army mutiny that left eight soldiers dead and Commander Bainimarama, target of attack by the dissidents, escaped.

Shocking revelation

It later came to light that some Chiefs, with the connivance of the Government, were behind the mutiny.

Since this revelation, there was parting of ways between the Army and the Government that largely comprised advocates of indigenous nationalism.

On December 5, 2006, the Army deposed Qarase and his Government and has ruled since through a civilian Government, advocating equality for all irrespective of race, religion or culture.

Historically, perpetrators of coups escaped or were intended to escape punishment for their crimes. While the Government is trying to make a Constitution that is intended to be just and fair to all Fijians, it cannot and will not want to expose itself to prosecution to appease those who want their heads on the platter.

Political opportunists

Interestingly, the same people who are taking this strident stand thought otherwise when Rabuka and Speight executed the coups in 1987 and 2000.

Clearly, it was politics of opportunism, not reason or respect for the rule of law.

If only Rabuka and his associates had been prosecuted and punished, coup culture would not have evolved in Fiji. Instead, he became a national icon and so-called saviour of the indigenous community.

Others felt emboldened, inspired and encouraged. Speight virtually entered Parliament with sticks and stones to carry out his mission.

Later, a rogue element of the Fijian Army joined, drawing into the fracas.

The resulting mutiny marked the separation between the indigenous aristocracy and Army. The military coup that followed was dubbed, ‘a coup to end all coups.’

Hope reigns

Fijians hope that there would be forgiveness and reconciliation, facilitating a truly democratic nation, in which no one would brandish the sword or drag the chain, but allow Fijians to collectively rejoice oneness and unity as never before in its tumultuous history.

A related report appears under Fijilink. Readers may send their response to editor@indiannewslink.co.nz

File Photo of an embattled Bainimarama announcing the takeover of the Government in Fiji on December 5, 2006.

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