Thursday, 10 December 2015

Human Rights and Wrongs in Fiji

Pn2. Today, December 10th, is International Human Rights Day and a time to reflect on the status of human rights world-wide and in Fiji.

A recent Radio NZ International broadcast1 on a claim of torture by Lautoka lawyer Aman Ravindra-Singh is a good starting point for reflection because it raises not one but four important questions: 1) the role of RNZI in reporting news from Fiji; 2) the lawyer's claims, motives and credibility; 3) the ongoing saga of human rights abuse claims against the Fiji police and military; and 4) the role of the Fiji First Government in relation to its domestic and international obligations on human rights. I'll take one at a time.

    1. RNZI reports on Fiji. 

    This is not the first time the state-owned and taxpayer funded broadcaster has taken a less than objective stance on the Fiji political scene. I don't know who called who, Singh or the broadcaster, but responsible journalism required accuracy in publishing Singh's comments; an opportunity for those accused to answer the accusations; and some attempt to place the events reported in their historical and cultural context. RNZI appeared to make no attempt to verify Singh's statement with the Fiji authorities; certainly none was published, and the context was limited to Singh's law practice and not the wider setting in which his accusations need to be placed. In effect, RNZI allowed itself to be used as a unchallenged launch pad for Singh's comments. Its listeners deserved more.

    2. The lawyer's claims, motives and credibility1
Aman Ravindra-Singh (L).
Aman Ravindra-Singh is a former prosecutor for the Fiji Department of Public Prosecutions; the secretary of an unsuccessful party in the recent Elections*, and he is “representing dozens of people who've been brought before the courts in recent months, some accused of trying to set up a sovereign Christian state in Fiji and others alleged to have taken part in a para-military style group.”

He says he and his employees have received threats “by men he believes are members of Fiji's security forces” [and] one employee was bundled into a car and driven into the bush where for two hours he was subjected to acts of torture including being stomped on, hit with a rod, pricked with pins, and injected with liquid.” 

 He says the attackers were evidently members of the security forces. "The men had military boots on, they were well-trained, they were very fit ... it was the way spoke … the men were in plain clothes and their faces were covered [they asked] 'why is he against the government' and 'you can tell him this is going to happen to him' and 'we're looking for him.'" He believes the aim of the threats is to stop him representing those accused in the sedition cases.

So far so good. The attackers could be security, and the attacks could be because of the sedition cases.     
Sitiveni Qiliho
But whoever they were, Singh should have reported the matter to the Police.
As Acting Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho has said —and as Singh knows full well— the police cannot act without a complaint.2 They cannot be accused of failing to act unless a complaint is made. 

I asked an informed observer about Singh's allegations. He replied: 

“The police cannot fail if he does not make an official complaint with chapter and verse and details. Some of this might be true, but I also suspect the lily has been gilded for the international market.”

3. Human Rights Abuses by Police and Military

The remainder of Singh's interview with RNZI concerned what he called a daily "litany of human rights abuses." "In police stations around the country Fiji citizens are slapped, punched, kicked, intimidated, threatened, co-erced (sic!) into giving confessions, sometimes not fed. There are a litany of cases,"

Another informed observer had this to say on the daily litany of torture:

I suppose abduction and being beaten up may constitute 'torture', but as you know police brutality has been fairly common in Fiji for sometime. Assaulting suspects and obtaining confessions is a daily occurrence in police stations throughout the country. Sadly, the military's recent history of brutality and torture goes back to Rabuka's coup in 1987 when FLP and NFP activists and supporters were rounded up, detained and 'tortured'.

The word 'torture' conjures up images of extreme brutality not practised in Fiji. 

See footnote 4. 

4. Government and Human Rights

Singh goes on to say, "It's absolute nonsense what the Fiji government says out there in support of human rights and it is absolutely a farce that the Fiji government receives praise from the United Nations and from the European Union because we are on the ground here and we are the ones putting up with the violation and breaches of human rights and I'm personally experiencing this on the ground.”

