United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Fiji, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3a20.html [accessed 31 March 2015]
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FIJI Fiji's system of parliamentary democracy, inherited when the country gained independence from Great Britain in 1970, was interrupted in 1987 with the installation of a military-led regime following two bloodless coups. Fiji returned to elected government in 1992. That Government fell in November 1993 over failure to pass a budget for 1994. The subsequent general election in February 1994 returned Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka and substantially the same government to office. Ethnicity plays a major role in Fiji's politics, economy, and society. Fiji's more than 775,000 people constitute a multiracial society in which indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians together, in roughly equal numbers, account for 96 percent of the population. Indo-Fijians dominate the commercial sector and professions and are well represented in the lower and middle levels of the Government. Ethnic Fijians control the legal and political organizations and dominate the military forces. The small but professional Fiji Military Forces (FMF) and a separate police force report to and are under the control of the Minister for Home Affairs and, ultimately, the President. In 1990 the Government also established the Fiji Intelligence Service, with limited statutory powers to search people and property, monitor telephones, and access mail correspondence and financial records. There continue to be credible reports of occasional human rights abuses by individual police officers. Sugar and tourism constitute the mainstays of the economy, accounting for almost half of the nation's foreign exchange earnings. The Government is promoting light manufacturing for export, notably a garment industry, to diversify the economy and lessen its dependence on sugar and tourism. Principal human rights problem remained constitutionally imposed and ethnically based political discrimination which, inter alia, abridges the right of citizens to change their government, as well as overt bias in land tenure and government policies favoring ethnic Fijians. Other human rights problems include occasional police brutality, potential constraints on the exercise of freedom of the press, continued delays in bringing criminal and civil cases to trial, discrimination and cases of violence against women, and instances of abuse of children.
Respect for Human Rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings by the Government or any political group. In September a court sentenced two police officers to life imprisonment for first degree murder following a 1994 death in the arrest of a knife-wielding suspect. A third officer pled guilty to a lesser charge and was the Government's major witness in the court's finding that police had used excessive force to subdue the intoxicated victim.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Police sometimes physically abuse detainees; the authorities have sometimes punished offending officers, but these punishments have not served as an effective deterrent to other officers' actions. The Police Department's internal affairs unit investigates complaints of police brutality and has begun to work with the Ombudsman's office to ensure impartial observers in the investigation of complaints about police conduct. Prison authorities strive to meet minimum international standards, within the limits of local financial restraints. Prison conditions are Spartan and food and sanitation limited. The Government permits visits to the prisons by church groups and family members. The law permits corporal punishment as a penalty for criminal acts, but this provision is seldom invoked.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Law of Arrest and Detention provides that a person may be arrested only if police believe that a breach of the criminal law has been or is about to be committed. Arrested persons must be brought before a court without "undue delay." This is taken to mean within 24 hours, with 48 hours as the exception (such as when an arrest is made during the weekend). Rules governing detention are designed to ensure fair questioning of suspects. Defendants have the right to a judicial review of the grounds for arrest; in urgent cases defendants may apply to a judge at any time, whether he is sitting or not. Incommunicado and arbitrary detention, both illegal, did not occur. Exile is not practiced.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is independent under the Constitution and in practice. There were no credible reports in 1995 of courts having been influenced by the executive. The judicial structure was reorganized under the 1990 Constitution, but remained patterned on the British system. The principal courts are the magistrate courts, the High Court, and the Court of Appeal. The Constitution also provides for a Supreme Court as the court of final appeal. The Supreme Court held its first meeting in November, 7 years after Fiji lost its access to Great Britain's Privy Council following the 1987 coups. The Court of Appeal has made considerable progress in reducing the backlog of cases caused by the Government's failure to appoint a president for the Court until December 1991 and the Court's consequent inability to convene before that time. There are no special courts; military courts try only members of the armed forces. Magistrate courts continue to try the large majority of cases. In addition to its jurisdiction in serious civil and criminal cases, the High Court is granted special interest jurisdiction on behalf of the public and is empowered to review alleged violations of individual rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Defendants have the right to a public trial and to counsel. Trials in the High Court provide for the presence of assessors (citizens randomly selected to represent the community); cases in magistrate court do not. In litigation involving lesser complaints, a public legal advisor assists indigent persons in domestic or family law cases. The right of appeal exists but is hampered by continuing delays in the appeals process. Bail procedures mean that most defendants do not experience any pretrial detention. The law sometimes treats women differently from men. In some instances there is a presumption of reduced competence and thus reduced responsibility. For example, only women can be charged with infanticide (if a man kills an infant it is treated as murder, a more serious charge). A woman in an infanticide case is presumed to have diminished mental capacity, and courts reduce or suspend sentences accordingly. There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
In general, the Government respects the privacy of the home. However, the Intelligence Service has powers, within specific operational guidelines, to search people and property, access private financial records, and monitor mail and telephones when a warrant is issued by the National Security Council. The Intelligence Service does conduct surveillance of persons it believes represent a security threat. Some political dissidents believe their telephones and mail are monitored, but they have not produced substantiating evidence.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of speech is generally respected. The Government at times criticizes the media for its coverage of sensitive issues, particularly if the Government perceives the coverage as resulting in a diminution of respect for authority. Nevertheless, political figures and private citizens can and do speak out against the Government. Although the Public Order Act and other laws prohibit actions that are likely to incite racial antagonism, there were no reported arrests for such public statements. The Government has broad discretionary powers to impose restrictions on press freedom, and their past use, combined with traditional deference to authority, serves to encourage media self-censorship. In late 1994, senior media representatives created the Fiji News Council as a response to periodic government complaints of lack of media accountability for its errors, a lack of recourse for those who felt they had been wronged, and a perceived threat that a media watchdog body might be imposed. However, this Council has only limited participation by media organizations, and it has met with considerable opposition from journalists. The only reported case of press restriction was a judicial writ against one newspaper to cease publishing the contents of a government commission's report on the Vatakoula gold mine. A court granted the mining company an injunction against the newspaper on the grounds that the press had surreptitiously obtained the ungazetted report. Legislation pertaining to the press is contained in the Newspaper Registration Act (NRA) and the Press Correction Act (PCA). Under the NRA, all newspapers must be registered with the Government before they can begin publishing. Although the Government has never used the PCA, the Act nevertheless gives the Minister of Information sole discretionary power to order a newspaper to publish a "correcting statement" if, in the Minister's opinion, a false or distorted article has been published. Should the newspaper refuse to publish the Minister's correction, the Government can bring suit. If found guilty, the newspaper may be fined approximately $700 (individual persons convicted under the Act may be fined approximately $150 or imprisoned for 6 months). The PCA allows the Government to arrest anyone who publishes "malicious" material. This includes anything the Government considers false news which could create or foster public alarm or result in "detriment to the public." The media operate without prior censorship but with considerable self-censorship. Newspapers occasionally print editorials critical of the Government but rarely do investigative reporting. They widely report statements about the political situation made by opposition figures and foreign governments. The letters columns of the two daily newspapers frequently contain political statements from a wide cross section of society, including members of the deposed precoup government, who are highly critical of the Government, its programs, and the Constitution. Criticism, albeit muted, of the once sacrosanct traditional chiefly system is appearing more frequently. However, the Government still views comments about individual chiefs with disfavor. An active local organization, the Fiji Islands Media Association (FIMA), is an affiliate of the regional Pacific Islands News Association (PINA). Both FIMA and PINA are pressing for better training and the establishment of codes of ethnics for journalists. In a show of tangible support for strengthening the media, the Government has unconditionally provided space for housing the Fiji Journalism Training Institute. The advent of television has raised the specter of censorship, openly advocated by the former head of the powerful Methodist Church and others. News production has shifted from the Government's video unit to production by the privately owned and operated Fiji One Television. While academic freedom is respected, the Government has effectively deterred university employees from participation in domestic politics. Since 1991 staff members of the Fiji-based University of the South Pacific must take leave if they run for public office and must resign their university positions if elected. Senior staff may not hold office in political parties. Student groups are free to organize and do so.