Without acknowledging the irony - the most likely explanation being that they simply have no comprehension of it - the so-called Eminent Persons Group has arrived in Fiji and begun investigations into the most recent Fiji coup.
The Eminent Persons Group was established by the Pacific Islands Forum in December 2006, three days before the coup, to “find a peaceful outcome” between then Prime Minister Laisenai Qarase and Commodore Frank Bainimarama, military leader and now caretaker prime minister. Post the coup, the group is now in Fiji with a focus on taking into account the current situation, where an interim government is engaged in “moving Fiji forward”.
Not a single woman figures in the Eminent Persons Group lineup. To anyone living in the 21st century, this should be an obvious omission for many reasons.
Not the least is that many wise and powerful women are a part of the Pacific nations making up the Forum. Equally obvious, Fijian women - wise and powerful themselves - have a right to know that their issues, concerns, perceptions and understandings vis-à-vis the coup, their country and the way for the future will be paid proper attention.
All Fijian women and men have a right to be assured that any so-called Eminent Persons Group, so long as it purports to exercise authority and make recommendations, has a capacity to appreciate and understand the circumstances, hopes and wishes of all Fijians. This is hardly likely with a line-up that comprises solely of men.
The Eminent Persons Group is tasked with:
- assessing the underlying causes and the nature of the overthrow of the Government of Fiji by the Republic of the Fiji Military Forces;
- assessing the prospects for appropriate resolution of the present situation in Fiji in the short and medium term and obstacles to such a resolution;
- identifying steps that the parties in Fiji may take to move swiftly and peacefully toward the restoration of democratic government, within the boundaries of Fiji’s constitution and the rule of law; and
- considering the role the Pacific Forum and its members might most usefully play in assisting Fiji to achieve this outcome.
Way back on October 31, 2000 in New York, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325 unanimously, providing that women should be centrally involved in world and nations conflict resolution. It is the first resolution ever passed by the Security Council to specifically address the impact of war and conflict on women, and women’s contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace.
Women of the Pacific have played a key role in educating the region on the terms of Resolution 1325, holding workshops and forums discussing its terms and the way it can best be implemented when conflict occurs. Since 2000, Fiji’s women’s organisations have been actively addressing the terms of the resolution.
In June 2006, the Regional Workshop on Gender, Conflict, Peace and Security, held in Nadi, Fiji concluded with a strong statement on women’s rights and women’s full participation in peace and security in the region. Countries in the Pacific region, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), regional organisations and multilateral bodies were urged to acknowledge women’s rights as human rights not only in words but by strong, consistent and consolidated action.
A recurring concern was women’s and children’s health, wellbeing and safety during conflict, the importance of women’s participation in devising and being a central part of solutions, and effective implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325. Violence against women and children (girls and boys) in the region, both in conflict and periods of non-conflict, was high on the agenda as an issue for continuing action.
It seems apparent that the Pacific Island Forum did not read the Working Group’s resolutions or simply saw them as irrelevant, destined for the filing cabinet or, worse, the rubbish bin. What other explanation can there be for such an obvious oversight in appointing not even one woman to the “Eminent Persons Group”.
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She is also Visiting Fellow, Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge.