The Fiji constitution provides for an elected parliament and a prime minister chosen by parliament. However, in December 2006 armed forces commander Bainimarama overthrew the democratically elected government. A month later, Bainimarama installed a nominally civilian interim government headed by himself as prime minister. Thereafter, the military and police arbitrarily detained and sometimes abused individuals, resulting in three deaths. They conducted searches without warrants; engaged in intimidation of the media; and restricted the right to assemble peacefully. Other problems during 2007 included attacks against religious facilities, particularly Hindu temples; government corruption; deep divisions between majority indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians; violence and discrimination against women; and sexual exploitation of children. A state of emergency in effect for half of 2007 significantly restricted constitutional provisions for freedom of expression, movement, and assembly, and subjected the right to privacy to the military's interpretation without recourse to the courts.
The U.S. government makes the protection and fostering of democratic institutions and human rights top priorities. All embassy work and programs related to democratic values or human rights are harmonized with these key objectives. Immediate priorities are to encourage the return of Fiji to democratic rule via free and fair elections no later than March 2009, to strengthen human rights protections, and to promote a free and robust media.
The U.S. government has joined with representatives of like-minded foreign missions and multilateral organizations to engage the interim government as it prepares for the March 2009 elections. We have encouraged the interim government to solidify its timeline to create the conditions for a free and fair electoral environment in the run-up to and during the March 2009 elections. The U.S. government plays an integral role in a donor panel, working with interim government authorities to identify and address any electoral process shortcomings. The U.S. government maintains a regular dialogue with prodemocracy NGOs on the government's preparations for polls. U.S. officials also highlight concerns and press interim government leaders to maintain the commitment to the election timetable.
In response to the coup and related, ongoing human rights violations, the Embassy has intensified its outreach to and public support for human rights NGOs. The U.S. government uses the Secretary of State's annual "Women of Courage" awards and other such opportunities to raise public awareness of Fiji's human rights champions. Reporters, human rights activists, and even government auditors, whose job is to underpin good governance and anticorruption efforts, participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program. The U.S. government has repeatedly met with human rights activists to underscore U.S. support and facilitate NGO outreach. Similarly, U.S. senior-level meetings with members of the interim government invariably accent deep U.S. displeasure with human rights violations since the coup.
Through a newly opened regional public affairs office, the U.S. government reaches out to local journalists and media organizations with increased intensity, emphasizing U.S. support for human rights, media freedom, good governance, due process, and rule of law. U.S. statements publicly condemn the coup, express support for a rapid return to a democratically elected government, and call on the military to withdraw from all political involvement.
The coup constrains our traditional engagement with the military, but the U.S. government continues to make clear its position on the military's proper role in a democracy and about the damage the coup has done to the military's once-proud reputation in the world's peacekeeping-operations community. In its annual engagement with Fiji's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on UN General Assembly voting, the United States has consistently urged Fiji to vote in accordance with respect for human rights and democratic values in a broad, international context. The U.S. government maintains its outreach to women's and children's rights organizations concerning child prostitution in order to better assess the extent of the problem and discuss ways to address it.