The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor has released its 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The bureau filed reports on a number of countries; the following is the first part of the lengthy document it released on Fiji.
Fiji is a republic with a population of approximately 837,000. The 1997 constitution provided for a ceremonial president selected by the Great Council of Chiefs and an elected prime minister and Parliament. However, in 2006 the armed forces commander, Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama, overthrew the elected government in a bloodless coup d'etat. In 2007 the interim military government was replaced by a nominally civilian interim government headed by Bainimarama as prime minister. Bainimarama and his Military Council controlled the security forces.
On April 9, the Court of Appeal declared the coup and the interim government unlawful. On April 10, the government abrogated the constitution, imposed a state of emergency, and began to rule by decree.
Bainimarama's de facto government denied citizens the right to change their government peacefully. In April the de facto government dismissed the entire judiciary and replaced it with its own appointees. It censored and intimidated the media and restricted freedom of speech and the right to assemble peacefully. Other problems during the year included police and military impunity; poor prison conditions; attacks against religious facilities; the dismissal of constitutionally appointed government officials, as well as elected mayors and town councils; government corruption; deep ethnic divisions; violence and discrimination against women; and sexual exploitation of children.
Public Emergency Regulations (PER), initially promulgated April 10 for a three-month period, were repeatedly extended and remained in effect at year's end.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.
In March trials were held for military personnel and police officers charged in the 2007 deaths of Nimilote Verebasaga and Sakiusa Rabaka. Eight soldiers and one police officer were convicted of manslaughter in the Rabaka case and sentenced to four years' imprisonment. The lone soldier charged in the death of Verebasaga also was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to three years and three months in prison. However, in May all those convicted in the Rabaka case were released from prison after serving only six weeks of their sentences. The soldier convicted in the Verebasaga case also was released, after serving only two weeks of his sentence. All 10 subsequently were reinstated in the military and police forces. The permanent secretary for information, Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni, asserted that the Prisons Act gave the commissioner of prisons the discretion to allow release of prisoners under compulsory supervision orders for good behavior.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the abrogated constitution prohibits such practices, the security forces did not always respect this prohibition in practice. The PER authorize the government to use whatever force is deemed necessary to enforce PER provisions.
The military in some cases assisted the Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (FICAC) to investigate allegations of corruption, and there were reports members of the military detained and assaulted civilians to obtain evidence in corruption cases.
Amnesty International reported that security forces beat politician Iliesa Duvuloco and several other men detained in April for distributing political pamphlets critical of the government (see section 2.a.) and forced them to perform military-type drills.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions did not meet international standards. The national prison system was seriously underfunded, with deteriorating infrastructure and poor delivery of essential services. The system had insufficient beds, inadequate sanitation, and a shortage of basic necessities. There were a large number of prison escapes during the year. The pretrial detention facility at Suva's prison remained closed due to its substandard condition.
There were approximately 1,000 inmates in the country's 14 prisons, of which approximately 100 were pretrial detainees. Of the estimated 900 convicted prisoners, approximately 25 were women and 120 were juveniles. The prisons had a total capacity of 1,080 inmates.
In some cases pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held together. Courts released pretrial detainees, including some facing serious charges, on bail to minimize their exposure to an unhealthy and overcrowded prison environment.
The government permitted prison monitoring visits by independent human rights observers. During the year the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited official detention facilities and interviewed inmates; such visits were permitted without third parties present. Family members were routinely permitted to visit prisoners.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always respect this prohibition in practice.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Ministry of Home Affairs, headed by the minister for defense, oversees the Fiji Police Force, which is responsible for law enforcement and the maintenance of internal security. After the 2006 dismissal of the police commissioner and his deputy, deputy army commander Captain Esala Teleni was appointed commissioner. Historically responsible for external security, the Republic of Fiji Military Force (RFMF) has maintained since 2005 it has a broad constitutional responsibility for national security that also extends to domestic affairs. Many constitutional scholars in the country rejected that assertion. Under the PER soldiers are authorized to perform the duties and functions of police and prison officers. The RFMF also participated in the awareness campaign to gain support for the People's Charter for Change, Peace, and Progress, a domestic policy initiative of the Bainimarama government.
Police maintained a network of stations and posts throughout the country. Policing of more remote and smaller islands was done through regularly scheduled visits. There was a joint military and police command center based at the Suva Central Police Station. Military personnel were assigned to accompany police patrols and jointly staff police checkpoints.
The police Internal Affairs Unit is statutorily responsible for investigating complaints of police misconduct. FICAC continued to investigate public agencies and officials, including some members of the police and military forces. However, impunity and corruption remained problems. The PER provide immunity from prosecution for members of the security forces for any deaths or injuries arising from use of force deemed necessary to enforce PER provisions.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
By law police officers may arrest persons without a warrant for violations of the penal code. Police also arrest persons in response to warrants issued by magistrates and judges. Under the constitution arrested persons must be brought before a court without "undue delay," normally interpreted to mean within 24 hours, with 48 hours as the exception. Detainees have the right to a judicial review of the grounds for their arrest. However, these rights were not always observed by the police and military after the constitution was abrogated. The PER permit the government to detain for up to seven days without charge persons suspected of violating PER provisions.
Following the April abrogation of the constitution, the government detained without charge journalists, lawyers, and nongovernmental organization (NGO) activists for periods up to two days. At least 20 journalists were detained overnight before being released. On April 14, the authorities detained Dor Sami Naidu, president of the Fiji Law Society, after he and other lawyers appeared at the Lautoka High Court to pursue their cases and expressed support for judges and magistrates dismissed by the government; he was released without charge on April 15. Another 20 critics were also arrested, detained overnight, and then released without charge.
There was a generally well-functioning bail system.
Detainees generally were allowed prompt access to counsel and family members, but some journalists and others detained for short periods after criticizing the government were denied prompt access to a lawyer.
The Legal Aid Commission provided counsel to some indigent defendants in criminal cases, a service supplemented by voluntary services from private attorneys.
The courts had a significant backlog of cases, worsened by the government's April dismissal of the existing judiciary. Processing was slowed by, among other things, a shortage of prosecutors and judges. As a result some defendants faced lengthy pretrial detention.
Editor's Note: More to come on the report, plus the link