20 Apr 2005

Fiji government to legislate immunity for traditional chiefs

6:26 am on 20 April 2005

The Fiji government is preparing new legislation to give traditional chiefs immunity from criminal prosecution for certain kinds of activities.

Fiji TV reports that the immunity would apply if the chiefs intervene to resolve disputes in volatile situations and will be part of customary laws being drawn up by the state.

The laws will recognise that the role of chiefs in resolving political, economic and social roles in disputes is essential.

The attorney general, Qoriniasi Bale, has confirmed the laws are being prepared.

Fiji TV says had the laws been already in place, prominent chiefs charged and jailed for their role in the 2000 coup and army mutinies would not have been taken to court.

It says the dispute resolution role was not recognised in the case of the former vice president Seniloli who was jailed for four years to trying to become the usurper president during the coup.

It would also have prevented the prosecution of government senator, Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, who has been jailed for life for inciting the November 2000 mutiny, and the four Vanua Levu chiefs jailed two weeks ago for their role in the Labasa mutiny.

In their defence, lawyers for all these chiefs had claimed that they were trying to diffuse volatile situations.

The TV report says at a time when opinion is sharply divided on the role of these chiefs in the coup, the latest legislative proposal will create more controversy.