2 Jul 2013

Former NZ Foreign Minister calls for more sanctions against Fiji

6:00 pm on 2 July 2013

A New Zealand MP says the United Nations shouldn't employ soldiers from Fiji as peacekeepers while they are part of a military dictatorship at home.

Winston Peters was New Zealand's Foreign Minister at the time of the 2006 coup when the head of Fiji's military, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, overthrew the government.

Mr Peters, who says New Zealand's sanctions against the Fiji regime need to be more expansive, spoke to Johnny Blades about efforts by Wellington to stop the coup going ahead.

WINSTON PETERS: Sadly, we had spent an enormous amount of time and money and effort by a lot of people seeking to stop the fourth coup in Fiji in 20 years. And it all turned to nought because Bainimarama went ahead with it. But it doesn't alter the fact that we did the best we possibly could, and that we can look the public and taxpayer in the eye and say it was not our fault. We tried as hard as we could. And I felt at the end that, despite all the offers and all the generosity and personal commitment that we were prepared to make to Fiji, Bainimarama wasn't listening.

JOHNNY BLADES: The 'smart sanctions', do you feel they have had the desired impact and have hurt the regime?

WP: Yes, they have, but they would have a greater impact if they were more expansive and smarter. And that's why I've raised tonight the incongruity or the paradox of the United Nations employing Fijian soldiers to bring about recovery of peace and democracy, or the rule of the law in some countries, whilst destroying it back home. And also the UK recruiting soldiers into their army when neither those UN or UK opportunities should be a pathway for Fijian soldiers whilst they allow the military to act that way back in Fiji.

JB: Was that something that, when you were in government, you were talking to the UN about?

WP: I was beginning to press that real hard, but of course I didn't last as foreign minister. But it is still my view and it's still as relevant today as it was back then.

JB: So you'd like to see our government actually saying something about this and doing something about this?

WP: I think our government has got to face up to the UN, to the United States in particular, because of their UN connection, and also to the UK, and say, 'Look, this can't go on. We are concerned about democracy in the Pacific. We do not want to set a bad example. This is our backyard and you're not being helpful in what you're doing'.

JB: Leading up to the 2006 coup, you obviously had a lot of contact with Qarase. Some people regard him as aloof, but you felt that he was willing to compromise to avoid this coup.

WP: Qarase is a very interesting man. He could be described as aloof. But then I saw in him a very concerned statesman who was reluctantly pushed into politics by the demands of his time. He was not an ego-driven person, did not have vanity or ambition, but he had been given a responsibility and he was trying to do his best. Why I remember him with a great degree of sadness is that he emits a certain decency and commitment to trying to make this thing work in the interests of all Fijians. And that generosity of spirit was not being repeated from across the divide in the case of Bainimarama.