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides the right to assemble for political purposes, subject to restrictions in the interest of public order. District officers must issue permits for public gatherings. The Government does not always grant permits for large outdoor political meetings or demonstrations, particularly if the police advise of difficulties with the anticipated crowd size or their ability to assure public safety. The Government routinely issued permits for rallies organized by political parties, religious groups, and groups opposed to government policies. There was no Government interference in, and permits were issued for, large rallies against a government decision to lift the Sunday observance decree (banning all organized sporting and commercial activities on Sundays), as well as for a march condemning France's decision to resume nuclear testing in the Pacific region. All opposition party headquarters operate without government interference. Political organizations operate and issue public statements and they did so repeatedly and openly throughout the year.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitutional provision of freedom of religion is honored in practice. The Government does not restrict foreign clergy and missionary activity or other typical activities of religious organizations.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Government does not restrict freedom of movement within the country or abroad. Airport security occasionally detains travelers at the airport, but the courts order redress where this is warranted. Citizens are free to emigrate, and an estimated 40,000 have done so since 1987. The Government does not restrict their return if they choose to do so. It has in fact encouraged those who left after the political coups to return. There are no refugees and no forced resettlement programs.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitutional provisions ensuring political dominance by ethnic Fijians, primarily through race-based voting rolls and representation in Parliament, abridge the right of citizens to change their government. Moreover, the Constitution was promulgated by a nonelected interim government and has never been approved by a national referendum. At year's end, the Constitution was under review by a three-member independent commission. The commission has received hundreds of submissions and held dozens of hearings. Many presentations have offered thoughtful ideas to ameliorate racial divides and forge a stable, peaceful, and prosperous future. Others, including that of the ruling party (the SVT or Fijian Political Party), have taken less positive approaches. The SVT urged the commission to ensure ethnic Fijian control over Fiji's political process and government, backed by unchallenged ethnic control of the military. The Constitution provides for ethnic Fijian dominance of the Government by providing them with 37 of 70 seats in the elected lower house of Parliament. Indo-Fijians are accorded 27 seats, Rotumans (culturally distinct Polynesians) 1, and all others 5. In the Senate (an appointed body with essentially review powers and the right to veto legislation), ethnic Fijians hold 24 of the 34 seats, Rotumans 1, and the other groups 9. Other constitutional features designed to ensure ethnic Fijian dominance include a requirement that the Prime Minister be an ethnic Fijian and selection procedures which virtually ensure that the President will also be an ethnic Fijian. The Constitution also incorporates a bill of rights, providing for freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and other universally accepted rights and freedoms. These rights may not be altered by Parliament except with the approval of two-thirds of the lower house. However, the Constitution gives Parliament the authority to pass special acts to deal with certain specified emergency situations, notwithstanding human rights guarantees found in other sections of the Constitution. The Attorney General's office has taken the view that any legislation introduced under the emergency powers provision would require the approval of two-thirds of the lower house. Critics of the Constitution maintain that only a simple majority would be needed and that indigenous Fijians in the lower house would be able, solely on the strength of their own numbers, to abrogate constitutional human rights protections. Neither interpretation has been tested. The Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), a traditional Fijian leadership body, selects the President. He appoints the Fijian members of the Senate on the advice of the GCC and the provincial councils and the nine members from other races on his own judgment. He appoints the one Rotuman senator on the advice of the Rotuman Council. The President chooses the Prime Minister (who, along with the Cabinet, holds most of the executive authority) from among the ethnic Fijian members of the lower house on the basis of ability to command majority support within that body. Elections are held by secret ballot, with voting only by communal constituencies. The Constitution calls for elections every 5 years, but the Government may call an election at any time as it did for the snap general election in February 1994 after failing to pass its 1994 budget. That election, considered free and fair by all observers, returned Rabuka and his party to Parliament in strength, and Rabuka was again selected as Prime Minister. The Constitution provides for a formal review of its provisions within 7 years of its promulgation and every 10 years thereafter. This review process began in 1992 with the creation of an expanded subcabinet committee led by then-Deputy Prime Minister Bole. The committee included representatives of the