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Wicked Wizard of Oz

Upon arrival in the Solomon Islands in October last year to assume charge as attorney general of the country, the internationally known barrister and law academic, Julian Moti, was arrested by the Australian police, stationed there as part of the neocolonial Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, and is now battling against extradition. Besides bringing important human rights concerns to the fore, the harassment of Julian Moti by the Australian authority raises the issue of the Solomon Island's right to autonomous self-governance.

Wicked Wizard of Oz

Australia, Moti and the Solomon Islands

Upon arrival in the Solomon Islands in October last year to assume charge as attorney general of the country, the internationally known barrister and law academic, Julian Moti, was arrested by the Australian police, stationed there as part of the neocolonial Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, and is now battling against extradition. Besides bringing important human rights concerns to the fore, the harassment of Julian Moti by the Australian authority raises the issue of the Solomon Island’s right to autonomous self-governance.

BIKRAM JEET BATRA

T
he continued detention of Mohammed Haneef on immigration grounds despite an Australian court releasing him on bail has suddenly turned the spotlight on the Howard regime and issues of human rights in Australia. Australia’s military support to the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq; the xenophobic stance of “Fortress Australia” in using military special forces and warships to keep refugees out; its treatment of the aboriginals; and its cheating East Timor of precious oil reserves (by rejecting the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the international sea boundary in favour of an agreement between Australia and the former Indonesian regime) have received scant attention in India. Instead most previous references in the Indian press to Australia have been restricted to the sports pages and their magnificent cricket team. In all this, Australia’s big-brotherly games in the South Pacific islands have also gone unnoticed. But this is no sport or fun – in fact, if the case of Julian Moti is anything to go by, it is just not cricket!

Julian Moti, an Australian of Indo-Fijian origin, is an internationally known barrister and law academic and was recently appointed attorney general of the Solomon Islands (Solomons). His appointment was turbulent by any standards. When the appointment was announced in September 2006, Julian Moti was a visiting professor at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. En-route to the Solomons to take up the post, he was detained in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG) pursuant to a sudden Australian request for his extradition. Even though the extradition request was held to be invalid by the PNG authorities, Moti was forced to seek refuge in the Solomons’ high commission in Port Moresby as his passport was cancelled by the Australian government. He was then flown to Solomons by a PNG military aircraft.

Upon arrival in Solomons on October 10, 2006 Moti was arrested by Australian federal police officers, stationed in Solomons as a part of a broader virtually Australian neocolonial Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Solomons’ prime minister Manasseh Sogavare referred to the arrest as a “serious violation of the sovereignty” of his country. Both Sogavare and his PNG counterpart, grand chief Michael Somare asserted that as attorney general, Moti was a state official of the Solomons who was entitled under international law to “special protection from any attack on his person, freedom or dignity” as an “internationally protected person” under the 1977 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons. (Both PNG and Australia are parties to this Convention whose provisions are established as customary international law.)

Moti’s arrest in Solomons was for a minor offence of entering the country without valid travel documents – a bogus charge considering that Moti held both work and residence permits valid till August 2007 and was in any event as the Solomons’ new attorney general, a government employee and, therefore, exempted from the requirement of holding any entry permits under Solomons immigration laws. Although he was subsequently released by a Solomons court, he is battling extradition being sought by the Australian federal police under the Crimes (Child Sex Tourism) Amendment Act 1994 for an incident allegedly involving Moti in Vanuatu in 1997.

Prosecution or Persecution

The Australian charges for extradition themselves are mystifying. While practising as a lawyer in Vanuatu, charges of statutory rape were initiated against Moti, but these were dropped after being fully considered by relevant courts and he was subsequently discharged of all criminal liability in 2000. Australia attempted to paint the Vanuatu court as a kangaroo court (pun unintended!) despite the court of appeal in Vanuatu comprising of a number of distinguished visiting judges, including John Von Doussa (the present president of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission), Bruce Robertson (the president of the New Zealand Law Commission), and Daniel Fatiaki (the former chief justice of Fiji). In fact, Vanuatu’s police commissioner Patu Navoko Lui told journalists he was surprised the Australian federal police had reopened the case against Moti after so many years. “We felt the case against him was cleared, finished”, he said.

Why then was this case reopened by Australia, and Julian Moti painted as a fugitive and a paedophile? The timing of the request may perhaps reveal more. The alleged incident took place in 1997 and after being cleared of all charges in Vanuatu, Julian Moti lived in Sydney from 2000 to 2005 teaching law at Bond University in Queensland and managing his regional law firms’ offices in the Solomons and Vanuatu. Sufficient time, one would imagine, for the Australian government and federal police to get their act together and inquire into previous charges. Even after moving abroad in 2005, Moti travelled often to Australia, yet it was only after the announcement of his appointment as the attorney general of Solomons in September 2006 that Australia decided to seek his extradition. The Australian justice

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Economic and Political Weekly August 4, 2007 minister Chris Ellison was unable to explain when asked of this delay by the Australian newspaper.

