While Fiji has taken important steps in recent years by holding two consecutive democratic elections in 2014 and 2018, the government led by Commodore Frank Banimarama’s Fiji First Party (national unity party) continues to be plagued by human rights concerns, including restrictions on the freedoms of speech, association, and assembly. (Freedom House, 2020)

Press freedoms and limitations on the media are also pressing issues. For instance, government prosecutors continue to pursue sedition charges against an opinion writer and editors at the Fiji Times newspaper for publishing a letter deemed to be hostile towards the country’s Muslim community.  (U.S. Department of State, 2020; Prakash, 2021) The government’s case, which is pending at the Court of Appeals after the Fiji Times staff were previously acquitted, has drawn widespread criticism for its implications on the freedom of speech and press freedoms. (Amnesty International, 2017; Cava, 2018; Prakash, 2021)

In addition, concerns over allegations of torture and abuse by security forces, gender-based violence, and the violation of worker’s rights persist. (Freedom House, 2020)

The Indian-Hindu minority faces ongoing racial prejudice and inequitable treatment in many sectors, while longstanding ethnic tensions between the iTaukei (indigenous Fijian) population and Indo-Fijians continue to linger. Indo-Fijian women also remain underrepresented in political parties. (Freedom House, 2020) The government, however, has taken several significant steps to confront discrimination and reduce ethnic tensions in recent years. Ethnic and religiously motivated violence targeting the Indian-Hindu minority has also drastically declined.

Ethnic tensions flared up towards the end of 2020 after an investigation began into the alleged role of Indo-Fijian Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in a 1987 bomb attack by an Indo-Fijian pro-democracy group. The attacks followed a military coup that removed a democratically elected government led by an Indo-Fijian majority. (Anthony & Doherty, 2020)


Fiji is home to a diverse multi-ethnic and multi-religious population. The population is split primarily between two main ethnic groups: iTaukei (indigenous Fijians), who constitute 56.8%, and Indo-Fijians, who make up an estimated 37.5% of the population. Religious identity is closely correlated with ethnicity, as most Indo-Fijians are Hindu (27.9% of the total population and 76% of the Indian community), while indigenous Fijians are primarily Christian (all Christian denominations collectively comprise 64.5% of the total population). (U.S. Department of State, 2020)

Indo-Fijian Hindus were initially brought to Fiji from India in 1879 by the British colonists as part of the indentured labor system to work on sugarcane plantations. This brutal practice, akin to slavery, was finally abolished in 1916, but discrimination against Hindus continued, abetted by the state. (BBC, 2013)

During colonial rule, the British pursued a policy of separate communal developments to prevent Indian laborers and indigenous Fijians from becoming a unified community, thereby posing a threat to colonial rule.  When the British departed, political power and the vast majority of land (87% of land) was left in the hands of indigenous Fijians, who dominated politics at the expense of the Indo-Fijian community, which comprised 40% of the population at that time. (BBC, 2013)

Since Fiji’s independence in 1970, the country has experienced three coups. The first military coup in May 1987 by Lt. Colonel Rabuka removed Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra and a government supported by Indo-Fijians. The coup was justified by assertions that the government was dominated by Indo-Fijians, although it was the first time that the community held political power in 17 years. (BBC, 2013)

In the months following the coup, racial tensions escalated and indegenous Fijians attacked Indians in widespread violence. In one bout of violence in May 1987, nearly 200 Indians were injured by a rampaging mob of thousands of coup supporters. (Kristof, 1987) According to one New York Times report, “An older Indian man was knocked to the ground, and he curled up in a ball as a succession of Fijians kicked him as they ran past. A boy was hurled to the street and kicked in the head several times until blood ran down his face.” (Kristof, 1987)

Lt. Colonel Rabuka then orchestrated a second coup in September of the same year after negotiations with the Governor-General (the Governor-General represented the British monarchy’s interests in Fiji until 1987 when Fiji became a republic), failed to reach a settlement.

