Oct 26, 2011

Continuing suppression of Religious Freedom in Fiji highlighted

From : British Parliament Hansard

House of Lords
Thursday, 8 September 2011
Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

Debate - 11.38 am
Moved By Baroness Hooper

Westminster House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW
Tel: 020 7219 5489
Fax: 020 7925 0625

To call attention to the "Century of Excellence" of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and to the continuing role of the Commonwealth; and to move for papers.

Baroness Hooper:My Lords, the modern Commonwealth is a unique and powerful force in the world today. Its 54 member nations are linked by shared values, democratic aspirations, a common colonial history and, not least, language.


Lord Griffiths of Burry Port

Westminster House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW
Tel: 020 7219 8313

: My Lords, I, too, add my word of delight to the noble Baroness for bringing forward this timely debate and offer congratulations, for what mine are worth, to the parliamentary association for surviving this long. Perhaps I might also say how much I respect the role of Her Majesty the Queen as an ingredient in the curious chemistry that has kept that body going, and being so lively for so long.

It is under the part of the Motion about the continuing role that I wish to offer my remarks. .......

In the few minutes available, I want to concentrate on what ongoing role the Commonwealth has towards countries that it has suspended from its membership. Suspension cannot be a self-justifying end in its own right.

I have in mind particularly the case of Fiji.

The Fijian Government have been suspended, until they meet certain norms. Sanctions by Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and others have been placed on the present Government.

However, they have taken terrible measures against the Methodist Church.

They have refused to allow its annual conference to meet for three years and only gave 24 hours' notice this year in ordering the church not to meet in conference. This takes away the economic basis of the Methodist Church in Fiji, where the finances for the whole year are gathered at its conference.

Not only that, but women's prayer fellowships, choir practices, house groups, midweek communions and youth fellowships have all been banned. The Methodist Church is the only church against which the Fijian Government have taken such draconian measures.

Your Lordships may have a certain view of the minority place of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, but I bring the matter to your attention to remind you that, in Fiji, Methodism constitutes pretty much the DNA of the country.

I myself preached at the institution of a president of the conference on the princely island of Bau not so long ago, in the very place where chief Cakobau was converted to Christianity in 1853 and where the baptismal font was carved out of a rock upon which previously the heads of those about to be eaten were crushed. Methodism has been part of the emerging Fijian country, and a wonderful place it is.

However, at the moment, Methodism is being suppressed.

This is important because it means a very important part of Fijian society is being marginalised.

The fabric of society is being weakened.

Many of the council of chiefs, which operates alongside the legislature in Fiji, are themselves drawn from Methodism. The indigenous peoples are dominated by Methodism, too. Methodism has played a large part in bringing the Indian population, who are still landless-and that is another problem that has to be addressed at some stage-into the mainstream of life.

I wonder what the Commonwealth can do to put further pressure on the Government of Fiji.

The Pacific Islands Forum has already sort of excommunicated Fiji from its fellowship. I am hearing messages-texts and the rest of it-that, on the streets of Suva in Fiji, there are beginning to be the sorts of demonstrations that, who knows, could lead to things that we have seen in other parts of the world in recent times.

Prevention is better than a cure. Are there ongoing relationships?

Does the Commonwealth have a continuing role?

Should we be trying to do more and to be more proactive in creating conditions out of which conversations and pressure can be placed upon the Government of Fiji? All this is urgent. The Commonwealth must, therefore, be congratulated not only on the very proper range of activities it fosters and relationships that it engenders, but also on the role it might play in keeping peace in troubled parts of the world.

The Fijian Government are setting up an alternative Methodist Church to do their will, just as President Mugabe has done with the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe.

Let us put in the cautionary note.

Let us delight ourselves in the presence of the Commonwealth, and hope and pray that it can play some part in bringing decency and dignity back to the people of Fiji.

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