Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In September 2013, interim president Ratu Epeli Nailatikau signed a new Fijian constitution into law. The document was submitted in March by Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to replace a draft developed by an independent committee the previous year. The new constitution will create a parliament with a single chamber, elected through proportional representation, and is expected to pave the way for parliamentary elections.
Opposition groups criticized some aspects of the new constitution, particularly a provision to grant amnesty to all involved in Fiji’s 2006 coup, which Bainimarama led. Opponents also say it does not provide sufficient protections for civil rights and liberties, and that the government did not provide a long enough period of public comment.
Fiji’s ties with Australia and New Zealand—traditional trade partners and major aid donors—improved as the country moved closer to holding elections. Formal ties with both countries were restored in July 2012. In 2013, Australia pledged to increase bilateral aid by 18 percent to $57 million for fiscal year 2013-14, while New Zealand lifted travel restrictions and restored academic aid for Fijian students.
Political Rights: 7 / 12 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 0 / 12
The interim government has essentially ruled by decree since the military overthrew the civilian government of Laisenia Qarasa in December 2006.
The new constitution, signed into law in September 2013, provides for a single 50-member chamber of parliament with a national constituency that is selected through a proportional representation system. This replaces the old two-tier system. No ethnic group has any reserved seats or receives preferential treatment. The party with the greatest number of seats will select one of its own members as prime minister to head a government. The president is elected from parliament between two candidates—one each named by the prime minister and leader of the opposition. As head of state, the president holds largely a ceremonial role to represent the government in an annual speech to the parliament on its programs and policies, for example. The president can hold two three-year terms and can only be removed for inability or misbehavior by a tribunal appointed by the Chief Justice at the Prime Minister’s request. The parliament has a four-year term. The voting age was lowered to 18 years. Citizens overseas can vote, but only those residing in Fiji can run in elections.
Parliamentary elections are expected in September 2014. A Canadian firm was hired to create a new voter roll. Registration has been taking place at hundreds of sites throughout Fiji since June 2012, and embassies have been registering voters overseas since September 2012. A new election office website began operation in February 2013 to provide updates on the registration process and to allow voters to verify their registration for accuracy. By year end, more than 540,000 voters had registered to vote including 588 Fijians in New Zealand, and permanent registration centers had opened in major locations across Fiji. The interim government has said it will establish a full-time professional elections office to conduct elections and educate voters.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 5 / 16
Political affiliations tend to be associated with ethnicity: Indo-Fijians mostly support the Labour Party while indigenous Fijians back the United Fiji Party (UFP). All political parties are also required to have English names to appeal to all ethnic groups; in January 2013, Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua changed its name to the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SDL).
On January 14, 2013, the interim government passed the Political Parties (Registration) Conduct Funding and Disclosure Decree to require all political parties to register by February 18, 2013 in order to participate in the 2014 elections. Critics say the registration period is too short and that the new requirement is to block them from running in the 2014 elections. In late May, four parties—Labour, the National Federation, SDL, and the People’s Democratic Party—were approved, while leaders of the United People’s Party and the National Alliance Party had to dissolve the two groups because they could not meet registration requirements. In June 2013, three of the four parties almost lost their approved status after initial failure to pay Fiji Sun to publish their party asset declarations. The interim government designated Fiji Sun as the only place to publish these financial reports. The three political parties argued that they should be free to publish their financial statements in other newspapers or there should have been an open, competitive bid among vendors for this contract. Bainimarama has said he will form a political party and contest in the 2014 elections.
C. Functioning of Government: 2 / 12
Official abuse and corruption are serious problems. Numerous officials have been removed from office for abuse and corruption charges by the interim government, though opponents have criticized the government for not living up to its own standards regarding transparency and accountability. Bainimarama, for example, has refused to disclose his income and assets, and has blocked the publication of military budgets and government finances since he took power in 2006.
Civil Liberties: 30 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 11 / 16
The interim government has improved Fiji’s communications infrastructure, expanded electronic access to government services, and expanded public access to the Internet by reducing costs and opening public Internet centers across the country, even winning a special recognition from the International Telecommunication Union in February 2013. Nevertheless, it has maintained its hard-line approach to controlling the media. In February 2013, the Fiji Times and its editor-in-chief were fined, respectively, $169,000 and $5,600 for contempt of court for republishing a November 2011 article from a New Zealand newspaper that questioned the independence and integrity of the Fijian judiciary. The editor-in-chief was also sentenced to six months in prison. One month later, the Fiji Times and its six directors were charged with breach of the Media Industry Development Decree of 2010, which requires Fijian citizenship and permanent residence for all directors. One director did not reside in Fiji during his tenure, and the newspaper was fined $2,700 in May 2013.
