INDEPENDENT NEWS

Goff Voices Concerns Over Fiji & Zimbabwe

Published: Tue 20 Mar 2001 08:43 AM
Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Media Statement
GOFF VOICES CONCERNS OVER FIJI & ZIMBABWE TO COMMONWEALTH WATCHDOG
Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff has expressed New Zealand's concern about events in Fiji and Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth's watchdog on democracy, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).
Mr Goff has written to Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat Don McKinnon on the eve of CMAG's latest meeting in London.
"I have told Mr McKinnon that New Zealand is disappointed that the opportunity to immediately return Fiji to a constitutional and democratic government has been lost and with it the chance of a government of national unity which may have been able to help reconcile differences within the community.
"New Zealand is concerned that the former interim administration declared illegal by the Court of Appeal has effectively been legitimised and appointed as a caretaker government. The most constitutional approach would have been the reconvening of Parliament and letting it decide who should govern until elections are held.
"The path chosen by President Iloilo appears to only give lip service to the Court of Appeal ruling and at best is on the outer edges of constitutionality.
"I have told Mr McKinnon that New Zealand is not yet ready to lift sanctions against Fiji. Suspension of the sanctions will need to await clear evidence of early elections and an unequivocal commitment by the caretaker government to a democratic outcome at the ballot box.
"I hope that CMAG is able to send a clear message expressing concerns about the doubtful constitutionality of the caretaker government. The Commonwealth should emphasise that Fiji's return to full membership of the Commonwealth will depend on its successful return to a constitutional democracy," Mr Goff said.
The Minister has also expressed to Mr McKinnon his concerns about the situation in Zimbabwe.
Mr Goff supported CMAG's concerns already expressed over ongoing violence, loss of life, illegal occupations of property, failure to uphold the rule of law and political intimidation in the run-up to Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections.
"There have been further reasons for profound disquiet in recent months. Reported human rights abuses include serious threats to Opposition MPs, apparent tolerance of violence, murder, intimidation, and a growing climate of fear.
"I am concerned by reports of interference with the independence of the judiciary and the reticence of law enforcement authorities to investigate or act upon intimidation directed at citizens who are not supportive of the regime.
"The independence of the press has also been compromised by the failure to protect newspapers which dare to be critical of the government while there has been the expulsion of British and South African journalists.
"CMAG should call for an immediate end to these abuses. New Zealand supports the early dispatch by the Commonwealth Secretariat of a fact-finding team to Zimbabwe. CMAG should then meet to review its finding and formulate the next steps for Commonwealth action. This might include assistance to Zimbabwe to move away from the disastrous political and economic course which it is following or sanctions such as suspension from the Commonwealth if it does not," Mr Goff said.
ENDS

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