In March, Fiji ratified the UN Convention against Torture although reservations were made, including on the definition of torture. Accountability for torture and other ill-treatment was hindered by immunities enshrined in the Constitution and a lack of political will to effectively prosecute cases. Arbitrary restrictions on the right to freedom of expression remained. Lack of disaster response plans resulted in poorly co-ordinated, delayed or inequitable distribution of aid following Cyclone Winston.
On 20 and 21 February, Cyclone Winston hit Fiji, causing 43 deaths and resulting in 62,000 people displaced from their homes. Lack of infrastructure, geographical remoteness, discrimination and poor co-ordination of aid distribution hindered efforts to reach those most in need. Shortage of building materials meant that many people remained homeless six months later, without access to adequate housing.
Freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly
In June, Indigenous parliamentarian Tupou Draunidalo was suspended for highlighting in Parliament the continued attempt to silence government critics. On 7 September a three-day meeting in Pacific Harbour on the sugar industry was cancelled by officials who said that the civil society organizers did not have a permit. On 10 September, five people, including politicians, a union leader and an academic, were arrested and detained in Suva for up to two days for holding a meeting to discuss the Constitution without a permit. Permits are not required in law for private meetings.
Arbitrary restrictions remained which curtailed the right to freedom of expression, and the media in particular. Journalists and others were subject to harsh fines and imprisonment under the Constitution and various laws for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Three police officers and two military officers were arrested and charged in November 2015 with the sexual assault of Iowane Benedito, who was tortured in 2012 (also known as the YouTube case). The police officers remained on bail pending hearing at the end of 2016.
In November, eight police officers and one military officer were convicted of the rape of robbery suspect Vilikesa Soko in 2014 but no one was held to account for causing his death.
Rajneel Singh, who was kidnapped, beaten and burned in November 2015 after handing emails to the police, which allegedly disclosed unlawful activities, was again assaulted in his home on 30 August by men in police uniforms.1 The police only responded to his complaint after it had received media attention.
Disaster risk reduction and climate change
The devastating impact of Cyclone Winston highlighted the vulnerability of Fiji to natural disasters and climate change and their significant impact on human rights. Concerns were raised about the discriminatory distribution of aid during the disaster and the failure to integrate the specific needs of groups such as women, children and people with disabilities into relief efforts. A significant number of people remained homeless or in temporary shelters, six months on from the cyclone.
- Fiji: Whistleblower attacked by men in uniform (News story, 1 September)