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Discriminatory policies and practices in Fiji

Report to the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (by National Farmers Union)

Background information on the National Farmers Union
Executive Summary 
What are the main areas of racial discrimination in Fiji?
Political discrimination
Land rights Racial Politics and land
The suffering of Displaced Farmers
Indian families terrorised and dispossessed at the height of the coup
Muaniweni Attacks and Refugee status
Land used as a threat to curb demands for rights
Denial of access roads Social injustice and racial discrimination
Religious intolerance
Indigenous Fijians are not a Disadvantaged Group

Background information on the National Farmers Union

The National Farmers Union is an association representing sugar cane farmers. Formed in 1978, the Union today has a membership of about 13,000 farmers in the cane belts of both the main islands of Fiji.

It is the largest farmers organisation in the country and since its inception has been at the forefront of the struggle to protect farmers' interests and fight for their rights in Fiji's turbulent history in the past 15 years or so. Although it is a multi-racial organisation, the majority of its members are Indians in an industry that is still predominantly Indian.

The NFU's predominant concern today is the catastrophe in the cane fields caused by the non-renewal of native leases which began expiring in 1997. As a result of this, thousands of cane farmers have been made homeless and destitute overnight. The social and economic upheaval caused by the dislocation of hundreds of farmers is likely to have a devastating effect on the country.

Under the racially discriminatory policies of the present SDL Government, these landless farmers can anticipate no assistance or sympathy from the State. Among the most vulnerable of the Indian community in Fiji, the farmers feel most the adverse effects of the discriminatory policies of the Qarase government: the denial of political rights mean their representatives cannot adequately protect their interests; the denial of social justice means a large number of their children do not have equal access to education, to housing, to employment opportunities.

The NFU will use every avenue to expose and fight the discrimination practised against its members on account of their ethnicity.


Executive Summary

This report begins with a brief look at the history of race relations in Fiji and the escalation of racially discriminatory policies over the past 15 years or so.

Contrary to existing wisdom, we can see that the people of Indian origin in Fiji have been grossly disadvantaged and discriminated against in the following areas of basic living:

  • Political
    Fiji's current government is both unconstitutional, unlawful and undemocratic. The government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase which took office following general elections clouded by serious allegations of fraud and vote-buying, is predominantly a government of the indigenous people as the Prime Minister has flouted mandatory provisions in the Constitution for a multi-party Cabinet.

    As a result, the Indian community constituting 44% of the population, Fiji's second largest ethnic group, has been politically marginalised. The denial of their constitutional rights has relegated them to the ranks of the opposition.

    Fiji's Constitution, although widely acclaimed, entrenches communal or race-based politics which is a serious deterrent to the development of an integrated, harmonious society. It also denies a vote of equal value as a deliberate exercise in gerrymandering and thus discriminates both among the ethnic groups and within the indigenous society itself.
  • Economic injustice - Land
    Non indigenous communities in Fiji, Indians in particular, are largely landless and have been denied their constitutional right to land.

    The State has not put in place any affirmative action policies to address disadvantaged landless communities despite the fact that thousands of Indian tenant farmers are being displaced and dispossessed after non-renewal of their native leases.

    There is severe suffering and hardship in the rural tenant community. The severe social and economic dislocation on a scale never before witnessed, has created a completely new and explosive form of poverty in Fiji -landless people with no prospects and little chance of anything but bare survival.
  • Social Injustice and Racial Discrimination
    The SDL Government has enacted a Social Justice legislation required under Section 44 of the Constitution. This legislation blatantly discriminates among Fiji's ethnic communities by providing favoured treatment to the indigenous people and denying the same to the equally needy people of other communities.

    Of the 29 programmes under the Act, 12 have been exclusively reserved for the indigenous community.

    The main areas of discrimination are:

    - Education
    - Housing
    - State loans/assistance for disadvantaged people
    - Small business equity schemes
    - Employment in the public service
    - Racial disparity in the Security Forces
  • Poverty
    Fiji is experiencing high levels of poverty. Although, up-to-date official data is not available, the findings of a recent study at the University of the South Pacific in Suva appears to indicate levels of poverty could be as high as 60% post 2000 coup. All studies to date, however, indicate that there is no significant difference in poverty levels between the country's two major races, if anything the Indian community could be slightly worse off.
  • Denial of the Protection of Law
    The crime rate in Fiji is very high and the law and order situation has deteriorated further since the political crisis ushered in by the coup of 19 May 2000. The main target appears to be the Indian community who find there is little will among the country's law enforcement authorities to protect their rights, persons and properties. It has left them feeling particularly vulnerable and insecure. To make matters worse, not a single person has so far been convicted for the atrocities committed against the Indian community in the aftermath of the terrorist takeover of Parliament on 19 May 2000.
  • Religious intolerance
    Religious intolerance manifests itself through frequent attacks on Indian temples, home shrines etc and in the constant demand from Christian fundamentalists (indigenous Fijians) for Fiji to be declared a Christian State. It is simply an extension of racial intolerance among the ultra nationalist elements in our society.
  • Indigenous Fijians are not a Disadvantaged Group
    Contrary to popular perception, Fijians are not a disadvantaged group, unlike indigenous communities elsewhere. Their rights and interests are very well protected in the Fiji constitution. They own 90% of all land and forest, mineral and fishing resources. 

    They dominate civil service positions and hold key constitutional offices: eg. Office of President, Commander of the army and navy, and Commissioner of Police.

  • This report on racial discrimination in Fiji is based in particular on the following premise of the ICERD Convention to which Fiji is a signatory:

  • That racial discrimination means: any distinction, exclusion, restriction of preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social cultural o any other field of public life
  • That affirmative action policies should not lead to the maintenance of separate rights for different racial groups
  • That each signatory State undertakes not to sponsor, defend or support racial discrimination by any person or organisations
  • That each signatory State undertakes to encourage integrationist multi-racial organisations and movements and other means of eliminating barriers between races, and to discourage anything which tends to strengthen racial division.
  • This report has attempted to show that Fiji has flouted all of the above provisions of the ICERD articles and that the State itself is guilty of formulating, legislating and implementing policies which are strengthening racial divisions within the major races and creating a disintegrated, apartheid society. In doing so, the State has also blatantly flouted provisions of the Fiji Constitution on formation of a multiparty government, social justice and race relations in general.


    Fiji is a small island nation in the South Pacific that has been shattered by three military coups in recent history. The coups have taken place against a backdrop of deteriorating race relations in a country where two major races, people of Indian origin (hereafter referred to as Indians) and the indigenous people (hereafter referred to as Fijians) with distinct cultural roots and values have been thrown together by history. Racial problems have their roots in the country's colonial history, a brief background to which may be necessary to understand the situation.

    The British took over the colony in 1874 at the request of the indigenous people. Five years later (in 1879) the colonial government began recruiting Indian indentured labour to work in the colony's sugar cane plantations. Indians were brought in under a 5 year contract to work in the plantations and were offered a free passage back to India if they served a further five year period at the expiry of their first term.

    Indentured labour or Girmit as it came to be largely labelled was virtually a form of slave labour entailing long hours of gruelling work at minimal pay. The system was evil and harshly exploitative and was rightly condemned by the labourers as narak a Hindi term meaning hell. The recruitment process in India itself was fraught with deception and fraud, and, in many cases outright kidnapping by middlemen involved in the process.

    Indenture was formally prohibited in 1916 but by then the colonial government had enticed many of the labourers with promises of equal citizenship rights etc to continue to live and work in Fiji as free Indians. The majority of them continued in sugar cane farming as tenants of the Australian owned and monopolistic Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR). The CSR did away with the early estate style cane plantations to devise a system of small 10-acre holdings leased out to 'free' Indians who supplied cane on contract to the mighty CSR.

