Thursday, February 11, 2010

Amnesty Slams Fiji's 'Dishonest' UN Report

Peter Wilson
The Australian
February 11, 2010

FIJI'S government has lied to the UN in an official report aimed at whitewashing its human rights performance, says Amnesty International.

The military junta that overthrew Fiji's elected government in 2006 has submitted the report to the UN Human Rights Council denying that its abrogation of the constitution last April had undermined freedom of speech and religion and the independence of the judiciary.

Fiji's declaration is due to be considered by the UN body in Geneva tonight as part of a review process that checks the human rights performance of each country every four years.

But Amnesty International slammed the Fijian report as thoroughly dishonest, saying the government had stomped on the judiciary, harassed the Methodist Church and imposed stifling media censorship.

Apolosi Bose, Amnesty's researcher for the Pacific region, said the government's claims to the UN "are an insult to its citizens, who have had to endure surveillance, intimidation and threats by the military".

Mr Bose, a Fijian citizen based in London, said it was ridiculous to pretend that the suspension of constitutional rights had not restricted human rights in Fiji.

"The abrogation of the constitution dealt a devastating blow to the enjoyment of human rights, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in the country," he said.

The nation's entire judiciary was sacked in April last year and in the past six months several magistrates have been dismissed without any official explanation.

"The authorities have also specifically targeted the Methodist Church of Fiji and have banned the church from holding its annual conference until 2014.

"Since July 2009, more than 25 pastors and senior administrators of the church have been arrested, briefly detained and charged under the Public Emergency Regulations," he said.

The media faced daily censorship and Fijians were afraid to express opinions contrary to government policy or critical of the security forces.

"More than a thousand people have been assaulted, threatened, intimidated or subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, arbitrary arrests, and detention by the military for either being critical of the authorities or on trumped-up charges," Mr Bose said.

But in its report to the UN Human Rights Council, the government blamed the media, claiming it had been forced to restrict freedom of speech "in the interest of national security, public safety and public order".

The Fiji media "have not been responsible and balanced in their coverage", the report said, creating "a negative and confrontational political and socio-economic environment.

"There is currently a ban in place on certain foreign media personalities," the government said. "Since the implementation of the censorship exercise, there has been a marked shift from negative journalism to positive journalism."

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