Tonga’s prime minister, who nurtured democracy, dies at 78

Prime Minister of Tonga Samiuela Akilisi Pohiva was also known for his fight against global warming. (File/Reuters)
Updated 12 September 2019

Tonga’s prime minister, who nurtured democracy, dies at 78

  • Pohiva died at the Auckland City Hospital at about 9 a.m. after being medically evacuated to New Zealand a day earlier
  • He had been hospitalized in Tonga for two weeks suffering from pneumonia before his condition turned critical

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who helped wrest power from the royal family and bring greater democracy to the small Pacific island nation, died Thursday. He was 78.
Pohiva died at the Auckland City Hospital at about 9 a.m. after being medically evacuated to New Zealand a day earlier, political adviser Lopeti Senituli told The Associated Press. Prior to that, he had been hospitalized in Tonga for two weeks suffering from pneumonia before his condition turned critical, Senituli said.
“He will be remembered as the champion of democracy and being primarily responsible for the democratic reforms that were incorporated into the country’s constitution in 2010,” Senituli said.
Pohiva was also known for his fight against global warming. Archipelagos like Tonga, which is made up 171 islands and is home to 106,000 people, are particularly vulnerable to rising seas.
Pohiva spent more than three decades in office after he was first elected to Tonga’s parliament in 1987. In 2013, he became the first Pacific Islander to win the Defender of Democracy Award, presented by New York-based nonprofit Parliamentarians for Global Action.
“His political career has been marked by battles with the Tongan monarchy over democracy, transparency and corruption,” the nonprofit wrote, noting that he was imprisoned in 1996 for contempt of parliament before the Supreme Court ordered he be released. On another occasion, he was charged with sedition.
“He was an immensely significant figure,” said Graeme Smith, a research fellow at Australian National University. “As Prime Minister, he was very influential in the region and a really strong voice for Tonga. Regionally, and globally, he will be tremendously missed.”
Smith said it may be too early to tell if Pohiva has created a permanent legacy of strong democracy in Tonga, because there continues to be pushback from vested interests including the royal family and the nobility.
For now, lawmaker Semisi Sika is Tonga’s acting prime minister.
Before becoming a politician, Pohiva taught history and sociology at the University of the South Pacific. His wife Neomai Pohiva died last year. The couple had seven children.
Pohiva spoke at a 2006 pro-democracy rally in the capital Nuku’alofa shortly before rioters destroyed much of the downtown. After that, the country borrowed money from China to rebuild and now owes $108 million to China’s Export-Import bank, equivalent to about 25% of GDP, a level of indebtedness that worries many observers.
Pohiva was first elected prime minister in 2014 and won re-election three years later. His recent tenure was marked by bouts of ill health.
Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama wrote on Twitter that Pohiva “inspired the world with raw emotion” last month at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu. Bainimarama said Pohiva attended despite his poor health because he recognized the urgency of climate change: “We must honor his legacy by continuing this fight.”


Dhaka backs ICC call for Rohingya inquiry

This combination of file photos created on November 14, 2019, shows Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (L) attending the 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Bangkok on November 4, 2019 and Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing attending the 71th anniversary of Martyrs' Day in Yangon on July 19, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2019

Dhaka backs ICC call for Rohingya inquiry

  • Full-scale investigation will exert ‘real pressure’ on Myanmar over repatriation, experts say

DHAKA: Bangladeshi experts on Saturday welcomed the International Criminal Court’s decision to launch a full-scale investigation into Myanmar’s alleged mass persecution of the Rohingya.
Following a request from the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, earlier this year, the court on Thursday approved an inquiry into alleged atrocities carried out by Myanmar since 2016, which the UN has previously referred to as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Delwar Hossain, director general of the East Asia wing of Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry, said the case was “very sensitive”
for Bangladesh.
“We consider the matter like the other international community. Here the ICC will conduct its investigation independently and we will not intervene or hamper their investigation process,” Hossain told Arab News.
“Earlier, too, when the ICC team visited Bangladesh to hear the plight of the Rohingya, they moved freely wherever they wanted. We have just facilitated their movements,” he added.
Prof. Akmol Hossain of Dhaka University said that as a signatory of the Rome statute, Bangladesh must comply with ICC rules and regulations, adding that, in principle, the court’s latest move is a “victory”
for Bangladesh.
“The ICC will investigate the mass persecution against Rohingyas on its own. Gambia has filed the case from international responsibility. Now it is primarily established that injustices were made to the Rohingya in Myanmar,” Hossain said.
“When the full-scale investigation against Myanmar begins, it will create a lot pressure on the country. Bangladesh needs to continue its diplomatic efforts among the international community to build more pressure on Myanmar which may create some opportunities for a sustainable Rohingya repatriation,” he added.
Former Ambassador Rashed Ahmed Chowdhury said the ICC’s decision was “a most welcoming development.”
Myanmar will never accept the Rohingya if the issue remains unresolved, he said.
“This is the real pressure on Myanmar and it will bring some solutions,” Chowdhury said.
“Now international law will take its own course to investigate the genocide. It is difficult to foresee what will happen, but it is a major
development.”
Bangladesh is currently hosting almost 1.2 million Rohingya at the squalid refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, which is considered the world’s largest refugee settlement.
Since August 2017, more than 750,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape persecution in their homeland.
The UN has said that attacks on the Rohingya had a “genocidal intent.”