Pacific Scoop

Fiji military regime deploys more troops in UN ops in spite of NZ pressure

Fiji peacekeepers

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon inspects Fiji peacekeeping troops. Image: UN Media

Pacific Scoop:
Special Report – By Selwyn Manning of 36th Parallel Assessments

Since the 2006 Fiji coup, Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama’s military-led government has remained fully engaged with the United Nations while incrementally increasing the number of troops and police it contributes to UN peacekeeping operations to record levels.

United Nations records show, that in the past year alone, Fiji has increased by 29 percent the number of Fiji military and police personnel deployed to UN operations.

Between April 2011 and May 2012, Fiji also contributed more peacekeepers to UN operations than Australia, Canada and New Zealand combined.

UN Plaza

The United Nations Plaza … support for Fiji peacekeepers. Image: Selwyn Manning/Scoop

A UN Mission’s summary report obtained by 36th Parallel shows that on May 31, 2012 Fiji had deployed 359 soldiers and/or police to UN operations. This same report showed Australia had contributed 112 personnel, Canada 158, and New Zealand 24 personnel.

The comparative report for April 30, 2011, showed Fiji had deployed 278 soldiers and/or police to UN operations. That snapshot report showed Australia had contributed 109 personnel, Canada 213, and New Zealand 24 personnel.

The data shows that the governments of Australia and New Zealand have not impeded the participation of Fijian troops in UN peace-keeping operations in spite of their public calls to that effect, and in fact have not impeded a rise in the number of Fiji troops being deployed to UN operations since the December 2006 military coup.

Despite Fiji’s military being warned by the United Nations secretariat in November 2006 that if it conducted a coup, overthrew its government, and installed a military-led regime, then its contribution to UN-led operations would be reduced or suspended, the United Nations increased the number of Fiji personnel deployed in the immediate post-coup period.

That trend has increased in the six years since.

In December 2006, at the time of the Fiji military coup, Fiji had 275 troops serving in UN peacekeeping missions. By April 30 2007, a report published by the United Nations’ Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) showed Fiji had 17 extra soldiers deployed to UN missions – with a grand total of 292 soldiers participating in UN peace missions.

On the eve of the December 2006 Fiji coup, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned of consequences for Fiji’s military should it go ahead with a coup. Annan’s spokesperson said Fiji soldiers who took part in the coup d’etat would be unwelcome in UN missions.

In the immediate post-coup period, Kofi Annan also stated: “Any Fijian personnel, who are alleged to have committed human rights abuses or other illegal activities, will be repatriated at the expense of the troop-contributing country.”

But throughout 2007, the UN’s position began to soften. In January 2007 Ban Ki-moon replaced Annan as the UN secretary-general. At the time, Ban Ki-moon was under considerable pressure by Australia and New Zealand UN-based diplomatic representatives.

In a response to questions from me in 2007, New Zealand’s then permanent representative to the UN, Rosemary Banks, stated: “The former UN secretary-general (Kofi Annan) said before the coup “…further prolongation of the crisis may damage Fiji’s international standing, which it has built carefully over the years, as an important contributor to UN peacekeeping operations”

Current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated previous UN calls for an immediate restoration of constitutional democracy in a statement on 5 January.” Rosemary Banks added: “That same day his spokesperson was asked about his stance viz-a-viz Annan’s comments on Fijian peacekeepers. The response from the spokesperson was that ‘what was previously said, stands.”.

In January 2007, New Zealand’s then Prime Minister Helen Clark said at her post-cabinet press conference: “Shortly after the Fiji coup, when we announced the measures we were taking, our Ambassador herself went to the UN. So we did it at the most senior level in New York, and made it very clear that we did not think that Fiji troops should be supporting these exercises.”

By April 2007, Ban Ki-moon announced he had instructed UN officials to conduct a fact-finding mission to Fiji as a basis for establishing a firm policy response in the post-coup period.

Current status
In response to questions in May 2007, Rosemary Banks said: “According to a release from the Secretary-General’s spokesperson, the report (when completed) will be confidential and will not be released beyond the Secretariat. We have not seen the report and do not know what its current status is.”

In response to further questions, the UN Secretary-General’s office replied: “The mission concluded some 10 days ago and the team is now working on drafting the report. It will be some time before we can answer your question.”

Further responses from the UN Secretary-General’s spokesperson followed: “There has been no increase in Fijian troops or police contributions to UN peacekeeping operations since December 2006, nor has Fiji contributed to any new UN missions since then.”

However, the UN’s own reports showed this statement to be incorrect.

