Covering events from January-December 2001

Republic of the Fiji Islands
Head of state: Ratu Josefa Iloilo
Head of government: Laisenia Qarase
Capital: Suva
Population: 0.8 million
Official languages: English, Fijian, Fiji Hindi
Death penalty: abolitionist for ordinary crimes

Respect for constitutional human rights and the rule of law were ignored because of political considerations. The military's efforts to assist a return to democracy and the rule of law were hampered by the impunity effectively enjoyed by perpetrators of torture and extrajudicial executions. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) suffered selective restrictions under emergency powers.

Political situation

Human rights issues were often at the centre of public debate on the country's efforts to return to democracy and the rule of law. On several occasions, the government condemned those who publicly criticized its policies, and political prisoners often received particularly harsh treatment. Thousands of Fijians of ethnic Indian origin (known as Indo-Fijians) emigrated. In December, it was recommended that Fiji be readmitted to the Councils of the Commonwealth, and by the end of the year, most international sanctions had been lifted.

Following the government's failure to win its appeal against a High Court ruling in a major human rights case, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo paved the way for fresh elections which began in August. The elections created a new parliament which reflected Fiji's ethnic divisions, while the restoration of political dominance to indigenous Fijians reflected the principal aim of the coup of May 2000. In September, the President appointed caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to form a new government. His party entered into a coalition with coup leader George Speight's nationalist indigenous Fijian party. George Speight won a seat in parliament while facing treason charges in court, but was later denied parliamentary status. Almost all ministers in the new government were indigenous Fijians; a court challenge against the ethnic imbalance in the government was pending at the end of the year.

Ongoing constitutional uncertainty and fears of politically motivated violence continued to hamper efforts to rebuild political stability. Many Indo-Fijians feared a repeat of post-coup racist violence. Some Indo-Fijians were threatened with reprisals after being called to give evidence in court against ethnic Fijians accused of looting or driving them from their homes. For much of the year, the police and military personnel maintained an increased presence in some of the areas worst affected by post-coup racist violence. However, some police posts visited by AI lacked vehicles and communication facilities to respond promptly to security threats. In December, the military confirmed that an elite squad to combat internal security threats was being set up to replace the disbanded Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) unit which was involved in the coup. Some senior police officers, local community leaders and government officials worked to reduce ethnic tension and helped to foster reconciliation at a local level. An unknown number of Indo-Fijian coup victims returned to their homes and tried to rebuild farms and businesses.

The rule of law

Confidence in the justice system was damaged by friction within the judiciary, government criticism of judges and apparent attempts to minimize judicial challenges against the post-coup authorities. In March, five international judges rejected a government appeal against a landmark High Court human rights ruling that the 1997 Constitution was still in place after the coup, and that the post-coup government was illegal. Interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase promised to abide by the Court of Appeal's judgment, but his ministers were reappointed as a caretaker government, pending elections. The Court also ruled that decrees which restricted people's rights were invalid if they violated the Constitution, but the authorities rejected calls to repeal them. Chandrika Prasad, a displaced Indo-Fijian farmer who had won the original court challenge, fled Fiji after his family received threats of reprisals.

The judiciary's independence was undermined by the interim Attorney-General's public criticism of judges in political cases, and by moves to prevent such cases from being heard by judges who had upheld the Constitution after the coup. In April, the Chief Justice banned five members of the Fiji Law Society from his court because they criticized him for assisting the post-coup authorities in their efforts to abolish the Constitution and to allow racial discrimination.

Human rights restrictions

The military-backed government repeatedly claimed that it had normalized the security situation; however, it continued to use emergency powers to maintain restrictions on human rights, particularly on the freedoms of assembly and expression, until November. In June, the caretaker government cancelled the charity status of the Citizens Constitutional Forum, a multi-ethnic NGO, after it filed constitutional challenges against the government in court. Days later, Reverend Akuila Yabaki, Director of the Forum and Chairperson of the national NGO Coalition of Human Rights, was dismissed from the Methodist Church Ministry. The Church's president was later appointed to the Senate by the Prime Minister.


Court proceedings against suspected coup rebels were marked by delays, encouraging an atmosphere of impunity. The trial of coup leader George Speight was expected to start in 2002. Cases against others suspected of having taken part in the coup were adjourned, or collapsed after a state prosecutor and key witnesses failed to appear in court. Soldiers involved in the rebel takeover of military and police stations on Vanua Levu island were reportedly discharged with a fine of US$4.

A military court martial began in August against 15 former members of the disbanded CRW unit for their alleged role in an attempted mutiny in November 2000. Several of them alleged serious ill-treatment after their initial arrest, and some individual officers offered a traditional form of apology to the families of the victims. The police criticized the military for lack of cooperation in preparing murder charges against soldiers suspected of beating to death at least four CRW suspects. When the military faced court proceedings over its treatment of CRW detainees, the government issued a decree granting the military and the police immunity for human rights violations and other acts committed "in good faith" during post-coup operations. The military denied that the decree covered torture, but did not bring suspected torturers to justice.

AI reports/visits


AI delegates visited Fiji for research purposes in May.

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