Friday, April 20, 2007

EU's roadmap -Friday, April 20, 2007

THE European Union insists that the general election in Fiji be held before March 2009, it has been revealed.

And it expects the interim administration to:

by June 30, 2007, adopt a schedule setting out dates for the completion of the steps to be taken in preparation for the new parliamentary election;

determine boundaries and electoral reform in accordance with the Constitution;

take measures to ensure the functioning of the Elections Office, including the appointment of the Supervisor of Elections by September 30, 2007, in accordance with the Constitution;

appoint the Vice-President in accordance with the Constitution.

A statement by the EU in Brussels dated April 18, 2007, and titled "Conclusions of the European Union" lists commitments it said Fiji had agreed to undertake.

It includes, among other things, the upholding of the 1997 Constitution and the preserving of the "substantial independence and functioning of the Great Council of Chiefs".

The statement says the holding of the election would be "subject to the findings of the assessment to be carried out by independent auditors appointed by the Pacific Islands Forum secretariat".

"The process leading to and holding of the election shall be jointly monitored, adapted and revised as necessary on the basis of mutually agreed benchmarks,'' the statement says.

On respect for democratic principles, the interim administration, according to the EU statement, is committed to, "when adopting major legislative, fiscal and other policy initiatives and changes, take into account consultations with civil society and all other relevant stakeholders".

On the rule of law, the interim administration is to ensure:

to use best endeavours to prevent statements by security agencies destined to intimidate;

to uphold the 1997 Constitution, and guarantee the normal and independent functioning of constitutional institutions such as the Fiji Human Rights Commission, Public Service Commission, Constitutional Offices Commission;

to preserve the substantial independence and functioning of the Great Council of Chiefs;

that the independence of the judiciary is fully respected, that it is allowed to work freely and that its rulings are respected by all concerned parties.

It states that the interim Government undertakes "to appoint the tribunal pursuant to Section 138 (3) of the Constitution".

It adds that any appointments and/or dismissal of judges "is henceforth carried out in strict conformity with constitutional provisions and procedural rules".

It further states: "That no instances whatsoever occur, of whatever form, of interference by the military and the police or by the interim government with the judicial process, including full respect for the legal profession". The fourth commitment on the subject is: "That all criminal proceedings linked to corruption are dealt with through the appropriate judicial channels and that any other bodies that may be set up to investigate alleged cases of corruption will operate within constitutional boundaries."

On "human rights and fundamental freedoms", the commitments by the interim administration are that:

It will take all necessary steps to facilitate that all allegations of human rights infringements are investigated or dealt with in accordance with the procedures and forums under the laws of the Fiji;

it intends to lift the Public Emergency Regulations in May 2007 subject to any threats to national security, public order and safety;

it is committed to ensuring that the Fiji Human Rights Commission functions with full independence and in accordance with the Constitution;

the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media, in all its forms, are fully respected as provided in the Constitution.

The EU statement details the "follow-up commitments":

that the interim Government undertakes to maintain a regular dialogue to allow verification of progress made and gives EU and EC authorities and representatives full access to information on all matters linked to human rights, the peaceful restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Fiji;

that the interim Government co-operates fully with eventual missions from the EU and the EC for assessing and monitoring progress;

that the interim Government sends progress reports every three months starting June 30, 2007, regarding the essential elements of the Cotonou Agreement and the commitments.

"It is noted that certain issues can only be effectively addressed through a pragmatic approach, which acknowledges the realities of the present and which focuses on the future," the statement concludes.

Secretary to the Prime Minister's office Parmesh Chand confirmed that the submission of the Fiji delegation to Brussels included a number of commitments.

The delegation includes interim Minister for Foreign Affairs Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and adviser Isikeli Mataitoga.

Mr Chand said consultations would have been taken on these commitments.

He said the interim administration was awaiting a report from the delegation on the results of the consultations.

"I can confirm that the delegation had included a number of commitments in their submission but the results of what transpired and what was agreed upon I am not aware of because the Fiji delegation has not sent anything over," he said.

It is understood the outcome of the EU consultations would have been relayed to interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.

Mr Chand said according to their commitments on the Public Safety Regulation Act, they stated there should be a review. And if the talks were good, then it would be lifted.

Mr Chand said the interim administration included its 36-month timeframe for elections as guided by the working group that was set up after the Eminent Persons Group visit in February.

"The working group will also be studying the 18 to 24 months given by the overseas community and the 36 months we had included in our commitment," he said.

In its statement, the European Union says it considers the military takeover "constitutes a breach of the essential elements of Article 9 in the Cotonou Agreement and of Article 3.1 of the Development Cooperation Instrument.

"The European Union further states it considers essential that the rule of law is restored and that the political rights of all citizens in Fiji are respected equally and on the basis of Fiji's Constitution," it adds.

"The EU encourages Fiji to examine the roots of the coup culture and the means to eradicate it. For these reasons, the European Union invited Fiji for consultations.

"In order to facilitate comprehensive discussions and an optimal outcome the consultations took place under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement and for the relevant instruments under Article 37 of the Development Cooperation Instrument.

"During the opening of these consultations which took place in Brussels on April 18, 2007, the European Union noted with satisfaction that the Fijian delegation confirmed certain commitments already undertaken, notably in the context of the consultations of the Pacific Islands Forum.

"The European Union also takes note of the submission presented by Fiji on April 18, 2007 for the consultations.

"At the outcome of the consultations a number of commitments were undertaken by Fiji.

"Fiji's authorities commit themselves to a joint monitoring of the progress achieved in the relevant areas on implementation of all the commitments.

"In the spirit of the partnership on which the Cotonou Agreement is based, the European Union declares its readiness to support key commitments."

The EU says it will continue and deepen the political dialogue with Fiji to ensure the earliest possible restoration of respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law.

"Respect for the essential elements of the Cotonou Agreement constitutes a prerequisite for the full normalisation of relations with Fiji," it says.

"This dialogue will be conducted with a view to contribute to the establishment of a democratic political order which can provide Fiji with the stability needed for human dignity and sustainable socio-economic development.

"On the basis of the report, which the Fijian side agrees to provide regarding the above mentioned commitments, the European Union will monitor the situation very closely and, in particular, the commitments guaranteeing early and credible general elections foreseen for not later than March 1, 2009.

"The importance of and the implementation of the commitments undertaken by Fiji will fundamentally influence the nature and scope of the appropriate measures to be decided on following these consultations.

"In particular, the European Union would be ready to support efforts for the return to democracy and improve governance, as well as for the transition towards full respect for the essential elements of Article 9 of the Cotonou Agreement.

"In addition, the European Union confirms its commitments to protecting the poor."

The EU says it welcomes the co-operation of the Fijian interim authorities, which is essential for the ability of the European Union to continue to assist Fiji in its development.

"Taking into account the positive outcome of the consultation, based on the commitments undertaken by the Republic of Fiji Islands, the EU will consider appropriate measures for which the Commission will make a proposal in due time," it says.

The Fiji delegation is expected back in the country this weekend.

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