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Human Rights Body Eyes Violation Allegations

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Staff Reporters USP's Pacific Journalism Online

SUVA: The Fiji Human Rights Commission has confirmed that it has the powers to investigate the Fiji Military Forces for alleged violations, according to the Fiji Sun.

The newspaper reported this today amid mounting concerns of family and the public over the deaths of five rebel soldiers from the Counter Revolutionary Warfare unit, now being disbanded, and notorious prison escapee Alifereti Nimacere who were killed by loyal troops crushing last week's mutiny.

The commission said the dead men should have been treated as prisoners of war and they had rights after they were captured.

Although the Fiji Sun said police would not release the autopsy reports on the five dead rebels, both the rival Fiji Times and Daily Post reported today that medical authorities had confirmed that a soldier was beaten to death during the mutiny on November 2.

A total of eight soldiers, including three loyal troopers, were killed and 28 people, including civilians, were wounded.

According to the Fiji Times, the pathologist's report on Corporal Selesitino Kalounivale, who was buried yesterday, states: "Cause of death: multiple blunt force injuries, including head injury with sub-dual haemorrhage".

The newspaper quoted an unnamed medical source as saying "multiple blunt force" meant the former CRW unit soldier died from punches and kicks to the body.

Neither military or interim administration representatives were present for the funeral service at St Pius X Church in Raiwaqa or the burial at Vatuwaqa cemetery. Only the three loyal soldiers are being given military funerals.

A letter from the buried soldier's 10-year-old son Savirio brought tears to many when it was read out at the church service.

"Daddy, I'll always keep in mind and heart what you always told me, in choosing my career to be what I want to be - but not be a soldier," the boy had written after his father's death.

Hundreds also attended the funeral of 37-year-old Nimacere yesterday at a tomb-like landmark at the village of Nadonumai outside of Suva.

Village headman Atunaisa Bukadi was quoted in the Fiji Sun as saying it was not Nimacere's fault that he had become a criminal and spent most of his life in prison.

The headman said Nimacere was a "respected member" of the village and the main reason for his frequent escapes from jail had been "unfair treatment" by warders since he was first imprisoned at the age of 15.

Fiji Human Rights Commission (FHRC) media spokesperson Ritu Sabharwal told the Fiji Sun: "By law, the FHRC can investigate any public office or any person holding public office and because the RFMF is a public office."

She said that in the wake of the mutiny at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks by CRW unit soldiers, complaints of brutality had been lodged by relatives and family members over the deaths of the five rebels and Nimacere.

Ms Sabharwal said the commission was following procedures under the 1997 Constitution, the Fiji Human Rights Commission Act, the International Law on Human Rights and the Fundamental Rights and Freedom Decree under the 1997 Constitution.

But military director of legal services Lieutenent Colonel Ratu Etuweni Caucau told the Fiji Sun that although the FHRC's views would be respected, the 1997 Constitution had been abrogated and "no longer exists".


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