Special to Intelligentsiya
(Intelligentsiya comment: This commentary by lawyer John Cameron expresses exactly the sentiments behind Intelligentsiya. The military is doing its thing - stamping its authoritarian control in all areas of government. That may be good, it may turn out to be bad. But what we're more concerned about is the campaign of intimidation - the military telling us what not to say, what not to think. We must vigourously resist attempts to kill our freedom of conscience, freedom of opinion, freedom to differ. If we remain silent in the face of army intimidation, before long, we will be like the frog in the pot.)
Amphibians are poikilothermic: their body temperature adjusts automatically to changes in their environment, without their becoming aware of it. In theory this means that if one were to put a frog into a pot of cold water, and then increased the temperature gradually enough, the creature would be boiled alive before it became aware of the danger. When it comes to their human rights humans are not very different from frogs.
On December 5th 2006 at 6 pm on national television, the Commander of the Republic of the Fiji Military Forces, Commodore J. V. Bainimarama, announced that he had assumed executive authority of
It is convenient to commence with an examination of the Interim Military Government Regulations 2006. They are signed by J.V. Bainimarama, Commodore, Acting President of the Republic of Fiji Islands and Commander,
By its preamble the Regulation states: “WHEREAS given the state of emergency in the country and the potential risk to life and property, it is imperative that the current emergency situation continues in order to guarantee the safety and security of the people of Fiji and to maintain law and order. NOW THEREFORE, in exercise of the powers conferred upon me as the Head of the Interim Military Government of
This Act was originally an ordinance passed by the colonial power in 1969. After
The Emergency Powers Act 1968 by its long title is declared to be “An Act to Empower the President to Declare a State of
The powers to declare a state of emergency are carefully circumscribed in order to remain within the provisions of the Constitution. Section 2(2) provides that the Cabinet may advise the President to proclaim a state of emergency under subsection (1) if, and only if, the Cabinet is satisfied that a public emergency has arisen as a result of the imminence of invasion or of armed conflict between the
Thirdly, if action has been taken or is immediately threatened by any person or group of persons of such a nature and on such a scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety; to deprive the community or a substantial portion of it of essential supplies or services; or to harm the national economy. The only such threat came from the Commander himself, and the RFMF members under his command. Finally, that for some other reason a grave emergency exists whereby the security or economic life of the state is threatened. Again the grave emergency existed only as a consequence of the actions, including the threats of action by the Commander. While the country’s economy may well have been in bad shape, it was not to be improved by the curtailment of citizen’s rights and the imposition of armed checkpoints. In 1987 when the Governor-General, Sir Penaia Ganilau, declared a state of emergency Parliament had been invaded by members of the RFMF and members of the Bavadra government detained. In 2000 a state of emergency can be said to have existed when Parliament was again invaded and Parliamentarians detained by George Speight and his supporters. The Speight attempted coup collapsed when he failed to attract the support of a majority in the RFMF who remained faithful to their oath. No such fidelity was to prevail on this occasion, and the putsch has this far proved successful. That does not mean, however, that the subsequent measures have been lawful and valid.
The legislators who passed the 1997 Constitution, and the Emergency Powers Act 1998 can scarcely have contemplated permitting a situation where an individual deliberately and consciously created a situation which could give rise to the proclamation of a state of emergency, and then installed himself or herself and declared a state of emergency to deal with that self-created situation. The proposition only has to be stated to be rejected.
The first section in Chapter 14 of the Constitution, section 187(1) provides that the Parliament may make a law conferring power on the President, acting on the advice of the Cabinet, to proclaim a state of emergency in
It is time to return to the frog. The frog, that is the Fijian community, appears oblivious to the danger presented by the rising temperature evidenced by the increasing erosion of its rights consequent upon the assertion by the RFMF of powers for which there is no legal basis. Reports of arbitrary detentions, humiliations, and beatings, the presence of military check-points manned by armed soldiers, and irregularities in the investigations of deaths of individuals in the military ambit, going back to October 2000, have created a climate of fear and intimidation unparalleled in
The Fijian community would do well to consider the warning of Pastor Niemoller. An early supporter of Hitler, by 1934 he had come to oppose the Nazis, and it was largely his high connections to influential and wealthy businessmen which saved him until 1937, when he was imprisoned, eventually at Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. He survived to be a leading voice of penance and reconciliation for the German people after World War II. There are various versions of his poem referring to different groups, including Jews, Catholics, gypsies and homosexuals, who are not included in the following version. The poem is well-known, frequently quoted, and is a popular model for describing the dangers of political apathy:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
By that time the frog was dead. The
- Dr John Cameron is a barrister of thirty years experience admitted to practice in Fiji, New Zealand, Western Australia, and the High Court of Australia. He has appeared in all jurisdictions in
Fiji, including the Supreme Court, as well as before the Court of Appeal in New Zealand, the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, and the High Court of . His main area of practice is constitutional and administrative law. Australia