    The CSR decided to quit Fiji soon after independence in 1970. The system it introduced has persisted to this day with Indian farmers cultivating cane on small 10-acre holdings, leased largely from native landowners.

    To this day the sugar industry retains its predominantly Indian identity. At the same time, through sheer determination, hard work and tenacity Indians have risen above the coolie status of the indenture days to acquire Western education, enter the professions and take up skills and trade outside cane farming. In the early 1920s and '30s their numbers were swelled by fresh immigrants from the trading sector who set up small shops and today own some of the largest retail sectors in the country.

    Away from his homeland, unrestrained by traditional and societal fetters, the individual Indian in Fiji was free to develop as he pleased, in accordance with his means and his ambitions. In comparison, the indigenous community lacked this luxury of freedom. For decades, they remained hemmed in by their rigid feudal system, chained to their villages and kept away from the damaging impact of modernization, the intent being to preserve the indigenous culture and social system.

    The first British Governor to the colony, Sir Arthur Gordon was the chief architect of this policy of seclusion and preservation. In fact, Indian labourers were brought in as a concomitant of his policy to keep the native Fijian away from the degrading influence of plantation life. Under Gordon's policy, a separate administrative system (virtually a state within a state) was devised for the indigenous people aimed at perpetuating the chiefly system and the village culture. Natives were prohibited from migrating to towns and in fact, until 1960 needed special passes to gain entry into towns.

    They were kept away from the Indian 'labourers'. The unfortunate result of such a policy was two-fold: while it kept the two major races apart, developing as separate entities in separate compartments (to the point of developing exclusively native Fijian schools), it denied the native Fijian exposure to the cut and thrust of modern, commercial influences.

    Such policies, designed to insulate the Fijian people, were hardly likely to benefit them in their transition to the requirements of modern living. The system of communal lifestyle and ownership became a deterrent to the development of their individual personalities.

    As part of its divide and rule policy, the British fostered a culture of mutual suspicion and distrust among the two races. The indigenous people were encouraged by unscrupulous politicians to regard the Indian as vulagis (foreigners allowed to stay as guests) even as the Indian grew up to see himself as a bona fide citizen by virtue of his birthright and the sweat and tears his Girmitya forefathers had shed in the development of the nation.

    It is also conceivable that the indigenous community lagging behind socially and economically (as a result of deliberate policy) should resent their more progressive and advanced Indian neighbours.

    This feeling of resentment between the two communities was further inflamed by the realization in the 1950s and 1960s that Indians had far surpassed the native population in numbers, giving rise to fears of Indian domination. By 1987 when the first two military intervention in government took place, Indians comprised 51% of Fiji's population, the indigenous Fijians 47% with the remaining 2% made up of Europeans, Part Europeans, Chinese and Pacific Islanders thrown together under the common tag of 'Others'.

    Fiji's demographic picture was, however, transformed after the 1987 coups with a huge exodus of the Indian population overseas. The 1996 statistics show a reverse development: the Fijian community surpassed the Indians in numbers, constituting 51% of the population; Indians stand at 44% and Others make the remaining 5%.

    Disillusioned and frustrated by the racist and discriminatory policies of post-coup administrations, Indians have continued to emigrate ever since, the process accelerating after Fiji's third coup on 19 May, 2000 which led to the illegal overthrow of Fiji's first Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his Labour Party - led People's Coalition Government.

    After months of political upheaval and civil violence unleashed by the terrorist takeover of Parliament which saw Chaudhry and 42 members of his government held hostage for 56 days, the country was returned to parliamentary rule following general elections in September 2001.

    The elections (held under questionable circumstances) returned to office Laisenia Qarase, a Fijian banker who had been appointed prime minister by the military to head the interim administration.

    Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's open advocacy of blatantly racist and ultra nationalist policies since taking office has aggravated race relations between the two major races forcing more Indians to emigrate.

    What are the main areas of racial discrimination in Fiji?

    This submission is based in particular on the following premise of the ICERD Convention to which Fiji is a signatory:

  • That racial discrimination means: any distinction, exclusion, restriction of preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social cultural o any other field of public life
  • That affirmative action policies should not lead to the maintenance of separate rights for different racial groups
  • That each signatory State undertakes not to sponsor, defend or support racial discrimination by any person or organisations
  • That each signatory State undertakes to encourage integrationist multi-racial organisations and movements and other means of eliminating barriers between races, and to discourage anything which tends to strengthen racial division.
  • This submission maintains and will show that Fiji has flouted all of the above provisions of the ICERD articles and that the State itself is guilty of formulating, legislating and implementing policies which are strengthening racial divisions within the major races and creating a disintegrated, apartheid society. In doing so, the State has also blatantly flouted provisions of the Fiji Constitution on formation of a multiparty government, social justice and race relations in general.

    The main areas of racial discrimination will be discussed under the following topics:

  • Political
    - marginalisation of the Indian community
    - entrenchment of communal/racially based politics
    - denial of vote of equal value
    - denial of constitutional rights
  • Land
    - Non indigenous communities, Indians in particular, have been denied their constitutional right to land. The State has not put in place any affirmative action policies to address disadvantaged landless communities despite the fact that thousands of Indian tenant farmers are being displaced and dispossessed after non-renewal of their native leases. There is severe suffering and hardship in the tenant community caused by this social and economic dislocation.
  • Social Injustice and racial Discrimination
    - Education
    - Housing
    - State loans/assistance for disadvantaged people
    - Small business equity schemes
    - Employment in the public service
    - Racial disparity in the Security Forces
  • Poverty
  • Denial of the Protection of Law
  • Religious intolerance
  • Indigenous Fijians are not a Disadvantaged Group
  • Political discrimination Fiji's independence constitution of 1970 gave equal political status to the Indian community in terms of parliamentary representation with the two major communities enjoying equal number of seats in the House of Representatives. A concession was made in the Senate (the Upper House, a nominated body) to the paramountcy of Fijian interests with its provision for eight Fijian seats reserved for nominees of the Great Council of Chiefs. More importantly, the eight Chiefs' nominees were granted the power of veto over any legislation that dealt with entrenched Fijian rights such as land, fisheries, forestry, minerals and Fijian institutions.

    Despite this, Lt-Col Sitiveni Rabuka, a third-ranking officer in the Fiji army who carried out the two coups in 1987, justified his coups on the grounds that Fijian interests were threatened by the largely Indian-backed Government of Dr. Timoci Bavadra (an indigenous Fijian) which had been elected to office in April that year.

    It should be noted that Dr. Bavadra's Cabinet was racially balanced with seven Indians and seven non-Indian Cabinet Ministers.

    In October 1987, after his second coup, he abrogated the 1970 Constitution for having failed to protect Fijian interests. Mr. Rabuka has himself conceded since that he was mistaken and that the 1970 Constitution fully protected the rights of the indigenous people.

    A new Constitution drawn up by Fijian nationalist elements in 1990 and imposed on the people by a Presidential decree, was widely rejected at home and denounced by the international community as undemocratic and racist.

    The 1990 document marginalized the Indian community, relegating it to a position of permanent opposition in parliament. Indians were discriminated against blatantly in the holding of high office, employment in the public service and para-statal bodies and in the awarding of scholarships for tertiary education and training programmes.

    Fiji's racist policies and constitution made it a pariah in the international community and created intense political instability at home. Serious economic problems resulted from a decline in investor confidence as a consequence of the coups and the aftermath. It was clear that the country could not continue with its racist and ultra nationalist policies. Pressure for reform was intense.

    The 1997 constitution that evolved was the result of international input and wide consultations among the people of Fiji and political leaders of all communities. Although widely acclaimed both at home and in the international community, the Constitution has its flaws - apart from the Fiji Labour Party, however, almost no one was prepared to concede this at the time. The most significant of these were the fact that:

  • The Constitution entrenched communal politics. In doing so it rejected and completely reversed the recommendations of the Reeves Review Committee report to move away from communal politics with the introduction of more open or national seats. Instead, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka and Opposition Leader Jai Ram Reddy agreed on retaining 45 communal seats voted along ethnic lines and 25 open or national seats.
    This is clearly in breach of Article 2 (1) (e) of the Convention.

