The London-based International Bar Association (IBA), comprising more than 195 law associations from around the world, had planned a March 2008 mission to assess the independence of the judiciary in Fiji. Despite the organization’s assurance to the regime that they would not impinge in any way through pressure or influence on the courts, the administration’s chief apologist accused the IBA of ‘being manipulated by powerful elite’. A regime that has lectured the country ad nauseam on the need for good governance, transparency and accountability refused to apply the same standards to itself. The IBA mission would have been an excellent opportunity for the regime to demonstrate just how independent the Fiji judiciary is. The suggestion that the IBA might interfere with ongoing constitutional cases, was a little far-fetched. It is almost as ridiculous as suggesting that the environmental organization Greenpeace would participate in the killing of whales.
Delegates of the proposed IBA mission included a senior judge from Queensland and senior legal practitioners from the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Reacting to the government’s ‘ban’ on the mission, Supreme Court judge Roslyn Atkinson, who was to be a member of the mission, said, ‘I hope that they reconsider and allow the visit to proceed in the interests of openness and accountability’. What the regime’s paranoia about external oversight showed was a fear that respected jurists, who had conducted missions to Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Guantanamo Bay, might discover the real situation on the ground. Perhaps the simple truth would have been unpalatable. At the time of writing, the interim administration has apparently had a change of heart and agreed to allow the IBA to visit Fiji.