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Soldier found guilty of manslaughter

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, April 7, 2009) – Fiji army officer Maika Vuniwawa was today sentenced to three years imprisonment over the death of 41-year-old Tailevu villager Nimilote Verebasaga.

The High Court yesterday found Vuniwawa guilty of manslaughter for injuries he inflicted on Verebasaga on January 5, 2007 that led to his death.

In passing sentence, Justice Daniel Goundar said Vuniwawa had violated his moral and legal duty when he should have been looking after Verebasaga.

"You breached your moral and legal duty when you assaulted the deceased while he was in your custody," Goundar said.

"Nimilote Verebasaga should not have died. You have taken away a human life and Nimilote’s children will now grow without their father," he said.

He said society could not condone conducts that caused the loss of a human life.

"The right to life is a fundamental right protected by our Constitution. You must understand that Nimilote Verebasaga was entitled to the right to life. You took away that right by punishing him without affording him any due process of law," Goundar said.

"You failed in your duty to uphold the law," he said.

The court heard that Vuniwawa and some other army officers took Verebasaga from his home to an army camp at Lelean High School.

In his caution interview made known to the court, Vuniwawa had said Verebasaga was harassing Indian families occupying his land as tenants.

However, Vuniwawa said when he arrived at the military camp, the deceased tried to escape.

"You caught him and on instructions from your commanding officer, you made the deceased crawl on the ground. While the deceased was crawling, you assaulted him," Goundar said.

He said the post mortem report revealed the deceased sustained abrasions all over his body and serious injuries to his vital organs such as the liver, lungs, pancreas and kidney.

"The deceased died of hemorrhagic shock due to injuries to vital organs as a result of trauma. He died shortly after the assault."

Goundar recalled evidence provided in court saying after the military takeover of December 2006, Vuniwawa was deployed to the Nausori area to maintain peace and order in the community.

"While your reason for arresting the deceased may have been to maintain peace and order in the community, you had a moral and legal duty to ensure that the deceased was not harmed in any manner whatsoever while he was in your custody," he said.


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