RATU JONI – LIBERAL THINKER, REFORMER
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