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Fiji Day 2016 Speech

Statement by H. E Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan


The Honourable Chief Justice of Fiji, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys.

Bula vinaka, bonsoir, and good evening to you all.

Welcome to Fiji Day celebrations in Geneva.

Fiji Day is normally celebrated on the 10th of October, on the date of our independence from the British Crown, in 1970. However, we celebrate today in Geneva to coincide with one of the largest delegation visits to Geneva since we opened our Mission in 2014.

Within months of the opening of our Mission, Fiji’s second cycle Universal Periodic Review was scheduled for the Human Rights Council. Our UPR took place only one month after our General Elections, and one year after the passing of the first Constitution of Fiji which guaranteed equal franchise for people of all ethnic groups, and which for the first time guaranteed both civil and political rights side by side with social and economic rights. At our UPR we made several significant undertakings. One such undertaking was the abolishing of the death penalty, which was fulfilled in only our second sitting of Parliament in early 2015, and another undertaking was the ratification of key human rights conventions including the Convention against Torture.

We ratified UNCAT in March this year and immediately set out to take steps to implement reforms in accordance with our obligations under UNCAT. One such area of reform is police procedure in relation to suspects in custody. Working closely with the Association for the Prevention of Torture, the UNDP in Fiji, and the British High Commission in Fiji, lawyers from the private and public practice in Fiji visited Geneva and attended meetings with the Human Rights Commission of the Geneva Bar Association to introduce a project in Fiji which hopes to ensure that every suspect in custody will see a lawyer before interview. Last week a team of police officers accompanied by the DPP Mr Christopher Pryde and his Assistant Mr Mosese Korovou and Deputy Police Commissioner Isikeli Ligairi, attended training at the Police Training College in Suffolk to introduce mandatory video recording of police confessions in order to ensure transparent and professional police investigations.

Leading these important reforms, and ensuring their effectiveness in the criminal justice system of Fiji, is the Chief Justice of Fiji, the Honourable Justice Anthony Gates. We welcome our Fiji team to Geneva and acknowledge the crucial role of leadership in forging a human rights culture in Fiji.

Joining us also in Geneva is the Director of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, Mr Ashwin Raj. Our Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission is empowered not only to educate the public about human rights and to mediate complaints of human rights abuses, but it has an important role of litigating cases of interest to the Commission. The Commission is independent of Government, but has an advisory role in relation to Government. It is what might be called the voice of conscience for Government. We also welcome Mr Raj to Geneva.

At these celebrations, I wish to acknowledge the many people and institutions who and which have helped the Fiji Mission to establish itself in Geneva, and to have a voice amongst you. Our voice has been heard on many issues, on climate change and rights, on gender empowerment and the tensions which emerge as a result of the intersection of sources of discrimination, on disability, on racism and religious freedom, and on the right to development. In particular I thank the Federal Government of Switzerland for its continuous assistance to our Mission here in Geneva.

We have worked with the International Labour Organisation in enabling an agreement with the Fiji Trade Unions Congress, resulting in the successful resolution of an Article 26 complaint against Fiji to the ILO. We have assisted all Pacific Island States and delegations which have come to Geneva to report to treaty bodies, and have done so without a Mission here. We presented our Trade Policy Review at the WTO this February just days after Cyclone Winston hit our shores in Fiji, and have served as the Fisheries Focal Point in the ACP Group of the WTO. Our recovery from the devastating effects of Cyclone Winston has demonstrated our courage and our resilience.

We have commenced preparations for our candidacy to the Human Rights Council for the term 2018 to 2020, and have facilitated many visits to Fiji by institutions, Organisations and States to further cement relationships between Geneva and Fiji. We have made many friends, and as far as I know, no enemies. We are proud this year to welcome to the General Assembly Presidency our very own Ambassador Peter Thomson from our New York Mission, and just as proud of our first medal win in the Rio Olympics, when our rugby sevens team, charmed the world with its flair and talent and won gold.

All in all, this has been a good year for Fiji.

The year ahead promises to be just as busy. We look to you all to support Fiji in its bid for membership of the Human Rights Council. They say that there is no such thing as a free lunch. In this case, a free reception. I have a captive audience.

Fiji’s candidacy is a Pacific Islands Small Developing States candidacy. No PSIDS has ever been a member of the Council before. With the urgent issues facing the Pacific, not just in relation to climate change, but also in relation to disaster displacement, gender inequality, sexual and gender based violence, and the right to sustainable development, there is no better time for the Pacific voice to be heard at the Human Rights Council. Fiji counts on the sense of equity, of balance and of justice that many have found to be a characteristic of international Geneva, to support its membership of the Council.

Thank you, and please enjoy the evening. A happy Fiji day to you all.

Suva, Fiji