The Fiji Government has misrepresented its human rights record in a report to the United Nations, Amnesty International said today.
The government has submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council ahead of a formal review of the state of the country’s human rights scheduled for Thursday 11 February in Geneva.
Amnesty International disputes many of the claims made in the Fiji Government’s National Report, including assertions that religious freedom is enjoyed in Fiji; that the right to free speech is respected; and that the censorship of the media is a necessary security measure.
“Government assertions that human rights are protected in Fiji are an insult to its citizens, who have had to endure surveillance, intimidation and threats by the military,” said Apolosi Bose, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher.
Amnesty International rejects government claims that that the abrogation of Fiji’s constitution, in April 2009, did not have an impact on the respect and enjoyment of human rights, and that the independence of the judiciary remains intact.
“The abrogation of the constitution dealt a devastating blow to the enjoyment of human rights, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in the country,” said Apolosi Bose.
The entire judiciary was sacked in April 2009 and since July, a number of magistrates have been summarily dismissed without any official explanation. Local media continue to face censorship on a daily basis and people are fearful of voicing an opinion that may be contrary to government’s view.
“In an assault on religious freedom, the authorities have specifically targeted the Methodist church of Fiji and have banned the church from holding its annual conference until 2014. Since July 2009, more than 25 pastors and senior administrators of the church have been arrested, briefly detained and charged under the Public Emergency Regulations,” said Apolosi Bose.
The Public Emergency Regulations (PER) which came into force in April 2009, have enabled the government to violate key human rights, while ensuring impunity for those committing these violations. Amnesty International maintains that the interim government has applied the PER to protect itself from any criticism or dissent and to suppress any comment or news item that may be critical of the government or the security forces.
“More than a thousand people have been assaulted, threatened, intimidated or subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, arbitrary arrests, and detention by the military for either being critical of the authorities or on trumped-up charges,” said Apolosi Bose.
As recently as January 2010, senior officials in the Fiji military have openly threatened critics and dissidents. The government has also begun terminating benefits to pensioners who have been critical of the regime, violating their rights to freedom of speech and social security.
“This speaks volumes about the Fiji government’s lack of commitment to respect human rights,” said Apolosi Bose.
Amnesty International urges the Human Rights Council to conduct a rigorous examination of Fiji's fulfilment of its human rights obligations and commitments and to call for practical measures aimed at addressing serious shortcomings.
The organization also calls on the government of Fiji to engage in the examination in a spirit of openness and frankness and to act on recommendations to improve the human rights situation in Fiji.
Amnesty International has documented a litany of human rights violations since the military overthrew the elected government in December 2006. As part of the UN Committee’s review of Fiji, Amnesty International has prepared a submission to the committee which examines in detail the human rights situation in that country.