The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Fiji adhered to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2018. Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Fiji is not a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
There is not yet a regional human rights treaty to which Pacific nations can adhere despite discussions going back decades as to the possibility of establishing a regional mechanism.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
The right of peaceful assembly is protected under the 2013 Constitution of Fiji. According to Section 18:
(1) Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, demonstrate, picket and to present petitions.
(2) To the extent that it is necessary, a law may limit, or may authorise the limitation of, the right mentioned in subsection (1)—
(a) in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or the orderly conduct of elections;
(b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of others....
There are two pieces of primary national legislation that govern assemblies in Fiji: the 1969 Public Order Act and the 2017 Public Order Amendment Act.
Under Section 8 of the 2017 Act, the requirement to seek authorisation for many public assemblies has been removed. Those to be held in a public park or road (defined broadly) are still subject to the duty to obtain a permit seven days in advance. The remainder of Section 8 provides as follows:
(2) Any person who wishes to organise or convene a meeting or procession on or in a public park or public road shall first make an application for a permit to the appropriate authority and, unless the appropriate authority is satisfied for good reason that such a meeting or procession is likely to prejudice the maintenance of peace or good order, the appropriate authority shall issue a permit specifying—
(a) in the case of a meeting, the purpose for which, and the place or times at which or between which, such meeting may be held and such other conditions as the appropriate authority may think fit to impose;
(b) in the case of a procession, the purposes for which, and routes of which, and the times at which or between which, such procession may pass and such other conditions as the appropriate authority may think fit to impose; and
(c) the name or names of the person or persons to whom such a permit is issued.
(3) Every application for a permit under subsection (2) shall be made in writing to the appropriate authority at least 7 days, or within such lesser time as the applicant may specify in any particular case, prior to the date on which the applicant proposes to organise or convene a meeting or procession.
(4) The requirement to obtain a permit under subsection (2) shall not apply to processions solely in connection with marriages or funerals.
(5) Every person to whom a permit is issued under subsection (2) shall be responsible for the due observance of all the conditions specified in the permit.
(6) The appropriate authority may, in the appropriate authority’s discretion, refuse to grant a permit under subsection (2) to any person or organisation that has on any previous occasion failed to comply with any condition imposed with respect to any meeting or procession, or any person or organisation that has on any previous occasion organised any meeting or procession which has prejudiced peace, public safety or good order or which has engaged in racial or religious vilification.
(7) For the purposes of subsection (2) ..., “public park or public road” means any highway, public street, public road, public park or garden, any sea beach, river bank, public bridge, wharf, jetty, lane, footway, square, court, alley or passage whether a thoroughfare or not.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Section 9(3) of the 1967 Public Order Act (as amended by the 2012 Public Order Amendment Decree) provides as follows:
Any police officer, if in his or her opinion such action is necessary for the public safety, after giving due warning, may use such force as he or she considers necessary, including the use of arms, to disperse the procession, meeting or assembly and to apprehend any person present thereat, and no police officer nor any person acting in aid of such police officer using such force shall be liable in criminal or civil proceedings for any harm or loss caused by the use of such force.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
As set out above, Section 9(3) of the 1967 Public Order Act (as amended by the 2012 Public Order Amendment Decree) allows firearms to be used to disperse an assembly. This does not comply with international law.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Fiji has not yet come before the Human Rights Committee.
There is no regional human rights mechanism for Pacific nations.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Fiji:
Respect for assembly rights improved in 2018. The Public Order Act was amended in 2017, which ended a requirement that organizers of public demonstrations obtain a police permit seven days before the event, although some events are still subjected to the permitting requirement. During the 2018 campaign period, parties were largely able to hold rallies and campaign events without restrictions. However, the constitution gives the government wide latitude to prohibit protests, including on the basis of public safety and public morality.