After this second coup, approximately 30,000 – 40,000 Indo-Fijians fled the country. (Nanda, 1992) The new government also implemented overtly Methodist Christian policies, including forced closures of all businesses on Sunday. (Nanda, 1992)

Rabuka promulgated a new constitution in 1990, which effectively ensured political dominance for the ethnic iTaukei Fijians and explicitly discriminated against Indian Hindus by creating a race-based political system in which the majority of seats in both the House and Senate were allocated to iTaukei Fijians. (Nanda, 1992) The institutional discrimination enshrined in the constitution further fueled an atmosphere where the rights of Indian Hindus were violated with impunity and they were subjected to violence. In October 1991, there were a series of arsons and attacks on Hindu shrines, temples, and a priest. (Nanda, 1992)

International pressure and domestic unrest resulted in amendments to the constitution in 1997, making it more equitable and removing discriminatory provisions. (BBC, 2013)

Elections in 1999 saw the emergence of the first Indian Hindu Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhary, who was overthrown and held hostage a year later by a Fijian extremist and U.S.-educated businessman, George Speight. (BBC, 2013) Subsequently, violence against Indian Hindus increased and threatened their fundamental right to practice their faith.

Historically, discrimination has been a significant cause (among others) leading to the mass migration of ethnic Indians out of the country. According to a recent report, approximately 81,000 Indo-Fijians left the country between 1987 and 2004, out of a total of 91,000 emigres during that same period. (Kaitani et al., 2011) This has resulted in a major demographic shift, with a drastic decline in the Indo-Fijian population from approximately 50% prior in 1987 (Wyeth, 2017) to only 37% today. (Fiji Bureau of Statistics, 2007)

The third coup occurred in 2006, when the democratically elected Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase was deposed by the military led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who justified the coup in part as an attempt to alleviate ethnic tensions between the indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians and curb state sponsored racism against Indians and Hindus. (Perry, 2013) Bainimarama’s military regime did in fact end ethnically based preferential policies and took considerable steps to improve the conditions of the Indian-Hindu population and reduce reliance on ethnic based politics. Societal violence and discrimination against the Indian-Hindu community has drastically declined, though there have still been reports of recent incidents targeteting Hindu temples and schools.

Bainimarama has continued to stay in power since his 2006 military coup and eventually won democratic elections in 2014 under the banner of the Fiji First political party. He was reelected in national elections in 2018. (Freedom House, 2020)

Status of Human Rights, 2019-2020

The Fijian government has generally supported the free practice of religion in accordance with the Constitution adopted in 2013, which “guarantees religious freedom and establishes a secular state, in which all religions are equal.’” (Pratibha, 2014)

The Constitutional framework further protects religious freedom through provisions that ensure that “the State and all persons holding public office must treat all religions [e]qually” and that “the State and all persons holding public office must not prefer or advance, by any means, any particular religion, religious denomination, religious belief, or religious practice over another, or over any non-religious belief.” (Office of the Attorney General, n.d.)

In addition, Section 22 provides that every individual “has the right to freedom of religion, conscience and belief” and has the right to freely manifest or practice his religion in public or private. (Office of the Attorney General, n.d.)

Despite these protections for religious freedom, some government and police officials routinely used their positions of power to promote their Christian beliefs. Bainimarama’s government, however, has officially issued directives in recent years to end this practice and have emphasized religious tolerance. (U.S. Department of State, 2020) Additionally, the government observes the religious holidays of the three main religions in Fiji as national holidays, including the Hindu festival of Diwali, several Christian holidays, and the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. (The Fijian Government, 2021)

Fijian citizens generally enjoy freedom of religion, but there have been a number of incidents targeting Hindu temples in recent years, (Freedom House, 2020) including the following:

