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Chiefs reaffirm indigenous rights as regime prepares to release Constitution

August 21, 2013

Yanuca Letter: Chiefs

A statement from Fiji’s chiefs restating the rights of indigenous Fijians just days out from the military regime releasing its draft Constitution.

It calls on the military dictatorship to honour its treaty obligations to native Fijians in accordance with international conventions and treaties, including the ILO Convention and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.

The statement is a result of a meeting on Yanuca Island Nadroga on Saturday, and is signed by the heads of two of the three tribal confederacies, Tovata and Burebasaga – Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu and Adi Teimumu Kepa.

It was also signed by the ‘Ka Levu’ of Nadroga Ratu Sakiusa Makutu, who hosted the meeting.

The ‘Yanuca Letter’ sought the restoration of the Council of the Great Council of Chiefs, which was established by the Deed of Cession of 1874, and which was disestablished by decree by the coup installed government of Frank Bainimarama.

The chief’s statement is believed to be aimed at countering plans by the regime to replace the GCC with its own ‘sham’ version of the council and to present to the world a united front for the new Constitution as it did with the so-called Peoples Charter.

“For much too often now, many native Fijians including some chiefs we thought we can trust have followed the government blindly without first thinking about the consequences of their actions,” the Chiefs say in the joint statement.

“History will judge us, surely, and when that happens we must be able to point to the things we do, and confidently say, we did those things to save our legacy, for our people and our children at a time when their lives and identity we most threatened.”

A preface from Niko Nawaikula of the Fiji Native Council Tribal Congress, says in the absence of the GCC, the heads of Fiji’s three tribal confederacies have the mandate to speak for the country’s population, communities and the vanua.

Traditional motifs now exclusive use for Fiji Airways

It says the appointment of the head of the Kubuna confederacy is still under protocol but Lalabalavu and Kepa invoked their traditional authority to also speak for him when they signed the Yanuca Letter.

“Native Fijians make up 57% of Fijis population but the current government has expressly stated its intention to remove customary institutions including Fiji’s great Council of Chiefs.”

Understandably – and strategically – the chief’s statement declares its support for the Vitivou Forum and the Fiji Native Tribal Council and calls for a chiefly delegation to attend the next United Nations world council of indigenous peoples.

The seven point statement also says Lalabalavu, Kepa and Makutu support a call by the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation for indigenous Fijians to have more say on the use of their intellectual property – a reference to a decision by the regime to allow Fiji Airways to patent for exclusive use the Masi motif for its planes.

Source – Coupfourpointfive; Posted by Rusi Varani for SWM
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