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A powerful statement

Fred Wesley
Wednesday, March 04, 2015

IT is clear there is a general consensus that Fiji should ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

As the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence draft their proposal to Parliament to ratify UNCAT, the Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has indicated the State's support for this.

In his address at the high level segment of the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, Mr Bainimarama defended Fiji's human rights record.

He said his Government had delivered the biggest human right of all — the right to equality and justice for every citizen

Fiji, he said, had a Constitution that created a secular State, which he pointed out established a common and equal citizenry, reaffirmed civil and political rights and also guaranteed the Fijian people an unprecedented array of social and economic rights.

"This includes the right to education, the right to adequate health care, adequate food and water, housing, sanitation, economic participation, a just minimum wage, social security and specific rights for people with disabilities and children", he said.

It was when he highlighted aspects of the Constitution that specifically banned torture or any other form of cruelty that he said Fiji would also soon formally ratify UNCAT.

The Fiji Military Forces and the Fiji Police, he said, had both publicaly committed themselves to the implementation of UNCAT.

He said in a world driven by inequality, injustice and division, Fiji could hold its head high for what it had accomplished in a short period of time, "especially after years of injustice and dysfunction".

It was against this backdrop that he asked the global community to consider the merits of what Fiji had achieved. The highest standards of justice, fairness, transparency and accountability were now enshrined in the country's constitution, he said.

"And we are continuing the reform process to strengthen our new democracy and improve our human rights record even further," Mr Bainimarama said.

He said the Fijian constitution protected every person's right to freedom from torture of any kind, whether physical, mental or emotional, and from cruel, inhumane, degrading or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment.

Understandably there would be emotional reactions to this announcement.

But it is going to be difficult to shrug aside the fact that yesterday's statement by the PM was powerful.

It was actually a refreshing take on a subject that has been a rather sensitive one to discuss. Without doubt a lot of people, and families have been hurt.

The first important step has been taken though. The security forces appear to be keen to see the State ratify UNCAT. The PM has alluded to this happening.

We now await the next step.

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