Moti’s credentials for the appointment itself are strong. Besides his academic experience, he practised law in various countries in the Pacific, including Vanuatu and Solomons, and was also president of the International Law Association (Pacific Islands Branch). More importantly, he was awarded the Cross of Solomon Islands (the Solomons equivalent of the British knighthood) in 2001 “for contribution to the law and development of indigenous business enterprise in Solomon Islands” and appointed as one of her majesty’s counsel (QC) in 2003. Yet despite such credentials, his appointment was not favoured by the Australian government. Was it because he was the first non-white Australian to be appointed to the post?

Good (Australian) Governance

But this is not a tale of race alone. One needs to delve a little deeper into south Pacific politics for a clearer sense of the situation. In 2003 increasing factional violence in Solomons led to Australia’s “humanitarian intervention” and the setting up of RAMSI to ensure “good governance” and “transparency” in the “failed island state” by transferring effective control of the police, courts, prisons, and financial institutions to an Australian force. Many have argued that the real agenda of the intervention was instead to reassert Australia’s dominance in the region and send a strong message to China in particular, who had been looking southwards at a growing relationship with many Pacific states.

Even if RAMSI was welcomed by many Islanders for controlling the violence that had been going on for many years, it is clear that Australia and RAMSI have overstayed their welcome. Once prime minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government was elected in May 2006, it initiated efforts to reduce RAMSI’s control over Solomons and its economic policy in particular. Julian Moti, a close acquaintance of the prime minister, also advised the Solomons government in establishing a commission of inquiry into the April 2006 riots in Solomons’ capital, Honaira. (The inquiry has just released its first interim report pointing out failures of RAMSI’s Australian police commanders in handling the riots.) Canberra also appears to hold Moti responsible for the expulsion of the Australian high commissioner from Solomons for interfering in the internal affairs of that country. The announcement of Moti’s appointment as attorney general was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back with Howard now declaring an allout attack against Moti, including the old statutory rape charges.

Those who know or have heard of Julian Moti’s inclination to assist and serve political interests and forces in the Pacific Islands states opposed to Australian hegemonic interventions in their affairs have little doubt that the action against him is retaliatory, exposing the ongoing imperial role played by Australia in the Pacific island states. Incidentally Moti was not the only Australian targeted. The former Australian federal court judge Marcus Einfeld who was to head the commission of enquiry found himself the subject of an unprecedented smear campaign in the Australian media, courtesy a contested and unpaid speeding fine of 77 Australian dollars! Einfeld was eventually forced to resign.

Subsequent to Moti’s controversial flight from PNG and his arrest in Solomons, prime minister Sogavare survived an Australian engineered “no-confidence” vote and is now threatening to expel the Australian RAMSI. On its part, Australia has further barred visits by leaders from the PNG and Solomon Islands and is warning that it will withdraw all aid to Solomons. The Australian prime minister Howard also called Julian Moti’s recent swearing-in as attorney general “provocative and insensitive”, but many observers believe Canberra is more worried about Sogavare’s two-thirds majority in parliament which threatens to withdraw the immunity enjoyed by RAMSI personnel under the Facilitation Act that allowed the 2003 intervention. Sovagare’s appointment of another Indo-Fijian, Jahir Khan as Solomons police commissioner, after removal of Australian Shane Castle has further incensed Canberra. Not only do these steps mock Howard’s claims of popular support for RAMSI, but without immunity and a non-Australian head of police, RAMSI would actually need to observe the law, instead of only imposing it.

The Australian witch-hunt against Julian Moti raises some important human rights concerns, not least the use of a progressive human rights friendly law as a political weapon to curb and control freedom of speech and expression and of political action. The deeper story behind the episode raises the issue of the right of Solomons and other Pacific Islands states to promote autonomous self-governance – a well recognised right of all states under both the law of nations and international human rights law. But as everywhere else, questions of access to Solomons’ existing tuna and forestry reserves and prospective oil, gas and mineral resources lurk in the shadows. The stakes in the Solomon Islands are high indeed and Australia has made clear that this is no gentleman’s game in white flannels, but a modern pacific variant of the colonial “great game”.

EPW

Email: bjbatra@gmail.com

ACADEMIC WRITING WORKSHOP IN SOCIAL SCIENCES

The Western Regional Centre of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, Mumbai announces an Academic Writing Workshop for young scholars in Social Sciences. A residential programme will be held during 19-25 November, 2007 at the WRC. The programme is also open to second year Master’s students who are planning to do Ph.D. The workshop will focus on developing skills for academic writing and will involve significant hands-on training. Preference will be given to participants from western India.

Participants are expected to submit an outline research proposal which will be the basis for selection in the programme. The proposal should reach the undersigned by 26th October, 2007.

Dr Neeraj Hatekar I/C Director

Indian Council of Social Science Research

Western Regional Centre J.P. Naik Bhavan, Vidyanagari, Mumbai - 400 098

Economic and Political Weekly August 4, 2007

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