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UN experts strongly condemn the sacking of judges in Fiji




20 April 2009

GENEVA -- Two United Nations human rights expertsThe Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr. Leandro Despouy, and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue strongly condemn the decision of the President of Fiji to dismiss the entire judiciary and the heavy restrictions imposed on the media. “The respect of the independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression are fundamental pillars of the rule of law and democracy”, said the experts.

The experts urged the authorities in Fiji to restore the rule of law by immediately reinstating the judiciary and ending the restrictions placed on the right to freedom of expression and assembly.

On Friday 10 April, the President abrogated the Constitution and declared a state of emergency, following the decision of the Fiji Court of Appeal, which declared that the appointment of the Interim Government after the 2006 coup was illegal. The President also promulgated the Public Emergency Regulations 2009, which give military and law enforcement officers broad powers on search and arrest, to impose restrictions on freedom of assembly, and to allow censorship of the media. “Judges play a fundamental role in protecting human rights during states of emergency. It is crucial that the judiciary is immediately reestablished”, said Mr. Leandro Despouy, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

“According to international law, States are permitted to unilaterally derogate from some of their obligations on a temporary basis; however a fundamental requirement for such measures is that they be limited to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation and that States must provide well-considered justification, not only of their decision to proclaim a state of emergency but also of any specific measures based on such a proclamation” the experts added.

There have been deportations of foreign journalists and arbitrary arrests of journalists and at least one lawyer who has since been released. Moreover, journalists have been summoned by the Ministry of information and warned to restrict the content of their reporting. “Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council as well as other neutral international observers should be allowed to visit the country in order to ensure the respect of the human rights of the population ”, Mr. Despouy said.

The experts joined the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in calling for actions towards the restoration of a legitimate government and constitutional order.

Background

The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr. Leandro Despouy, has requested on several occasions that the Interim Government of Fiji allow him to undertake an official visit to the country. His last request dates from July 2008. As yet he has not received any response from the Government. The Special Rapporteur would like to take this opportunity to reiterate his interest in undertaking a visit to Fiji.