An “ingrained culture of torture” has taken root among Fiji’s security forces, a new Amnesty International report says.
The 29-page report, Beating Justice: How Fiji's Security Forces Get Away With Torture, outlines cases of torture meted out by Fiji’s police and military that have resulted in serious injuries or death.
“Suspected criminals or escaped prisoners are at high risk of torture and other ill-treatment in custody and have been beaten, raped, sexually assaulted, rubbed with chilies, hit with sticks or batons, attacked by police dogs, or shot at,” the report states.
Amnesty International says that military involvement in civilian policing and a lack of independent oversight has led to serious human rights abuses where the perpetrators are rarely held accountable for their actions.
Coercion, violence and death
The report outlines five cases where people died as a result of injuries sustained while in custody, including 30-year-old father of three, Vilikesa Soko, a suspect in a robbery, who was beaten, raped and killed in 2014.
The report also highlights the case of five men accused of robbing a shop in Nadi, who were beaten, had crushed chilies rubbed on their bodies, water poured in their ears, and large rocks dropped on their backs until they confessed.
Lack of accountability
Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher, Kate Scheutze, says accountability for torture is the exception rather than the rule in Fiji, creating a climate of near-impunity. “It is the result of the fact that torture is poorly defined in law, immunity is granted, there are few legal safeguards and there is no independent oversight.”
In March this year Fiji ratified the UN Convention Against Torture. Amnesty International says while ratification is a positive step, Fiji made a number of significant reservations. “Most notably, Fiji will define what is and what is not torture and will not allow the UN Committee Against Torture to review its compliance with its obligations or rule on complaints,” Amnesty International says.
Ms Schuetze says security forces know that torture is taking place and have stood in the way of accountability. “While the Fijian authorities have ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and pledged to end this cruel practice, it will remain an empty gesture until decisive action is taken.”
In a speech in October this year, Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama acknowledged that Fiji has a long culture of people resorting to violence. “The culture of what we call the buturaki – the beating – is deeply ingrained in parts of the Fijian psyche,” Mr Bainamarama said.
Challenges of enforcing constitutional rights
Although Fiji’s Constitution recognizes the rights of an accused person to remain silent and to not have unlawfully obtained evidence used against them, Amnesty International says enforcing these legal protections is challenging.
“A review of published Fijian court cases shows that at criminal trials, accused persons routinely object to confessions by alleging that they were obtained through torture. Police routinely respond by rejecting all allegations against them. While medical evidence can sometimes resolve the issue, without video recordings or the presence of independent persons at interviews, judges are often required to make decisions based their personal assessment of who they believe – the police or the accused.”
Amnesty International would like to see Fiji remove its armed forces from policing tasks, and reform its legal framework to ensure independent oversight of complaints of misconduct.
The New Zealand Law Society has released a statement saying it supports the recommendations in the Amnesty International report.
““No one should be above the law, and perpetrators of human rights abuses need to be held to account,” says Law Society spokesman and Rule of Law Committee convenor Austin Forbes QC.