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Spread over more than eight hundred islands and islets in the South Pacific Ocean, Fiji’s neighbours include Tonga, The Samoas, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Nominally a parliamentary democracy, Fiji has a long history of military intervention in politics - including four coups since 1987, the most recent of which took place in 2006 and led to international condemnation. One particular area of concern for child rights in Fiji is how its rapidly developing tourist trade, combined with the relative poverty of some parts of its population, might be facilitating child prostitution and “sex tourism” from overseas.
Fiji is an archipelago nation, consisting of more than 330 islands and spread over around 194,000, square kilometres. Only ten percent of that area is land, the rest consisting of the South Pacific Ocean. About 100 islands are inhabited, though the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu are home to the overwhelming majority of the population and, in the case of the former, the capital Suva. Most of the islands were volcanic in origin, although only a few are still the sites of any significant activity.
Fiji has no land borders and is some distance from it closest neighbours, but lies in the same approximate region as Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Kermadec, Tonga, the Samoas and Tuvalu.
The climate is tropical and the terrain often mountainous or forested. Most of the main population centres are coastal and the interiors of the islands are usually relatively isolated due to difficulties in navigating the rough terrain.
Population and Language
The population of Fiji is predominantly drawn from two ethnic groups - Melanesians, often referred to as Fijians, who alongside Polynesians and Micronesians are one of the main ethnic groups found in the South Pacific, and Indo-Fijians, largely descended from South Asians brought to Fiji as indentured labour during the British occupation. These groups make up about 55 per cent and 37 per cent of the population respectively. Ethnic minorities include Melanesians of non-Fijian background, largely from the Solomon Islands and New Hebrides; Banabans, originally from Kiribati and Rotumans, an indigenous Polynesian group from the island of Rotuma.
The main languages are Fijian, Hindi, English and Rotuma. Religious groups include Christians (mostly Methodist), Hindus and Muslims.
History and Politics
For much of its history, Fiji was divided between contesting groups speaking a variety of languages and often in open warfare with each other. This gave the archipelago a fearsome reputation and dissuaded early attempts at European exploration and conquest. During the mid nineteenth century, Seru Epenisa Cakobau succeeded in uniting some of the Fijian tribes and put forward a claim to kingship over Fiji. Never fully recognised by other tribal leaders, Cakobau nevertheless managed to establish a united monarchy with its capital on the island of Ovalau in 1871. Though he had come to power in part through the assistance of foreign settlers, he rapidly found himself entangled in a dispute with the United States and, fearing invasion, ceded Fiji to British rule in the hope of preserving his power.
Beginning in 1874, British rule was predominantly concerned with developing the islands sugar plantations. Adopting a policy largely based around non-interference with the island's indigenous population, these were largely worked by indentured South Asians, of whom 61000 would be imported during British rule and who would go on to form the islands’ “Indian” population. After completing a sufficient number of years of service, these workers were given the option to return to India at the British government's expense - many, however, chose to remain in Fiji. During the period, exposure to previously uncommon diseases such killed large numbers of Fiji’s indigenous peoples. The British also encouraged missionaries to travel to the islands, which led to the spread of Christianity amongst the indigenous peoples. Relatively untouched by the First World War, Fiji became a major military base during the Second and served as an important training and staging post in the Pacific. Fijians were also enlisted into the British army and fought in several major campaigns.
Since the beginning of British rule, various advisory councils and institutions had been formed - these gradually became more influential and democratic during the twentieth century. By the 1950s, a major push had begun towards transforming these into the actual agents of self government - something broadly supported by Indo-Fijians, who were approaching a majority on the islands, but which indigenous Fijians were often more hesitant about, fearing marginalisation. Britain, keen to divest itself of responsibility for Fiji as quickly as possible, pushed ahead against this opposition, drafting a constitution that eventually incorporated numerous compromises to ensure a balance of power between the various ethnic groups. Fiji became independent in 1970, but remained a member of the Commonwealth with the Queen of the United Kingdom (represented by a governor general) as head of state.