September 2019 — A man broke into a temple in Suva and stole several religious items. (U.S. Department of State, 2020)
August 2019 — The temple door and windows at the Kaliamman Temple of Vomo St, Lautoka were broken by vandals. (Chaudhary, 2019)
July 2019 — At least two temples – the Sita Ram Mandir of Calia, Navua and the Hindu Temple at Malolo, Nadi were broken into and donation collections were stolen. (Gopal, 2019; Chaudhary, 2019)
January 2018 — At least one temple near Suva was vandalized, while others in Suva were reportedly also broken into in previous months. (Radio New Zealand, 2018)
December 2017 — The Tirath Dham temple in Nadi was vandalized with racially motivated graffiti, donation boxes were stolen, and murtis (statues of deities) were desecrated with paint poured on them. (Radio New Zealand, 2018)
June 2016 — The Lovu Sangam School on the outskirts of Lautoka and an adjacent Hindu temple were vandalized multiple times, and Hindu symbols and sacred items desecrated. The vandals also wrote messages taunting the school that serves 500 Indian students. (Citizens’ Constitutional Forum, 2016)

Although the government has taken steps to stem religious intolerance and promote equality, some private religious institutions have pushed to erase the line separating politics and religion.  Fiji’s Methodist Church openly advocated for Fiji to officially become a Christian state, claiming that “Fiji was given to God…When we say that Fiji is a Christian state we say it was decided by our chiefs who ceded Fiji to Great Britain that Fiji be a Christian country…When it was given to God, it has already established its covenant relationship with God, and that covenant relationship is eternal – it cannot be withdrawn.”  (Australia Network News, 2012) The majority of Fiji’s Christian population is Methodist and the Church wields considerable influence and power in the island nation.

On the other hand, some religious institutions have worked to promote inter-religious harmony, including a number Catholic parishes, which recently “commemorated Diwali at a special Mass they stated was to show respect to Hindus.” (U.S. Department of State, 2020)

Finally, Indo-Fijians continue to be marginalized by inequitable land ownership regulations. The majority of land in Fiji is still concentrated in the hands of iTaukei Fijians with restrictions on the ability of Indo-Fijians farmers to purchase land under discriminatory land tenure legislation. While a recent land use decree has increased access to land and extended lease periods to up to 99 years (from 30 years), Indo-Fijian farmers are still dependent on leased lands. (Lally, 2018)

Conclusion and Recommendations

While human rights conditions have vastly improved in Fiji since a democratic transition in 2014, abuses by the government and security forces remain prevalent. Additionally, limitations on fundamental civil rights included in the constitution are concerning. The Fijian government should take steps to amend the constitution to provide broader protections for the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. Bainimarama’s government should also end its suppression of free speech and the right to assembly by those critical of its policies, while security forces should refrain from the continued use of arbitrary arrests and detentions.

The government must continue to pursue policies that treat all ethnic and religious groups equally, including further reforming land ownership legislation to provide equal ownership rights to Indo-Fijians. Furthermore, the government must take the necessary steps to stem discrimination and religious intolerance by non-state actors. Finally, law enforcement should continue to protect Hindus from violent attacks, closely monitor hate speech, and institute permanent safeguards to protect Hindu temples and institutions.


Amnesty International. (2017, March 27). Fiji: Drop politically-motivated sedition charges against The Fiji Times. Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/03/fiji-drop-politically-motivated-sedition-charges-against-the-fiji-times/

Anthony, K., & Doherty, B. (2020, November 24). Fiji gripped as attorney general investigated for cold-case bomb attack. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/25/fiji-gripped-as-attorney-general-investigated-for-cold-case-bomb-attack

Australia Network News. (2012, September 6). Fiji Hindu group rejects Christian state calls. Australian Network News. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-06/an-fiji-hindus-reject-christian-state-calls/4247214

BBC. (2013, November 8). Fiji Profile. BBC News. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-14919688

Cava, L. (2018, May 23). Not guilty: Newspaper acquitted of sedition. The Fiji Times. 

Chaudhary, F. (2019, July 29). Thieves break into Malolo temple. The Fiji Times. 

Chaudhary, F. (2019, August 2). Thieves break into temple. The Fiji Times. 

