Covering events from January - December 2003
The government pursued a policy of encouraging indigenous Fijian dominance over the mainly Indo-Fijian non-indigenous community. Many supporters of the coup in 2000 and rebel soldiers were convicted and imprisoned but others continued to enjoy impunity. The police, military and civilian justice systems struggled in their investigation and prosecution of coup-related criminal cases, including those involving human rights violations. Legal reforms incorporated international standards on women's and children's rights into domestic legislation.
Political and economic stability improved. Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase continued his policy of favouring indigenous Fijians, who made up 51 per cent of the population, over other citizens. The policy, which was intended to increase economic and educational opportunities for indigenous Fijians, was criticized for exacerbating racial differences and creating inequalities both between and within racial groups. Racial intolerance was linked to an attack on a Hindu temple, the 44th Hindu temple reported to have been burned down, damaged or desecrated since the 2000 coup. Indigenous Fijian students were granted new benefits, provided they attend predominantly indigenous schools.
In July the Supreme Court confirmed that the composition of Cabinet was unconstitutional because it failed to ensure power-sharing between ethnic communities through a multi-party Cabinet. The Constitution obliges the Prime Minister to offer Cabinet posts to all parties with at least 10 per cent of seats in parliament, in proportion to their numbers in the House. The Court's ruling forced the government to negotiate with the mainly Indo-Fijian Labour Party which held 39 per cent of the seats in parliament. The government sought a ruling from the Supreme Court on the issue, which was expected in 2004.
Post-coup legal developments
Criminal investigations, some involving influential political leaders, highlighted the continuing indigenous power struggle which had given rise to the coup in 2000 and the ongoing problem of impunity for human rights abuses.
Dozens of people were charged, tried or sentenced for human rights-related crimes and other offences linked to the 2000 coup and army mutiny. In October, the newly appointed Police Commissioner announced that of 3,521 people investigated since 2000 for coup-related crimes, 704 were found guilty and nearly 200 sentenced to prison terms; 461 had been acquitted or conditionally released.
Among prominent indigenous leaders charged in 2003 for their role in the coup were Vice-President Ratu Jope Seniloli, Cabinet Minister Isireli Leweniqila, and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure. They were key politicians in the governing coalition. A provincial leader, Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, was charged with inciting a post-coup mutiny at military headquarters. Court proceedings were continuing at the end of the year.
In June, former politician Timoci Silatolu and journalist Jo Nata were sentenced to life imprisonment for treason in connection with their role in the coup.
Others responsible for crimes committed during the coup effectively continued to enjoy impunity.
In February, a magistrate acquitted nine indigenous villagers from the Muaniweni area. They had been charged in connection with some of the most violent and well-documented racist attacks against Indo-Fijian families during the coup. They were reportedly acquitted for lack of evidence following earlier allegations of witness intimidation.
Ten indigenous Fijian coup suspects were acquitted on human rights grounds because a military prosecution witness failed to appear in court.
Renewed police investigations into former Police Commissioner Isikia Savua's role in the coup did not result in any further legal action. He took up his post as Fiji's representative at the UN in New York in January.
The police made little progress investigating the beating to death by soldiers of four suspected rebel prisoners following a post-coup mutiny. This was in part because several soldiers were unavailable for interrogation owing to their participation in UN peace-keeping operations. In November, in a related case, the High Court acquitted a soldier of the manslaughter of Alifereti Nimacere, an escaped prisoner who had joined the rebels during the mutiny.
No one was charged or disciplined after a military witness admitted in court that a group of coup supporters being tried had been ill-treated during their arrest at Kalabu school in July 2000.
Law reform, human rights legislation and education
A new Family Law Bill was passed in October and was due to come into effect in 2005. It brings some key women's and children's rights into line with national and international human rights law. The Bill prioritizes the best interests of children in government decision-making.
The Cabinet approved a Fiji Law Reform Commission program to modernize legislation on prisons, criminal procedure, sentencing and domestic violence.
Parliament raised Penal Code penalties for sexual violence, particularly against children.
In April, school principals agreed to a National Plan of Action, developed by the Fiji Human Rights Commission, to introduce human rights education formally into school curricula.
Violence against women
Following a major campaign on violence against women in 2002, the non-governmental Fiji Women's Crisis Centre found that more women were prepared to report such crimes, including apparently increasing racist violence. Cases reported to police had increased by 24 per cent since 1997. The Centre highlighted concerns at the rise in reported cases of sexual violence over the previous year and stated that in May alone 96 cases were reported.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern in June about reservations to the UN Convention against Racism which Fiji inherited from colonial times and which the government refused to withdraw. The Committee requested detailed information on prosecutions for racist violence and religious intolerance against Indo-Fijians, and any preventive measures undertaken. The Committee urged that no "affirmative action" measures for disadvantaged indigenous Fijians "should abrogate or diminish the enjoyment of human rights for all". It strongly recommended that poverty alleviation programs benefit all poor citizens, irrespective of race, "to avoid undue stress on already strained ethnic relations."
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