The NGO Coalition for Human Rights says it 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.
Nalini Singh says 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 NGO Coalition also notes comments from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces 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.
Singh says this is good to note but in the future, they urge the government and law enforcement authorities to cease intimidation tactics as the first response to situations like COVID-19.
She says 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.
Singh says they 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.
The NGO Coalition says 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 coalition also reminds the public of the responsibility we all have in observing the restrictions in place, beginning with the nationwide curfew.
Singh says 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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