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Pacific leaders look to end Fiji ban after elections

Last Updated: Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 17:33

Majuro: The Pacific Islands Forum on Thursday welcomed Fiji`s proposed new constitution and said the coup-plagued nation will be welcomed back to the regional grouping after elections due next year.

Fiji was suspended from the PIF in 2009 for breaking a promise to hold elections in the wake of a military coup three years earlier and still faces criticism from rights groups over alleged abuses.

But military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama has pledged to hold elections in September 2014 and PIF leaders meeting in the Marshall Islands said Fiji would be re-admitted if he honoured his word.

"Leaders expressed a commitment to revisit Fiji`s suspension from the Forum after free and fair elections," the leaders said in a communique issued today, adding they "looked forward to inviting Fiji back to the leaders` meetings".

As part of the move towards democracy, Fiji has released a draft constitution that is set to be formally adopted by the South Pacific nation this month.

The PIF leaders said the constitution was "an important step towards free and fair elections" and noted assurances by the regime that there would be no restrictions on the media, which has been heavily censored in recent years, in the lead up to the vote.

However, Amnesty International said the new constitution fell short on international standards and was "another step backwards for human rights in Fiji".

Amnesty executive director Grant Bayldon said it severely restricted free speech, allowed the state to detain people indefinitely and gave officials immunity for crimes including torture.

"The new constitution not only erodes basic human rights for the people of Fiji, but grants military, police and government officials absolute immunity for past, present and future human rights violations," he said.

"This will only serve to allow the perpetrators of serious crimes to act with impunity."

Fiji is still ruled by military decree and Bayldon said the regime`s apparent commitment to democracy should be put under close scrutiny.

"The international community must not allow themselves to be misled by the Fiji government`s claims," he said.

"They should be pushing the Fiji government to take genuine steps towards respecting and protecting human rights for all."


First Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 17:33

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