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Sahara Report On Landless Indo-Fijian Rights

Sahara Report On Landless Indo-Fijian Rights


SAHARA

Social Action for Human Rights Aspirations Nadi, Fiji

REPORT

The Civil Takeover - Martial Law - Interim Administration and its effects on the Landless Indo-Fijians

19 May 2000 doomed Fiji into racial, economic, social and cultural chaos. It began with looting and rioting in the central, eastern and northern divisions of Fiji. The silent sufferers of the events of May are the minority, landless, non-indigenous Indo-Fijians, who despite being in Fiji for almost five generations are considered as outcasts and non-citizens.

Indo-Fijians continue to be targeted by gangs of militant indigenous Fijians or village thugs, who mistakenly believe that Indo-Fijians are the root cause of all the social and economic ills afflicting the indigenous Fijian community.

There are several reasons, apart from the racial ones, why Indo-Fijians continue to be harassed, intimidated and abused by bands of roving thugs.

Indo-Fijians are often conceptualised as rich, physically inferior, non-violent, landless, resilient and hard working. The problem actually starts from the village level and with the whole system of Fijian social hierarchy that allows the ones at the top to be in the better social and economic position than those at the bottom. The grassroot (a term referred to common indigenous Fijians) then are the ones who are trapped under the weight of tradition and it is this majority that has been ignored by their own indigenous Fijian leaders and the chiefs. The illegal takeover of an elected government in May was a ploy by influential people at district and provincial levels to elbow their way into political power by using the Indian bogey. Indo-Fijian political domination is used by the indigenous Fijian elite to mobilise indigenous Fijian grassroot against Indo-Fijians.

Social Action for Human Rights and Aspirations (SAHARA) is an organisation established out of necessity to provide support to the victims of human rights abuse in Fiji. The organisation has surveyed all the areas affected by the events of 19 May, including Naitasiri, Sigatoka, Nadi, Lautoka, Ba, Tavua, Rakiraki, Nalawa, Wainikoro, Labasa, Seqaqa, Dreketi, Batiri, Bua and Savusavu and has documented human rights violations on audio tape and on camera.

An intense survey by SAHARA revealed that Indo-Fijians around the country, especially in rural areas have been suffering and continue to live in fear. Their stamina is about to break as they do not see any agency with facilities to assist them. Over the months, they have been broken and do not have the courage to fight back or to stand up for their basic human rights. They do not want to be seen as fighting the indigenous Fijians as they recognise that Fiji is also their home and that they have to live with each other no matter what the circumstances. In many homes surveyed, Indo-Fijian women and children live in fear and the men feel helpless to protect the family.

People have lost jobs and in majority of areas visited, Indo-Fijian children have not gone to school for the past three months due to fear of racial violence and abduction. In Vanua Levu, many school students have dropped out because they have lost their books in arson and looting. Parents fear for their children's safety and security, and do not want to risk further unprovoked racial violence. Displaced families from parts of Tailevu living in Suva cannot find schools.

The Indo-Fijian farmers in the north and the west of Fiji were painfully uprooted from their homes and had no choice but to move and seek refuge at their relatives. At least one person is documented to have died of shock and trauma when the family was told to vacate the land. Two people were hospitalised after seeing their homes burnt to the ground and one died because she was unable to escape in time. Many Indo-Fijian farmers have wept in front of our team as they lost everything in premeditated arson attacks. The survey team found that some Indo-Fijians had no money because a significant amount was spent on satisfying the monetary demands of landowners. One particular settlement in Sigatoka gave $F30,000 in goodwill payment to the indigenous Fijian landowners. However, after receiving the money, the landowning unit decided not to renew the lease. Landowners surveyed confirmed that money was received and that some members decided against extending the lease. In Viria after burning down a home, the Indo-Fijian community paid $F700 to the landowners, pleading with them not to send any more village thugs on an arson escapade. Whilst, the landowners agreed, the Indo-Fijians ended up paying for protection by providing food, money and yagona.

Indo-Fijians are spending money for protection against village thugs and most Indo-Fijian settlements close to indigenous Fijian village continue to be at risk of racial attacks. The law enforcement authorities have refused to intervene, stating that the matter is between the landowners and tenants to settle. The team found out that some evictions were illegal, because the term of lease had not expired.

The SAHARA team discovered that apart from being robbed of their fundamental human rights, Indo-Fijians have lost all hope for justice. They don't see a light at the end of the tunnel and predict further hardship in obtaining a suitable lease.

Following the events of 19 May, many Indo-Fijian farmers presented indigenous Fijian landowners with gifts and money but despite this effort, farmers saw their livestock stolen and farms ransacked. Despite that, Indo-Fijians continue making representations to the village heads in anticipation that the village hoods will be controlled. With the land issue highly politicised, Indo-Fijians do not see any consensus in sight.

Two in a thousand farmers can afford to get their land leases renewed after meeting the demands of both the landowners and the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB). What will happen to rest of Indo-Fijians whose leases are expiring or have expired is not yet clear. However, one thing is certain that these people face imminent poverty and dislocation.

In Vanua Levu, the group found that terrorism and arson continues against Indo-Fijian families. Many have abandoned their homes. Most of the houses in Dreketi and Batiri look like it had gone through a bombing raid. Windows smashed and household contents stolen. In some places, walls were demolished to gain access to the dwelling. Despite living through this orchestrated nightmare, thugs continue to threaten arson despite military and police presence. SAHARA team also met victims of violence. Some Indo-Fijians were abducted and beaten up by thugs. These thugs have been identified but not all have been apprehended. This has further traumatised the victims who fear revenge attacks. The team noted that threats have also been made against women and children if they identify any of the thugs.

An Indo-Fijian family taken hostage for a week suffered in silence, even though they had given access to the thugs to their home, vehicles and telephone. The thugs were camped on their compound and cooked and partied there. Despite this generosity, the thugs refused to allow the family to pray. In addition to that the thugs went and started to threaten the neighbours, demanding rice and other goods.

Fearing continued activity, many Indo-Fijian families fled into jungles with their children. At least three homes in the area were burnt while children were sleeping. Women and children from Dawasamu, Lawaki, Deepwater, Waidalice, Batiri, Seqaqa and northern areas are now living with their relatives. However, these victims need assistance to get back on their feet.

Farmers and cane labourers are being evicted from parts of Wainikoro, Labasa, Sigatoka, Nada, Nalawa, Rakiraki, Tavua, Ba and Lautoka have nowhere to go. Indo-Fijians are uncertain of their future and are banking on temporary accommodation with friends and relatives.

SAHARA needs to act on behalf of the Indo-Fijians who are suffering following the events of 19 May. SAHARA team was the first to visit the areas and saw first hand the plight of desperate and scared people. We need to ensure that the children who are dislocated are cared for and their educational needs fully met. Many people have lost everything and fled to refugee camps only with their clothes on. SAHARA is determine to assist those in need and in particular those who are victims of arson and violence. Fiji Council of Social Services has been fully supportive of SAHARA and can verify its existence and function.

SAHARA has started a food ration drive for people for affected families. Teams are already assessing and distributing food to the hungry and needy.

SAHARA Education Fund is also being set up to ensure that children who are displaced by the actions of the thugs do not miss out on proper education. SAHARA team has collected data and has a list of people requiring genuine assistance. There are other projects in the pipeline to assist those affected. Any suggestions or help on resettlement and assistance will be greatly appreciated.

SAHARA believes that gross human rights violations have taken place in Fiji and that these violations continue despite assurances from authorities. These violations are a result of the events of 19 May and the victims are mostly Indo-Fijians.


ENDS

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