Find Gun Policy Facts

Armed violence prevention, gun control laws and the small arms trade:

Guns in Fiji

Even in comparison to its Pacific neighbours, private gun ownership in Fiji is uncommon, at a rate of one lawfully held firearm for every 550 people. Civilian gun owners must be licensed, and their weapons individually registered. Private firearms are restricted to hunting, sport shooting and arms collecting. Handguns, assault weapons and automatic firearms are prohibited, with safe storage of all small arms and ammunition required by law.

In stark contrast to most nations, the number of small arms in civilian hands in Fiji is dwarfed by the arsenal available to military and police personnel. With the largest army per capita in the south west Pacific, Fiji has a history of political and ethnic unrest. From 1987 to 2006, the nation suffered four armed coups d'état, and remains under military rule. Despite this, Fiji is the only Pacific island nation to have moved its firearm legislation some way toward regional harmonisation (see International Agreements).

Civilian Possession

Fiji prohibits civilian possession of automatic weapons, and of firearms with a barrel length less than 24 inches (61cm).1 A pistol is defined as a firearm whose barrel length is less than nine inches (22cm).2

In 2001-02 there were 1,465 licensed civilian gun owners, with 1,538 registered firearms, most of them shotguns.3 4 This is one of the lowest firearm possession rates (0.18 per 100 people) in the Pacific. Of these 1,538 registered guns, 63 per cent were in the hands of ethnic minority Indo-Fijians, while 19 per cent were owned by indigenous Fijians.5 When unregistered, illicit firearms are taken into account, including those small arms diverted from state stockpiles during political unrest, about 4,000 guns are estimated to be in private hands, for a possession rate of 0.5 per 100 population.6

Government Guns

Fiji's 2,510 sworn police officers are not routinely armed.7 8 9 Police stockpiles in 2003 were estimated to contain 571 firearms.10 After the Fiji Police upgraded its armoury and weapons in 2006, Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes reaffirmed that while it was important that officers have access to firearms, strict guidelines remain in place to authorise their use, and police on the beat would remain unarmed.11

Accounting for small arms stolen during and after the May 2000 military coup was complicated by the lack of accurate audits of army weapons to begin with.12 With its 3,500 regular military personnel,13 Fiji has the largest defence force per capita in all of Oceania — 0.42 per 100 people, much higher than nearby Australia (0.25) and New Zealand (0.22). In 2003, the armed forces had access to an estimated 7,875 firearms,10 These included US M16A2 assault rifles, South Korean Daewoo K2s, Singaporean Ultimax 100 light machine guns, German H&K 9mm MP5 submachine guns, Israeli Uzi submachine guns and Galil assault rifles, plus Eastern-bloc AK-47s.14 The number of these which went missing is still unknown (see Gun Crime), and no recent audits are reported.

Gun Death, Injury and Crime

Firearm Mortality

No tallies of firearm-related homicide in Fiji seem to be internationally reported. In the years 2001-06, overall homicide (all methods) averaged 26 cases per annum. This figure includes charges of attempted murder in which no death occurred, and may or may not include an unknown number of homicides committed with a firearm.15

Gun Crime

Twenty violent armed robberies were reported from 1997 to 2002, with a peak of ten in 2000, coinciding with a military coup.16 In May of that year a small, well-armed group led by local businessman George Speight took hostage the Prime Minister and most of his elected government. For 56 days, members of parliament were held captive by rebel soldiers bearing Uzi and Galil assault rifles leaked from military armouries.17 Only seven gunmen were needed to take the country, but this tiny band quickly obtained enough military weapons to arm 100 fellow rebels. Speight and his supporters were later convicted in a treason trial.18

Cost of Gun Violence

The effects of armed violence were pronounced and immediate. Fiji's economy contracted sharply, leading to a 2.8 per cent decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In the weeks following the coup, major donor countries such as Australia and New Zealand imposed a range of sanctions, curtailing most non-humanitarian aid programmes. Tourist numbers dropped 62 per cent, more than 2,000 hospitality workers lost their jobs, foreign currency earnings fell dramatically, and investment levels dropped to an all-time low of less than ten per cent of GDP. The nation was almost crippled.17

In a survey of 400 women by the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre in 2001, 49 per cent said they no longer felt safe outside their home. A Save the Children Fund survey found many children traumatized by events surrounding the crisis.17

The education system stalled, with urban schools closed for almost two months. Many of these were vandalized or burnt in the widespread violence, and attendance was very low on reopening. Fiji's education budget was slashed, and many schools went without funding in 2001.17

Although medical facilities were not targeted during the coup, fierce budget cuts starved the public health system of its capacity to cope.17

