Fiji, a beautiful archipelago of island nation-states located in the South Pacific, is a major draw for tourists from around the globe. Known for its pristine beaches and unspoiled natural beauty, its disturbing political past is unknown to most. The country has only just recently had its first election in eight years, as power has shifted over the past decades through a series of coups.
Fiji has experienced four coups in the past 30 years, resulting from a multi-ethnic division caused by colonialism (2). As the indigenous community has feared losing power and control to the ethnic Indian community, the island nation has been marked by constant socio-political strife.
The Indo-Fijians and the indigenous Fijians are separated into two camps and have been for decades. The Indo-Fijians, born in Fiji with ancestral roots in India, represent over half the population of the archipelago. They are descended from Indians that were transported to the island as indentured laborers to help Britain, the former colonial power of Fiji, develop a plantation economy (3). Thus, Indo-Fijians came to control the economy, which alienated and angered the indigenous community. The racial divide was solidified in 1970, with the design of the new constitution and political system.
Additionally, Fiji’s military leaders and civilians have a strained relationship, with the most recent uprising being a byproduct of this dysfunction. In 2006, Frank Bainimarama seized power in a military coup that risked isolation from the UN, Commonwealth and Australia. The coup brewed political and economic turbulence with ramifications that are still being felt by Fiji today.
Bainimarama was elected to be Prime Minister in 2014 through the first “democratic” election in over 8 years. Yet, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s administration has helped perpetuate ongoing human rights violations, and Bainimarama himself is adamant that military rule is necessary and vital to guarantee the rebuilding of democracy in Fiji. Through this reasoning, he has applied many legislative rules and practices that repress and violate human rights in the country (4).
The 2014 elections featured a democratic procedure undermined by corruption. For example, according to the Human Rights Watch, there was a delay in the creation of a Fiji Electoral Commission. This hampered the ability for independent candidates and NGOs to campaign. Additionally, Amnesty International representatives were quoted saying that a “pattern of intimidation and harassment [towards] those who are critical of the government, as well as reports of torture by the security forces, have created a climate of fear in Fiji” (5). Many activists, human rights defenders, and journalists are being victimized for doing their job, which has created a climate of fear that is pervading the country.
The US State Department recently published a corresponding report concluding that “leading human rights problems include police and military abuse of persons in custody; restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and movement; and restrictions on trade union and collective bargaining rights as well as strict limitations on the ability of workers” (6). Media censorship and other repressive laws have been promptly imposed along with a media blackout two days ahead of the election in 2014 (7). This can in no way be disguised as a democratic system.
Relatedly, strikes are banned in Fiji and trade union officials are now targeted. Those arrested under the degenerate laws are often tortured while in detention. In March 2013, a video appeared that showcased two soldiers torturing and hitting two men. When Bainimarama was questioned about it, he firmly said that he stood behind his soldiers and no further action was taken. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of the Human Rights Watch, reiterated that, “Failure to investigate torture by Fijian soldiers that was caught on film raises red flags about a culture of impunity for security forces in Fiji.”
As a solution, the member states of the UN need to continue to urge Fiji to invite the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council to access the country. Furthermore, the US has reported on the media freedom abuses, human rights mistreatments, and trade union rights that have occurred in Fiji since Bainimarama has taken control. Yet, neither the US nor the international community have taken action. This needs to change. Australia and other key governments in the Oceanic region and around the world need to force Fiji’s government to end the detention, harassment and maltreatment of its citizens.
(1) News, BBC. "Fiji Country Profile." BBC News. BBC, 28 Dec. 2015. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-14919067>.
(2) Kaur, Jas. "How Fijian Dictator Bainimarama Finally Earned His Mandate." The Conversation. The Conversation US, Inc., 18 Sept. 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. <http://theconversation.com/how-fijian-dictator-bainimarama-finally-earned-his-mandate-31856>.
(3) Tran, Mark. "Fiji's History of Coups." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 05 Dec. 2006. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/dec/05/fiji.travel1>.
(4) Parmar, Shaivalini. "Rights Abuses Continue in Fiji." Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. <https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/08/rights-abuses-continue-fiji>.
(5) "Fiji: Bainimarama Must End Climate of Fear." Amnesty. Amnesty International, 6 Aug. 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. <https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2014/08/fiji-bainimarama-must-end-climate-fear/>.
(6) United States Department of State, and Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. "FIJI 2015 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 (2016): n. pag. State.gov. United States Department of State, 13 Apr. 2016. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. <http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/252975.pdf>.
(7) Tzabiras, Marianna. "Fiji's Historic Election: What Hope for Human Rights? - IFEX." IFEX. International Freedom of Expression Exchange, 17 Sept. 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. <https://www.ifex.org/fiji/2014/09/17/historic_election/>.
Image: © Ramunas Bruzas | Dreamstime.com - Eastern Fiji Architecture