opposition National Federation Party (NFP). It formulated terms of reference, which were adopted by Parliament in September 1993, for an independent review commission, to include impartial foreign advisors. Parliament created its own Joint Select Committee and an independent three-member review commission, which began its work in June and is currently hearing submissions on proposed changes to the Constitution. It is scheduled to present its recommendations by mid-1996. Those recommendations will have to be reviewed by the GCC and Parliament, which is responsible for proposing and passing changes. Fiji has more than a dozen political parties. Five are predominantly Indo-Fijian. The major Indo-Fijian ones, the National Federation Party (NFP) and the Fiji Labour Party (FLP) pledged to continue their opposition to the Constitution in Parliament. NFP and FLP Indo-Fijian Parliamentarians are joined on the opposition side of the legislature by another ethnic Fijian party (the Fijian Association) and one "general" party (the General Electors Association). Women in both the Fijian and Indian communities have functioned primarily in traditional roles, although some women achieve responsible positions in public service, politics, and business. Two women sit in Parliament; one is a cabinet minister. Women can also attain high status in Fiji's traditional chiefly system. The President's wife is, in her own right, one of Fiji's three highest ranking chiefs. The former Minister for Fijian Affairs, a woman, was widely believed to be the best candidate to become Fiji's highest ranking traditional chief.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are no local groups which focus solely on human rights matters, but the women's rights movement, the labor movement, and various political groups (including organized political parties) are engaged in promoting human rights. There are also several small, not very active, foreign-based organizations which concentrate on human rights causes in Fiji, including the Coalition for Democracy in Fiji (with offices in New Zealand and Australia) and two United Kingdom-based groups, the International Fiji Movement and the Movement for Democracy in Fiji. The Government in past years inhibited certain investigations of the political and human rights situation by external organizations, considering them to constitute external interference in its domestic affairs. However, in 1995 it again allowed foreign representatives to attend and participate in the University of the South Pacific's continuing "Consultation on the National Agenda," organized with the assistance of Conciliation Resources, which is located in London. These meetings roundly criticized many government policies and politicians as well as the Constitution. The views expressed were fully and prominently reported by the press.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of, and provides specific affirmative action provisions for those disadvantaged as a result of, race, sex, place of origin, political opinion, color, religion, or creed. Enforcement of these constitutional provisions is attenuated by the Government's policy of using "affirmative action" to advance ethnic Fijians, and by traditional mores as to the roles and rights of women and children.
Women in Fiji are actively addressing the problem of domestic violence. Reliable estimates indicate that 10 percent of women have been abused in some way. This abuse is a major focus of the women's movement. The authorities are generally reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence unless necessary to save the woman's life. The victims generally do not press charges, and the Government has not been active in prosecuting domestic violence. There is a small but active women's rights movement, which has pressed for more serious punishment for rape convictions. Courts have imposed sentences which vary widely but are generally lenient. Women have sought to have all rape cases heard in the High Court, where sentencing limits are for longer periods. Suva, the capital, and Ba, the regional center, have privately funded women's crisis centers which offer counseling and assistance to women in cases of rape, domestic violence, and other problems, such as child support payments. There is an overall growing awareness of the abuse of women's rights. Despite constitutional provisions, the Government practiced a form of sexual discrimination in the recognition of spousal and offspring rights. For example, spouses of Fiji female citizens are not automatically granted residence, whereas spouses of Fiji male citizens are. Children of female ethnic Fijians married to nonethnic Fijians are not entitled to registry in the document governing which persons share in income from communal ownership of native lands, and which stipulates who may vote as an ethnic Fijian, and who may hold ethnic Fijian-designated seats in Parliament. Men, however, confer ethnic Fijian status on their offspring regardless of the mother's ethnic background. In a high-profile 1992 court challenge to the registration restrictions, the son of a Chinese father and ethnic Fijian mother won his appeal to be registered as an ethnic Fijian. The long-term effects of the decision on registration restrictions and, thus, a woman's right to pass on her ethnic status remain unclear. In general, women in the Fijian community are more likely to rise to prominence in their own right than are women in the Indo-Fijian community. Women have full rights of property ownership and inheritance, and a number have become successful entrepreneurs. Women are generally paid less than men, a discrepancy that is especially notable in the garment industry. Garment workers, most of whom are female, are subject to a special minimum wage considerably lower than that in other sectors.