Human Rights Cost

In April 2009, nine years on from the 2000 coup and in an atmosphere of ever-tightening military rule, Fiji gazetted the Public Emergency Regulations, 2009.19 Police and military personnel were granted wide powers to search for, and to seize either illicit or legally held firearms, and to detain any person suspected of possessing arms or consorting with those who might possess arms.20 Amnesty International noted the 'total impunity' guaranteed to state forces by these regulations, which grant legal immunity to soldiers and police, even for causing death and injury, by shooting or otherwise, in the course of enforcement.21

Gun Control Law

Fiji's Arms and Ammunition Act (1962) was replaced by the Arms and Ammunition Act (2003),22 whose provisions are restrictive, rather than permissive.23 Drafted to bring Fiji's gun control regime closer to international norms, the Act regulates the possession, manufacture, sale, repair, storage, import and export of arms and ammunition. Its main stated objective is 'to simplify the procedures for an honest man to obtain a licence and to make it more difficult for a criminal to obtain a licence.'24 Additional provisions are defined in Fiji's Penal Code (1978), the Firearms, Explosives and Ammunition (Amnesty) Act (1998) and the Arms, Explosives and Ammunition (Amnesty) Decree (2000).25

Gun Owner Licensing

Acceptable reasons for police to grant a firearm licence include hunting, sport shooting and building a gun collection.26 Applicants must pass a practical and written examination in which an authorised arms officer tests knowledge of the law, handling, use, storage, possession and control of arms and ammunition.27

Applicants for a firearm licence must be at least 21 years old,28 while those over 60 must produce evidence of medical clearance and an eye test.26 Police may refuse to issue or renew a licence, or may revoke an existing licence for reasons of public safety, if the applicant has been convicted of an offence, has been certified to be 'of unsound mind,' or is in breach of a condition of the licence.29 Domestic violence is reportedly also a reason to refuse or revoke a firearm licence.26

As a condition of licensing, firearms and ammunition must at all times be kept securely, in safe custody and in serviceable and safe condition. Owners must take all reasonable precautions to ensure they are not lost, stolen or at any time available to a person not lawfully entitled to use or possess them.30 No specification for safe civilian storage or description of minimum security standards is provided. Reportedly, an accepted option for Fiji gun owners is to leave their firearms and ammunition at a local police station for safekeeping.26

In May 2000, amid political and social unrest, civilian firearm licences were suspended, with owners required to surrender their guns and ammunition to police armouries.31 32

Record Keeping

Fiji maintains a central firearm register to record the serial number, calibre, type and manufacturer of each weapon, along with ownership details and any particulars of eventual disposal.26 33 The police registry provides statistics by weapon type, the purpose for which they were acquired and their geographical concentration.26 Reports yield national totals of firearm licence holders and their registered firearms, disaggregated by police division, category of firearm and ethnicity of gun ownership.5 4 The Commissioner of Police conducts an annual reconciliation of registered firearms and their licensed owners,34 and the register has been used to call in privately held small arms for safe storage.31 32

Marking and Tracing

Each firearm must have a unique and permanent marking which is recorded in the national register. If a licence applicant provides a firearm without such a marking, it must first be marked before the licence is issued.35 Unmarked or inadequately marked firearms are confiscated.34

Collection and Seizure

The Arms and Ammunition Act provides for an amnesty to be declared for the surrender of firearms for a maximum period of 30 days.36 Under State of Emergency provisions in 1987 and 2000, a total of 1,347 firearms were taken for safe storage in police armouries. Most of these were later returned to their licensed owners.32

Penalties

Maximum penalties for firearm offences include: FJD500,000 (US$260,000) or life imprisonment for trafficking in arms; FJD100,000 (US$52,000) or ten years imprisonment for unlicensed manufacture, unlicensed import or export of a firearm or of a prohibited firearm; FJD50,000 (US$26,000) or five years imprisonment for unlicensed possession or for delivering arms or ammunition to an unlicensed person; FJD10,000 (US$5,200) or 12 months imprisonment for obliterating, defacing, altering or forging firearm markings, and FJD2,000 (US$1,040) or six months imprisonment for failing to report a lost or stolen firearm or ammunition.37

Definitions

Fiji legislation provides legal definitions for 'accessory', 'ammunition', 'arms', 'missile', 'pistol',2 and for an automatic weapon.38

Production and Trade

Manufacture

Although with Ministerial permission and Cabinet approval recent legislation does allow a licence to be granted for the manufacture of arms and ammunition, Fiji has never issued such a licence, and has no domestic arms industry.39 40

