UN human rights chief urges protection of judiciary and media independence in Fiji

15 April 2009

GENEVA – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed her deep concern Wednesday about the sacking of the judiciary and heavy restrictions on the media, following the abrogation of Fiji’s 1997 Constitution and imposition of a state of emergency on 10 April 2009.

“The long term damage of undermining such fundamental institutions as the judiciary and the media cannot be underestimated,” the High Commissioner said. “I strongly urge a return to the rule of law, to the reinstatement of the judiciary and an end to media censorship.”

Under a decree issued by the President on 10 April, all judges and magistrates were removed from their positions, along with all other office holders that were appointed under the Constitution. The decree and the abrogation of the Constitution followed a 9 April decision of the Appeal Court that the appointment of the Interim Government by the President after the 2006 coup was illegal. In the decision, the Appeal Court advised the President to appoint a neutral caretaker as Prime Minister to facilitate the holding of parliamentary elections.

On 10 April, the President also issued Public Emergency Regulations, which seriously restrict the right to public assembly and freedom of expression, and give the military and other law enforcement personnel broad powers of arrest and detention. Under these regulations the Interim Government is heavily censoring the media in Fiji. The Regulations are valid for 30 days, but the President may extend them.

Already there have been reports of three foreign journalists being deported from Fiji and a journalist and lawyer being detained, although they have since been released.

“A state of emergency should only be used to deal with a dire threat to the security of the nation, not to undermine the fundamental checks and balances of good government,” the High Commissioner said.

She joined the UN Secretary-General in calling for urgent action towards the restoration of a legitimate Government and constitutional order.

Under accepted rules of international law, restrictions responding to emergency situations must be proportional and only applied to the extent and for the time strictly required by the situation.