Initially democratic, growing tensions between Fijians and Indo-Fijians led to political turmoil. After a victory by the largely Info-Fijian backed Labour-National Federation party in 1987, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Fijian army, Sitiveni Rabuka, led a military coup which overthrew the government and led to Fijis expulsion from the Commonwealth. After a second coup later in the year, Rabuka and the military saw the installation of an interim government who pushed through a new constitution that broke ties with the United Kingdom, removed the governor general and cemented ethnic Fijian political domination. In the following round of elections in 1992, Rabuka won the office of Prime Minister but led a series of weak governments and was eventually forced into compromises that saw the removal of many of the constitutional measures that promoted ethnic Fijian domination. In 1999, Rabuka was defeated in the general elections and Fiji saw its first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister. When an attack by ethnic Fijian nationalists in 2000 saw the cabinet and most of the legislature taken hostage for eight week, however, Fiji was plunged into a constitutional crisis and precipitated another takeover by the military, who appointed a new interim government, which won the subsequent election. This government, led by Laisenia Qarase and more broadly aligned with ethnic Fijian interests than its predecessor, would preside over further years of unrest before being forced into coalition with its major rival at the next election. Once again, the Fijian military intervened, overthrowing the new government in December 2006. Since then, the country has been ruled by the leader of the coup, Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, first as president and later as prime minister. After the Fijian courts ruled the 2006 coup illegal in 2009, forcing Bainimarama to temporarily resign, the president dismissed the judges, suspended the constitution and re-appointed him as Prime Minister.
Fiji’s current political situation is a confusing one. Nominally democratic with a ceremonial president as head of state and a government drawn from an elected legislature, the past decades coups, military interventions and suspension of the constitution means that this bears little resemblance to the actual situation. At the current time the country is more or less dominated by Bainimarama who, as prime minister and head of the armed forces, has more or less effective control of the country. While his government has been more inclusive of other ethnic groups than many of its predecessors, with combating racial divisions in Fiji actual being a major part of Bainimarama stated justifications for his rule, it has also showed little tolerance for serious opposition with arrest and detention frequently used. It has also seen several key rights severely restricted, including major legal limitation of workers rights and the activities of trade unions. A new constitution is currently being drafted and elections are planned for 2014.
Fiji has one of the more developed economies in the South Pacific with a GDP per capita or around $4199.. Sugar production, refinement and exporting still make up a major part of the Fijian economy, and this is state owned and run. Tourism has also been an important source of income for Fiji, though this is vulnerable to political developments and fears of unrest. Other major sources of economic growth for Fiji include Fishing and Mineral extraction. Good political relations with its export partners is a part of ensuring Fiji’s economic prosperity, with preferential export agreements to the EU and Australia for certain goods being both vital and endangered by potential unrest . Remittances from Fijians working overseas are a key part of the national economy, with many working in the Arabian Gulf. 
Media and Civil Society
Since the 2009 suspension of the constitution, there has been a significant decline in press freedom in Fiji. Censorship and state control of the media, while not unknown before, were legitimised and institutionalised by Bainimarama after his re-appointment. Currently, Fiji is ranked 107th world wide for press freedom, with a number of journalists having been detained, intimidated or forced to leave the country by the government in recent years. 2012 saw the relaxation of the strict Public Emergency Regulations which were brought in in 2009. Previously, these had placed major limits on freedom of public assembly and had been the source of considerable international outcry. Since there repeal, the situation of civil liberties and political rights has somewhat improved, but still remains, as per Freedom House’s assessment, only “Partly Free”. One major issues that continues to affect Fiji is widespread corruption, often protected by the absence of an effective rule of law.
There are several restriction on activities by NGOs and civil society organisations in Fiji. Historically, for example, Fijian law has not recognised human rights work as a legitimate activity for charitable organisations and groups seen to be heavily involved in such programmes have risked losing their official status. Many of the NGOs and CSOs based in Fiji, as a result, are foccussed on service provision and development issues rather than rights issues..
Human Rights and Children's Rights
Fiji has not yet accepted all of the core human rights treaties - it is party to the CERD, CEDAW and CRC but not to the CAT, CPRD, ICESCR and ICCPR. The current status of even those treaties to which it has acceded, however, along with that of laws guaranteeing human rights and the bill of rights remains unclear. Theoretically, as per presidential decree, the existing laws protecting human rights should still be in effect, though what this actually means in practice is difficult to determine. The current government of Fiji’s stated position on laws protecting rights in the absence of the constitution can be found here
Regardless of legal protection (or not) for rights, abuses still continue. Violations by security forces, including torture, sexual assault and deaths in custody of those critical of the regime, remains a recurring issue. Sexual exploitation and violence against women and girls also remains a serious area of concern. Gender and ethnic violence have been seen to particularly increase during the frequent periods of unrest in the country.
- AusAID Survey of Fijian Civil Society Organisations
- World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples Fiji Islands: Overview
- Reporters Without Borders Open letter from Reporters Without Borders to Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama