Australian Support for Fiji Sex Workers?

Journalist Rowan Callick has a way with words. He opens his latest Fiji article in The Australian with: "The army - which has vowed not to consider elections until 2014 - has already moved to subjugate the Methodist church, the chiefs, the trade unions and women's organisations."

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. 

Comments

Callick and Field. Peas in a pod said…
Rowan Callick will only write negative stories about Fiji. He completely ignored the Lowy poll showing overwhelming public support for the government. He numbers among his friends on Facebook the NZ journalist Michael Field. Enough said, don't you think? Callick and Field are the bobbsey twins of the Pacific, the journalistic storm troopers of the failed policies of the Australian and New Zealand Governments towards Fiji. This latest offering is pathetic and clearly anti-regime propaganda that Callick has swallowed whole because it suits his own agenda.
sara'ssista said…
Actually Croz, it is still a military dictatorship , with a military council as the chief decision making body.And even the de facto government you refer to appears to have one and at times two members with a profilea and who appear to unilaterally make decisions on behalf of the nation.
Anonymous said…
Callick and Sara'ssista use the same template of packaging old information in shiny new boxes.

Its almost like the hyped up reports of the constitution being thrown out every other Tuesday.

Although, Fiji is under military dictatorship, at least you know it is.

Unlike, some countries where there is the best democracy, money can buy. Where, Do nothing Politicians (bought & paid for by defense contractors )also unilaterally decide to go to war, even though their electorate has chosen otherwise.

Where Politicians (bought & paid for by Bank Lobbyists) create legislation that allows Accounting rules to be changed, and Banks are bailed out using public funds for fraudulent investment that screwed the ordinary family and evicted them on a cold winter night.

This is the vulgar level of hypocrisy, that the sun-shine libertarians (and those of Sara-ssista's ilk) have long obfuscated.
basis of said…
And I doubt you will change your mind Croz.

The reason there has not been more round up and treatment as described is because people are now largely compliant. I think we both know that this military government (lets be honest it has no power or authority without military backing) will not tolerate any opposition.

What we have today is less beatings, less rounding ups and less intimidation only because gvernment have largely achieved their number one objective of removing all possible opposition. Sadly and perhaps they don't realise is they have also removed all reasonable debate.

A very real concern I have is how the trasnition will magically happen between today and free and fair elections in 2014.

I have not seen since the abrogation of the constitution one single eample of this government being open to alternative thought.

You recently wrote that people believe what they want. Well this government has gone a step futher. They only accept want they think. Nothing else and be very scared if you think otherwise. Crush the opposition and allow nothing but praise of us is their mantra.

Do you think for example that if three like minded individuals took the exact words from the appeals court case and published them on a bill board they would not be hauled up to camp and delt with before being charged ?

Croz, I can't see how you look past this point again and again. This government came to power by guns and remain in power with guns.
sara'ssista said…
@Anon...'unlike some countries' ?? We are talking about Fiji, i don't have to defend any other country or system of governance. The fact is you only find out about what is happening in this regime by what eventually leaks out, they have a slavish craving for recognition, they have disdain and contempt for consultation and still continue to argue that others should change their ideas of 'their fiji' , but they themselves don't take reasonable and considered advice even fromm their friends . The arrogance and ignorance in this regime is breathtaking and so very misplaced given they are such an ordinary and talentless lot.
Anonymous said…
@Anon...'unlike some countries' ?? We are talking about Fiji, i don't have to defend any other country or system of governance.

@sara'ssista

You allege arrogance and unilateral actions are the Modus Operandi of Fiji Government.

The extension of your argument implies that the system of governance in other countries are without flaws.
That is what I rebutted.

