Photo by: Reuters
Colonized by the British in 1874, Fiji became home to over 60,000 indentured laborers transported from India to work on colonial sugarcane plantations. Even after their labor contracts expired, most Indian workers chose to remain in Fiji. Indo-Fijians now comprise 43% of the island's population, with indigenous Fijians constituting 51%. While Indo-Fijans have higher economic status, 82% of Fiji’s agricultural land is owned by the indigenous population, who are entitled to legal protections. Recently, laws amending land rights have led to large-scale demonstrations and the arrests of opposition leaders.
From Independence in 1970 to 1987, the Fijian government was led by the indigenous leader Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. In 1987 a multiracial coalition headed by an indigenous Fijian, Dr. Timoci Bavadra replaced Mara. The coalition aimed to promote ethnic equality. Protests named the “Taukei Movement” erupted across the country advocating an ethnocentric policy favoring indigenous Fijians. Lieut. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, an indigenous Fijian, initiated two consecutive military coups to restore absolute political control to the “indigenous Fijian Race.” Rabuka’s coups ousted the previous government and enacted laws to suppress the rights of Indo-Fijians. 200 people were injured in the resulting protests. There was a mass exodus of Indo-Fijians from Fiji. The percentage of Indo-Fijians living in Fiji dropped to 32%. Over 5,000 left annually.
Rabuka’s military government in 1990 rewrote Fiji’s 1970 constitution to favor indigenous Fijians, ensuring their political dominance over other ethnic groups through race-based parliamentary seat requirements, changes to land policy, and amendments granting Fijian-led government branches unchecked privileges.
In 1999, Mahendra Chaudhry, an Indo-Fijian, became the country’s first non-indigenous prime minister. In 2000, a group of armed ethnic Fijians led by the businessman George Speight began the nation's third coup, taking Chaudhry and 50 government officials hostage. Fijians flooded the streets in protest, looting shops and shutting down local schools, A civilian interim government was appointed that did " not accept Indo-Fijians as citizens with equal rights,”
The nation faced its fourth coup in 2006. Concerned by the ongoing suppression of Indo-Fijian rights, Army Chief and Indo-Fijian Frank Bainimarama seized government control, declaring himself president. Bainimarama’s government imposed censorship measures through emergency decrees and legislation such as the Public Order Act and Media Industry Development Act, curtailing freedom of expression. Hefty charges were levied against media outlets and journalists. In 2013, Bainimarama imposed a fourth constitution that eliminated the parliament’s unelected Upper House, and the hereditary Council of Chiefs which had been criticized for granting special privileges to favored ethnic groups. Bainimarama’s party prevailed again in the 2014 and 2018 elections.
Fiji’s most recent general election resulted in a parliamentary deadlock, with no party holding a majority of seats. There was widespread political unrest. A rise in ethnic violence drove the government to deploy the military to “ maintain order.” Rambuka was narrowly declared victorious, returning as prime minister for a second time, putting an end to Bainimarama’s 16 years in office. Bainimarama has publicly insulted Rambuka, and he faces criminal charges for Abuse of Office. Due to the nation’s history of ethnic division, political discrimination, and race-based nationalism, Genocide Watch considers Fiji to be at Stage 1: Classification, Stage 3: Discrimination, Stage 6: Polarization, and Stage 8: Persecution
Genocide Watch recommends that:
Fiji should establish an independent commission to resolve land disputes and to broker land use agreements to address ethnic tensions, mass displacement, urban sprawl, and “squatter settlements.”
Fiji should amend its 2013 constitution to include a Bill of Rights with explicit protections for freedom of expression, association, and assembly, including for those who criticize the government.
Fiji should restructure its parliamentary boundaries and seats to proportionally represent all ethnicities.
Fiji should continue its funding and support for the University of the South Pacific.