  • Denial of vote of equal value: This is clearly a case of gerrymandering and involves the demarcation of constituencies using geographical boundaries, and, in the case of the indigenous people, along provincial boundaries resulting in unequal distribution of voters. The use of provincial boundaries for Fijian constituencies were first adopted in the 1990 Constitution and is highly undemocratic. It discriminates on an intra-racial basis and denies indigenous voters a vote of equal value. For example, a small province such as Serua with 2000 voters gets one parliamentary seat the same as Nadroga with more than 11,000 votes. Similarly, the largest indigenous province, Ba, with 16,750 voters has two seats, the same as Cakaudrove in the north east with 13, 000 voters. In comparison, all Indian communal constituencies have 6000 or more voters each.
  • The current system of demarcating electoral boundaries puts Fijians in the western areas of Fiji clearly at a disadvantage. The objective is to ensure the continued political supremacy of chiefs from the east and north who have held the reins of power since colonial times. It should also be noted that Fijians in the West, the cane belt areas, are more closely integrated with the Indian community. It is not mere chance that the 1987 and the 2000 coups were against governments dominated by a coalition of Fijians and Indians from the West. They presented a challenge to the status quo. Both Dr. Bavadra and Mahendra Chaudhry were Prime Ministers from the west.
    Violation of Power Sharing Provisions
    Fiji's political leaders, in their search for a lasting solution to Fiji's racial problems and to avoid the excesses of the past decade, espoused the concept of power sharing in the 1997 Constitution.

    This was a significant and deliberate paradigm shift from the Westminster model of earlier constitutions, perceived to have been unsuitable for Fiji's plural society and race-based politics.

    The power sharing provisions of the Constitution are set out under Section 99 (3) (5) (9) - (Appendix 1) and make it mandatory for any political party with 10% or more seats in Parliament to be included in the governing cabinet.

    Section 99 (3): The Prime Minister must establish a multi-party Cabinet in the way set out in this section comprising such number of Ministers as he or she determines.

    (5) In establishing the Cabinet, the Prime Minister must invite all parties whose membership in the House of Representatives comprises at least 10% of the total membership of the House to be represented in the Cabinet in proportion to their numbers in the House.

    (9) In selecting persons from parties other than his or her own party for appointment as Ministers, the Prime Minister must consult with the leaders of those parties.

    Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has wilfully and deliberately flouted this provision for a multi-party Cabinet. The Fiji government is therefore unconstitutional and undemocratic.

    Following the 2001 general elections, the only party, other than the governing SDL Party of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase that met the qualifying criteria was the Fiji Labour Party (FLP) with 28 parliamentary seats compared to 32 seats held by the SDL. The FLP led by former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry (deposed in the 2000 coup) is entitled to 8 Cabinet positions under this criteria.

    Mr Qarase violated the power sharing provisions of the Constitution by refusing Mr. Chaudhry and the FLP places in his cabinet. The matter went to court and FLP's right to participate in Cabinet has been upheld by both the High Court and the Fiji Court of Appeal.

    In a bid to frustrate the process further, Mr Qarase insisted on appealing to the final appellate court, the Supreme Court which has yet to hear the case.

    The Fiji Labour Party having secured all 19 Indian communal seats in the general election, is the only party representing the interests of Indians in Parliament. Mr. Qarase's refusal to accommodate the FLP in his Cabinet, is a violation of the constitutional rights of the Indian community. It has also denied the Indian community, constituting 44% of Fiji's population and paying 80% of the country's taxes, its legitimate right to a say in the national decision making process.

    The Prime Minister's obduracy in the matter is clearly an extension of his racist and discriminatory policies against the people of Indian origin as manifest in his affirmative action policies for the indigenous people (on which more will be said later in this report). In effect, Mr. Qarase whose cabinet is composed largely of die-hard nationalists who supported the 2000 coup, is fulfilling the agenda of the instigators of the coup under the cloak of legitimacy.

    There can be no doubt that the underlying motive of the 2000 coup was racial. Mr Chaudhry was removed as Prime Minister because he is an Indian - this agitation against him as an Indian prime minister began the day he took office.

    Behind it was a small group of disgruntled politicians who had lost power, failed businessmen and a few big business interests who felt threatened by his government's determination to stamp out corrupt practices and move towards greater social equity and justice. As usual, they hid their selfish agenda behind the race card, whipping up emotions and arousing fears of Fijian interests being threatened. Even then, the coup lacked popular support and finally deteriorated into a violent power struggle between indigenous forces.

    Following his release, the post coup power bloc (the President, the army and the interim administration - all made up of indigenous Fijians) ganged up against him refusing to restore him and his government back into office.

    He and the Indian-backed Fiji Labour Party had to resort to legal battles every inch of the way to fight for their rights - even then the post coup authorities (the President, the army and the interim administration installed by the military) used devious tactics to deny him political justice. The fact that the courts have ruled in favour of Mr. Chaudhry and the FLP in every one of the cases so far, only goes to prove the legitimacy of their grievances.

    The internationally famous Chandrika Prasad judgement (a case taken up by the Fiji Human Rights Commission on behalf of a farmer dispossessed during the coup) by the Fiji Court of Appeal in March, 2001 declared the coup illegal and the People's Coalition Government the rightful government of Fiji. It found that the Army commander had acted illegally in abrogating the Constitution and in declaring himself executive authority; that the interim post-coup administration was illegal and that it did not have popular backing.

    Instead of complying with the court ruling, the Fijian oligarchy staged its own coup. It executed a series of conjuring tricks to circumvent the law in order to keep Mr. Chaudhry and his government out of office. As the legal Prime Minister, Mr. Chaudhry had certain constitutional duties to perform - among them the need to consult him to appoint a President.

    The acting President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo dismissed Mr Chaudhry as Prime Minister in a move that was clearly unlawful. He appointed a Minister in the deposed Chaudhry government (Ratu Tevita Momoedonu) who owed him personal allegiance as his chief, as puppet prime minister for 24 hours to get himself elected as President and to have the usurper advice him on dismissing Parliament. He then called fresh elections in late August that year and installed Laisenia Qarase rather than Mahendra Chaudhry as head of a caretaker government to lead the country to elections.

    Despite the report of the Commonwealth observer mission declaring the 2001 general elections free and fair, it has now been established that Mr. Qarase and his interim team in office had abused $30 million of taxpayers' money to buy votes, so determined were they to retain power. (Appendix 2)

    Land Rights

    The Deed of Cession of 1874 which ceded Fiji to Great Britain is generally regarded by the Fijians as their Magna Carta, giving them inalienable rights over the colony's land. Paragraph 4 of the Deed states as follows:

    "That the absolute proprietorship of all lands, not shown to be now alienated, so as to have become bona fide the property of Europeans or other foreigners or not now in the actual use or occupation of some chief or tribe, shall be and is hereby declared to be vested in Her Majesty, her heirs and successors."

    The clause clearly gives no such rights. However, Australian Professor Spate regarded as an authority on the Fijian people, in his 1959 report Fijian People Economic Problems and Prospects explains the inalienable theory:

    "Whatever the original meaning and intent of these words, the whole trend of British policy in Fiji…and repeated assurances from the highest quarters have given prescriptive validity to the principle of inviolability of Fijian lands."

    Whatever the legitimacy of the claim, Fiji's migrant Indian population has never challenged, and in fact has always accepted, the inviolability of Fijian land rights. All they ask for is that land be made accessible for their use on terms that ensure reasonable long term security of tenure and rents.

