13 Feb 2024

Military dismissing human rights abuse allegations an 'insult to victims' - Fiji human rights lawyer

9:36 am on 13 February 2024
Colonel Penioni (Ben) Naliva has been appointed - as deputy commander of the Australian Army's 7th Brigade, making him second in command of about 3500 Australian troops.

Colonel Penioni (Ben) Naliva has been appointed - as deputy commander of the Australian Army's 7th Brigade, making him second in command of about 3500 Australian troops. Photo: ADF

A Fiji human rights lawyer in exile is offering to provide the Fiji military and government with "hard evidence" to support allegations of human rights abuses against a high-ranking officer.

Colonel Penioni (Ben) Naliva first made headlines in the newspaper The Australian last month after being appointed deputy commander of the Australian Army's 7th Brigade to lead 3500 troops.

The paper reported allegations that Naliva had been involved in the violent beatings of two Fijian politicians in 2006 and human rights advocates.

It said Colonel Naliva, at the time, was the right-hand man of former coup leader and later democratically elected prime minister Frank Bainimarama.

In response to questions from RNZ Pacific, the Fiji military said it stood by Colonel Naliva and said the allegations against Naliva were "social media posts by disgruntled individuals", pointing out that no formal reports had been lodged with police.

But lawyer Aman Ravindra Singh, who is exiled in Australia, said he was concerned that the Fiji military and government have been quick to dismiss such serious allegations against a high-ranking officer.

"It is a total insult to all victims and of course the people of Fiji to come out and simply say these are mere allegations," Ravindra Singh said.

He claims he has in his possession written statements and photos supporting the allegations, including two from persons who have publicly named Colonel Naliva as the person who tortured them.

"I wish to assist them and provide them with the hard evidence to enable them to look at it," he said.

"I'm quite positive [that] after looking at the evidence they (Fiji military) may even change their mind."

Fiji Labour Party parliamentary leader Aman Ravindra-Singh.

Aman Ravindra Singh Photo: RNZ Pacific/Koroi Hawkins


Singh said both the military and the government are being disingenuous in questioning the legitimacy of the allegations because of the lack of a formal police investigation.

He said they "know full well" that Colonel Naliva and others accused of human rights abuses during the military coup of 2006 are granted immunity under Chapter 10 of the 2013 Constitution.

He said the 2013 Constitution is a document that was imposed on the Fiji population by the then military regime.

According to chapter 10, Section 157(c), "Absolute and unconditional immunity is irrevocably granted to any person (whether in their official or personal or individual capacity) holding the office of, or holding the office in, as the case may be--(c) Republic of Fiji Military Forces; from any criminal prosecution and from any civil or other liability, in any court, tribunal or commission, in any proceeding including any legal, military, disciplinary, or professional proceedings and from any other order or judgement of any court, tribunal or commission, as a result of any direct or indirect participation, appointment or involvement in the Government, from 5 December 2006 to the first sitting of Parliament elected after the commencement of this constitution..."

"So that is the case," he said, adding "it is not that simple or straightforward."

"In any other country, without immunity clauses people [who have faced human rights abuses] will be able to go to the police station today and file a complaint."

-You can listen to the interview with Aman Ravindra Singh on Pacific Waves on RNZ National on Tuesday 8.15pm NZ time.