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Fiji: Land disputes between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians (1990-2000)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 11 December 2000
Citation / Document Symbol FJI36068.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Fiji: Land disputes between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians (1990-2000), 11 December 2000, FJI36068.E, available at: [accessed 25 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Disputes over land have been frequent in Fiji: the 1987 Fijian election was won by indigenous Fijian Dr. Timoci Bavadra of the multiracial Fijian Labour Party (FLP) in coalition with the Indo-Fijian supported National Federation Party (NFP) (Parliament of Australia 1999). "Nineteen of the 28 seats won by the FLP/NFP coalition were held by Indians" as well as seven of 12 Cabinet positions (IRBDC 1989). This disproportionate number of Indo-Fijian parliamentarians prompted "extremist Fijian nationalists" to initiate the Taukei, "owners of the land," movement over worries of an Indian take-over (Parliament of Australia 1999). The Taukei movement organized street demonstrations calling on the "Governor General to throw out the new government and change the Constitution to ensure that future governments would contain a majority of Melanesians [indigenous Fijians]" (IRBDC 1989). Citing the unrest during the post-election period, Lt. Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, "third in command of the Fijian armed forces," orchestrated two successful coups in May and September 1987 (ibid.). According to the Australian Parliament's Parliamentary Library report, Rabuka conducted the coups "to restore indigenous Fijian dominance of Fiji politics" and "to ensure the subservience of the Indo-Fijian community to the Fijian majority" (1999). "Strengthening the role of indigenous Fijians" was incorporated in the new constitution of 1990 as well as "a provision for a review to be held within seven years" (ibid.). For information on the political and cultural situation in Fiji, prior to the 1990s, please consult Fiji: Country Profile (IRBDC 1989) and Fiji: Cultural Profile (IRBDC 1991).

In 1993, Rabuka initiated a constitutional review and in May 1999 "Fiji went to the polls to elect a 71-member parliament under a new 1997 multiracial constitution, which guarantees multi-party government" (ibid.). Prime Minister Rabuka's coalition lost to the Peoples Coalition (Fiji Labour Party, Fijian Association Party and the Party of National Unity) led by Indo-Fijian Mahendra Chaudhry of the Fiji Labour Party (ibid.).

On 19 May 2000 rebels, led by George Speight, took Chaudhry and cabinet members hostage in a coup which was based on the economic leverage of land leases held by indigenous Fijians (Asia Times 3 Oct. 2000; BBC 2 Nov. 2000). Although there are few reports of violence among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate, a BBC report of 12 July 2000 quotes an Indian shop owner as stating, "most of the persons have been victimised by looting, robbing, raping their children and so forth and we don't feel at all secure ourselves."

A November 2000 BBC report states the rebels demanded and received, on 9 June 2000, revocation of the multiracial constitution, formation of a dominantly ethnic Fijian government, and amnesty for those involved in the coup (ibid.). Chaudhry was released in July and Speight was arrested and charged with treason several weeks later (ibid.). Military-backed Laisenia Qarase was appointed Prime Minister and a new government was sworn in following Speight's arrest (ibid.). According to the BBC, the Fijian government is drafting a new constitution with elections scheduled in two years (ibid.). For information on the situation of Indo-Fijians, please consult FJI23631.E of 15 April 1996 and update FJI31481.E of 9 April 1999.

The Fijian population is comprised of "51 per cent indigenous Fijians, who are Christians of various denominations (mainly Methodists), 43 per cent Hindu and Muslim Indians (who are descendants of labourers brought in during British colonial rule)" (Parliament of Australia). The remaining percentage of the population consists of "Europeans, Chinese, other islanders and mixed races" (ibid.). Country Reports 1999 states that "control of land is a highly sensitive issue" with 83 per cent of land distribution held by indigenous Fijians, 8 per cent State-owned, and 9 per cent freehold (2000, Section 2.d). "Most cash crop farmers are Indo-Fijians, who lease land from the ethnic Fijian landowners through the Native Land Trust Board" (NLTB), causing many Indo-Fijians to consider the "absence of secure land tenure" discriminatory (ibid.).

The NLTB is administered under the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act 1976 (ALTA) and controls 14112 leases (Parliament of Australia, June 1999). Although the Act makes no provision for lease renewal, it specifies the maximum lease term at 30 years with a reassessment every five years (ibid.). Many leases began expiring in 1997 with complications arising from some owners' desire to "use the land for themselves" and issues surrounding the "quantum of rent, arrears and the period of renewal" (ibid.). "This has caused tremendous anxiety on the part of both owners and leasers and though not completely racial, is often used by some politicians to advance their own causes" (ibid.).
According to a September 2000 report, an interim cabinet agreed to abolish the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act (ALTA) and resettle farmers under the Native Land Trust Act (NLTA) (Radio New Zealand International 18 Sept. 2000). No information on the implementation of the NLTA could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. The report also states that "thousands of leases on farms are currently expiring in Fiji, with mainly ethnic Indian tenants facing eviction and some losing their home and crops to landowners" (ibid.).

A November 2000 article states that the Sugar Cane Growers' Council in Fiji had claimed that "Indo-Fijian farmers are refusing to resettle on impoverished and isolated land which is unsuitable for farming" (Radio New Zealand International 2 Nov. 2000). The Council's chief executive stated that farmers would prefer compensation instead of resettling on marginal land (ibid.). A June 2000 report states the Fiji Sugar Cane Growers' Association had called for international resettlement of evicted cane farmers, "who are mostly Indo-Fijian" (ibid. 23 June 2000). The report states that the Sugar Cane Growers' Association claimed the lack of renewal was a "systematic campaign to deny the cane farmers their livelihoods, leaving them with no future in Fiji" (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Asia Times. 3 October 2000. Debbie Singh. "Land Disputes Sow Seeds of Unrest." [Accessed 4 Dec. 2000]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 2 November 2000. "What Happened to George Speight?" [Accessed 4 Dec. 2000]

_____. 12 July 2000. "Future Bleak for Fiji's Indians." [Accessed 4 Dec. 2000]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999. 2000. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 4 Dec. 2000]

Immigration and Refugee Board, (IRBDC), Ottawa. 1989. "Fiji: Country Profile."

Parliament of Australia Issues Brief. 29 Jun. 1999. Michael Ong. "Fiji: May Elections and the New Government." [Accessed 4 Dec. 2000]

Radio New Zealand International [Wellington, in English]. 2 November. 2000. "Indo-Fijian Farmers Refuse to Resettle on Unsuitable Land." (FBIS-EAS-2000-1102 2 Nov. 2000)

_____. 18 September 2000. "Fiji Cabinet Agrees to Abolish Agricultural Landlord, Tenant Act." (FBIS-EAS-2000-918 18 Sept. 2000)

_____. 23 June 2000. "Cane Growers Renew Call for Commonwealth to Help Resettle Evicted Farmers." (FBIS-EAS-2000-0623 23 June 2000)

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases


Political Handbook of the World: 2000. 2000. Edited by Arthur S. Banks and Thomas C. Muller. Binghamton, NY: CSA Publications.

The Europa World Year Book 2000. 2000.

World News Connection (WNC)

Internet sites including:

Amnesty International

Asia Pacific Network

Asia Times

Christian Science Monitor

The Guardian

Human Rights Watch

Looking Glass Design

Minority Rights Group

University of Melbourne

University of the South Pacific

Search engines including:






Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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