    Land ownership in Fiji
    As per the policies of the British colonial government, a Native Lands Commission in the 1880s delineated native land, setting aside 84% of all available land for Fijian and Rotuman use as the following table shows:
    Native Crown Land Freehold
    84%  7%  9%
    The 84% native land was made inalienable - it could not be sold or change hands even within the indigenous community. The 8% Crown land also comprised about 200,000 acres (3.5% of total land area) of what is known as Crown Schedule A&B Lands on which more will be said later. Of the available freehold land, the vast majority was held by Europeans and Part Europeans - constituting 5.5% of total land area. Indians despite their numbers (the largest population group) owned only about 1.7 of total land area.

    In the past few years, the State has acquired more freehold land with the intention of converting them to native land. Most significant of these purchases has been the acquisition of 75,000 acres (constituting 1.7% of total land area) of freehold land initially owned by the CSR Company. Add to this, the 3.5% land area under Schedule A&B lands which was converted to native land this year by the SDL Government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

    As a result of these recent acquisitions, the natives now own at least 90% of all land in Fiji. Despite this, the Qarase government has allocated funds in its national budget to purchase freehold land up for sale to add to the native coffers as part of its nationalist agenda to return all lands to native owners.

    Indians a landless community
    With restricted land available to other communities, it was inevitable that as the colony developed and its population grew, the pressure for land would increase creating conflict among the races on the issue. Over the decades both before and after independence, the vexed question of land has raised its ugly head in various forms and shapes, emerging, particularly after the 1987 coups, as a major grievance of the Indian community which sees its landlessness as a gross form of discrimination and a denial of its right as citizens of Fiji.

    The grievance has its roots in the fact that Indians, although largely landless, is the main community engaged in commercial agriculture in particular sugar cane cultivation. As such, they are forced to lease land from native landowners on terms and conditions that have been a continual source of friction between the two communities.

    A statutory authority, the Native Lands Trust Board was formed in 1940 to administer native lands and to lease them out for agricultural, commercial and residential uses.

    Natives lands are reserved exclusively for use by natives. The surplus is rented out. Reserves declared some 50 years ago remain not fully utilised while the State keeps grabbing more State land and converting it to native ownership (Schedule A&B lands and freehold).

    Schedule A&B lands
    These are some 200,000 acres, ownership of which could not be determined at the time the Native Lands Commission sat in 1880. Schedule A lands are those that reverted to the Crown because the land owning unit had become extinct and Schedule B lands are those for which no claims were made at the time.

    Fijians claim the land is theirs and should be returned to them. From colonial times successive governments have from time to time considered reverting the land to native ownership but could find no moral justification for doing so.

    The issue was examined by the Commission of Inquiry into the Natural Resources and Population Trends of the Colony of Fiji, 1959, headed by Professor Alan Burns. The Burns Report said it could find no moral reason for the transfer and advised against it:

    "In our view there is no legal or moral reason why Government should give up control of Schedule A or Schedule B lands, which should be held in trust for the benefit of the Colony as a whole for leasing or otherwise."

    Agitation for the transfer of Schedule A and B lands became more strident after 1987 but even the Rabuka military regime and his government (1992-99) baulked at taking the final step.

    Mr. Qarase, however, apparently had no qualms about rushing in where 'angels' fear to tread. His government moved in soon after the elections to table legislation in Parliament to transfer the said lands to native ownership. It bulldozed the legislation through despite strong pleas from the opposition Fiji Labour Party to hold the land in trust for the use of other landless communities.

    How can the Prime Minister justify giving more land to a community that already owns close to 90% of all land in Fiji when thousands of Indian tenant farmers are being made landless and destitute overnight?

    Section 44 of the Fiji Constitution makes it incumbent on the government to make provisions for affirmative action policies to ensure effective equality of access to disadvantaged people on land.

    The Parliament must make provision for programmes designed to achieve for all groups or categories of persons who are disadvantaged, effective equality of access to:

    (a) education and training
    (b) land and housing; and
    (c) participation in commerce and in all level and branches of service of the State

    ALTA and the eviction of Indian farmers
    Deepening land problems in the 1940s and 1950s and the realization that Indian tenant farmers (mainly cane farmers) were being leased land on highly exploitative terms, prompted the British Government before its departure from Fiji to regulate all agricultural land deals under a liberal policy fair both to tenants and landowners.

    The result was the legislation in 1966 of ALTO (the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Ordinance) which granted a minimum 10-year tenancy with entitlement to two further 10 year extensions (a maximum of 30 years) at a rental of 6% of the UCV (unimproved capital value of land), to be reviewed every 5 years.

    To get the land back, landowners had to argue hardship before the agricultural tribunal.

    This legislation was reviewed in 1976 following wide discontent with certain of its provisions. Its successor ALTA, the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act, kept the maximum 30-year lease term but granted a straight 20 year lease at the expiry of the first 10 years. Unfortunately, ALTA removed the hardship clause which meant that at the expiry of 30 years, the leased land had to revert to native owners since there was no provision for further renewal in the Act - this significant omission has come to haunt Indian tenant farmers now with leases expiring. Hapless farmers are being evicted and made destitute overnight by the hundreds. So far some 4000 Indian farmers have been displaced and dispossessed on expiry of their leases.

    For 30 years, however, ALTO/ALTA had brought a high degree of stability and prosperity to the agricultural sector and, in particular, to the sugar industry which in turn ensured economic stability because of sugar's strategic importance to the national economy. A point worth noting is that ALTA, while it does not provide for lease extensions, does not actually prohibit issuance of new leases under it for a further 30-year term.

    Racial Politics and land
    Because of its racial overtones, the land problem has always been a volatile political issue. It has become more so since the 1987 coups which brought underlying racial tensions to the surface. With leases due to expire from 1997 onwards, the political leadership became conscious of the looming national catastrophe should the land problem not be resolved amicably and a successor to ALTA found. Quite apart from the social consequences of the non renewal of leases, sugar is Fiji's highest net foreign exchange earner.

    Unfortunately, following the 1987 coups, the racial environment was no longer conducive to a satisfactory resolution of this impending crisis in the cane fields.

    Fiji returned to a flawed form of parliamentary democracy in 1992 with general elections held under the racist 1990 Constitution. Army strongman Sitiveni Rabuka returned as elected prime minister albeit on a purely indigenous communal ballot while the Indians were relegated to the role of opposition. Although the Rabuka government in its 7-year term in office continuously mouthed rhetoric on the need to find a solution to the land problem, it lacked the political will to do so.

    Beleaguered by strong opposition to his leadership within his own party, Rabuka dared not make any concessions to the Indians on land leases.

    At about this time, a change in executive management took place at the Native Lands Trust Board (NLTB), the statutory authority which managed the leasing and administration of native land. Under its new chief executive, Maika Qarikau, the board shed its hitherto low political profile as a quasi-government institution and became stridently racist and political in its policies and public pronouncements.

    Qarikau sent tremors throughout the sugar industry and the political landscape with his announcement that NLTB surveys had found that 80% of landowners wanted their land back on the expiry of ALTA leases. Long-held fears were finally coming true. The Indian community finally faced the terrifying spectre of landlessness and the looming catastrophe of social and economic dislocation of evicted farmers on a massive scale.

    Qarikau was also very emphatic that the NLTB wanted all agricultural leases under native land brought under the ambit of the Native Land Trust Act (NLTA) and not issued under ALTA. But the difficulty he faced is that the law requires all agricultural leases to be issued under ALTA, irrespective of the ownership of the land.

    ALTA is an entrenched legislation which needs a two-thirds majority vote in both Houses of Parliament before it can be scrapped. This means that without Indian concurrence the legislation could not be changed. However, the NLTB stance which was adopted by the Rabuka government and all extremist Fijian groups, needless to say, aroused the fears and apprehensions of the Indian farming community.

