27 FEBRUARY 2017
It is a privilege for me to take part in this High Level Segment of the Human Rights Council. The privilege is even greater because of the significant changes that have taken place in Fiji in terms of human rights.
At Fiji’s second cycle Universal Periodic Review in 2014, Fiji reiterated its commitment to, among other things, the ratification of all core human rights instruments by 2020.
As an early implementation outcome of this commitment, the Fijian Parliament in 2015 abolished the last vestiges of the death penalty remaining in the Fiji Military Forces Act, thus giving credence to section 8 of the Fijian Constitution which is the right to life. Moreover, in March 2016, Fiji ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture or UNCAT, which complemented section 11 of the Fijian Constitution which already says that every person has the right to freedom from torture of any kind, whether physical, mental or emotional, and from cruel, inhumane, degrading or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment.
Mr President, real work began after the ratification of UNCAT last year. The first was the reform of the police interrogation procedures and the implementation of an effective right to counsel. Law enforcement officials had noted that although some police stations were installed with audio recording equipment for the taking of police statements, they were not used by interviewing police officers. Further there was no protocol in place for rules of admissibility which were approved by the judiciary. Through a First Hour Procedure project, in which Fiji collaborated with the Association for the Prevention of Torture, the UNDP and EU and the Geneva Bar Human Rights Commission, all suspects were guaranteed the presence of a solicitor at the police station within their first hour of custody, to explain to them their rights.
We acknowledge that there is still much work to be done in Fiji. There will now be discussions about a new offence of torture, about reviews of our police and corrections manuals and the upgrading of cell facilities at all police stations.
Mr President, on the issue of racism, it must be noted that racism was institutionalised in Fiji to such an extent that it instilled in a privileged class, a sense of entitlement based on ethnicity and class, and that racist attitudes were engrained in all communities, which have resulted in mistrust, resentment and suspicion. Racism in Fiji is often disguised by assertions that a community’s own cultural identity is being submerged under the blanket of national unity. These assertions are often made by relying on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. In Fiji, the indigenous people are in the majority. They constitute to over 60% of the population and their rights to land, minerals, fishing and cultural succession are protected under the Fijian Constitution. Thus, when we talk about the rights of the indigenous in Fiji’s context, we are not speaking of a marginalised minority. We are talking about a majority community with a proud and active culture and a history of strong representation in Parliament.
However the rights of the majority in democracy, whether indigenous or not, must not be used to supress the rights of the minorities and vulnerable populations. The rights of the majority who are already settled in a country when migrants arrive, must not translate to the tyranny of the majority. Fiji has embarked upon a path of substantive equality, and this path requires a level of gender, disability and cultural competence and the ability to understand that poverty and disadvantage exists in all cultural groups. It also requires a recognition of cultural practices and attitudes as necessary for an understanding of how multiple sources of discrimination often intersect. Mr. President, we are happy to advise the Council of the successful visit of the Special Rapporteur on Racism and Xenophobia to Fiji in December last year. Fiji took the opportunity to have intelligent and constructive discussions on the issue of racism and we look forward to the report of the Special Rapporteur.
Mr President, Fiji is honoured and humbled by the confidence that the community of nations has placed in us to preside over the upcoming United Nations Conference on Climate Change, COP23, in Bonn this year. We are the first Pacific Islands nation to be given this important task and we are acutely aware of the great responsibility that has been entrusted to us. Fiji continues to stress the urgency and put a high priority on the important relationship between climate change and human rights, and we recognise the special vulnerabilities of women, children and persons suffering from disabilities in disasters and climate change induced movement. A consequence of the impacts of climate change in Fiji, is that the relocation of some of our villages and indigenous communities has become a sad reality. It is therefore the Governments priority that our national relocation policy is sensitive to indigenous rights in ensuring that the rights of the Itaukei to use land, food security including the protection of cultural rights, customary fishing rights and the safeguarding of traditional grave sites are protected. It is also the Governments priority that disruption to the use of land and sea is minimised and contained after full and effective consultations with the communities affected by the relocation. In this regard, Fiji wishes to reiterate our support for the Sustainable Development Goal 13 in taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Human Rights Council Resolutions on Climate Change and Human Rights as foundation documents for a more human rights based approach to climate justice.
Mr President, I thank you for this opportunity to address this Council and I wish you every success in your deliberations.
Vinaka vaka levu.