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Statement of Fiji in Response to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on Racism

fijicoat Statement of Fiji in Response to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on Racism Mr. Mutuma Ruteere on his Visit to Fiji
H.E. Nazhat Shameem Khan PR of Fiji to the UNOG

Mr President,

Fiji welcomes both the visit of the Special Rapporteur and his constructive report on his visit. Fiji has undertaken at its Universal Periodic Review that its doors are open to Special Mandate Holders and we have kept good our word. On this note, Fiji has welcomed the visit of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by all persons with albinism, and looks forward to constructive engagement.

Mr President, the visit of the Special Rapporteur to Fiji last year was potentially divisive, as race relations and ethnic policies in Fiji both colonial and post-colonial are highly sensitive subjects about which there is insufficient constructive debate. However we welcomed the Special Rapporteur to Fiji last year for two reasons. Firstly we welcomed an objective assessment of how our laws and policies and attitudes were faring according to international standards after the Fijian Government had set in place strong measures to remove racism from Government institutions and social policies. Secondly, we hoped that his visit would commence an intelligent and informed dialogue within Fiji itself, about the sorts of policies which would enable an ethnically equal society in which diversity was welcomed, and unity was promoted. I am happy to say that his visit had both these results and I thank the Special Rapporteur for the objective and sensitive way in which he conducted his visit.

Let me turn to his specific recommendations.

The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Fijian Government keep disaggregated data based inter alia on ethnicity but also on gender age and economic status to effectively assess the success or otherwise of its inclusive policies. This recommendation has also been made by other Treaty Bodies including CERD in 2012. This is an important issue. For more than a hundred years the people of Fiji have been defined only in terms of their ethnicity, not only in relation to access to Government services, but in society in the way our citizens refer to each other in conversation. It is only under the current Government that for example, Fijian citizens who were passengers entering Fiji are not required to declare their ethnicity on arrival. Prior to these reforms, access to most scholarships for education and most access to microfinancing depended on ethnicity. Witnesses at the police station and in court were defined by their ethnicity. As a result we had de humanised our people such that we only saw their ethnicity. We are therefore cautious that in the gathering of data based on ethnicity we will refresh the memories of Fijians of this dark history of racial profiling.

However the alternative recommended by the Special Rapporteur of asking universities colleges and academic institutions to conduct research supported by Government may be a useful alternative, which would allow us to assess success of inclusive Government policies, whilst preventing a Government requirement to declare ethnicity on every application for Government services. We undertake to consider and discuss this proposal. It is a constructive and helpful recommendation. In particular Fiji welcomes the recommendation to include other markers of difference such as gender, age, sexual orientation, geography, income, access to social and economic services. Such a recommendation acknowledges the intersectional nature of discrimination and the indivisibility of rights in combating racism.

Fiji notes the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation that Fiji should ratify key human rights conventions. We agree and indeed made that undertaking at our Universal Periodic Review in 2014. Only this month the Prime Minister formally deposited the instrument for ratification of the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and a work programme for the ratification of other Conventions is in place.

A further recommendation to pass legislation specifically dealing with racial discrimination is also noted. In particular we note the Special Rapporteur’s views on the prevalence of hate speech on the social media and internet and on measures to deal with such hate speech which should be designed and implemented after multi-stakeholder consultations and within the bounds of the international law on freedom of speech. Fiji undertakes to request the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission to conduct such consultations and to make recommendations on the passing of such legislation and on suggested measures to deal with hate speech on the internet, to Government in accordance with its Constitutional role. Indeed the Commission has already taken a lead role in responding to hate speech in the media and in public discussions, and has spoken out against racism resulting in the “Unite against Racism” Campaign. Fiji accepts the need for all civil society groups to participate in such discussions and dialogues. In Fiji’s view, civil society itself must take a strong position on the need to eradicate racism from our society, our laws and our policies.

Fiji also agrees with the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation that all political parties should work together to achieve inclusiveness and equality in Fiji amongst all our ethnic communities. The Special Rapporteur is aware of the level of the Fijian Government’s commitment to building a united inclusive and equal society. It is our belief that the future of Fiji rests on such inclusivity and unity, and that economic progress can only be achieved where the people are not kept separately in ethnic communities with differing aspirations. Poverty, disadvantage, and a lack of development, affect all our ethnic groups and communities. Just as wealth and development are found across all ethnic groups. It may be a measure of success of these inclusive policies and Government’s focus on the right to development that Fiji has experienced an unprecedented level of economic growth for seven consecutive years, with a similar trend predicted for 2018 and 2019.

To this end, of building an inclusive society free of institutionalised and social racism, Fiji welcomes the constructive report of the Special Rapporteur.

Thank you Mr President

 

 

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