WHEN I was in school, at the threshold of the 80s, and being the babies of the school at Form One, life was exciting .
My friends and I would get up to mischief and we were constantly in trouble. We would be seen playing in forbidden areas, swimming in the pool at odd hours and every now and again would give the teachers and prefects headaches.
I enjoyed school despite the hard strenuous work we had to endure as boarders.
We were constantly reminded of the school boundaries and the school rules. We were told that rules were in place for a purpose and they were not to be broken.
However, my friends and I thought otherwise and each week would see us cook up some mischief. Every Saturday would see us being punished by the prefects for all our misdemeanours.
As I got to the senior level, I realised that life was made easier with rules as it would define the behaviour of students without the risk of having a heart attack or a fit every time things didn't go as planned.
Then as a secondary school teacher later on, I would teach students the value of freedom as well as the forms of controls that were put in place to govern our behaviour in given situations.
There were rules, regulations, policies and even laws. Each time I would teach the students about varying forms of control, I would have a private laugh to myself thinking if only my students knew the kind of student I was, they probably would never listen to anything I say.
But it was great that after so many years of teaching I would meet up with students in their work and they would thank me for all the lessons and teachings about respecting the different forms of control as this had led to their successful careers.
Now as an advocate for women and despite the fact that my classroom no longer has walls, things have not changed in that I am still involved in trying to help the wider community understand the varying forms of control available to us as stipulated in international conventions.
We, as citizens in a country, and by virtue of or country being a member of the United Nations, have forms of control which should be guaranteed.
These forms of controls or rights are important references to judges, magistrates and legal practitioners to help define actions and decisions they take, and we as citizens should also be knowledgeable about them.
In the last constitution of Fiji, some of the rights were clearly written but as we embark on the constitutional review exercise, it would be prudent for us to know the international conventions and ensure that they are included in the new constitution.
The inclusion of such conventions would help in the control of our actions and maybe help us in our interaction with other members of the community.
There are altogether eight rights which we should be familiar with and as citizens should aspire to have these enshrined in our constitution.
These are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol.
As women and members of the public, it is prudent that we know what each convention entails and to see its application in our constitution.
The Declaration of Human Rights is not legally binding but they contain the ideals that states would like to see practised.
These can also be incorporated into the constitutions of member states. It can be part of a national Bill of Rights or have it as a section in the constitution.
The other conventions mentioned above become laws and is applicable to member states which ratify or agree to the principles they uphold by virtue of their signing the convention.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has 30 articles while the ICESR has 31 articles and the ICCPR with 53 articles. All the articles can be incorporated in our constitution or it can be taken in part as citizens realise the sections which apply to them.
CERD has 25 articles while CEDAW has 30 articles and CRC has 54 articles. CRDP has 18 articles while there are 90 articles of the rights of migrant workers and the 'Torture Convention' has 33 articles.
For citizens of Fiji, it would be in our best interest to research all these conventions and decide which of the clauses or articles relate to us.
Altogether there are 364 articles which citizens must be familiar with, we have to select which of these articles or clauses are relevant as well as realise how these will be incorporated in the constitution, if it is not as yet contained in it.
The constitution submission exercise starts next month and as citizens of Fiji, it is crucial that we know what we are to submit to the constitution review committee for the exercise to be worthwhile.
In order for us to do this effectively, we must look at the rights we would like to have included instead of just referring to the UDHR as there are more conventions in place now which further define the forms of control and freedoms available to us as citizens in a country.
There are also elements to ensure that rights, once included in our constitution, should be monitored.
To do this effectively, there is often an institution called the Human Rights Commission which ensures the proper implementation of the conventions.
It would augur well for Fiji if we were to have a Human Rights Commission as well as staff to ensure the work is done well.
It would be beneficial for the country if these forms of control are in place and just like the prefects and teachers who would often stress the importance of school rules and monitor their implementation during my school years, the conventions and Human Rights Commission would ensure that there is no stress nor any unwarranted actions taking place in the country but they would be in effect monitoring the implementation of conventions.
Fiji is at an exciting moment in history and as citizens living in this time, we need to ensure that the decisions we make via the contributions to our constitution submissions are valid and beneficial for our future generation. We have to look at our past and reassess what we can do to effectively improve our lives.
It would augur well for us to revisit our constitution, assess where we went wrong and make substantial contributions to help us chart a less turbulent path for our future generation.
To get more information on conventions, you can contact the National Council of Women Fiji, the Fiji Women Rights Movement, Regional Rights Resource Team or even use the technology available to inform you on conventions. Let us all move our nation forward and think of our children. Let us read, understand and make worthwhile submissions in the next couple of months.
* Fay Volatabu is the general secretary for the
National Council of Women Fiji and a regular
contributor/columnist to The Fiji Times.
Email: : firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.