Pacific Islands Forum (PIF)
The origins of the Pacific Islands Forum date back to 1971 with the creation of the South Pacific Forum by the states of Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Nauru, New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa. In 2000 the Forum took the decision to change the nature of the organization from a loose affiliation that mainly revolved around annual meetings at the level of heads of state and government, to an intergovernmental organization based on an international treaty, with specific permanent institutions and a name change to the Pacific Islands Forum. Membership of the Forum now stands at sixteen with the inclusion of the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Niue, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The Forum also has provisions for associate membership status for territories in the region that have yet to achieve self government.
||Keywords: democracy, membership obligations, Fiji, Forum-Fiji Joint Working Group, regional organisations, Biketawa Declaration
The main meeting of Forum is the annual gathering of the heads of state and government to discuss matters concerning the region and issue a communiqué that sets out subjects of concern, areas of agreement and plans for future action. At the Port Moresby Summit in October 2005 final agreement was reached on the new constitutive treaty for the Forum. The Treaty is the first step in establishing the Forum on a legal basis, establishing an institutional framework for the organization. The Agreement has been signed by all members of the Forum but has not yet received full ratification.
Recent Development: Government of Fiji Suspended from Pacific Islands Forum
Fiji achieved independence from the UK in 1970. Racial tension between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians has been a matter of concern for the territory since the introduction of Indian workers to the islands by the British colonial government. At the time of independence the Indo-Fijian population was the majority and indigenous Fijians feared that this would lead to their interests not being adequately accounted for. This led to two coups, in May and September of 1987, due to the presence of Indo-Fijians in Parliament and the Cabinet. A new constitution was adopted in 1990 guaranteeing that indigenous Fijians would hold a majority in the House of Representatives and that the office of the Prime Minister would be held by an indigenous Fijian. These provisions did not ease the racial tensions and attempts at constitutional amendment in 1997 also failed to address the underlying tensions that existed. While the constitutional amendments of 1997 appeared to have relatively widespread support among both groups, sections of indigenous Fijians were still not satisfied and another coup took place in 2000 after the 1999 elections brought a multiracial political party led by Indo-Fijians into government. In May 2000 the Fijian businessman, George Speight took control of the government but was removed from power by the military, led by Commodore Bainimarama. Bainimarama's military turned the government over to civilian control later in 2000. The elections of 2006 brought into power a government that the military was not satisfied with leading to another coup by Bainimarama who continues to wield power as the Prime Minister of Fiji.
Following the 2006 coup the PIF set up an Eminent Persons Group to investigate how the organisation could assist in resolving the problems regarding the suspension of democratic governance in Fiji. Following the Group's visit to Fiji in early 2007 a Forum Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting in March 2007 agreed to establish a Forum-Fiji Joint Working Group (JWG) in order to "identify, assess and recommend credible mechanisms for returning Fiji to democracy as soon as possible, including the development of a roadmap to parliamentary elections" and other measures as well as overseeing progress on this agenda. The JWG held its first meeting in early 2007 and has since held over thirty meetings in an attempt to find an acceptable solution for Fiji's return to democratic government. A primary issue of the JWG's work was working towards a commitment given by Fiji to hold democratic elections in early 2009. This commitment was confirmed by the PIF Leaders in the Final Communiqué of the 38th Pacific Islands Forum held in Tonga in October 2007.[3
Throughout 2008 relations between the PIF and Fiji deteriorated. In June 2008 Fiji withdrew from the activities of the JWG due to dissatisfaction with the direction of the Group's work and the lack of recognition for the Bainimarama government by other PIF members. Prior to the 2008 Forum Leaders meeting, Prime Minister Bainimarama claimed that the decision to hold elections in 2009 was forced upon Fiji by the organisation and would not be adhered to. The PIF's Chair publicly responded that Bainimarama's version of events was not accurate. The Forum Communiqué from the 2008 meeting stated Fiji's withdrawal from PIF activities and its absence from the 2008 meeting was unacceptable. It also agreed that a second Ministerial Contact Group would visit Fiji and, following the receipt of its report, leaders would consider holding a special meeting to discuss the matter and any necessary response. These developments were based on Biketawa Declaration which sets out the necessary principles for membership and measures to be taken by the organisation to address any failure to meet these principles.
The JWG resumed its work in November 2008 with Fiji's decision to return to the meetings and a Ministerial contact group visited in December 2008 to discuss the resumption of cooperation. Fiji's engagement with these bodies was limited as the government stood by the position that the 2009 elections would not be held. This led to the decision by the PIF leaders to hold a Special Retreat in Port Moresby in January 2009 to discuss Fiji's situation. The Leaders recognised Fiji's efforts at reengagement with the PIF but expressed serious concerns about the lack of progress or preparations for the holding of elections. It was also stated
that more than two years of rule by an unelected military government, with no clear timetable for the return of constitutional government to the people, is not acceptable by international standards including those embraced by all Forum members and enshrined in the Biketawa Declaration, and emphasised the need to restore democracy without further delay.
