Friday, March 09, 2007

Fiji Military Brutality: US Report

Report claims military abuse

MARY JOHNS-RAUTO - www.fijitimes.com
Thursday, March 08, 2007

WOMEN taken in by the military for questioning were subjected to sexual molestation and intimidation, a report claims.

A US State Department report on human rights practices in Fiji said the military government arbitrarily detained and sometimes abused coup opponents, conducted searches without warrants, engaged in intimidation of the media and restricted the right to assemble peacefully.

It said the human rights situation deteriorated greatly following the military takeover last December. The report, which was released in Washington DC yesterday, said the takeover denied citizens their right to change the government peacefully.

"Following the coup there were numerous incidents of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces detaining without a warrant and abusing persons who had voiced opposition to the coup or who supported a return to democratic government,"it said.

"In the late hours of December 24 and early hours of December 25, soldiers took six pro-democracy supporters from their homes and brought them to the RFMF's Queen Elizabeth Barracks, where they reportedly were beaten, stepped on and threatened with weapons.

"Also on December 25, the military seized five young men in a Suva suburb and made them strip to their underwear and crawl through drain pipes before being dropped at a remote jungle location to find their way home.

"In another incident soldiers seized a former government minister overheard in a bar criticising Interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, roughed him up, and made him run around a track at gunpoint. Some women detained by the military for speaking out against the coup were sexually molested,"the report claimed.

Military spokesman, Major Neumi Leweni refused to comment on the report.

The report criticised Fiji Human Rights director, Dr Shaista Shameem, for failing to publicly object to human rights abuses.

"Prior to the coup, the FHRC appeared to be impartial and independent and generally operated without government interference,"it said.

"Following the coup, the director of the FHRC repeatedly failed to publicly object to some significant human rights abuses by the military.

"After the December 25 incident in which pro-democracy activists were detained and abused by RFMF members, the director stated she would investigate the incident but also advised persons speaking out against the military takeover to bear in mind that they did so at their own risk, since their rights were curtailed under the State of Emergency."

Dr Shameem yesterday threatened to take the US Embassy to court.

"The US Embassy in Fiji could be taken to task under section 124 of the Constitution, which prohibits contempt of court, for producing the report without waiting for the court to determine the issue of legality of the December 5th events,"she said.

"The Report of the US Government appears to have prejudged and pre-determined the outcome of the court and the court is not likely to take kindly to its authority being usurped in this way, not even by one of the most powerful nations of the world,'' she said.

"The US Government may have some explaining to do if it is required to do so by the court under Order 52 of the High Court Rules."

Dr Shameem said the diplomatic immunity enshrined in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations can be used as a shield and not as a sword.

"Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that, without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state,"she said. "They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.

Dr Shameem said the commission would refer the US State Department report to the High Court.

"The FHRC will formally refer the US State Department Report to the Chief Registrar of the High Court for the Court's attention since contempt of court is a power that can only be exercised under the jurisdiction of the court itself,"she said.

"Nevertheless, while FHRC cannot yet make any response to the contents of the US report because these matters are subjudice, it says that the US Government commenting on human rights in Fiji is like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.

"The FHRC will disregard the US State Department's report until the court has had an opportunity to decide whether the matters discussed in the report are subjudice. FHRC will then comment on the contents of the report,"Dr Shameem said.

A US Embassy spokesman Brian Siler declined to comment on Dr Shameem's statement

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