FIJI LABOUR PARTY Suva, Fiji Islands

PRESS RELEASE June 3, 2000


The People's Coalition is alarmed at the escalating reports of orchestrated violence against innocent communities in rural areas outside Suva. It calls for an immediate investigation by the Human Rights Commission and for urgent protection for these communities by the security forces.

The People's Coalition has requested the assistance of a number of people to compile detailed, documented reports on these disturbing incidents. These incidents have taken place especially in the province of Naitasiri, in areas on both sides of the Rewa River including Baulevu, Muaniweni, Viria, Nasi, Viti, Tasiri, Sawani, and Navuso.

Based on the information that has been forthcoming to date, it is very evident that the attacks on isolated communities and families are directly linked to the unlawful actions of Mr. Speight and the hostage crisis. The first incidents took place on the night of Friday, May 19, when the Prime Minister and his Government were taken hostage and they have continued on a regular basis since that time. The reports also reveal that the principal culprits are young men from villages with close kinship ties with Speight.

These acts of orchestrated intimidation and violence appear to follow a distinct pattern. They involve groups of 8 to 10 masked men, armed with iron bars, semi-automatic rifles, knives and rocks, some of whom remain on guard outside, while the others smash their way into a house, loot, destroy and physically assault the terrified family members. In many cases, the young daughters of a family are threatened with rape if they do not get what they want. Temples and holy shrines have also been deliberately targeted.

The raids are methodical and planned to target Indo-Fijian families living in isolated settlements. In some instances, the houses are burned down altogether. Cases of rape have been reported both to us and to the media – probably just the tip of the iceberg in view of the fact that victims are fearful of reprisals or repeat attacks if they speak out.

We are deeply concerned about the effects this is having on these communities. Apart from sustaining physical injuries, families falling victim to these acts of lawlessness and thuggery are now forced to seek refuge and protection from neighbors, including sympathetic and generous-hearted Fijian villagers. We are told that people are living in terror of further raids, and that women, men and children alike are visibly traumatized.

It is certainly a tragic irony that in many of these cases, the (Fijian) perpetrators of this ugly violence have actually lived alongside their (Indo-Fijian) victims like family for generations. These relationships have developed a unique intimacy that has now been brutally destroyed, and with it the very fabric of an integrated and harmonious multi-ethnic community. This is indeed a crime against humanity for which Mr. Speight and those who support him are directly responsible.

We should point out that in accordance with international human rights law, they are accountable for their crimes, not only to the citizens of Fiji, but to the international community as well. Furthermore, under international human rights law, national security forces like the army and police are held directly responsible if they fail to prevent such acts of terrorism or to protect the community.

The People's Coalition is deeply concerned that the vigilante groups who are terrorizing these innocent, law-abiding, hard-working and God-fearing families are being allowed to do so with impunity. Indeed, there are already reported cases of complicity on the part of the police, for example the shameful incident reported yesterday where police officers were actively involved in transporting slaughtered cattle and livestock, root crops and other stolen food direct to the Parliamentary complex to feed Speight's men. All this in broad daylight.

As most people in Fiji appreciate, the slaughter of cattle and pigs in front of Hindu and Muslim families, as well as the desecration of their temples, are acts of sacrilege and humiliation that are deeply offensive to these communities.

We ask why the Fiji Military Forces have not taken any action to protect these people when they have declared that their sole purpose for intervening in the current crisis is to 'restore law and order'. We urge them to take appropriate action without further delay.

We are alarmed at the apparent cavalier attitude displayed by our courts when dealing with these criminal acts. Derisory fines of no more than $20 have been handed down this week. This is hardly a deterrent, and it is surely not sending out the right kind of message to the community.

We are ourselves in the process of soliciting trauma counseling services for the victims of these acts of terrorism, especially for the young children who are demonstrating the effects of profound distress and psychological trauma.

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