Unions, activists demand restoration of rights in Fiji

The International Trade Union Confederation and Human Rights Watch have sent a sharply-worded letter to Fiji coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama demanding he repeal "longstanding restrictions on rights".

The letter, signed by ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow and Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams, said the protection of rights was essential in the lead-up to democratic elections set for 2014.

"Your government continues to deny Fiji's citizens their rights to freedom of speech and expression, a free press, assembly, and association," they said in the seven-page letter dated December 5 and seen here Sunday.

"The military and police have arbitrarily arrested and detained human rights defenders, including trade union leaders and journalists, and others perceived to be critical of the government."

Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 coup and tore up Fiji's constitution three years later, has promised democratic elections in 2014 when a new constitution is in place.

However, Burrow and Adams questioned the consultation process now underway before a Constitution Commission, saying the assembly that will review its proposals lacked political independence.

The Bainimarama-installed government controlled the assembly's composition and had given it the power to amend or delete recommendations from the commission, they said.

"The interim government has unfortunately failed to protect key human rights essential if this consultation process is to be free, fully participatory, inclusive, and transparent."

The letter contained a list of grievances which the ITUC and Human Rights Watch held against the Fiji administration, including that it "consistently interfered in the workings of the courts" and "sought to limit public criticism through censorship of the press".

There was no immediate response by the government but the Fiji Times quoted Bainimarama as saying the Constituent Assembly to review the draft constitution "would consist of the broadest possible cross-section of Fijian society".

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