In August 2013, the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum and the editor of its newsletter were found in contempt of court for criticizing the judiciary in an article published the previous year. The high court imposed a $20,000 fine and sentenced the editor to a three-month prison sentence.
Freedom of religion is generally respected, though the interim government has restricted the activities of religious organizations that have spoken out against it. In 2010 and 2011, permits for the Methodist Church—the largest in Fiji—to hold its annual conference were withheld and church officials were banned from traveling overseas to attend church meetings and conferences. The permits were granted in 2012 and 2013 and the travel restrictions lifted; in September 2013, the church announced it would no longer allow its ministers to voice political views.
Most indigenous Fijians are Christians; Indo-Fijians are generally Hindus. Ethnic tensions have made Hindu temples targets of violence, though there were no reports of attacks in 2013.
While academic freedom is generally respected, the education system suffers from a lack of resources. The interim government has been dismantling the old system, which gave preferential treatment to indigenous Fijians in college admission, scholarships, and other areas.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 3 / 12
The interim government has severely restricted freedom of assembly and association. The lifting of public emergency regulations in June 2012, however, allowed meetings to be held without a permit as long as they were not held in public spaces. Relations between the interim government and labor unions and other groups critical of the government have been tense. The Essential National Industries Decree of 2011 limited trade union and collective bargaining rights for those employed in industries that are considered essential to Fiji’s economy, including the sugar industry, the airline industry, utility companies, banks, and telecommunication firms. The decree banned strikes in these industries under a penalty of $50,000 or five years in jail, and required that all union officials be employees of the company whose workers they represented.
F. Rule of Law: 6 / 16
Dismissal of judges following the 2009 suspension of the constitution and their replacement by appointees of the interim government have raised questions about judicial independence. The dismissals also exacerbated an already serious backlog of cases. A new tax court was launched in March 2013 to fast-track cases, though resources were insufficient.
Police misconduct is a problem. Prisons are overcrowded and have poor sanitary and living conditions. A new detention center opened in the capital in July 2013, and has provided some relief.
The new constitution has been criticized for granting the government too much leeway to carry out pretrial detentions, as well as for providing immunity to government officials for torture and other human rights violations. Those involved in the 2006 coup, too, would be granted amnesty.
Indigenous Fijians receive preferential treatment in many areas. A 2011 study reported that an estimated 250,000 Fijians—many of them educated and skilled Indo-Fijians—had left the country in the last 25 years because of discrimination, economic hardship, and political instability. Nevertheless, the interim government recognizes indigenous land rights and amended the Land Act in February 2013 to bar further conversion of native lands to freehold status.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 10 / 16
Fiji was the first Pacific Island nation to decriminalize homosexuality in 2010 when the interim government abolished anti-sodomy laws. The new 2013 constitution also bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, conservative social mores and absence of explicit anti-discrimination protections mean the LGBT community continues to suffer from discrimination and violence.
Discrimination and violence against women are also widespread. A study by the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center released in December 2013 reported widespread violence against women in Fiji, including more than 60 percent of all Fijian women have been victims of violence in domestic relationships. The interim government has pledged greater equality and protection for women. It also said it would increase the number of female police officers by 15 percent and place more women in front line and leadership positions; the first female police division chief was appointed in January 2013. The interim government has also pledged to provide greater medical services for battered women and children, and to train health workers to coordinate medical management, referrals, counseling, and treatment to victims of abuse and violence.
Fiji is a source country for the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation and a destination for the trafficking of men and women for forced labor and prostitution. The first human trafficking for prostitution case was heard in February 2013, and the International Labor Organization is assisting investigation of 121 case of child labor. A new crime unit was launched in May 2013 to monitor the movement of Chinese migrants in Fiji, who have been repeatedly linked to human trafficking, money laundering, prostitution, and other illegal activities. The Chinese community has assailed the policy as discriminatory.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year