Last edited: April 18, 2005

Pacific Island Nation Under Fire Over Sodomy Laws (Conservative Christian), April 18, 2005
Pacific Rim Bureau

By Patrick Goodenough, International Editor

The government of Fiji is coming under growing pressure to change its laws after a court in the Pacific island nation jailed two men for having sex.

Thomas McCoskar, a 55-year-old Australian tourist, and 23-year-old Fijian delivery man Dhirendra Nadan are out on bail and will appeal their convictions later this month.

They were accused of having sex and taking photographs of one another while naked over a 10-day period in late March and early April.

Homosexual sexual activity is illegal in the former British colony, a situation defended by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase on the basis of biblical teaching that sex between men is sinful.

One article of the penal code outlaws “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” while another prohibits “any act of gross indecency” between two men, “whether in public or private.”

The case has sparked protests in Fiji and Australia, and the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the convictions violated international human rights principles and Fiji’s own constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on “sexual orientation.”

The Fiji Times quoted Qarase as saying other countries should not interfere with Fiji’s legal processes, while opposition parties argued that the constitution should take precedence over any law inconsistent with it.

Australia protested to the Fijian government that its citizen was effectively denied consular assistance because the trial was held without Australian diplomats’ knowledge. McCoskar has received consular help since his conviction.

Australian opposition parties accuse Canberra of not speaking out on the homosexuality aspect itself.

“The government’s silence on this issue looks like a tacit endorsement of the discriminatory homophobic views of the Fijian prime minister and the magistrate who jailed these men,” said Senator Kerry Nettle, a representative of the Green party.

Fifty-two percent of Fiji’s 880,000 people are Christians, with the majority Methodists. Along with sugar exports, tourism is the key earner of foreign exchange, but the government does not encourage “sex tourism” of the type associated with some Asia-Pacific holiday destinations.

“Fijians are by nature modest people,” advises Britain’s foreign and commonwealth office (FCO). “Topless bathing and nudity in public is forbidden.”

An FCO travel advisory updated in recent days noted McCoskar’s conviction.

“Gay and lesbian travelers should note that Fijian attitudes towards homosexuality are complex,” it said.

“Despite examples of cross-dressing within the traditional Pacific culture, there can be aggressive outbursts against homosexuality. A further complication is that whilst the 1997 Constitution provides for sexual freedom and equality, primary legislation still exists which prohibits homosexual acts, even in private.”

Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade says in a travel notice: “Australians are reminded that when overseas, they are subject to local laws ... a violation of local laws may result in a jail sentence, served in a local prison. Homosexual acts are illegal in Fiji.”

The State Department’s travel information on Fiji does not refer specifically to the issue, but carries a generic warning: “While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.”

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