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Raj responds to criticism

Solomone Rabulu
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

THE receptiveness with which Fiji engaged with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during his recent visit was a strong testament to Fiji's openness to international scrutiny, says director Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission Ashwin Raj.

Mr Raj's comments come after criticism from political parties which reinforced the question raised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on whether Fiji's independent institutions were truly autonomous.

The recent criticism was by Fiji Labour Party (FLP) leader Mahendra Chaudhry.

"Mr Al Hussein questioned whether Fiji's independent institutions were truly autonomous," Mr Chaudhry said.

Mr Raj said apart from Government, the high commissioner had the benefit of listening to dissenting voices that without fear of retaliation were able to say in a public lecture that they were not free.

"Civil society that freely expressed its fears about shrinking civic spaces, opposition politicians who spoke without restraint about draconian laws, the need to delimit rights and freedoms and whether our independent institutions are truly autonomous and a media that openly published and continues to do so well after the visit of the High Commissioner about reporting in a highly punitive environment attests to the strength of our democracy."

Mr Raj said under section 45 (7) of the Constitution, it provided that in the performance of its functions or the exercise of its authority and powers, the commission shall be independent and shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority, except by a court of law or as otherwise prescribed by written law.

"I can further quote section 45(8) and 45(9) guarantees the administrative and financial autonomy of the commission or section 45 (11) which requires that the Parliament shall ensure that adequate funding and resources are made available to the commission, to enable it to independently and effectively exercise its powers and perform its functions and duties," he said.

"Or even allude to section 45 (12) which expressly provides that the commission shall have control of its own budget and finances, as approved by Parliament or chart the commission's progress in ensuring compliance with the Paris principles and the steps it takes towards seeking accreditation.

"However, the judgment on the commission's autonomy, its ability to dispense with its constitutional mandate ultimately lies in the hands of ordinary citizens of Fiji for whom the HRADC is the measure of last resort," he added.

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