The Government is committed to children's rights and welfare but has limited financial resources to carry out this commitment. In addition, the legal system is at times inadequate to protect the rights of children, as children's testimony is inadmissible unless corroborated by an adult. Societal changes have undermined the traditional village and extended family based social structures--an outgrowth of this has been a child abuse problem. The Government in 1993 created a Child Welfare Committee to address these problems, but it is likely to remain reluctant to become involved directly in what are generally perceived to be "family matters." Corporal punishment is widely administered in schools and at home. The Ministry of Education has guidelines for the administration of such punishment by principals and head teachers. In 1993 one principal was fired for overstepping these guidelines. There are credible reports that not all abuses are reported or punished.
People with Disabilities
Legal discrimination against physically disabled persons in employment, education, and the provision of other state services does not exist. However, there is no legislation or mandated provision for accessibility for the disabled. Several small voluntary organizations promote greater attention to the needs of the disabled.
The stated purpose of the 1987 military coups was to ensure the political supremacy of the indigenous Fijian people and to protect their traditional way of life and communal control of land. To this end, the Government initiated a number of constitutional and other measures to ensure ethnic Fijian control of the legislative and executive branches (see Section 3). The Government also successfully increased the proportion of ethnic Fijians and Rotumans in the public service to 50 percent or higher at all levels, but most dramatically at the senior level: Indo-Fijians represent only 10 percent of the highest levels of the civil service. As a result, some Indo-Fijians justifiably complained of a "glass ceiling" whereby, despite their experience and higher educational achievements, they are promoted only to middle management levels of the civil service. Control of land is a highly sensitive issue. Ethnic Fijians currently hold, communally, about 83 percent of the land, the State holds another 8 percent, and only the remaining 9 percent is in the hands of nonethnic Fijians. The British colonial administration instituted the present land ownership arrangements to protect the interests of the indigenous Fijians whose traditional beliefs, cultural values, and self-identity are tied to the land. Most cash crop farmers are Indo-Fijians, who lease land from the ethnic Fijian landowners through the Native Lands Trust Board. Many Indo-Fijians, particularly farmers, believe that the absence of secure land tenure discriminates against them. Between 1997 and 2000, most current leases will expire. A review of the current land tenure and leasing arrangements is underway, with all indications that the Government will make few changes to the existing system. Some landowners are likely to decline to renew leases; the Government has acknowledged its responsibility to help relocate displaced Indo-Fijian farmers, although it has few resources to offer. Indo-Fijians are subject to occasional harassment and crime based on race, which is compounded by inadequate police protection. There have been no credible allegations of government involvement in such incidents, which the police have investigated, sometimes resulting in arrests.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law protects the right of workers to form and join unions, elect their own representatives, publicize their views on labor matters, and determine their own policies, and the authorities respect these rights in practice. However, the law permits restrictions to be applied in government employment and in the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health, or to protect the rights and freedoms of other persons. An estimated 19 percent of the labor force is unionized. All unions must register with, but are not controlled by, the Government. The only central labor body is the Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC), which was closely associated with the opposition Fiji Labor Party until mid-1992. It currently takes a more independent political stance. The FTUC is free to associate internationally and does so. The labor movement is led largely by Indo-Fijians, with ethnic Fijians beginning to assume leadership roles. Persons with close ties to the Government have organized rival unions primarily for ethnic Fijians; these unions are more amenable to political cooperation with the Government. Following several years in which confrontational tactics have marred labor-government