The Leaders agreed that Fiji would, prior to 1 May 2009, need to set a date for elections and that those elections were to be held before the end of December 2009. If Fiji failed to adhere to this, "targeted measures" authorised by the Biketawa Declaration would be imposed including
(i) suspension of participation by the Leader, Ministers and officials of the Fiji Interim Government in all Forum meetings and events; and
This decision did result in further engagement with Fiji but matters came to a critical point in April with the issuing of a Fijian Court of Appeal judgment in the case of Qarase v Bainimarama. This decision concerned the 2006 coup and the Court held that the event was unconstitutional and that Bainimarama's appointment as prime minister was unlawful. The Court called on the President to establish a new government. Following the judicial decision President Ratu Josefa Iloilo announced the abrogation of the constitution, appointed himself as head of state, revoked the appointments of all judicial officers and immediately reappointed Bainimarama as Prime Minister.
(ii) ineligibility of the Fiji Interim Government to benefit from Forum regional cooperation initiatives, and new financial and technical assistance, other than assistance toward the restoration of democracy under the framework of the Biketawa Declaration.
The Forum announced on 2 May that the current government in Fiji is suspended from full participation in the Forum in line with the decision taken by the Leaders at Port Moresby in January. The Forum's Chair explained
[t]his difficult decision, agreed unanimously between all Forum leaders at our Retreat in Port Moresby on 27 January 2009, responds to Commodore Bainimarama's failure to address constructively by 1 May 2009 the expectations of Forum Leaders to return Fiji to democratic governance in an acceptable time-frame, in addition to responding to a range of other concerns.
He further stated "A regime which displays such a total disregard for basic human rights, democracy and freedom has no place in the Pacific Islands Forum." The government of Fiji responded to the suspension with disdain claiming the government was not in violation of the organisation's principles and that the suspension would not have any negative impact upon Fiji. It also stated that elections would be held by September 2014.
The PIF's action to suspend the current Fijian government for failing to adhere to regional and international democratic standards is one of the few occasions where official sanctions have been taken by an international organisation for the promotion and protection of democracy. The present Cuban government was suspended from the activities of the Organisation of American States in 1962 for failing to live up to regional principles related to democracy but has since been readmitted. The Commonwealth has suspended members (including Fiji) for failing to meet democratic standards and the African Union has suspended governments that have come to power through a military coup, but not necessarily for adhering to principles of democracy. The PIF's actions in this regard are a significant development in the promotion and protection of democracy in international law by international organisations.
The PIF acted under the Biketawa Declaration of 2000 which set forth a number of guiding principles regarding governance in the region. These include:
(i) Commitment to good governance which is the exercise of authority (leadership) and interactions in a manner that is open, transparent, accountable, participatory, consultative and decisive but fair and equitable.
The Declaration goes on to set out the procedures to be followed when a member state has failed to adhere to these principles. These procedures call for the PIF to "constructively address difficult and sensitive issues including underlying causes of tensions and conflict (ethnic tension, socio-economic disparities, and lack of good governance, land disputes and erosion of cultural values)." The procedures consist of various efforts to be undertaken by the institutional bodies of the PIF working with the member state concerned to achieve a resolution of the matter, but if that is not possible suspension from the activities of the organisation may occur.
(ii) Belief in the liberty of the individual under the law, in equal rights for all citizens ... and in the individual's inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political process in framing the society in which he or she lives.
(iii) Upholding democratic processes and institutions which reflect national and local circumstances, including the peaceful transfer of power, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, just and honest government.
(iv) Recognising the importance and urgency of equitable economic, social and cultural development to satisfy the basic needs and aspirations of the peoples of the Forum.
(v) Recognising the importance of respecting and protecting indigenous rights and cultural values, traditions and customs.
(vi) Recognising the vulnerability of member countries to threats to their security, broadly defined, and the importance of cooperation among members in dealing with such threats when they arise.
(vii) Recognising the importance of averting the causes of conflict and of reducing, containing and resolving all conflicts by peaceful means including by customary practices.
The promotion and protection of democracy in international law is an area of considerable debate due to the controversies which exist over the meaning of democracy and whether or not this is amenable to legal assessments without degenerating into subjective political assessments that are no more than unwarranted interferences with the domestic affairs of a state. Despite the surrounding problems with the legal protection and potential enforcement of democracy, there are a number of regional organisations have put in place conditions of membership that include adherence to democratic principles and practices along with measures for enforcement, but they have rarely been invoked. The actions of the PIF in response to events in Fiji demonstrate the ability of a regional international organisation to actively engage with the promotion and protection of democracy as a condition of membership. The PIF undertook considerable measures to resolve the matter but when that proved impossible it took definitive action to demonstrate that the government of Fiji is not acting in accordance with agreed principles of democracy. Whether or not this will impact a timely return to democracy in Fiji remains to be seen.