    As a strategy to force Indian leaders to agree to their agenda, the NLTB engaged in indiscriminate eviction of Indian farmers from native land on expiry of leases. The game plan was that by refusing to grant new leases under ALTA, the NLTB would be putting pressure on Indian leaders who would be overwhelmed by the large scale eviction of Indian farmers, and concede.

    Leases began expiring in September 1997. Since then, as the table below shows, some 4000 farmers have been evicted from lands they and their forefathers have farmed for generations. They were kicked out without payment of any compensation for improvements made to the land even though this was stipulated under the terms of ALTA.

    Expiry Year  1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 Total
    Leases expired 94 204 541 1940 442 609 4221
    Number of Indian Farmers evicted since 1997

    Of the 4221 leases expired since September 1997, 3323 are cane leases. The tragedy is that of this total figure only 627 cane leases have been renewed to sitting tenants. Many of these are, however, only rural residential holdings and not farms.

    NLTB's justification for not renewing leases was that landowners needed to farm the land themselves. Much of the land reclaimed by the landowners, however, is fast reverting to bush with consequential reduction in the sugar cane crop tonnage.

    The $28,000 grant
    The Labour-led People's Coalition Government was of the view that displaced farmers were the responsibility of the State and should be assisted. The Social Justice charter of the Constitution specifically required Parliament to make provision for programs to ensure disadvantaged groups gained effective equality of access to:

    (a) education and training
    (b) land and housing; and
    (c) participation in commerce and
    (d) in all levels and branches of service of the State

    It was incumbent on the State to provide relief to tenant farmers who were becoming destitute overnight with no source of income to support their families and nowhere to go. The government decided to allocate a rehabilitation grant of $28,000 as a one-off payment with which they could start another livelihood. At the same time, incoming landowner/farmer was also helped by way of farm inputs and implements to the value of $10,000 per farmer.

    The $28,000 grant was worked out on the basis of what it would have cost Government to resettle and rehabilitate each displaced farmer. Government thought it was a fair and equitable long term solution to Fiji's vexed land problem.

    A total of 206 farmers benefited from the $28,000 grant in the one year it was in operation before it was scrapped by the illegal post coup regime - a cruel move that has caused immense hardship to displaced Indian farmers and their families. (Appendix 3)

    The suffering of Displaced Farmers
    The suffering in the cane belts of Fiji since September 1997 has been an unspeakable tragedy. The picture is grim - severe social and economic dislocation as some 12,000 or more Indian families - something like 60,000 men, women and children - are forced off the land, and deprived of their livelihood. (Appendix 4)

    For Fiji, it is a completely new, and potentially explosive, category of poverty - landless people with no prospects and little chance of anything but bare survival. In the fast deteriorating economic climate since the coup, there is little likelihood that these displaced farmers will find alternative employment.

    Homeless and desperate, some of these farmers are now living as squatters with friends and relatives or on neighbour's land. In a number of cases, they were not even allowed to remove their belongings or dismantle their homes by landowners eager to move in. Schools in the cane district have reported a marked drop in school rolls as farmers' children, unable to meet expenses, dropped out of schools or as families of evicted farmers migrated out from rural agricultural areas.

    There has also been widespread harassment and extortion. Farmers desperate to get their expiring leases renewed have often been forced by the landowners and the NLTB to run from pillar to post. Landowners have demanded huge premiums for renewals and on numerous instances farmers have fronted up with the money only to find that the NLTB would refuse to endorse the deal. The money is never refunded. (Appendix 5)

    The situation was particularly menacing in the months following the 2000 coup when lawless elements from Fijian villages would descend on Indian farmers, pillaging their subsistence crops and demanding food and money almost on a daily basis.

    Indian families terrorised and dispossessed at the height of the coup
    There was widespread assault on Indian farms and properties, persons and families of farmers in the mayhem unleashed by the 19 May 2000 coup. The victims received no protection from law enforcement authorities. In Suva, mobs smashed, torched, looted and ransacked Indian owned shops in the central city area on the day of the coup. Loss and damage was estimated at $30 million.

    The failure of the security forces, in particular the Police, to take adequate action to curb the rioting, has often been viewed by Indian victims as a racially discriminatory measure.

    Isolated farming settlements in rural areas became the main target of lawless elements. Although harassment was widespread even in the cane districts of the West, the worst affected areas were in the Tailevu/Naitasiri region and the island of Vanua Levu in the north, which were the main centres of terrorist activity.

    Muaniweni Attacks and Refugee status
    The dairy farming districts, about 80kms north of Suva are isolated settlements right in the heart of the province from where coup-maker George Speight and his rebels in Parliament come. The Indians in this area are small time farmers involved in either dairying, pig rearing or in ginger, pineapple or root crop farming.

    They are a minority group living in an area with heavy concentration of indigenous Fijians. The two races have generally enjoyed good relations, schooling, eating, drinking and playing together.

    The greater tragedy of May 19 is that friendly Fijian neighbours overnight turned demoniacal, terrorising the very people they had lived harmoniously with over decades. The sudden attacks left Indian farmers in the area shocked and confused.

    The attacks started on May 19, the day of the coup.Groups of thugs carrying cane knives and stones stormed the settlements in the afternoon demanding food and money. If refused, they came at night. Homes were stoned, set on fire, looted, and families terrorised.

    There are reports of women and girls being raped although official statistics are largely not available because rape continues to go unreported as it is regarded as a social stigma. (Appendix 6).

    Frightened families spent their nights hiding in the bushes to avoid the mob. Complaints to the police and army were ignored. In desperation, Indian families in the area turned to "friendly" Fijians for protection but often had to pay for this "protection" in both cash and kind.

    The terrorised Indians were given no protection by the law-enforcing authorities. Farmers of one particular settlement reported their crops and livestock (cattle and pigs) were forcibly seized and taken to feed the rebels and hundreds of their supporters in the besieged Parliament. This incident won notoriety because farmers claimed a police truck was used to cart the food. They even provided the authorities with the registration number of the truck.

    There is evidence that the instruction to use the police truck had come from the Police Commissioner himself, the man who had conveniently disappeared at the time of the street riots in Suva on the day of the coup.

    Relief for the victims, finally arrived from the Fiji Human Rights Commission and NGO's which assisted many of the terrorised families when they left their homes to take refuge in Lautoka, a city about 300 kms away relatively free from the racial tension gripping the south and east. (Appendix 7)

    Even in August 2000, long after the Government hostages in Parliament had been released, the terrorism continued, spreading to other areas. Residents tell of nights spent in the bushes in the cold and pouring rain, to escape the mob. (Appendix 8)

    Thugs went around with pieces of paper telling tenants their State leases were expiring and they should vacate. In the Dawasamu area, even owners of freehold land were targeted and told to leave. When they refused to do so, their homes were torched. Once residents left, their homes were ransacked and in many cases everything stolen.

    Cars and vehicles were seized and families forced to buy protection from "friendly" Fijians by giving them money and food in return. So many cattle were slaughtered during the period of unrest, that its effects are now being felt by Rewa Dairy Company which faces an acute shortage of fresh milk for processing.

    It is noteworthy that despite a lot of lip service paid to bringing the culprits to justice, the point is that to date not a single person has been convicted by the courts for the thuggery, arson and terrorism that was widespread at the time.

    This makes it very clear that Indians are denied the protection of the law and recourse to justice in this country.

    Land used as a threat to curb demands for rights
    Indian dependence on native land has left them at the mercy of indigenous landowners who, aware of the strategic weapon at their disposal, have time and again used it to threaten and intimidate the Indian community and to restrain and curb their demands for equal rights, political in particular. (Appendix 9,10)

    These threats have surfaced each time Indians have fought for their political rights: eg. at the time of the 1987 coups and the 2000 coup; whenever cane farmers have staged harvest boycotts in their struggle for justice and in protest against exploitation. There have been threats of "blood will flow in the streets", leases will be taken away and so on.

