The Prime Minister says Fiji has drawn a line under its disciplined forces acting in an undisciplined manner and there will be zero tolerance for any acts of torture or other human rights abuses.

He said that whatever may have occurred in the relative turmoil of the past, human rights abuses of any kind are legally and morally unacceptable. And Fiji is determined to bring the perpetrators of such abuses to justice.

Addressing a regional meeting in Natadola on the implementation of the United Nations Convention on Torture in the Pacific, the Prime Minister said the provisions in the Constitution that prohibit torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment must be respected without exception. And this applies especially to the country’s law enforcement agencies.

He said that while Fiji has never had a state-sanctioned policy of torture, there have been isolated instances of individuals or groups from the disciplined forces resorting to acts of torture and other forms of punishment that violate the human rights of their fellow citizens.

The Prime Minister said there is no excuse for this behaviour and the record shows that Fiji’s laws prohibiting torture and other forms of abuse are being enforced. He cited as evidence the police investigation into whether excessive force was used to apprehend a group of criminal suspects in Navua – an incident captured on video. He also cited the current trial in Lautoka relating to the alleged rape and subsequent death of a detainee, Vilikesa Soko.

The Prime Minister spoke of a culture of buturaki in Fiji – of beatings – that was deeply ingrained in the Fijian psyche. He said Fiji has long had a culture of people resorting to violence, whether it is against women in the home, instilling discipline in our children or the police attempting to extract confessions from criminal suspects. But these practices are no longer acceptable in the modern age.

The PM said Fiji has embarked on a process of culture change beginning in the nation’s schools, where corporal punishment is now banned to deter children from resorting to violence as adults. And Fijians are now saying far more forcefully than in the past that violence of any form has no place in national life.

The Prime Minister’s call for culture change was echoed in an address to the delegates from around the Pacific and beyond by the Attorney-General, the Honourable Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

The AG said the effort to combat torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment could not be confined to the disciplined forces alone. It required a complementary approach that also addressed human rights abuses in the home – including violence against women – and violations against students at school and employees in the workplace.

The AG said Fiji has gone beyond the provisions of the UN Convention on Torture by specifically prohibiting violations in the home, at school and in workplaces in Section Eleven of the Constitution.

The AG also said that to deal with torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, countries must adopt the concept of complementarity, which means the adoption of laws and policies that promote respect for human rights. In Fiji’s case, it includes the implementation of the Domestic Violence Decree and Child Welfare Decree, which specifically deal with the reporting of violence and abuse against women and children and provides mechanisms of redress.

He also referred to the Information Bill that is before Parliament and the United Nations Convention against Corruption, that will further promote a culture of transparency and accountability.