In Fiji, a disturbing YouTube video allegedly showing two men being tortured by security officers has brought the country’s poor human rights record into the international spotlight. The nine-minute video shows two men repeatedly beaten with batons and stamped upon while their hands are tied behind their backs. The United Nations has called on the government to prosecute the perpetrators, but human rights groups in and outside Fiji fear the country’s leaders lack the will to do so.
In a statement, Fiji's Ministry of Information promised a “thorough investigation” into the incident. It suggested that the victims were recaptured prisoners, but did not reveal the location or the identiy of the attackers. The person who uploaded the video says the attackers were police officers, even though they are not in police uniform. The video appears to have been edited, as it is made up of several pieces of footage apparently shot using a mobile phone.
Screen shot of a video uploaded onto YouTube on March 4 entitled ‘Police Brutality in Fiji March 2013’.
The video still needs to be authenticated and it is unclear who the people are and when and where the video was shot. But last week Fijians Vueti and Viriseini Sanawa claimed their son was one of the victims. In interviews with the Fiji Times and various Fijian and Australian radio stations, they said they knew their son had “done wrong” and that the police were searching for him. They said they hoped the investigation would bring those responsible to justice.
When asked about the investigation, Prime Minister Bainimarama said: “I will stick by my men, by the police officers or anyone else that might be named in this investigation. We cannot discard them just because they’ve done their duty in looking after the security of this nation and making sure we sleep peacefully at night”. As a naval officer, Bainimarama led a coup d’état in 2006 and now heads an unelected, military government which has so far failed to put in place a constitution or hold elections.
“If the Prime Minister ‘sticks by’ anyone named in the investigation, this amounts to undermining the rule of law”
Reverend Akuila Yabaki is the Executive Director of the Fijian human rights organisation, the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF).
This is the first time I’ve seen a video like this, but it’s not the first time it has happened. I think the government was caught in the act; this video was unexpected for them.The parents know that their son was a serial offender, he was in custody, and he escaped, and the police were looking for him. It’s public knowledge that the army regularly assists the police when they’re searching for escapees – it’s a militarised police. Since the 2006 coup, the professional police force has been superseded by military control. A brigadier is now in charge of the police. I’m almost sure the men carrying out the torture in the video were officers working for a militarised police service, I cannot say why these men were not in uniform - maybe they weren't working at the time.
Screen shot of a video uploaded onto YouTube under the title ‘Police Brutality in Fiji March 2013’.
The Prime Minister’s comment, "I’ll stick by my men", I think that’s a giveaway that the attackers must have been his military "men", because that’s real military talk, and he’s the head of the military. So it’s an appropriate conclusion to make that these men were working for what is now a militarised police service.But if the Prime Minister "sticks by" anyone named in the investigation, this amounts to undermining the rule of law and justice. But anyway I’ve been told it’s an internal investigation: it’s not independent or open so the results might not be worth much."An unelected Prime Minister is the head of the army – those roles don’t sit well together"They have some idea of what "human rights" means and they’re aware of the negative international attention the video has drawn. So they said they would investigate. The government had no choice but to react [Editor’s note: human rights organisations, notably Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, strongly condemned the video].Alifereti Nimacere, David Wise, Nimilote Verebasaga, Sakiusa Rabaka – all these people were killed by military officers. But after their deaths, military officers were punished. But this time, the Prime Minister is saying he’ll stick by his men. Why is he saying that? I think he might have said that because he may even have had a hand in making it happen. In order to save face, he needs to be consistent. He may even have sent those officers; after all he’s the head of the army. An unelected Prime Minister is the head of the army – those roles don’t sit well together. The government is full of military officers chosen by the Prime Minister.
Screen shot of a video uploaded onto YouTube entitled ‘Police Brutality in Fiji March 2013’.
I was surprised someone more senior didn’t announce there would be an investigation. It was a junior press officer who made the announcement. The Prime Minister didn’t utter a word until four days later, that’s when he said would "stick by" his men.These men may well have been serial criminals, people who will never be able to reform. There are three different views in the Fijian media: first, two wrongs don’t make a right; second, these criminals got what they deserved; third, these people were dangerous and they need to be controlled. I agree people who are dangerous need to be controlled, but in the right way: in a way that respects human rights.
This article was written with the collaboration of France 24 Journalist Claire Williams (@clairewf24)