FIJI 2021Repressive laws were used to silence critics and the right to peaceful assembly was restricted. The government introduced oppressive measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic including harsh lockdowns and fines that disproportionately affected people living in informal settlements.
BackgroundIn September, the government declared a climate emergency and passed a Climate Change Act aimed at fulfilling commitments to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement. In November, Fiji called for stronger international carbon reduction commitments by 2030 at the global COP26 meeting but failed to increase its own targets.
Freedom of expression and assemblyAuthorities deported the vicechancellor of the University of South Pacific (USP) in February after he exposed the misuse of funds at the university in 2020. The government subsequently withdrew funding to the USP after it reinstated the vice-chancellor to work from the university’s Samoa campus. The Public Order Act and other laws were used to target and silence government critics. A former doctor and a politician were arrested in August after criticizing the government’s Covid-19 pandemic response on social media. In May, the authorities denied trade unions permission to hold a Labour Day march for the sixth consecutive year.
Right to healthMore than 730 people, including health workers, died from Covid-19. These deaths were mainly attributed to the inadequately resourced healthcare system. Hospitals turned away thousands of other patients due to bed shortages. In August, the government imposed a mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policy which required all employees and people on social welfare to be vaccinated or lose their jobs or benefits.1 A survey conducted by the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement found that 42.3% of women were hesitant about having the vaccine. The government nevertheless failed to prioritize health education and public engagement on its vaccination policies. Hundreds of fines were issued to private businesses and individuals between May and September for breaches of curfew and mask-wearing regulations. People living in informal settlements were disproportionately affected by stay-at-home orders. The police and other security forces monitored movement in and out of such settlements and there were complaints about the excessive use of force.
Women’s rightsWomen in parliament, including the minister for women, children and poverty alleviation, were subjected to misogynistic and sexist remarks by parliamentary colleagues and online bullying and harassment. Women’s rights organizations highlighted the increased prevalence of gender-based violence and unemployment among women as a result of the pandemic.
Indigenous peoples’ rightsIn July, the parliament passed amendments to the iTaukei Land Trust Act without adequate public consultation. The amended law removed the requirement for consent by the iTaukei Land Trust Board for mortgages and leases issued on land owned by Indigenous peoples. More than a dozen people were arrested for voicing their opposition to the amendments, including two former prime ministers and the leaders of three major opposition parties.
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