Next thing we'll hear from Sarissista et al, is that there are Zyklon B gas chambers in use in Fiji, as pathetic appeal for foreign intervention under R2P.
big chief said…
Dear Croz,

Sorry not related to this posting but I have been following with great interest the events in PNG over the last few days. It seems strange to me that Somare is claiming everyone should respect the courts and constitution in PNG when he openly supported the opposite in Fiji. I guess its a case of whatever rule suits the individual - Fiji and PNG do really have a lot in common !
sara'ssista said…
@anon...don't presume to infer.what you want me to mean. The obvious difference is that other countries, certainly in our region, don' t have a military regime that presumes it is the font of all knowledge and wisdom.Even friends of the regime on this blog people accept that this regime does not look for advice or comment that it will disagree with, when they get it, they censor it, and then very quickly target the person. The difference is they excuse and try minimise it, and i don't. The hysterical example used about what I might say next, rather speaks for itself. Apologists are quick to claim we just had to have a coup or four, and that this was the only way forward to reform. Well I have some excellent and respected company that don't accept this premise, who are your respected supporters?
wish list said…
Please Santa, grant me my Christmas wish! That Sara'ssista - whoever she or he is - could just stop banging the same drum over and over again. The way things are going, she'll still be rabbiting on after 2014, when democracy returns and Fiji is the better place we hope it will be. It wasn't going to happen under the SDL, that's for sure. Merry Christmas!
sara'ssista said…
Oh dear spare me Santa from the wishful thinkers and 'it'll be all worth it' apologists. From anyone can see we are nowhere near when fiji should be for the mythical 2014. Like a mirage it will dawn on even the most optimistic that there will be no democracy for fiji, but a mongrel version the military chose for you. If this is repetitive then tough.I just hope I don't get to say I told you so, but...I don't have excuse myself for being rather rigid in my thinking that fiji does not and did not deserve this, apparently you think otherwise.break a few eggs blah.
mongrels and mangers said…
So a mongrel democracy, eh Sara'ssista ? What's that mean, dear? That it won't be the pure bred I'taukei racist model promoted by the likes of you and the SDL? Halle- bloody -lujah, the rest of us say. We've tasted your brand of "democracy" under Qarase and it stinks. Better Bainimarama's mongrel any day. At least it'll be made up of everyone and not just the indigenous elite.

I do feel sorry for you, Sara'ssista, filled as I am with Christian charity at this time of the year. The more time goes by, the more irrelevant you become. And that - understandably - seems to be making you more unreasonable.

Tis the season to be jolly - as the old carol goes - but it's also the season for reflection. So why don't you put your thinking cap on over the holidays and come back next year a lot more sensible than you've been?

Embrace the mongrel democracy and who knows how much happier you'll be? Imagine the joy of being part of the new Fiji instead of clinging to the old? It would certainly be the best present you could give the rest of us.

But enough of that. I suppose if you didn't exist we'd have to invent you. Jesus himself said that the path to salvation was strewn with many stones. I guess you're one of them. But he also said we must love our enemies so...Happy Christmas!
sara'ssista said…
Again...the presumptions that I cling to anything. The presumption of who I support and what I value. Just to clear. I did not support any previous regime or party. ANY. I don't have a particular fondness for politicians from ANY party. I do know some well respected Fijians that have held very high positions in fiji and like myself, will have nothing to do with a military regime and by any measure they are universally regarded as incorruptible. It appears that to be strident against this regime must mean you support everything or anything that has occured before. It also presumes wrongly that this coup and others was the ONLY way to reform the system. It also presumes that my morals will just wear done by the passage of time. Unlike regime followers I am not bought off with a position, favors, grants, invitations and a role in the new oh so different military regime that is so predictably lacking transparency and scrutiny....but with a straight face.... continues to lecture others about what they should be doing, saying and what standards they should be applying.you only have to hear the ignorant and thuggish comments from the regime's interim pm to accept that the military have not earned their
place in power.
Please explain said…
Sara'ssista. Can we get one thing straight? When you talk about a "mongrel democracy", what precisely do you mean? You didn't address the last point at all.

A mongrel dog is not a purebred dog but is a dog just the same. And in the Fiji context, not only acceptable but the norm.

Why would a mongrel democracy be any different? In other words, we take the best parts of the democracy we had but excise something that has caused all division in the country - race. We say that it's not acceptable for anyone to stand for public office on a platform of advancing the interests of one race.

What is wrong with that? Please explain your use of the word mongrel in this context. Or will you evade the question again?

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