    Denial of access roads
    There have been other instances of excesses and injustices committed against the landless Indian community. Settlements and schools that are built on or near native land often find themselves subjected to extortionate levies and rental for use of the land.

    In the case of schools, these have been forcibly closed and students denied access to classrooms for days because financially strapped school committees are unable to meet the exorbitant rentals demanded by the landowners. (Appendix 11,12)

    There are also cases when residents of a settlement are denied the use of access roads unless they pay unreasonable levies to nearby villagers or the landowning unit. This is clearly extortion and a breach of fundamental human rights. (Appendix 13)

    The tragic plight of Nabitu residents
    The case of Indian settlers at Nabitu is one of these notorious incidents where residents have been subjected to harassment and extortion for years for use of an access road. Despite the case being highlighted in the Media, exposure in Parliament and reports with the Fiji Human Rights Commission, the residents of Nabitu are still suffering and attempts to address this gross violation of their human rights has not succeeded. The Fiji Human Rights Commission is finding it extremely difficult to function effectively because of financial constraints caused by Government's failure to provide adequate funding for the Commission. (Appendix 14)
    Indians denied the protection of law
    Nabitu is clearly a criminal case yet the law has failed to grant justice to these people. Even in the case of schools that are harassed and forced to close, Police are often slow to take any action against the offenders. Similarly, complaints by Indian tenant farmers of harassment, extortion, unlawful eviction from farms by members of the landowning unit are not actioned by the Police. They are told the case is of a civil nature and they have to take the matter to court.

    Social Injustice and Discrimination

    Since 1987 the practice of institutionalised racial discrimination by the State, disguised as affirmative action for the indigenous people, has become blatant, in gross violation of the principals and provisions of the ICERD Convention. It also violates the Bill of Rights provisions in Fiji's 1997 Constitution as well as the charter on Social Justice which specifically dictates against affirmative action programmes based on race.

    The 1997 Constitution articulates strong principles of social justice and affirmative action for the disadvantaged in society. In fact, Section 44 (Appendix15) of the Constitution, the Social Justice provision, instructs Parliament to enact legislation aimed at providing equal access on four specific State services. It is very clear on a non-racial approach to affirmative action:

    The Parliament must make provision for programmes designed to achieve for all groups or categories of persons who are disadvantaged, effective equality of access to:

    a) education and training
    b) land and housing; and
    c) participation in commerce and in all level
    and branches of service of the State

    It goes on to specify definite criteria and timeline for any such programme and if the programme is for a specific target group then the Act must provide the criteria used to select the said group.

    The Constitution lays down very onerous human rights safeguards on any affirmative action programme initiated by the government. Section 44 (8) makes it very clear and unambiguous that any such programme not must not impinge on or deny the rights of another citizen who is not a beneficiary under the scheme:

    A programme established under this section must not directly or indirectly, deprive any person not entitled to its benefits of:

    (a) any position or seniority in the service of the State
    (b) any place in an educational or training institution
    (c) a scholarship of other financial support; or
    (d) a right to carry on any business or profession or to enjoy any other opportunity, amenity or service to which that person has already become, and would otherwise remain, entitled.

    Social Justice Act: discriminatory and unconstitutional
    The post coup interim administration backed by the military and headed by Laisenia Qarase had come up with what it called the Blueprint for Affirmative Action for the Indigenous People (Appendix 16) as part of its ultra nationalist viewpoint and to win popular Fijian support.

    In December 2001, the SDL government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase bulldozed this Blueprint through Parliament as the Social Justice Act despite strong opposition from all other political parties to its blatantly discriminatory provisions. (Appendix 17)

    In obdurately pushing the legislation through, the Prime Minister has revealed his dictatorial attitude and utter contempt for the principles of and processes of democracy; not to mention the arrogance with which he continues to flout the Fiji Constitution when it conflicts with his racist policies.

    In pushing the programme through he defied the letter and spirit of the Compact to the Constitution; he breached provisions of the Social Justice charter and flouted prescribed procedures and conventions for dealing with important legislation.

    In arrogantly ignoring opposition to the Social Justice Bill, the Prime Minister was in blatant breach of The Compact (chapter 2) (Appendix 18) of the Constitution which makes it very clear that any such legislation must have the support of all communities:

    Section 6 (k): Affirmative action and social justice programmes to secure effective equality of access to opportunities, amenities or services for the Fijian and Rotuman people, as well as for other communities, for women as well as for all disadvantaged citizens or groups, are based on an allocation of resources broadly acceptable to all communities;

    (l) the equitable sharing of political power amongst all communities in Fiji is matched by an equitable sharing of economic and commercial power to ensure that all communities fully benefit from the nation's economic progress.

    There was a deliberate lack of public consultation on the Bill. The Constitution makes it mandatory for important legislation to be subjected to scrutiny by the appropriate Parliamentary sector select committee which would call for public submissions on the subject, particularly on controversial subjects such as affirmative action policies.

    The SDL government gave a mere five days, two falling over the week-end, for the committee to place advertisements in local papers calling for submissions on the Bill from the public, hearing the submissions and presenting its report back to the House of Representatives. Within this highly restricted time frame, the sector select committee had no time to deliberate fully on the proposed legislation.

    Its recommendation that the Bill be held back for wider consultations, was ignored by the government. The government was in such a hurry, it suspended House standing orders to bulldoze this important legislation through during the Budget sitting of Parliament just before the Christmas break. Similar tactics were used in the upper House, the Senate.

    In marked contrast to this very hurried passage of the Social Justice Act was the government's treatment of the Family Law Bill following criticism from some indigenous clergy of the Methodist Church of Fiji, a largely indigenous institution, rather notorious for the fundamentalist and extremist stance of a number of its senior ministers. The SDL government gave the Methodist Church an additional four months to consult with its members on the Bill.

    The People's Coalition Government (PCG deposed in the 2000 coup) had also rushed through a Social Justice Bill in July 1999 as an interim measure. The Bill was, however, non discriminatory, based on the principle of need, of social and economic disadvantage and not race.

    This was because the PCG was constrained by the Constitution to have this consequential legislation in place by 27 July 2000 or else all existing programmes would have lapsed and government would not have been able to legally spend money on the programmes.

    The 1997 Constitution had specified a definite time frame of two years from its effective date of 28 July 1998 within which the legislation had to be in place. The People's Coalition Government which had come into office in May, 1999, in order to comply with the law, decided to validate all existing programmes and then go for a review of the legislation following proper consultations with the people.

    Discrimination under the Social Justice Act
    Speaking on the SDL proposed Bill in Parliament on 7 December, 2001, former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry denounced it as unconstitutional and unlawful:

    "The Bill as it stands is unconstitutional and unlawful. It is discriminatory and racial in outlook in relation to a number of programmes contemplated under it.

    It has the potential to breed resentment between the various communities because of unequal treatment that it gives to certain communities whose members face the same disadvantages as members of the favoured communities who will be able to access the programmes mentioned in the schedule to the Bill. This aspect of the Bill has the potential to undermine reconciliation in our nation at a time when we most seek to build the bridges of ethnic goodwill and understanding among our different peoples... The most dangerous and iniquitous aspect of the Bill is that it portends the creation of a racially segregated society in Fiji.

    There is no doubt that the Bill, if enacted in its present form, will deny justice to all our people. It will deny equal rights and equal opportunities of access to half the citizens of (Fiji) under the guise of affirmative action. It will be a travestry of the principles of social justice enshrined in our Constitution. And worst of all, it will not help the vast majority of the indigenous people in whose interest this legislation, we are told, is being enacted. "

    To start off with, government has not given the selection criteria it used to qualify the indigenous community as a disadvantaged group, despite specific requirement in the Constitution (Section 44) that the criteria used to select a group for affirmative action be made very clear.