The implication is that Government knows what is going on, sometimes encourages it, and does nothing to stop it, which implies a political motive. As my first observer responded:

"As you know there are elements in Fiji's security forces (police, military and corrections) prone to using violence and violating human rights of citizens. Whether 
this has tacit approval of the government of the day is another matter. However, 
those violating human rights are rarely charged and convicted - this is a common 
enough occurrence in many of the so-called democracies of the world including 
the USA.

"Unfortunately with each coup, elements of the security forces in Fiji have enjoyed immunity from prosecution even though there were clear cases of gross 
violations of human rights including the loss of life. The sense of impunity of the 
men in uniform has been enhanced with the coups.”

My second observer was more forthright:

To suggest this is political is nonsense; it is endemic in the police culture which must be eradicated. He is making a political not a sociological comment."

Where now?

A week ago a burglary in a Lautoka internet cafe and alleged brutality by the police is possibly also related to the sedition charges mentioned by Singh but in this case the cafe owner complained to the Police Commissioner and has been assured of police protection.3 

Christopher Pryde 
Also last week, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Christopher Pryde, threw out charges against a Jone Manasa because of evidence that that he had been assaulted by Police in custody. 

The DPP said, “The allegations against the police officers are very serious. The file will now be returned to the Police recommending that an investigation is commenced into the allegations raised by Mr Manasa.4

And as I write, the Fiji Times announces that the PM has called on the President to revoke the appointment of the Ifereimi Vasu, Acting Commissioner of the Corrections Service, due to a charge of abuse of office.5

In October Government outlined to the United Nations Human Rights Council efforts it was making in the area of human rights which including police training. Parliament has unanimously agreed to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture. Money has also been provided to the police to set up rooms for video recording of interviews of suspects in custody.

These events show that efforts are being made to eliminate brutal and illegal acts by the security services. But I doubt they will be enough. The problem will probably never be totally solved. After all, far worse abuses are reported almost daily from that self-proclaimed bastion of democracy, the United States. And Fiji is but a fledgling democracy. 

To eliminate police, military and corrections brutality, the Fiji Government must insist that those found guilty of these illegal activities are punishment and their employment terminated.  It must be impressed on all security officers that this behaviour will no longer be tolerated. There must be no more cozy statements about immunity. 

This government is the first since the 1987 coup that has the support, coordination and strength to really act on this issue. But the lead has to come from the top, the very top.
The Top: PM  Voreqe Bainimarama

The Top: A-G Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum
* This sentence has been amended thanks to the reader's comment noted below.
  1. Torture is usually defined as inflicting extreme physical or psychological pain. Methods typically involve intensive and prolonged beatings, extended solitary confinement, rape, sexual abuse, mock executions, water boarding, and the extraction of finger and toe nails and teeth..


  1. Aman Ravindra Singh was not an unsuccessful candidate in the last election.

    He never contested the election but was party secretary

    So get your facts right - you are no better than RNZI, whom you have accused of not checking the facts


    1. Thank you. I was misinformed but take all responsibility. I will correct the error.

    2. I like the bit he complained to RNZ but till today not the not the Fiji Police Service. Could be a case of him still waiting for the Police Services from NZ to interview him with the possibility of him seeking asylum in NZ. Somethings doesn't sound nor smell right about this case?

    3. Aman Ravindra-Singh is the last person in Fiji who will seek asylum. Thats the problem with this piece, it seeks to place him in a bad light but for all those who know this man, we have a very different opinion of him. He is a person who is the only voice standing up for human rights and exposing human rights abuses by the dreadful fiji regime.
      Crosbie, if you really wanted to provide balance to your story, which you accuse RNZI of not doing properly why did you not also speak directly to Aman Ravindra-Singh? Also what has his defending people charged with sedition got to do with his credibility? When no lawyer had the guts to defend these people he was the only lawyer who stood up to defend these souls at the price to his personal safety. I would have expected better from you Crosbie!!

    4. Dear Croz,
      The trouble is you can't help yourself. You are so bent on supporting anything favouring the current government, yet anything against it is discredited with nitpicking, detailed scrutiny and skepticism. Anonymous at 9:15 asks some very valid questions and the comments are spot; except that I don't expect anything better from you. Like I have already said, your can't help yourself when it comes to one eyed comment!!! Recycling dirty Qorvis propaganda seems to be the limit of your capabilities.

