30 Oct 2023

Israel-Gaza conflict: Fiji's former leader and humanitarian groups criticise Pacific vote against UN resolution

6:52 pm on 30 October 2023
A picture shows General Assembly which voted on resolution on Israel-Palestinian war at UN Headquarters in New York on October 27, 2023. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun ) (Photo by Yasushi Kaneko / Yomiuri / The Yomiuri Shimbun via AFP)

A picture shows General Assembly which voted on resolution on Israel-Palestinian war at UN Headquarters in New York on October 27, 2023. Photo: AFP/Yasushi Kaneko

Former Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama is concerned for Fijian troops in the Middle East after the majority of Pacific states - including Fiji - voted against a United Nations resolution for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

The UN adopted a resolution over the weekend on the "protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations" in relation to the ongoing Gaza crisis.

The vote passed with 120 nations, including New Zealand and Solomon Islands voting in favour. However, the majority of Pacific states voted against - siding with the United States, Israel and United Kingdom.

Israel argued that any ceasefire would give Hamas time to rearm and attack Israel again, following the massacre of at least 1400 Israeli citizens - most of them civilians - on 7 October. More than 220 were taken hostage.

Israeli forces are waging ground operations against Hamas in Gaza as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aims to crush the Palestinian militant group.

The Gaza Health Ministry said the death toll among Palestinians passed 8000, mostly women and children, and more than than 1.4 million people in Gaza had fled their homes.

Fiji, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Papua New Guinea, Nauru and Tonga voted against a UN resolution. While Australia, Kiribati, Palau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu abstained. Samoa remained silent.

Bainimarama criticised Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka for being "contradictory" and said the vote by Fiji on the world stage "did not reflect the view of most Fijians", which was a call for a ceasefire, he told RNZ Pacific on Monday.

"Stop the suffering right now. Stop the killing. Allow humanitarian aid. That is what is required in the resolution," Bainimarama told RNZ Pacific.

Earlier this month, Rabuka self-proclaimed he was "an apostle for peace" and had proposed the Pacific be a conflict free-peace zone.

Rabuka plans to discuss his peace-zone proposal at the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in the Cook Islands next month.

However, Bainimarama said Fiji's stance at the UN was not one of peace and instead "put their troops which are stationed in Iraq, at risk".

The FijiFirst leader said he did not support either side of the conflict but did support "a resolution" to save thousands of innocent people, including women and children, many of whom have lost everything.

"This vote goes against the fundamental principles of humanity, peace, and justice that should guide the nation's international policies," he said.

"Fiji's vote at the United Nations in favour of war contradicts the nation's long-standing legacy as peacekeepers, a legacy upon which both our reputation and that of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces have been founded.

"We have troops in the Middle East, in Iraq, Syria... all over the Middle East. That is a concern for us. Parents of the troops are worried about what will Hamas do to them in the Middle East. That is the other thing we should be worried about."

Former Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama speaks out on Fiji's decision to vote against the UN resolution for a ceasefire in Gaza

Former Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama told RNZ Pacific Fiji's stance at the UN was not one of peace. Photo: Supplied

Pacific states called out

Pacific humanitarian groups and some academics have criticised Pacific states for voting against the UN ceasefire, claiming they are "supporting genocide".

Fiji women's rights advocate Shamima Ali said the Fiji government "does not speak for all the people of this country".

"The least they could have done is abstain instead of coming out so shamefully where genocide is being committed," Ali said.

She said Fiji human rights groups and other NGOs were planning to take action to change the Fijian government's position and was awaiting a permit for a march on 16 November.

She said it was "not about taking sides, it's about immediate cease fire to genocide and supporting the good folks around the world".

Ali further added it was also "unacceptable that Fiji had withdrawn its name from the list of nations criticising China's human rights violations of Uyghur and Muslim minorities".

Fiji Council of Social Services chief executive Vani Catanasiga said Palestinian people, especially "women and children must be protected".

"It is not to take away from what happened in Israel," Catanasiga said.

When asked by The Fiji Times why Fiji voted against the UN resolution for a ceasefire, Rabuka's response was "Who stirred the hornets' nest?"

However, Fiji's Home Affairs Minister Pio Tikoduadua took to social media platform X (formerly Twitter) to express his political party's position on the issue.

"[National Federation Party] does not support Fiji's vote at the [UN] rejecting a planned ceasefire," he said.

"To reiterate my tweet from the 9th of October, "Regardless of where one stands on the Palestine-Israel issue, it's clear that innocent lives are always the most affected. May our actions and words always priositise human lives over politics.

"Let's champion dialogue and understanding to pave the way for a peaceful future," he added.

RNZ Pacific has contacted the Fiji government for comment.

Shamima Ali,the chief executive of the Fiji Women's Centre Centre. Suva 19 December 2022

Shamima Ali says human rights groups and other NGOs were planning to take action to change the Fijian government's position Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Kelvin Anthony


A Papua New Guinean lawyer Dr Bal Kama said he was "regretful to see Pacific states oppose the resolution".

"If religious fundamentalism is a cause as it is for spineless PNG, they have committed the most unchristian act," he said.

Kama applauded New Zealand and the "leadership" of Solomon Islands for making a "morally correct decision to stand on the right side of history".

Kama said considering the Pacific is facing a climate crisis and "many existential threats", the vote against a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid was "hypocritical" as the Pacific itself relies heavily on the goodwill of people and often requires global humanitarian aid.

"It is an utmost hypocrisy and something that will taint the Pacific going forward in terms our demands for global humanitarian intervention for our causes," he said.

Last month, Pacific leaders were hosted by US President Joe Biden in Washington where he promised US$200 million in funding to the region. The Solomon Islands prime minister did not attend but sent his foreign minister instead.

Kama said geopolitical heavyweights may have had some influence in how the Pacific states have voted on the UN resolution last week.

Papua New Guinean academic and lawyer,  Bal Kama.

Dr Bal Kama says geopolitical heavyweights may have had some influence in how the Pacific states have voted on the UN resolution. Photo: Australian National University