    Many of the 29 affirmative action programmes listed in the Act do not comply with the equality provisions of Section 38 of the Constitution. At least 12 of the 29 are racially discriminatory and offend Section 38: Programmes 1,2,7,10,12,13,14,15, and 28 being particularly objectionable.

    1.Discrimination in Education
    Affirmative action policies in Education for indigenous children have been in place since independence. These include:

  • Budget allocation of a special $5.5 million grant for Fijian education administered by the Fijian Affairs Board for scholarships etc.
  • Apart from this, 50% of all State scholarships are reserved for the indigenous community
  • A lower qualifying criteria for Fijian students for entry into tertiary institutions - entry marks for Fijian students are much lower.
  • The lowering of standards has actually had a detrimental effect as shown by the very high dropout rate for Fijian students at USP - averaging at about 68%. The failure rate for FAB scholarships is as high as 76%. There has also been much abuse with a number of scholarships being awarded to children of well to do Fijians instead of on merit.

    Despite this favoured treatment, the Qarase administration has singled out the indigenous community for further preferential assistance in Education under the Social Justice Act, in addition to the policies and special allocations already in place.

    Quite apart from the wastage of State funds on students lacking merit, the policy is a source of much ethnic resentment. At a time when hundreds of Indian children of displaced farmers are dropping out of schools out of poverty and even urban-based children are facing hardships because of the economic crisis, the government's favoured treatment to one ethnic group has left the Indians and other disadvantaged communities feeling deprived and frustrated. (Appendix 19, 20)

    Programmes 2&3 - select for special assistance Fijian and Rotuman students in Government run schools and in non-government schools. It excludes all non-indigenous students even though they may be more, or just as needy. It fails to distinguish between needy or disadvantaged indigenous children and those who come from wealthy parents; just as it fails to target the needy of all ethnic communities.

    The provision is discriminatory to the point of being ludicrous. There are only two government primary schools in the country and 12 secondary schools. The rest, catering for almost 98% of students, are schools run by religious or other community organizations. All are multi-racial schools.

    How do you explain to a needy child sitting next to an indigenous child who has received assistance from government in terms of school fees, text books etc that he is not entitled to government assistance because he is not a Fijian or a Rotuman. Just because of his race he does not deserve assistance from government in that integrated environment.

    The policy is ludicrous and impractical: take an instance where government supplies computers, resource materials etc in an integrated school. How do they ensure that only the indigenous student benefits from the assistance? Or is it to be the practice here for such schools to be excluded!

    In Programme 3 the targeted group is students in "neglected and poorly managed schools." How come poor management qualifies for affirmative action? The criteria should be all under-resourced schools in urban as well as peri-urban centres.

    Programmes 13, 28 - Scholarships: there is a huge disparity in the qualifying criteria for scholarships between the different racial groups. While the non-indigenous community only access this programme if their annual family income does not exceed $10,000, there is no limiting income criteria for Fijian and Rotuman students. This is not only blatant racial discrimination, it also fails to provide a means test within the indigenous community, and is open to abuse.

    It means that the children of the very rich in their communities have the unfair privilege of being educated at taxpayers' expense. Such practices make a mockery of affirmative action policies and deny equal access and opportunity to those who should really be helped.

    The actual implementation of the Act has exposed the extent to which discrimination is being practiced against Indian students and schools. An example is given below:

    Per capita grant for secondary school students: The People's Coalition Government had increased this grant to $18 per student. Post-coup the interim administration had dropped it by 50% to $9 per child ($US 4.5) because of financial constraints at the time.

    It should have been restored by the SDL government but was not. At the same time, the government reduced the remission of fees for secondary school students from $1.345 million to $800,000. This is largely seen by the Indian community as a conspiracy to deprive the poor and needy Indian student (and other minority communities) of State assistance.

    At a time when the country is still suffering from the after effects of the political upheaval of 2000 and levels of poverty have escalated, the disadvantaged of other communities are denied assistance while indigenous students continue to receive stepped up financial and other assistance from the government under its affirmative action programme (the Social Justice Act).

    Secondly, the government has allocated special funds for text books and other resources for indigenous schools but has ignored the needs of other schools.

    As a result of this discriminatory policy in education and the rising poverty, the school roll instead of increasing yearly, as it should, has dropped from 68,000 in the year 2000 to about 62,000 current.

    2. Discrimination on Land
    The desperate need for land for non-indigenous communities has been highlighted in an earlier section. It therefore, creates serious feelings of resentment and alienation when the Qarase government instead of addressing the plight of the disadvantaged in this area, provides assistance under the Social Justice Act for Fijians to acquire even more land. There is no shortage of land for the indigenous community - much of their reserves are lying idle and waste.

    Programme 10: - Provides interest free loans to Fijians who already own 90% of all land in Fiji, to buy back ancestral land. This is highly discriminatory and completely ignores the land needs of other communities who are in fact landless.

    In particular, one has to note the humanitarian needs of thousands of Indian tenant farmers who are being made homeless and destitute overnight as their native leases expire and are not renewed. The State has made no provision for the resettlement and rehabilitation of these displaced families. Even though it is required under Section 44 of the Constitution to do so.

    3. Discrimination in small business equity scheme
    Programme 1 - is racially discriminatory. To qualify for the assistance, the criteria for the indigenous community is that assets or annual turnover or both must not exceed $100,000 but this is reduced to $50,000 for other communities.

    Soft loan schemes - There has been strong criticism from Indian political parties to a soft loan scheme from the Fiji Development Bank (justified as affirmative action) put in place by a previous government. The scheme is open to all communities with the exclusion of the Indian community.

    There have been other special government loans and grants to the indigenous community such as the $20 million loan (likely to be turned into a grant) to help Fijians acquire equity in commercial entities.

    This was used to capitalise Fijian Holdings, an investment arm of the Fijian people which buys shares in blue-chip companies and has been hugely successful. Unfortunately, the benefits have largely accrued to a few elite Fijian families, including the Prime Minister and a couple of other Cabinet Ministers, who own the largest shares.

    This discrimination against the disadvantaged Indian, added to all others, have made Indians feel like third class citizens, if not pariah, in the country of their birth. Poverty studies have shown that Indians are just as poor, if not more because of their landlessness, as the indigenous community.

    4. Discrimination in the Public Service
    The Indians are clearly at a distinct disadvantage in the civil service and the armed forces yet the Social Justice Act fails to address this grievance. Indians comprise only 34% of the civil service - a situation clearly in breach of the Constitution.

    Section 9 of the Social Justice charter of the Constitution is very clear on equality of access to State services and employment:

    For the purpose of this section, an ethnic community is to be taken as having effective equality of access to a level or branch of service of the State only if it is represented there in a number broadly proportionate to its number in the adult population as a whole, unless its under representation is due solely to its particular occupational preferences.

    The racial imbalance gets even worse in the upper echelons of the service. For example, of the 21 Permanent Secretaries only two are Indian. In the diplomatic service, out of eight heads of mission only one is Indian. Two others are being recalled to make way for SDL appointees, people closely associated with the 2000 coup.

    Certain government departments also have a distinct anti-Indian bias: the Public Works Department, for instance, no longer has an Indian on its staff. This is also quite obvious in the Ministry for Fijian Affairs.

    Marked discrimination also takes place in the allocation of State scholarship awards for tertiary institutions, in the granting of training opportunities both locally and overseas and in appointments to boards and committees of statutory authorities.

    5. Discrimination in the Security Forces
    The State has taken no action to address the serious racial imbalance in the armed forces. Racial imbalance in the army has been there from colonial times but there has been no political will to redress this situation. Indians have a token representation in the army - they constitute 0.6% of Fiji's 4000 soldiers. While representation in the Police force is not as bad, in recent years, particularly after the 1987 coups, a noticeable imbalance has emerged more so in senior positions of authority.

