New Zealand to ease Fiji sanctions

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 15:49 12/09/2013

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The Government has further eased the sanctions imposed on Fiji as a result of its 2006 coup, as diplomatic relations between the two countries continue to thaw.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully this afternoon announced a programme of electoral assistance and the easing of some sanctions as New Zealand moves to encourage Fiji. The actions come after the release of a new Fiji constitution and the announcement of elections next year.

However, Labour is calling on the Government to continue to hold the regime of Commodore Frank Bainimarama to account. Its human rights breaches and trampling over democratic principles cannot be ignored, the party says.

McCully had previously revealed New Zealand Election Commission officials had been helping Fiji prepare for its election.

Today he said the Cabinet had approved further changes "which recognise both the progress that has been made in Fiji and the need for support for free and fair elections".

The Government has also reinstated 10 post-graduate scholarships for Fijian students, which were suspended in 2006, and formally revoked the sporting sanctions.

"While it has been our practice to provide exemptions from this ban in virtually every case, we judge that the time is now right to formally revoke the ban."

Individual bans will still apply to regime members and the military.

McCully said the Government had over recent months also eased travel sanctions, leaving them in place for key regime and military members, but easing the process around family members of less senior figures.

"We intend to continue down this path as further progress is made toward free and fair elections."

The Pacific Island Forum members, including New Zealand, also said last week that Fiji's membership would be restored if free and fair elections went ahead.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff said the steps towards democracy should be encouraged, but the regime should not be let off the hook completely.

The Fijian Government was taking the right steps, he said.

"In the meantime, we have continued to see serious breaches of human rights, an environment that does not allow free expression of opinion and free media commentary, and a loss of judicial independence.

"Fiji is a sovereign country, but in making decisions about how it runs its own affairs, it should still be held to international human rights standards.

"It cannot simply be forgotten that, before the military regime took it away from the Fijian people, [they] once enjoyed the right to choose their own government and freely express their views."

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Full normalisation of relations could only happen once those rights were restored, he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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