U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Fiji
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Fiji, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4010.html [accessed 5 March 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
FIJIFiji made significant progress in 1997 toward restoration of a more representative and democratic government with the approval of an amended Constitution. The new legislation, which incorporated the work of the independent Constitutional Review Commission, was unanimously approved by both houses of Parliament and was signed into law on July 25. The provisions that amend the 1990 Constitution encourage multiethnic government while protecting traditional Fijian values. Under the amended Constitution, the Prime Minister and the President can be of any race, and for the first time, in addition to the communally allocated seats, there will be open seats not allocated to any racial community in the lower house. The judiciary is independent. The Constitution also includes a strengthened bill of rights and a compact designed to protect the rights of all citizens. However, it preserves the paramountcy of indigenous Fijian interests which cannot be subordinated to the interests of other communities. The new Constitution is to come into effect no later than July 28, 1998; it may take effect sooner once all implementing legislation is approved. Elections must take place no later than 1999. The passage of this legislation, 10 years after two bloodless military coups, is expected to promote greater political stability. Nonetheless, ethnicity remains a dominant factor in Fijian life and affects the country's politics, economy, and society. The population is a multiracial, multicultural mix, with indigenous Fijians comprising 51 percent, Indo-Fijians around 42 percent, and Asians and Caucasians making up the rest of the over 775,000 population. The racial divide is particularly evident in the private and public sectors, where business is largely controlled by Indo-Fijian families while government ministries and the military are largely led by indigenous Fijians. The Fiji Military Forces (FMF), a small professional force, comes under the authority of the Ministry for Home Affairs, as do the police. A separate unit, the Fiji Intelligence Service, with limited statutory powers to search people and property, monitor communications, and access financial records, also comes under authority of the Ministry. There continue to be credible reports of human rights abuses by individual police officers. Sugar and tourism constitute the mainstays of the economy, accounting for more than half of the nation's foreign exchange earnings. The Government is seeking to develop the service and light manufacturing industries. Private investment is increasing after several stagnant years, but is still well below the 12percent gross domestic product level achieved prior to the political disturbances in 1987. The principal human rights problem, while significantly addressed in the revised Constitution, remains ethnically based discrimination. Although the new constitutional provisions reduce the factors that abridge the right of citizens to change their government, there is continuing protection for indigenous Fijian interests through government hiring practices, education policies, land tenure preferences, and constitutional safeguards. Other human rights problems include occasional police brutality, a magistrate system that fails to perform its functions effectively, informal constraints on the freedom of the press, discrimination and cases of violence against women, and instances of abuse of children.