Bloggers in Fiji and around the Pacific are debating a recent Amnesty International report chronicling the island nation’s human rights record since the country’s president abrogated the constitution April 10.
The report, titled Fiji: Paradise Lost, contends that since the constitution was nullified, Fiji’s military government has limited freedom of expression, movement, assembly, the right to a fair trial and the freedom of arbitrary detention. Also, the government has briefly imprisoned up to 40 people, including lawyers, opposition politicians, high-ranking members of the Methodist church and 20 journalists. The report tallies alleged arrests and other violations through July.
The head of Fiji’s military, Frank Bainimarama, came to power in a December 2006 coup, dissolving parliament and the government of Laisenia Qarase. On April 9, 2009 three judges ruled in a case brought by Qarase that the takeover was illegal. The judges demanded Bainimarama step down, and asked Fiji’s president to appoint a caretaker government to move the country to elections. On April 10, the country’s president claimed he had no power to appoint a new government; instead, he nullified Fiji’s 1997 constitution, fired the entire judiciary and appointed Bainimarama to a five-year term, scheduling elections in 2014.
One of Bainimarama’s first tasks was to promulgate a series of 30-day renewable Public Emergency Regulations, called PER, for “maintaining public safety,” granting the government the authority to, among other things, impose curfews, restrict movement and the ability to detain people for up to seven days without charges. In July, the government said it would extend the PER through December 2009. Amnesty International calls on the government to immediately repeal these rules.
From the report:
The ongoing harassement and arbitrary detention of journalists, lawyers, clergy and government critics by the authorities under the guise of the PER is a tactic used to suppress freedom of expression, including any form of dissent.
The report saves special criticism for the restriction of the country’s press. The rights group points out that extra-constitutional PERs allow the government to revoke the license of any media organ printing negative stories; the government also granted itself power to place censors in newsrooms around the country.
The report also claims the government holds undue influence over the country’s judiciary.
Fiji’s government says the report provides very little proof of alleged human rights abuses perpetrated by the country’s military.
In a comment at the Soli Vakasama blog, Tui argues it is good that someone has begun chronicling the alleged abuses by the Bainiarama regime.
THe entry of Amnesty Interrnational into the foray of Fiji Politics must be very disheartnening to the Illegal Regime.Now they will have to answer to somebody for their total disregard of human and civil rights in Fiji.They have to explain why they are only allowing one side of the story to be told.With the entry of Amnesty International into the mix the illegal regime must explain the abuse of women, the torture of civillians and even their murder. Isn’t it strange that the regimes first line of defence as stated by the uneducated PS for Info is that people must come with evidence of the abuse. I wonder which planet Leweni is talking from because we know that PER is still in force in Fiji and that is proof enough of abuse of anykind.I am so glad that this is happening in Fiji because soon some heads will begin to roll and it will not be the peoples but that of the illegal regime and its mastermind Bainimarama.
No Right Turn, a blog from New Zealand, calls the report – which also exposes alleged abuses from the December 2006 coup – “unpleasant reading.”
While the Fijian regime are clearly amateurs at oppression, they have successfully created a climate of fear, with people intimidated by “Gestapo tactics”, including threats, arrests, arbitrary detentions, travel bans, and even attacks on homes. According to Amnesty, over a thousand people have been dragged off by the military to their barracks, where they have been beaten, forced to perform military drills, stripped, and sexually abused. At least one person has died as a result of this mistreatment, but despite being tried and convicted, his killers have been released on orders from the regime. The media is subject to censorship and can report only “good news” about the regime and international events. The judiciary has been corrupted and turned into a tool of the regime, and the rule of law no longer exists. Instead, everything is down to the arbitrary whim of those in power.
This isn't happening in some far-off place like China or Zimbabwe – its happening right on our doorstep, in one of the largest countries in the Pacific. And there seems to be very little we can do to stop it.
Bainiarama justified his actions in December 2006 claiming the former government was corrupt and former Prime Minister Qarase ruled solely for the benefit of the indigenous Fijian population at the expense of Indo-Fijians, descendants of indentured servants brought to the islands about a century ago by British colonial rulers. Indigineous Fijians presently make up just below 60 percent of the population while Indo-Fijians represent roughly 37 percent.
Fiji: The Way It Was, Is and Can Be argues this historical context is not found in Amnesty International’s report.
As for the report itself, I can only say I'm deeply disappointed with Amnesty International, an organization that over the years I have admired and financially supported. Its title tells all: Fiji: Paradise Lost: A Tale of Ongoing Human Rights Violations April – July 2009. Its researcher and author is ethnic Fijian Apolosi Bose. Its methodology involved 80 interviews with journalists, lawyers and others, all hostile to the Interim Government, based largely on Bose's visit to Fiji from 4-18 April, and 2008-2009 inputs from “activists in Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne and London. ” The Fiji April visit overlapped the Abrogation of the 1997 Constitution and the introduction of the Public Emergency Regulations. Other than the period immediately following the coup, this was the most troubled period in the past six years…
There have been human rights abuses in Fiji, and not all of them have been properly addressed by the Government. There have also been abuses of office by opponents of the Government. These things happen in post-coup situations. All such happenings need to be place in context, weighed and balanced; compared with earlier (pre-coup) abuses; and considered within a future context: where is Fiji now, and how may we help it to move towards a better future? The Amnesty International investigation does none of these things. It is a report by and about “activists” aimed at an international audience, and it will be used by them to further isolate Fiji to no useful purpose.
Two bloggers from outside Fiji debate the veracity and importance of recent media reports on the purported human rights violations by Fiji’s government.
The QBrand QBlog, from Australia, wonders why people in that country get worked up about problems in Burma, but ignore purported violations in Fiji.
It's getting harder and harder to understand the attitudes of many Australians to our island neighbour Fiji. Despite clear evidence of the repressive nature of the Bainimarama regime, most of the talk I hear about Fiji is about how cheap the airfares are and which resort is the best.
From a branding perspective, what are the forces that perpetuate our view of Fiji as a sleepy, friendly tropical paradise when we get worked up about human rights in Burma and Zimbabwe, or about media censorship in China?
Is it just proximity? Or is it that so many Australians and Australian enterprises with commercial interests in Fiji are willing to be apologists for Bainimarama and his military government?
Café Pacific, from a New Zealand-based journalist and academic, criticizes Pacific media for concentrating on abuses in Fiji while ignoring decades of human rights violations in East Timor.
THE HYPOCRISY reeks. While Australia, NZ and the media went through the usual bleating about Fiji human rights violations, they remained silent about the ongoing struggle to gain justice for those Timorese who have suffered horrendous human rights violations for more than four decades. Alleged human rights violations in Fiji are a soft target – the tough target, the top Indonesian military commanders who have blood on their hands for their colonial adventure in East Timor, remain free with inpunity. Timor-Leste's Truth Commission appeals for an international tribunal and a “commission for disappeared persons” still remain an unlikely dream.
[Note to copy editors, line editors, journalists, NGOs and news organizations: The terms “paradise lost,” “trouble in paradise,” and other related expressions are now forbidden in future reports on Fiji. Utilizing this long-suffering analogy now constitutes a human rights violation.]