The NGO Coalition for Human
Rights (NGOCHR) reminds the Fiji Police Force on the important responsibility
they have in protecting the rights of all citizens during the COVID-19
pandemic. It is important that all official COVID-19 responses incorporate a rights
based approach.

The Fiji Police Force
Commissioner Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho stated last week that assistance
would be sought from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to enforce measures
to strengthen their monitoring efforts in the greater Lautoka restricted zone,
following the confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

The NGOCHR is concerned by
images circulated on social media platforms, of uniformed and armed RFMF
soldiers outside the premises of the Fiji National Provident Fund office in
Lautoka. The deliberate display of armed military personnel to maintain
social distancing is heavy handed and unnecessary, as it only fuels public fear
and intimidation.

The NGOCHR also notes comments
from the Republic of Fiji Military Force Commander Rear Admiral Viliame Naupoto
clarifying that military personnel who are assisting police in the COVID-19
operations will not be armed at any time.

“This is good to note but in
the future, we urge the government and law enforcement authorities to cease
intimidation tactics as the first response to situations like COVID-19. There
must be a more comprehensive response that is inclusive and collaborative with
all stakeholders and partners, which align to human rights and the principles
of democracy,” said NGOCHR Chair Nalini Singh.

“We understand that law
enforcement personnel may struggle to get citizens to observe restrictions and
social distancing, however, it should not be used as an excuse to increase
armed military presence on our streets, which is unacceptable as we are still a
democracy.”

There are laws in place that
address any breaches of restrictions but also guarantee that citizens’ rights
are protected whilst ensuring that public order is maintained. The NGOCHR
wishes to remind the public of the responsibility we all have in observing the
restrictions in place, beginning with the nationwide curfew. 

It is our individual commitment
to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Fiji, and of equal importance is adherence to
the law (by all citizens) especially avoiding prosecution by law enforcement
personnel.

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