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Fiji draft constitution fails to meet human rights standards: rights groups

Fiji's draft constitution does not adequately protect basic human rights [press release], Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] said Wednesday. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] also released a statement on Wednesday calling on Fiji to revise its draft constitution [press release] to include protections for freedom of speech, assembly and association. AI Deputy Asia Pacific Director Isabelle Arradon stated that the current draft constitution represents a step backward for human rights because it immunizes government officials for human rights violations and grants the government the power to restrict speech and detain people without trial:

Contrary to the claims of Fiji's government over the last few months, the new constitution actually weakens human rights protections in the country...The new constitution not only erodes basic human rights for the people of Fiji, but grants military, police and government officials absolute immunity for past, present and future human rights violations. This will only serve to allow the perpetrators of serious crimes to act with impunity.
The draft constitution is scheduled to be sent to President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau [official website] on September 6.

Fiji has faced political turmoil since the military seized power in a coup in 2006 [Guardian backgrounder]. In August 2012 the High Court of Fiji [official website] found Laisenia Qarase [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], the country's last democratically-elected prime minister, guilty of nine counts of corruption [JURIST report]. In January 2012 Fiji's military ruler, Commodore Josaia Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama [BBC profile] announced [JURIST report] that the nation's state of emergency laws would be lifted to facilitate a nationwide consultation process for a new constitution. In October 2010 military authorities arrested [JURIST report] Fijian opposition leader Mahendra Chaudry for allegedly holding public meetings in violation of regulations imposed by the military government.

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