Illicit manufacture of firearms has occurred in Fiji, but only on a very small scale.41 Craft manufacture was reportedly limited to crude home-made shotguns for personal use, and not for resale.26

Trade Controls

Importing and exporting arms and ammunition without a licence is an offence.42 Arms and ammunition sent through the post cannot be delivered until the Post Office sights a valid import licence. A person arriving for a temporary stay with arms and ammunition for personal use, for example on a visiting vessel, must either deposit these with Customs or Police for safekeeping, or apply for an interim arms import licence.43

The Minister and Commissioner of Police jointly hold authority to prohibit arms imports and exports.44 In October 2006, months before another military overthrow of government, this right was exercised when the Police Commissioner impounded a 7.5-tonne shipment of ammunition destined for the Fiji Military Forces. Following assurances that no army takeover of Government was imminent, the delivery was completed.45

Arms Imports

Between 1980 and 1993, the United States transferred more than 1,100 firearms to Fiji. Similar transfers include 789 unspecified military rifles valued at US$607,957 in 1994, and an additional 340 military rifles, worth an estimated US$266,560, in 1996.46 Fiji imported US$110,000 worth of small arms from Australia in 2000.47

Between 2002 and 2007, declared imports of small arms, ammunition, parts and accessories to Fiji totalled US$221,909. From a low average of less than US$3,000-4,000 per annum in 2002 and 2003, these import categories rose to an annual average of US$66,903 in the period 2005 to 2007, peaking at US$83,008 in 2006. Included were pistols, revolvers, military rifles and sport-hunting shotguns, but not included were additional 'parts and accessories for small arms and light weapons' valued at US$814,785 in 2004, almost all of which came from East Timor.48

With a large section of Fiji's workforce deployed as UN peacekeepers, some weapon shipments could relate to the international deployment and repatriation of military and police personnel, their firearms and ammunition.

Arms Exports

Fiji is not a prominent supplier of firearms or ammunition to the Pacific region. Between 2000 and 2007, US$40,943 worth of small arms, ammunition, parts and accessories were declared as exports.48

Smuggling and Trafficking

Arms smuggling, although uncommon, has been reported in Fiji. In May 1988, customs officers in Sydney found irregularities in shipping documents for a 12-tonne container en route from North Yemen to Fiji, described as 'used machinery.' Packed instead with second-hand small arms from the Czech Republic, the container was impounded. Alerted by Australian customs, Fiji authorities discovered that another ten-tonne shipment of mostly Soviet arms had arrived on the Suva wharves a month earlier. The key figure involved in the incident was an expatriate Indo-Fijian, Mohammed Rafiq Kahan, living in London. Kahan was arrested and imprisoned in Britain for other offences. While no conclusive explanation has ever surfaced about the intended end-users of these shipments, they are widely suspected to have been instigated by organizers of the 1987 coups.49 26 This shipment of illicit small arms remains the largest ever detected, or even seriously rumoured in the South West Pacific.

Stockpile Management and Destruction

In 2006, Fiji's ambassador to the United Nations told a Review Conference on Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons that the Pacific region, including Fiji, had become a 'depository' of weapons left behind by various armies after each World War.50 At least one recent disposal programme removed the firing pins from surplus military small arms, then dumped them in deep water.51

International Agreements

Fiji has been a member state of the United Nations since October 1970,52 and is an active participant in the UN Programme of Action on illicit small arms (UNPoA).53 The government has identified both a national point of contact and a national mechanism for the coordination of small arms policy, and Fiji submitted national reports to the UNPoA in 2004 and 2006.54 55 To date, Fiji has not formally involved civil society stakeholders in its representations to the UNPoA.56

Fiji is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, and chaired the committee which developed both the 1998 Honiara Initiative57 58 and its result, the Nadi Framework for small arms control in the Pacific.59 In a unanimous vote in 2003, the 16 nations of the Forum adopted the Nadi Framework's Draft Model Weapons Control Bill,60 a template designed to encourage progressive harmonisation of gun control laws across the region as member states update their national legislation.61 62 Fiji's enactment of its Arms and Ammunition Act (2003) took the nation some way towards local implementation of the Nadi Framework.