Director, McCoubrey Centre for International Law
University of Hull
The main thrust of the 1997 amendments was to ensure agreement between the two racial groups of mutual recognition and respect based on shared understandings and a desire for multi-ethnic governance, see Constitution Amendment Act 1997, Chapter 2, available at http://www.paclii.org/fj/legis/num_act/ca1997268/
Terms of reference available at http://www.forumsec.org/UserFiles/File/TOR_for_the_PIF-Fiji_Joint_Working_Group_on_the_Situation_in_Fiji.pdf.
Final Communiqué 38th Pacific Islands Forum (16-17 October 2007) ¶ 15, available at http://www.forumsec.org.fj/_resources/article/files/2007%20Forum%20Communiqué,%20Vava%27u%20-%20Final%20Version.pdf, para. 15 (b).
Press Statement, "Forum Chair Expresses Disappointment over Breakdown of Dialogue between Fiji and Joint Working Group" (28 June 2008) available at https://www.pmo.gov.to/index.php/Forum-Chair-Expresses-Disappointment-over-Breakdown-of-Dialogue-between-Fiji-and-Joint-Working-Group.html.
Press Statement "Pacific Forum Clarifies Commitment by Fiji Interim PM" (19 August 2008) available at http://www.forumsec.org.fj/pages.cfm/newsroom/press-statements/2008/pacific-islands-forum-leaders-clarify-commitments-by-fiji-interim-pm.html.
Forum Communiqué, 39th Pacific Islands Forum (19-20 August 2008) available at http://www.forumsec.org.fj/_resources/article/files/FINAL%202008%20Comunique%20-%2020%20Aug%20081.pdf.
The Biketawa Declaration was adopted at the 31st Pacific Islands Forum of 2000 and included in the Forum Communiqué available at http://www.forumsec.org.fj/_resources/article/files/2000%20Communiqué.pdf.
Press Statement, "Forum-Fiji JWG Resumes Meetings" (6 November 2008) available at http://www.forumsec.org.fj/pages.cfm/newsroom/press-statements/2008/forum-fiji-jwg-resumes-meetings.html.
Press Statement, "Forum Ministerial Contact Group Second Visit to Fiji" (11 December 2008) available at http://www.forumsec.org.fj/pages.cfm/newsroom/press-statements/2008/forum-ministerial-contact-group-on-fiji-concludes-visit-fiji.html.
Leaders' Decision, Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders Retreat (27 January 2009) ¶ 3(c), available at http://www.forumsec.org.fj/pages.cfm/newsroom/press-statements/2009/forum-leaders-special-retreat-communique-on-fiji.html.
Id. ¶ 3(h - i)
Qarase v Bainimarama  FJCA 9; ABU0077.2008S (9 April 2009) available at http://www.paclii.org/fj/cases/FJCA/2009/9.html
"The President's Address to the Nation" (10 April 2009) available at http://www.fijitimes.com/extras/Fiji-president-speech-annulling-constitution-judiciary.pdf.
Press Statement "Statement by Forum Chair on suspension of the Fiji military regime from the Pacific Islands Forum" (2 May 2009) available at http://www.forumsec.org.fj/pages.cfm/newsroom/press-statements/2009/forum-chair-on-suspension-of-fiji-military-regime-from-pif.html.
"Acting PM and AG, Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum statement in response to Fiji's suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum" (4 May 2009) available at http://www.fiji.gov.fj/publish/page_14887.shtml.
Organisation of American States General Assembly, Resolution on Cuba (3 June 2009) AG/RES. 2438 (XXXIX-O/09). Cuba's suspension was clearly due to the ideological position of the USA and not about its democratic credentials as many other members of the OAS have throughout the years fallen well short of the organisation's principles on democracy.
See Tom Baird, THE POSITIVE AND PUNITIVE POWERS OF CMAG (7 March 2008) available at http://www.thecommonwealth.org/EZInformation/176155/060308cmag/.
Article 30 of the Constitute Act of the African Union provides "Governments which shall come to power through unconstitutional means shall not be allowed to participate in the activities of the Union." The AU has suspended the Central African Republic (2003), Mauritania (2005), and Togo (2005) following military takeovers.
Biketawa Declaration, ¶ 2.
See Article 8, Statute of the Council of Europe, E.T.S. No. 1; Article 7, Treaty of European Union (consolidated version) O.J. (C 325) 1; Article 9, Charter of the Organisation of American States, OAS.T.S. No. 1.
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