    5. I reported what Aman said to RNZI, how Qiliho replied, and invited the comments of two Fiji-resident observers. I thought the RNZI report one-eyed. I criticized Aman for not reporting the incidents to the police, agreed that police and military brutality was ongoing, pointed to two or three examples which suggested and improvement, and said that brutality would only be stamped out by determined leadership from the PM and A-G. The Anonymous commentators (why don't you use your real name or a pseudonym) seem more intent on attacking me than on offering new insights, and suggestions about what can and should be done.

    6. I agree with Anonymous at 9.41.
      This story is so one sided. It is only written to demean Aman Ravindra-Singh. In the meantime the New Zealand Law Society has come out very strong in support of Mr. Ravindra-Singh.

      The New Zealand Law Society is concerned about the credibility of an investigation into the alleged intimidation of a Fijian lawyer by security forces because the head of police is a former military man.

      PlayDownload: Ogg  |  MP3Audio duration: ( 3′ :40″ )

      Tags: Fiji Nz

      The New Zealand Law Society is concerned about the credibility of an investigation into the alleged intimidation of a Fijian lawyer by security forces because the head of police is a former military man.

      Aman Ravindra-Singh has claimed that he and his associates have been threatened and people close to him attacked because he is acting for people who have been accused of sedition.

      The Lautoka lawyer believes security forces were behind the attacks.

      Fiji's acting Police Commissioner Brigadier General Sitiveni Qiliho says it will investigate.

      Bridget Tunnicliffe asked the chair of the New Zealand Law Society's Rule of Law Committee, Austin Forbes QC, if that's reassuring.

      AUSTIN FORBES: That's exactly the response that should occur and indeed it's encouraging that the police in Fiji are saying that they will investigate these complaints. I think there is an implied concern that the threats and indeed the attacks that have been alleged by Mr Ravindra-Singh have been in some shape or form on behalf of the state in Fiji. Now I'm not saying that's the case but it's pretty evident that he thinks that's the case and if that was the situation it makes it particularly serious but it is as I said encouraging that the police are going to investigate the matter and hopefully that's done thoroughly and they find out what the situation truly is.

      BRIDGET TUNNICLIFE: Can we be confident of that though given that the police force is now run by the military's former land force commander Sitiveni Qiliho. These allegations are against military people and he is a military man essentially.

      AF: That is of course a concern, I mean the appointment of a military officer as chief of police in itself was something that the New Zealand Law Society had some concerns about because it is an unconventional thing. We were told at the time that it was only a temporary arrangement and hopefully that's the case because there should really be a clear separation between any country's military operators and their police force. So one can only hope that they do thoroughly investigate it. Mr Ravindra-Singh has been fairly brave in making the statements he has, he obviously believes he's justified in doing so and the concern we have here in New Zealand is that if what he is saying is correct, then the matter does need to be properly investigated and not in a way that just results in a cover-up.

      BT: He's also spoken to us in the past just about how much of a challenge it is to take on these sedition cases given also that the prime minister Frank Bainimarama speaks quite openly to the media about these people he's defending, making very negative comments about these people and almost making them out to be guilty before it even goes before the courts.

      AF: Again that's a concern I think the reported terms that may have be used by [Frank Bainimarama] in this regard is that these people will be 'crushed' that's a bit of a chilling comment if it's correct. People should be entitled to exercise legitimately and in a proper and lawful way their rights in terms of protest, in terms of seeking whatever they are looking for as to the political or social make-up of the country and it's a concern that a lawyer that's acting for them in respect of charges before the courts should feel that he's being intimidated.

    7. Thank you New Zealand Law Society and the Chair. At least you all have the ability to support the truth or ask that the allegations be fairly investigated.

    8. Why do you assure the NZLS's opinions are impartial? In the past they relied entirely on information supplied by their colleagues in the FLS and refused a government invitation to visit Fiji to see for themselves.

    9. Crosbie! That because the NZLS knows about the truth in Fiji. While you have no clue about the truth in Fiji

  2. The poor old fascist fool junta supporter can't help himself - some bludgers will do anything for a free holiday in Fiji.


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