In 2009, Fiji had neither signed nor ratified the 2001 Firearms Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.63

Fiji exchanges firearm trafficking intelligence with its regional neighbours through the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO), and has received related assistance from the Pacific Islands Forum Regional Security Committee (FRSC).64 According to a UN study, Fiji is not a party to any other known international agreements to curb the proliferation of illicit firearms.65 26

International Assistance

In the years 2002-04, to implement the secure storage recommendations of the UNPoA, Australia and New Zealand helped construct and upgrade Fiji's state armoury and ammunition magazines, and provide ongoing staff training in weapon maintenance and management.66 67 Armoury staff have also received training from small arms stockpile management specialists in Japan and the United States.68

In 2002-05, Australia and New Zealand supported all five major small arms-related research projects in the region, some of which surveyed Fiji.69 70 71 72 73 New Zealand and Australia also support Fijian and other Pacific island NGOs to attend regional UNPoA workshops, and often include local NGO advisers in their delegations to the United Nations.56

Short References

1.

Fiji.2003.‘Shortening Arms, Converting Imitation Arms and Automatic Weapons.’ Arms and Ammunition Act (2003).Suva:Parliament of Fiji Islands,1 January. (Q435)Full Citation

2.

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3.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Civilian Firearm Ownership in Pacific Nations, 2002.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q418)Full Citation

4.

Fiji.2001.‘Summary of Firearms by Category.’ Police Fact Sheet.Nadi:Fiji Police,1 May. (Q420)Full Citation

5.

Fiji.2001.‘Firearm Licence Holders by Division and by Race.’ Summary of Firearms: Police Fact Sheet.Nadi:Fiji Police,1 May. (Q419)Full Citation

6.

Karp, Aaron.2007.‘Completing the Count: Civilian firearms - Annexe online.’ Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City.Cambridge:Cambridge University Press,27 August. (Q5)Full Citation

7.

Alpers, Philip.2001.‘Armed and Unarmed Police Forces in the Pacific Islands Forum.’ Unpublished List.GunPolicy.org,1 May. (Q421)Full Citation

8.

Fiji.2008.‘Police Strength, 2004-05.’ Fiji Facts and Figures as at 1st July 2008.Suva:Fiji Bureau of Statistics,1 July. (Q422)Full Citation

9.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Stockpiles and Trafficking in the Pacific: Police Inventories.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q145)Full Citation

10.

Karp, Aaron.2003.‘Fewer Blanks: Global Firearm Stockpiles: Firearms of the Pacific.’ Small Arms Survey 2003: Development Denied.Oxford:Oxford University Press,1 July. (Q423)Full Citation

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12.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Stockpiles and Trafficking in the Pacific.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q424)Full Citation

13.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘State Security Forces in the Pacific, 2002.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q879)Full Citation

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Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Stockpiles and Trafficking in the Pacific: Security Force Armouries - Fiji.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q429)Full Citation

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Fiji.2003.‘Licence May Be Refused.’ Arms and Ammunition Act (2003).Suva:Parliament of Fiji Islands,1 January. (Q433)Full Citation

29.

Fiji.2003.‘Licence May Be Refused.’ Arms and Ammunition Act (2003).Suva:Parliament of Fiji Islands,1 January. (Q434)Full Citation

30.

Fiji.2003.‘Security of Arms and Ammunition.’ Arms and Ammunition Act (2003).Suva:Parliament of Fiji Islands,1 January. (Q436)Full Citation

31.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Pacific Small Arms Legislation: Domestic and regional issues.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q437)Full Citation

32.

Fiji.2004.‘Collection and Disposal, Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR).’ National Report of Fiji on its Implementation of the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA).New York, NY:Permanent Mission of Fiji to the United Nations,1 July. (Q442)Full Citation

33.

Fiji.2004.‘Manufacture, Marking, Record Keeping and Tracing.’ National Report of Fiji on its Implementation of the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA).New York, NY:Permanent Mission of Fiji to the United Nations,1 July. (Q438)Full Citation

34.

Fiji.2004.‘Manufacture, Marking, Record Keeping and Tracing.’ National Report of Fiji on its Implementation of the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA).New York, NY:Permanent Mission of Fiji to the United Nations,1 July. (Q440)Full Citation

35.

Fiji.2003.‘Marking of Arms and Identification Cards.’ Arms and Ammunition Act (2003).Suva:Parliament of Fiji Islands,1 January. (Q439)Full Citation

36.

Fiji.2003.‘Power to Grant Amnesty.’ Arms and Ammunition Act (2003).Suva:Parliament of Fiji Islands,1 January. (Q441)Full Citation

37.

Fiji.2003.‘Penalties.’ Arms and Ammunition Act (2003).Suva:Parliament of Fiji Islands,1 January. (Q443)Full Citation

38.

Fiji.2003.‘Prohibition of Certain Arms - Automatic Weapon.’ Arms and Ammunition Act (2003).Suva:Parliament of Fiji Islands,1 January. (Q445)Full Citation

39.

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40.

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41.

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42.

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44.

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