Fiji’s contributions to UN peacekeeping operations increased in the immediate term, between May 2006 and May 2007, by 81.6 percent. Current UN reports show the number of Fiji personnel contributions as of May 2006 through to May 2012 were:

May 06: 147
May 07: 267
May 08: 277
May 09: 268
May 10: 271
May 11: 276
May 12: 359.

Balancing act
In May 2007, a spokesperson for New Zealand’s then Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, said: “New Zealand believes it is inappropriate for troops from Fiji to take part in UN operations at a time when the Fiji military has overthrown a democratically-elected government. We are also aware of the financial value of peacekeeping duties for Fiji’s military.”

He said: “However we also understand the difficult balancing act that the United Nations faces. The United Nations did strongly condemn last year’s coup in Fiji and has continued to push for a return to democratic rule there.

“However, the United Nations also struggles to recruit professional and well-trained troops for peacekeeping duties in areas where those soldiers are potentially preventing civilian deaths from conflict. As a result they have often been forced to accept deployments from nations whose domestic human rights records are questionable,” the spokesperson said.

This appears accurate. UN reports in 2012 suggest Fiji’s troops in particular are valuable in combat operations. Fiji personnel have been deployed to some of the globe’s most serious hotspots.

For example, Fiji’s contribution to the United Nations Assistance Mission For Iraq (UNAMI) increased from 221 personnel in April 2011, to 301 personnel in June 2012. That’s an increase of 36 percent, and shows Fiji’s troops make up 75 percent of the UN’s total contingent operating inside Iraq.

Over the past two years, there has certainly been a rapid increase in the use of Fiji military and police personnel. This runs parallel to a relationship thaw between Fiji and the USA, particularly since the Obama Administration deployed its former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Frankie Reed, as its ambassador to Suva in October 2011.

The move ended the US’s apparent estrangement policy with regard to Fiji. Immediately prior to Reed’s Suva appointment, Commodore Bainimarama was issued an open visa to visit the US and had engagements in Connecticut, Florida and Tennessee.

Officially, the rapprochement between the US and Fiji runs counter to Australia and New Zealand’s travel sanctions policy against Fiji’s military regime leadership and their immediate families.

Then and now
From May 2006 to May 2012 the numbers of Fiji personnel deployed to UN missions is (at a 144 percent increase) more than four times that of the increase in global deployed personnel numbers (36 percent).

In July 2012,  36th Parallel sought a response from New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) asking: In 2006-07 the New Zealand government openly advocated Fiji be excluded from UN peacekeeping operations. Has the New Zealand Government’s position changed, if so why?

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade responded: “New Zealand has in the past made clear its concerns about Fijian military personnel being used as peacekeepers because of the 2006 coup. Our future position will depend upon developments that take place in Fiji.”

Additionally, 36th Parallel sought a clarification from the United Nations secretary-general exactly what its position is on Fiji asking: Can you confirm whether the United Nations has formerly engaged Fiji as a contributing nation to UN-led peacekeeping operations and if so when was the UN-Fiji commitment resumed?”

The UN’s chief public affairs section, Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, Kieran Dwyer, responded: “There was no formal suspension of Fijian contribution to United Nations peacekeeping. Since 2006, the United Nations has carefully reviewed any offers from Fiji on a case by case basis.”

Australia and New Zealand’s policy of travel sanctions against Fiji’s military leadership and their immediate families appears out of step with their close security and trade partners – the United States and China.

Throughout the post-coup period, both New Zealand and Australia have maintained sanctions against Fiji, and Fiji continues to be suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), largely at the insistence of the ANZ bloc. The Commonwealth body continues to maintain its suspension of Fiji. The PIF also suspended Fiji from contributing to the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

36th Parallel’s inquiry shows the United Nation’s increased use of Fiji personnel in peacekeeping missions is contrary to the foreign policy positions maintained by Australia and New Zealand. The inquiry’s findings also show the two CANZ bloc nations, while maintaining their respective public hard lines with regard to Fiji, have since mid-2007 remained silent while the United Nations increased the number of Fiji personnel deployed to peacekeeping operations. Meanwhile the United States and China have developed closer ties with Fiji’s military regime.

Through 2012, the Baimimarama regime has indicated its intent to hold democratic elections in 2014 and most recently conducted a voter registration exercise, while work is ongoing on drafting a new constitution.

In view of the UN, US and PRC approaches to Fiji, it is likely that Australia and New Zealand governments will publicly begin to soften their positions against the military regime, and will probably use the 2012 Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit as an opportunity to articulate an incremental re-engagement plan.

© 2012 Selwyn Manning is co-founder and former co-editor of Pacific Scoop and principal of 36th Parallel Assessments.

Full report, references and tables at 36th Parallel