Fiji’s review at the Human Rights Council highlights lack of progress on civic freedoms
By Josef Benedict This November in Geneva, the United Nations examined Fiji’s human rights record for the third time. Every state must undergo a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) every four years to take its turn to be scrutinised by other UN member states on their progress in promoting and protecting human rights, and to assess a range of recommendations for improvement.
In its report to the Human Rights Council ahead of the session, the Fiji government reaffirmed its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to freedom of expression and assembly, as well as its constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press. However, research by the CIVICUS Monitor – a global tool tracking civic space – shows that democratic freedoms are under attack in Fiji. While the country enjoys a positive image on the international stage, for many citizens of the South Pacific’s largest island nation, and its media, the reality is anything but.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s FijiFirst government took the reins in 2014, elected by a population with high expectations. The elections marked a dramatic shift from the previous eight years of ruling by decree following the 2006 coup. But the honeymoon wasn’t to last: to hold on to this newfound power, Bainimarama has muzzled any criticism of the state. The Fiji Times – one of the very few independent news outlets that has refused to toe the government line – was targeted in 2012 and 2016 for its reporting. Human rights groups believe that charges lodged against the paper were politically motivated. This judicial harassment continued until their eventual acquittal by the Fiji High Court in May 2018.
An array of restrictive laws has been deployed by the authorities to silence dissent. Sedition provisions in the Crimes Act have been used by …read more