    It must be noted that the Fiji army has been a serious destabilising force in Fiji politics and in race relations here since 1987 when it staged its first coup to overthrow a democratically elected government. Even though Fiji was returned to civilian (but unelected) government within 7 months of the first coup, it was the army that held the actual reins of power and called the shots almost until general elections in 1992.

    In 2000 again, a special forces unit of the Fiji Military Forces stormed Parliament on May 19 using arms that had been secreted out of the FMF arsenal to take government members hostage. The army took over executive control soon after and negotiated the release of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his members 56 days later.

    It could have restored the status quo and returned the People's Coalition Government to office on their release but chose not to do so. The army command conspired with the President and the interim administration to ensure that the results of the coup were maintained after making sure that George Speight and his co-conspirators were safely out of the way.

    The Police Force which has been infiltrated by army personnel since the appointment of Isikia Savua, a former soldier, as Police Commissioner. There is evidence of complicity in the 2000 coup of Commissioner Savua and some of his senior officers. Indeed, the rebels in Parliament claimed Savua was to have been their prime minister after the overthrow of Parliament but had ditched them at the last minute. (Appendix 21)

    President at the time of the coup, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara who was deposed by the army two weeks after the terrorist takeover of Parliament, has publicly accused Mr. Savua and army Commander Frank Bainimarama of engineering his removal.

    Under Mr. Savua the crime rate, violent crime in particular has escalated to dangerous levels, and the Police rate of detection and arrests have fallen markedly. The main targets are the Indian community.

    The moral of the story is that the Indian community and Indian politicians can no longer trust either the army or the police to safeguard their rights and ensure the security of an elected government. Indeed, Fiji can no longer rely on the security forces to maintain law and order.

    This is a very serious state of affairs and must be addressed if Fiji is to return to lasting peace and multiracial harmony. It cannot allow the rights of almost 50% of its citizens to be trampled on at whim by disgruntled elements playing to their own selfish agendas.

    Racial parity in the security forces is a must if the Indian community, in particular, is to be ensured enjoyment of their human rights and entitlements.

    6. Discrimination in Housing
    Programme 12: Housing assistance in rural areas - this is confined to the Fijian, Rotuman and Banaban communities. Government will provide two-thirds of the approved cost of the house in rural areas.

    This is again highly discriminatory based on a race criteria. Since poverty surveys have shown that Indian households in rural areas are poorer than any other community, it would seem that they are the more disadvantaged group and should be assisted as well.

    A UNDP report on poverty found that housing was a major problem in both urban and rural areas with 20% of the urban population living in ac single room dwelling while 50% of all houses are occupied by an extended family.

    Growth of the squatter population in the Suva city area shows that the problem of housing is felt among all communities with Indians being slightly worse off.

    Religious intolerance

    Religious intolerance has become a feature of life in Fiji since the resurgence of Methodist fundamentalism in the wake of the 1987 coups. Attacks on Hindu temples and desecration of Holy books, statues of deities occur at regular intervals both in urban and rural centres.

    At the time of the 1987 coups, religious intolerance was at its peak with coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka banning all activities on Sundays including transport facilities and sports at the instigation of his Methodist supporters. Anyone found breaching the ban was arrested and often subjected to torture and beatings - invariably the victims were Indians.

    The 1987 coups also for the first time raised calls for Fiji to be declared a Christian state. Again the agitators were Methodist fundamentalists and indigenous extremist groups and they managed to get it included in the 1990 Constitution. It was removed from the more liberal 1997 Constitution but the call is revived from time to time - evidence that religious intolerance is still prevalent among some sectors of society.


    The generally held perception that Indians are rich and do not need affirmative action programmes are false. Studies dating back to the early 90s show that there is no wide disparity in levels of poverty between the two major races. In some sectors such as the rural sector, Indians, in fact, have been found to be poorer than the indigenous population.

    Generally speaking, levels of poverty are uniform among all racial groups - it is a very serious social problem in Fiji. The latest poverty survey by academics at the University of the South Pacific show national poverty levels post-coup could be as high as 60%, incredible as it seems. Clearly affirmative action programmes cannot be confined to the disadvantaged in any one race. There are equally disadvantaged people in all communities. Any government that wilfully ignores this fact can only be branded racist.

    Data on poverty is usually difficult to get because there has not been any official surveys within memory. The latest independent survey is by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published in 1997 but using older data. The report found that Indians are just as poor as any other community in Fiji, if not more because of their landlessness. Similar conclusions were reached by a World Bank country report on Fiji in the early 1990s which found that overall poor Indians just edged out the indigenous population.

    Major highlights of the UNDP report are as follows:

    Poor Households - Indians constitute 54% of all poor households in rural areas compared to 42% Fijians and 4% Others. On a national level Indians constitute 50% of the total poor households. The report concluded:

    "Thus Fiji does not have a clearly defined rich or poor sector. Poverty pervades all communities."

    Children - Almost one-fifth of Indian children under five years are underweight for their age and one-third in the 5-9 age group. Across all communities: at least one in five children in Fiji live in households that cannot afford a minimally sufficient diet, health care, education costs, adequate accommodation and other necessities of an adequate standard of living.

    These findings are based on data from the Household Income and Employment Survey of the Bureau of Statistics dating back to 1991-92. There is absolutely no question that the situation would have deteriorated greatly over the years, and in particular after the 2000 coup.

    Fijians are not a Disadvantaged People

    Finally, it must be pointed out that indigenous Fijians are not a disadvantaged group unlike indigenous communities in a lot of other countries. The provisions of the draft Convention on Indigenous People does not apply to the indigenous people in Fiji. This was also made very clear to Fijians here by the Commonwealth Secretary General Hon Don McKinnon when he visited Fiji at the time of the May 2000 coup.

    Fijians in Fiji have always been a protected people, their rights and interests are secure and entrenched:

  • The paramountcy of indigenous interests, when in conflict with that of other communities, is guaranteed in the Compact to the 1997 Constitution. They have separate administrative apparatus topped by the Great Council of Chiefs which is a quasi-political body that looks after Fijian affairs and safeguards their rights.
  • The President of Fiji is always likely to be a Fijian since he is nominated by the Great Council of Chiefs and appointed by the President. They have a stranglehold on other key constitutional positions: Commander of the army and navy, Commissioner of Police, the Chief Justice. Apart from this the Auditor General, the Attorney General, the Ombudsman, most of the chairmen of statutory boards are ethnic Fijians. Almost all top civil service positions
  • Eight members of the Great Council of Chiefs exercise the power of veto over any legislation that deals with entrenched Fijian rights over land and other resources, and Fijian customs and institutions
  • They own 90% of all land in Fiji
  • They own all the fishing rights, mineral resources, forestry
  • Fijian led and dominated governments have held power in Fiji for the past 30 years. Anyone else who has taken over have been swiftly removed (1977,1987,2000).
  • Conclusion There can be no doubt that Fiji's current government has deliberately embarked on a path that aims to exclude and marginalize the Indian community both politically and in terms of their social and economic rights. In doing so, Fiji has flouted key provisions of the ICERD Convention.

    The State itself is guilty of institutionalising racial discrimination. It has formulated, legislated and implemented policies which are strengthening racial divisions within the major races and creating a disintegrated, apartheid society. In this, the State has also blatantly flouted provisions of the Fiji Constitution on formation of a multiparty government, social justice and race relations in general.

    Frustration within the Indian community at being relegated to the position of third class citizens is very obvious. In the two years since the May 2000 coup close to 11,500 people, mostly professionals and people with skills have emigrated overseas. The United States embassy in Suva has been staggered by the fact that 250,000 Fiji people, mainly Indians, have applied for its Green Card lottery. This is a quarter of Fiji's total population. It shows the extent of despair and disillusionment within the society.

    Unless measures are undertaken to arrest the dangerous racial path on which Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and his government is headed, Fiji has no hope of returning to a stable, integrated society. Indeed, the danger of Fiji developing more and more into an apartheid society is quite real.