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(New York) – Fiji’s interim government continues to commit human rights abuses two-and-a-half years after a military coup, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Pacific leaders sent on August 1, 2009. Human Rights Watch urged leaders attending the Pacific Islands Forum to agree to push Fiji’s interim government to cease these abuses immediately, when the region’s leaders meet on August 5 and 6 in Cairns, Australia.

Since December 5, 2006, the country has been controlled by an interim prime minister, Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama. This control has increased since Bainimarama announced that his cabinet will choose a new president following President Ratu Josefa Iloilo’s retirement on July 30.

“As Bainimarama strengthens his grip, Pacific leaders should present a united front to make it clear that they will not tolerate human rights abuses in Fiji,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Pacific leaders need to raise this issue with Bainimarama and his government, and press him to bring the abuse to a halt."

Since 2007, there have been four deaths in military or police custody, and dozens of people have been arbitrarily detained, sexually assaulted, intimidated, beaten, or otherwise subjected to degrading treatment ( ).

Since the interim government abrogated the constitution on April 10, 2009, the administration has limited the independence of the judiciary, removing all judicial officers from office, reconstituting courts and commissions, intervening in the licensing of lawyers, and legislating to prohibit legal challenge of its acts. Violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, among others, have intensified. The media are heavily censored. Officials have released military and police officers convicted of crimes prior to the completion of their sentences, fueling impunity

The letter acknowledges that Pacific leaders have tried to convince Fiji’s leaders to return to democratic governance, but since Fiji’s leaders dismissed these efforts, leaders suspended Fiji from the forum on May 2. On suspending Fiji, the chair of the forum, Toke Talagi, Premier of Niue, said, “A regime which displays such a total disregard for basic human rights, democracy and freedom has no place in the Pacific Islands Forum."

Bainimarama says that elections will be held in 2014.

The letter concludes with specific recommendations to leaders on human rights issues they should urgently raise with the Fiji government in formal and informal meetings.

“Fiji is a test case in showing how committed the forum is to promoting the principles of democracy and human rights,” said Pearson. “The time to act is now. The people of Fiji cannot wait five years for elections and continue to suffer these serious human rights violations.”

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