The Fiji Law Society earlier this month wrote to Acting Commissioner of Police Rusiate Tudravu to express its concern about mounting reports of police brutality and sexual assaults in the country.
In a statement posted on Facebook, the newly elected president of the Fiji Law Society, William W. Clarke, said, “An effective Police force is the bedrock on which peace, law and order are maintained. These things are among the greatest gifts any society can offer its people. So, any public body concerned with rule of law must be concerned about the effect of these allegations on public confidence in the police force as an institution.”
Figures from Fiji’s director of public prosecution show that 400 charges of serious crimes were laid against police or military officers in Fiji between May 2015 and April 2020. Of that 400, 16 charges were for rape, two for murder, nine for manslaughter, five for abduction, and more than 100 for assault.
“If the Police are not accountable for resolution of complaints which are seen as less serious, the result, in our view, is a culture of impunity – which leads to the serious problems of which the public are becoming increasingly aware, and which are damaging to the force, for the reasons we have stated,” said the Fiji Law Society.
The Fiji Law Society contacted Tudravu after media reports detailed allegations of police beating a 46-year-old indigenous Fijian man, Mesake Sinu, to death in the capital, earlier this month. It was initially reported that Sinu had died in police custody when he jumped from a two-story building but witnesses at the scene rejected the claim.
Lewa Kuriako, a Fijian woman who said she was present with Sinu on the morning of the incident posted a video on Facebook claiming that there was “no truth to the allegation of robbery” and alleged that the account provided by police was false.
“If you want to know the truth, we are many witnesses who are all available and ready to answer questions and give evidence as witnesses to the killing of Mesake Sinu,” she said. “We saw with our very own eyes and we actually witnessed what happened.”
“The officers chased Mr. Sinu and he tried to escape and jumped out of the house. The fall was about two meters and not a double-story building as police said. They also smashed a glass bottle on him. There was a deep cut on his forehead and blood kept oozing out.”
The director of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, Ashwin Raj, told RNZ that his office had obtained a copy of Sinu’s medical certificate, which stated he “suffered extensive traumatic head injury” and that an external cause of injury was “blunt force trauma.”
“A life has been lost,” Raj said. “This is an egregious violation of the victim’s right to life.”
Tudravu has since ordered an internal affairs investigation be carried out with regard to the death, asserting that “a thorough investigation will be conducted to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the victim’s death and those found responsible will be charged and produced before a court of law.”
Earlier this month, Tudravu announced that five officers had been suspended and were being investigated for their conduct in responding to two separate incidents. In one incident, an officer allegedly assaulted a man who was, according to his sister, drunk and suicidal. The man’s sister, Marisela Archibald, posted a video to Facebook claiming that the officer grabbed her brother by the throat and choked him as he was arrested.
Other recent incidents include a case in which a group of police officers threw a 32-year-old man off a bridge and another in which officers subjected a man to inhumane treatment, allegedly pouring hot water on him during an interrogation.
Raj told local media that the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission has nearly concluded its investigations into recent police abuse and will be giving the report to the Fiji police force.
“Fiji has an effective and transparent criminal justice system,” he said. “I have every confidence in the criminal justice system that it will operate transparently and hold those responsible for this heinous act of violence to account.”
Reports have emerged in the past however of investigations by the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission being blocked by authorities when investigating abuse claims against police and prison security officers.
“In my time with the commission, I sent more than 70 letters to different institutions and around 55 of them were to the corrections and police,” a whistleblower told the Guardian. “From police, we often did not receive any responses at all. From the corrections service, responses were always denial.”