OBIT­U­ARY:

RATU JONI – LIB­ERAL THINKER, RE­FORMER

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su­pe­rior to hu­man rights in gen­eral. He said that the ILO Con­ven­tion 169 (the Con­ven­tion con­cern­ing In­dige­nous and Tribal Peo­ples in In­de­pen­dent Coun­tries) clearly stated that in­dige­nous rights were not sep­a­rate from hu­man rights and could not be as­serted at their ex­pense. Ar­ti­cles re­fer­ring to a self-con­tained sys­tem of gov­er­nance for in­dige­nous peo­ples were, he said, for tra­di­tional and cul­tural mat­ters, and did “not le­git­imise or au­tho­rise in­dige­nous supremacy.”

Ratu Joni re­jected ar­gu­ments by some politi­cians that when the United King­dom granted in­de­pen­dence to Fiji in 1970, they should have handed power back to the chiefs, call­ing this po­si­tion legally un­ten­able.

Ratu Joni op­posed calls for the es­tab­lish­ment of a Chris­tian state in Fiji, say­ing that it would hin­der a “cor­rect re­la­tion­ship” be­tween the over­whelm­ingly Chris­tian iTaukei and mainly Hindu and Mus­lim Indo-Fi­jian com­mu­nity. He ex­pressed con­cern that the growth of newer fun­da­men­tal­ist de­nom­i­na­tions at the ex­pense of the long-dom­i­nant Methodist Church “evoked a less tol­er­ant di­men­sion to the work of some Chris­tian churches.”

Ratu Joni once called on his fel­low chiefs to max­imise the ef­fec­tive­ness of in­come gen­er­ated through tourist fa­cil­i­ties built on na­tively owned land. He also called on lead­ers to take a more “bi­par­ti­san” ap­proach to na­tional is­sues, say­ing that as a small coun­try with lim­ited re­sources, Fiji could ill af­ford “end­less de­bates about eth­nic­ity and iden­tity.” He spoke of the need to break new ground. “We need to move for­ward and be­yond the point where we end­lessly pur­sue the demons be­queathed us by our his­tory.”

In 2014 be­fore the gen­eral elec­tion, Ratu Joni told the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion Party: “The mes­sage must be the NFP’s will­ing­ness to em­brace a more in­clu­sive and non­ra­cial type of pol­i­tics that is more sub­stan­tial than merely hav­ing an iTaukei of renown as Pres­i­dent of the Party. How­ever, it was also to move be­yond the Indo-Fi­jian com­mu­nity to broaden its sup­port if it wished to as­sert its claims as a gen­uinely mul­ti­cul­tural and mul­ti­eth­nic party.” “The nat­u­ral tar­gets are youth as in those un­der 35 years of age and the iTaukei to­gether with mem­bers of other com­mu­ni­ties.

“Each has its own set of pe­cu­liar­i­ties the NFP has to con­sider, within an over­ar­ch­ing set of prin­ci­ples which the NFP stands for.

“It is not an ex­er­cise in dou­ble stan­dards or a mat­ter of ap­peal­ing to sec­tar­ian sen­ti­ments, although there is of­ten a fine line dis­tin­guish­ing the recog­ni­tion of spe­cial in­ter­ests and seek­ing to play on the fears of a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est group.

“It is recog­ni­tion that in our so­ci­ety there are com­mon in­ter­ests which bind all of us as in our love of coun­try, and par­tic­u­lar fac­tors that smaller num­bers may iden­tify with as in eth­nic­ity, re­li­gion, age group, in­sti­tu­tion or other cri­te­ria.” Ratu Joni had served in var­i­ous prom­i­nent po­si­tions in­clud­ing as a judge in the High Court and was vice pres­i­dent of Fiji from 2004– 2006. Ratu Joni also served on the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion in Solomon Is­lands set up in 2008 to deal with the af­ter­math of the eth­nic ten­sion. He was also made a Lord by the pre­vi­ous Ton­gan king. Edited by Naisa Koroi

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