relations, Parliament in April 1994 completed a 2-year process of reforming labor legislation by amending several acts. The changes include the elimination of a ban on a person holding multiple union officer positions and the elimination of restrictions on seeking international support on labor issues. Subsequently, the FTUC returned to participation in the Government's Tripartite Economic Strategies Committee. Strikes are legal, except in connection with union recognition disputes. The Government remains involved in certifying union strike balloting, which can be an elaborate process given the distance between some of the island locations. The Ministry of Labor had recorded six legal strikes as of September 15. Other strikes, such as by the sugar cane truck drivers and sugar mill workers, were declared illegal for failure to conduct a proper strike vote. The illegal strike by the unrecognized Fiji Mine Workers' Union at the Vatakoula gold mine, which began in 1991, continued and was at the center of a government commission of inquiry. The commission's report had been sent to the Cabinet but not to the Parliament by year's end.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law recognizes the right to organize and bargain collectively. Employers are required to recognize a union if more than half the employees in a workplace have joined it. Recognition is determined by union membership rather than by an election. The Government has the power to order recalcitrant employers to recognize unions and has done so. Key sectors of the economy, including sugar and tourism, are heavily organized. Following the May 1992 return to accountable government, the Government lifted wage guidelines, and unrestricted collective bargaining on wages is now the norm. Wage negotiations are conducted on an individual company or enterprise basis rather than on an industrywide basis. A government proposal to introduce such negotiations has been opposed by employers and unions. The law specifically prohibits antiunion discrimination. In practice, the unions are generally successful in preventing discrimination against workers for union activities, but the law does not mandate that employers reinstate fired workers. Export processing zones (EPZ's) are subject to the same law as the rest of the country, and unions have negotiated collective bargaining agreements with many EPZ firms.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution specifically prohibits forced labor, and there is no indication that it is practiced.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Children under the age of 12 may not be employed in any capacity. "Children" (under age 15) and "Young Persons" (ages 15 to 17) may not be employed in industry or work with machinery. Enforcement by the Ministry of Labor and Industrial Relations is generally effective, except for family members working on family farms or businesses and "self-employed" young homeless youths. Education is not mandatory.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no national minimum wage. Certain sectors have minimum wages set by the Ministry for Labor and Industrial Relations, which effectively enforces them. Minimum wage levels will generally support a barely adequate standard of living for a worker and family in all sectors except for the garment industry, in which the starting hourly wage, $0.50 (F$0.72) for learners and $0.65 (F$0.94) for others, is based on the assumption that workers are young adults or married women living at home and not supporting a household. Fiji has no regulations specifying maximum hours of work for adult males. Women are prohibited from night work in factories (other than overtime work in the garment industry) and underground work in mines. Certain industries, notably transportation and shipping, have violated provisions relating to excessive hours of work. Indo-Fijians, who generally require a cash income to survive, are more vulnerable to pressure to work long hours than are ethnic Fijians. Many ethnic Fijians can and do return to a noncash economy way of life in their villages rather than work what they consider excessive hours. Fiji has workplace safety regulations, a Workmens' Compensation Act, and an accident compensation plan. Awards to workers injured on the job are set by a tribunal. Government enforcement of safety standards under the direction of the Labor Ministry suffers from a lack of trained enforcement personnel, but unions do a reasonable job of monitoring safety standards in organized workplaces. The International Labor Organization's 1992 recommendations cited the need to improve working conditions, particularly in the garment industry. The Government has prepared legislation to address some of these shortcomings, but parliamentary action has not been completed.