Citizen’s Constitutional Forum. (2016, June 14). Respect for Fiji’s Multicultural Identity. Citizen’s Constitutional Forum. http://news.ccf.org.fj/respect-for-fijis-multicultural-identity/

The Fijian Government. (2021). Public Holidays 2021. The Fijian Government. https://www.fiji.gov.fj/About-Fiji/Public-Holidays

Fiji Bureau of Statistics. (2007). Census of Population and Housing. Fiji Bureau of Statistics. https://www.statsfiji.gov.fj/statistics/2007-census-of-population-and-housing

Freedom House. (2020). Fiji: Freedom in the World 2020. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/country/fiji/freedom-world/2020

Gopal, A. (2019, July 23). Thieves Break Into Temple, Steal Money. Fiji Sun. https://fijisun.com.fj/2019/07/23/thieves-break-into-temple-steal-money/

Kaitani, M., Mohanty, M., Muliaina, T., Buadromo, V., Kumar, R., Kumar, S., & Naidu, V. (2011, September). Development on the Move: Measuring and Optimising Migration’s Economic and Social Impacts in Fiji. Oceania Development Network.  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230880756_Development_on_the_Move_Measuring_and_Optimising_Migration’s_Economic_and_Social_Impacts_in_Fiji

Kristof, N. D. (1987, May 21). Scores of Indians Are Injured as Riots Sweep Fiji. The New York Times. 

Lally, H. K. (2018, April). Fiji: Various Issues of Alienation of Land Through Failed Land Tenure & Policy. http://blog.hawaii.edu/aplpj/files/2018/04/APLPJ_19.2_Lally.pdf

Nanda, V. P. (1992). Ethnic Conflict in Fiji and International Human Rights Law. Cornell International Law Journal, 25(3), Article 5. https://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1295&context=cilj

Office of the Attorney General. (n.d.). Constitution of the Republic of Fiji. The Laws of Fiji. https://www.laws.gov.fj/Home/information/constitutionoftherepublicoffiji#:~:text=The%20Constitution%20was%20signed%20by,effect%20on%207%20September%202013.&text=Republic%20of%20Fiji-,The%20Constitution%20of%20the%20Republic%20of%20Fiji%20(‘Constitution’),t

Perry, N. (2013, December 5). Fiji’s ruler clears path to elections on own terms. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/4644eb45114c4c8b9dd9c8910f98685d

Prakash, P. (2021, February 27). Two month adjournment in Fiji Times appeals case. FBC News. 

Pratibha, J. (2014, January 14). PM: Religion can Unify. Fiji Sun. http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2014/01/14/pm-religion-can-unify/

Radio New Zealand. (2018, February 6). Call for more information about Fiji temple attacks. Radio New Zealand. https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/349736/call-for-more-information-about-fiji-temple-attacks

U.S. Department of State. (2020). International Religious Freedom Report for 2019. Office of International Religious Freedom. https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/FIJI-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Wyeth, G. (2017, March 28). Indo-Fijians and Fiji’s Coup Culture. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2017/03/indo-fijians-and-fijis-coup-culture/


Republic of the Fiji Islands

18,274 square kilometers

931,000 (U.S. Department of State, 2020)

Protestant 45% (Methodist 34.6%, Assembly of God 5.7%, Seventh Day Adventist 3.9%, and Anglican 0.8%);
Hindu 27.9%;
other Christian 10.4%;
Roman Catholic 9.1%;
Muslim 6.3%;
Sikh 0.3%;
other 0.3%;
none 0.8%
(Fiji Bureau of Statistics, 2007)

English (official), Fijian, Hindustani

Ethnic groups
iTaukei 56.8% (iTaukei is now used to refer to native Fijians and is predominantly Melanesian with a Polynesian admixture);
Indian 37.5%;
Rotuman 1.2%;
other 4.5% (European, part European, other Pacific Islanders, Chinese)
(Fiji Bureau of Statistics, 2007)

Oceania, island group in the South Pacific Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand