An election voting public service message is seen on a large video screen located on the main street of the Fiji capital of Suva on August 25, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

(Bangkok) – Fiji’s political parties and their candidates should make respect for human rights a central issue in their campaigns for the election on September 17, 2014, Human Rights Watch said today in letters to the five major parties fielding candidates. Fiji’s parliamentary election comes after nearly eight years of military rule and provides an important opportunity to change the way Fiji addresses human rights.

Human Rights Watch outlined key human rights challenges and urged the parties to seriously address those issues as a priority after the election. The issues include freedom of expression, allowing human rights defenders to carry out their peaceful work, judicial independence, labor rights, and constitutional reform. The parties that received the letters are Fiji First Party, Fiji Labour Party, National Federation Party, People’s Democratic Party, and Social Democratic Liberal Party.

“This election provides a critical chance for Fiji’s voters to demand an end to rights abusing policies that prevent people from speaking their minds, joining groups, or holding peaceful protests,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Fiji’s political parties should commit to real reforms to ensure that democratic governance and respect for rights is at the forefront of the new government’s agenda.”

Since 2009, police have arbitrarily arrested and detained human rights defenders, trade union leaders, journalists, and others seen as critical of the government. The independence of the judiciary remains seriously compromised. The revised constitution contains provisions for a blanket amnesty for rights abusers involved in the previous military coup and ensuing authoritarian political rule.

Fijian political parties should make a public commitment during the campaign to reverse policies that restrict or deny human rights and address these issues after the election, either as part of government or in the parliamentary opposition.

Each political party should also elaborate on commitments they have made to support a comprehensive human rights policy that addresses past abuses and to promote concrete rights-respecting reforms.

“Candidates should make detailed plans for protecting human rights clear to the voters,” Robertson said. “The people of Fiji have the right to go to the polls fully informed about how the parties they choose will rule when it comes to defending people’s fundamental rights.”