The Security Council and two human rights experts today joined Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other United Nations figures in voicing deep concern over the abrogation of Fiji’s constitution, the sacking of its judiciary and the imposition of press restrictions.
The South Pacific archipelago’s unelected executive fired the judges, set a longer time frame for parliamentary election and declared a public emergency on 10 April, following a court ruling that declared the interim leadership unconstitutional.
“It is a step backwards and needs restoration of the democracy process that Fiji has been undertaking, in cooperation with regional and international partners as well as the United Nations,” Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, which holds the April presidency of the Security Council, told the press this afternoon.
Supporting Mr. Ban’s approach to the matter, members of the Council expressed hope that Fiji will resume “steadfast” progress towards democracy and that fair elections will be held at the soonest possible time.
The island chain has suffered prolonged internal tensions between its indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities, and had four coups since 1987. Commodore Josaia V. Bainimarama, who serves as Prime Minister, came to power in a coup in December 2006, sparking criticism from the UN at the time.
Also today, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, strongly condemned the suspension of rights in Fiji.
They urged Fiji’s authorities to restore the rule of law by immediately reinstating the judiciary and ending the restrictions placed on the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
“The respect of the independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression are fundamental pillars of the rule of law and democracy,” said the joint statement of the two experts, who report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in an independent and unpaid capacity.
“Judges play a fundamental role in protecting human rights during states of emergency. It is crucial that the judiciary is immediately re-established,” said Mr. Despouy, maintaining that such states of emergency must be strictly limited.
He added that there have been deportations of foreign journalists and arbitrary arrests of others, with yet others summoned by the Ministry of information and warned to restrict the content of their reporting. “Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council as well as other neutral international observers should be allowed to visit the country in order to ensure the respect of the human rights of the population.”
He has requested on several occasions that the Interim Government of Fiji allow him to undertake an official visit to the country, with no response as yet.