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Fiji National Statement at 9th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNTOC

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Permanent Mission of Fiji to Geneva

Fiji National Statement delivered by Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan

9th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNTOC

Vienna International Centre

UN Vienna, UNODC

15th October 2018

Excellencies,

Mr President,

Bula vinaka, congratulations on your election and congratulations to all other office bearers.

It gives me particular pleasure to address the Conference of the Parties on the United Nations Convention on Transnational and Organised Crime because Fiji ratified the Convention and the three Protocols only last year in 2017. This is therefore Fiji’s first Conference of the Parties and I am very pleased and proud to be here. We look forward to constructive engagement with UNODC and have indeed commenced a conversation with the UNODC on a desk review of our human trafficking laws, of our prison reform programme, and of our national drugs policy.

Our journey to ratification was made easier because of the provisions of our Constitution, which for the first time includes a right to be protected from human trafficking. Section 10 states that a person must not be held in slavery or servitude, or subjected to forced labour or human trafficking.

In addition to the Constitutional protection, Fiji passed its first human trafficking laws in 2009, and as a result of training on the laws throughout the criminal justice system, embarked on its first prosecutions in 2010. The first case was one involving an Indian national convicted of exploitation of labour trafficking, of other Indian nationals to Fiji. This case tested the judiciary’s ability to navigate the elements of the new trafficking by labour exploitation offence, the provisions on extra territorial jurisdiction, and to impose new tariffs for the sentencing of human trafficking offenders. The first case, was followed by cases on domestic trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and of the trafficking of sex workers from Thailand to Fiji on the basis of deception as to the circumstances of the sex work in Fiji. Interesting areas for the Fijian courts have been the directions to assessors on the meaning of deception, and the way to interpret the perimeters of debt bondage and of exploitation.

However, ongoing challenges exist in relation to the safety and well-being of the victims whilst they wait to give evidence, and a need to consider a legislative framework for redress for victims. In this respect, Fiji will be working with the UNODC in identifying gaps in our laws through a desk review. What is clear, is that dealing with trafficking in persons is a multi-stakeholder enterprise which requires vigilance for criminal justice officials as well as the immigration officials and members of the public. In one case which led to a conviction, a victim was able to share the circumstances of her entry to Fiji and of her employment with a member of the Bar in a restaurant. He immediately recognized the story he was hearing as suspicious and possibly requiring an investigation in relation to our trafficking laws. This is how valuable the training of the Bar, Bench, and other justice officials, is in Fiji, as well as the work to raise the awareness of the public on the elements of trafficking in persons.

The trafficking, production and use of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine poses an enforcement challenge for Fijian authorities. We are currently working with the UNODC in addressing illicit drug challenges as well as developing Fiji’s National Narcotics Strategy.

I now turn to the valuable work done by the UNODC on prison reform. In 2004, the criminal judges in Fiji, visited a remand facility in relation to bail applications, and found that the conditions were so unsatisfactory that they concluded, using the Nelson Mandela Rules as a yardstick, that the Remand Centre was inhumane and degrading. Bail was granted although on the basis of other factors such as flight risk, bail should have been refused. This was the beginning of a journey for Fiji, on prison reform. Although the decisions of the judges were not popular with the then Government, subsequently the prions were rebuilt and renovated to make them compliant. Only last month, in Geneva at a side event at the Human Rights Council, Fiji’s Commissioner of Corrections spoke of the need to guide prison reform by anchoring it to the Mandela, Tokyo and Bangkok Rules, and spoke of his intention to work closely with the UNODC on continuing reform. The UNODC prison reform expert also spoke at the same side event, together with the Chief Justice of Fiji, the Director Legal Aid and the Director of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission. Thus, the need for humane and dignified prison conditions based on international standards is a national priority as indeed it is here in Vienna with the UNODC.

There is a close relationship between prison reform and our international obligations under the UN Convention against Torture, and the recently ratified International Covenant on Civil Political Rights. This synergy involves a partnership between the work we do here in Vienna and the work we do in Geneva. Much of criminal justice reform in our country is based on the right to equitable and equal access to justice, cutting across barriers created by gender inequality, discrimination on the basis of disability, and on other forms of intersectional inequality.

I must also stress that there is a close synergy between SDGs, human rights and criminal justice reform. However there is often a gap in both policy and implementation in this regard. We need to bring these global goals together in coherence, and we urge the UN agencies to work closely together in bridging this gap.

Vinaka Vakalevu.

 

 

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