26 Mar 2021

Curfew has to go: Fiji NGOs

9:33 am on 26 March 2021

Civil society groups in Fiji warned that the nearly year-long nation-wide curfew imposed to address the Covid-19 pandemic had increased the dangers faced by women in abusive relationships.

Points in and out of Suva are blocked by police

Points in and out of Suva are blocked by police Photo: Fiji police

The groups were calling on the government to lift the Covid-19 curfew restrictions imposed since 30 March last year.

The curfew was in force from 11pm to 4am.

Activists and non-governmental organisations in Fiji reported a "concerning increase" in violence against women and girls since the pandemic began.

They warned that Fiji's rates of domestic violence were already among the highest in the world - 64 percent of women, in an intimate relationship, had experienced physical or sexual violence from their partners.

The groups said while the action by authorities was successful in helping contain the spread of Covid in Fiji, in other ways the policy had scarred the nation.

The Health Ministry said there had been no community transmission of the coronavirus since last April.

This was one reason the 'curfew must go', the Women's Crisis Centre said.

Speaking at the 'Covid-19 - One Year On Listening Forum' in Nadi this week, the centre's co-ordinator Shamima Ali said the country has had no community transmission in a long time.

Ali said she was concerned about the spike in domestic violence cases since the curfew was implemented last March.

There was a 'dangerous rise' in violence against women and girls during the restrictions, she said.

Ali said social isolation and confinement was proving far more 'dangerous' for many of the country's women than the deadly virus stalking the outdoors

"It is a human rights' violation, limiting and restricting movement of people," Ali said.

Fiji's Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Ashwin Raj, said "restrictions on rights and freedoms on the grounds of public health must be based on scientific evidence and must neither be arbitrary nor discriminator"".

More than 1,000 people had been arrested by police for breaching the curfew.

Ali said police were the major stakeholders and, in some cases, it was difficult to get the officers to assist the survivors to secure a Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) during the Covid-19 restrictions.

Ali said it was also difficult to get welfare officers to attend to cases of child sexual abuse during the restrictions.

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Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Shamima Ali said the shift from manual to online mode during the pandemic had also affected survivors.

She said the Legal Aid Commission started to receive legal assistance applications online during the lockdown periods which made it 'difficult for survivors as some did not have access to the internet or financial means to apply online'.

Ali said despite the ongoing challenges and institutional barriers posed, the women's crisis centre would ensure that survivors were safe and their rights protected.

Curfew to continue: govt

The right to life was more important than the economy, the government said.

The Minister for Defence, National Security and Policing, Rural and Maritime Development and Disaster Management, Inia Seruiratu, told Parliament there was a thin line between health and safety in the interest of safety.

Seruiratu was responding to a question posed by Opposition Whip Lynda Tabuya on the need for a national curfew.

The Social Democratic Liberal SODELPA MP said there was no scientific evidence that curfews prevented crime.

But the minister said the curfew was in place to ensure the safety of Fijians during the pandemic.

"There is a provision in the Constitution relating to not only national security but health as well," Seruiratu said.

"The curfew that we have in place is not only something that we pulled out during cyclones Yasa and Ana, but it was there from day one when we wanted to have a Covid-free Fiji.

"The right to life is more important than the economy.

"The right to life is more important than anything else, so let us stick to the course and let us suffer together as a country for the good and betterment of every Fijian."

Meanwhile, Fiji has had 67 Covid cases with one active case, 64 recovered and two deaths since the first case was reported on March 19, 2020.

The Health Ministry said the lone active Covid case was isolated at the Lautoka Hospital.

In its latest Covid update, the ministry said it has been seven days since the last border quarantine case was reported and 340 days since the last case was detected in the community on April 18, 2020.

The last 49 cases have been international travel-associated cases detected in border quarantine, it said.

The ministry said a total of 35,986 laboratory tests had been conducted, with a daily average of 234 tests per day over the last seven days, and a weekly average of 1609 tests per week over the last two weeks.

There are currently 791 people who have recently arrived from overseas undergoing mandatory 14-day quarantine in government-supervised border quarantine facilities, the ministry said.

Inia Seruiratu.

Inia Seruiratu. Photo: Alex Perrottet / RNZ