Amnesty International has published a report on December 5th, 2016, detailing reports of torture and human rights abuses by Fijian authorities. The report details the use of torture and violence, including physical and sexual assault and abuse, rape and the use of confessions obtained under duress and the threat of violence to prosecute accused criminals. At least five people are reported to have died in custody as a result of violence by authorities and much more are suspected to have suffered severe injury, according to the report.
Fiji’s recent political history is fraught. In 2006 the military successfully overthrew the government and took power in a coup. The current Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, came to power in the 2006 coup and was elected as Prime Minister in 2014. Though the elections show signs of normalization of Fijian political life, the constitution contains immunity clauses for the actions of the military between 2006 and 2014, meaning that human rights abuses by the military and security authorities in this period will never be prosecuted and the victims will never see justice.
The Amnesty International report identifies that Fijian culture and that of the authorities normalizes and accepts the use of violence to solve issues, whether in the home or in public. Cultural shifts on this scale are difficult for governments to enact and can often be the subject of significant backlash from civil society and public institutions. However, the government should take the opportunity that this report offers to lead by example and actively change the culture within the security institutions to signify that the new government has a respect for human rights and the welfare of its people. Such action will not immediately change the behaviour of society at large, or even of some within the government and authorities, but it will show that the government does not tolerate such behaviour and will begin a process of reform.
Further to the cultural impediments, the report highlights institutional impediments to preventing the use of torture and violence in law enforcement. Chief among these is that former military officers are consistently appointed to high-ranked positions within the government. This raises questions about the independence of the law enforcement agencies and military of Fiji. There is doubt as to the willingness of the police to independently oversee the military and act on accusations of abuse, and vice-versa. Similarly, although the Fijian government ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture in March 2016, and government representatives use strong language to denounce the use of torture by authorities, the Prime Minister, and other high-ranking officials consistently unequivocally support members of the police and military accused of torture and abuse. Amnesty International reports that even when officials are prosecuted and sentenced for the use of torture and human rights abuses, their sentences are reduced to Community Supervision Orders, and they are effectively free of censure.
The Fijian government should be praised for ratifying the United Nations Convention Against Torture and for publicly stating its opposition to the use of torture and other abuses of human rights. However, greater efforts should be made to ensure the independence of public institutions to encourage adequate oversight of government agencies and their activities, ensuring respect for human rights and the peoples’ well-being. Furthermore, greater attention should be paid to enforcing laws against torture and abuse to deter their continued use by authorities.