Australian Support for Fiji Sex Workers?
Actually, Rowan, it's the de facto Government, and not the army, and if we are concerned with numbers in the institutions you mention, it's five or six Methodist church leaders (nationalist supporters of earlier coups); three or four chiefs (concerned with ethnic Fijian paramountcy and their place in the scheme of things), three trade unionists (longstanding opponents of the Government) and one woman in one woman's organization (I think he refers to Shamima Ali of the Women's Crisis Centre.)
Now, having set the stage with his introductory paragraph, he proceeds to the main issue by citing a University of NSW report of interviews with 25 sex workers, that says sex workers " especially in Lautoka ... have been rounded up by the military and subjected to sleep deprivation, humiliation and forced physical labour."
Standing on one leg
The anti-Government blog Fiji Today says the military approach is "characterised by round-ups, parading and summary punishment”. A string of further indignities follow: the sex workers said they were held in outdoor pens at an army base, woken every three hours and made to do duck-walks and squat in the mud. Some were forced to wear a traffic cone on their head, stand on one leg, and yell repeatedly: "I will never sell myself again."
More generally, since the passing of the Crimes Decree, the report claimed the managers of seven massage parlours, chiefly in Suva, have been charged with conducting illegal activities. They report that while the police approach to sex workers - which includes verbal warnings - has not changed significantly, the military regime has cracked down, especially in Lautoka and Labasa. It is not clear from Callick's report whether the survey organizers condone break the law in Fiji or whether they merely oppose the methods supposedly used by the military.
Another view of events
I put these allegations to two contacts in the West. Both expressed surprise and said that if such things had happened so blatantly the word would have leaked out and they would have heard about it through one channel or another.
They also put a different face on the allegations, saying that the change in legislation relating to homosexuals and transvestites had encouraged some of them. "They now feel more free to become a nuisance in public. At a recent gathering some, rather the worse for wear with drink, started importuning people and shouting at them."
They wrote of two drunken prostitutes lying on the road and being hit by cars, and of people being harassing on the way to work at 7a.m. and of schoolchildren "having to witness unpleasant and rowdy scenes."
One of them had heard that a few weeks back some ‘gays’ in Lautoka were counseled by the Military not to harass people in the street and to cease loud and rowdy behaviour. Now what the ‘counselling’ consisted of, he did not yet know but admitted that under PER he was unlikely to find out unless someone ‘leaked’ some details.
If the military have come through to quieten things down, he said he would not complain, but if the Military have abused people and put them into excessive situations, "that is another thing entirely."
So there we have it.
In one corner, an Australian report based on the words of some of the 25 people interviewed as part of an HIV/Aids survey (with no other survey finding reported!), and, in the other corner, the information and opinions of two people living in the West who, by nature of their civic engagement, might be expected to have heard about such abuses of human rights. They do not discount the possibility of military abuses but, to date, they seem to welcome police and military efforts to maintain the peace.
For my part, if the accusations are true, they seem very much in the tradition of village justice with the military assuming the role of protectors of public morality. Humiliate, call for repentance, forgive and forget.
Seen from one cultural perspective this is an abuse of human rights; seen from another, it's a quick way to enforce conformity and protect the public from abuse. Either way, it must rank pretty low on a scale of human rights abuses but, thanks to Rowan, it has now been well reported in Australia and New Zealand.
He could have written on — or at least mentioned— Government's efforts to combat HIV/Aids and support its victims, or on its work to protect women and children and curb domestic violence. But that would not have served his purpose. Sex helps sell newspapers, and even the most trivial story that discredits Fiji will be welcomed in The Australian editorial office, if only because it can be profitably syndicated.
The main lesson
Bu the main lesson to be learn from this report is that we don't know if it is true or not. We cannot weigh the evidence because so much of it is missing, leaving people to believe what they want to believe.
This is a major reason why PER has to be lifted or progressively unravelled. PER was required at one time for safety and security during the period of challenging, and then stabilizing various provinces and clans, and when confronting organized crime.
Fiji has moved on from those days and PER no longer serves Government or society's interests. Its continuance concedes the high moral ground to Government's opponents, which people like Rowan will use at every opportunity to Government's disadvantage.
And from an NGO in Suva that I contacted.
sorry Croz I am in an immense rush but to answer - this is out of date information and it is no longer occurring because we discussed it with the powers to be and the report is a sensationalisation of facts which is going to have a bad backlash with the sex workers who have been working to ensure less violence occurs.
So, for Rowan, this is a story he can sell, not a plea on behalf of Fiji's sex workers.