FHRADC responds to inaction claims and criticisms

Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission director Ashwin Raj. Picture: FT FILE

AS a public office that is funded by Fijians, it is only appropriate that the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (FHRADC) subjects itself to the highest level of scrutiny and respond to these concerns and claims in an open and transparent manner, says commission director Ashwin Raj.

In a statement released yesterday, Mr Raj said the commission had been criticised for not dispensing with its obligations and non-compliance with the Paris Principles.

“Alluding to the rights of workers and same-sex marriage, criticism has also been levelled that where the commission should be speaking out, it has remained quiet,” he said.

“The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission has the constitutional mandate of developing a culture of human rights in Fiji by promoting the protection, observance and respect for human rights in both public and private institutions.

“It does so by educating the public about their rights and freedoms, receiving and investigating alleged violations of human rights and taking steps to address these violations including conciliations and making application to court for redress, making recommendations to government in relation to existing and proposed laws to ensure compliance with human rights standards as well as ensure compliance by the state in fulfilling its international human rights obligations with respect to international human rights treaties and conventions.”

On the recent Water Authority of Fiji saga, Mr Raj said the commission does not comment on matters where legal rights of the parties are yet to be determined by the relevant authorities.

“The realisation of rights must operate within the confines of the rule of law.

“This includes the arrest of unionists, entry by police into newsrooms and any industrial action contemplated by workers and unions.

“Human rights are about balancing our rights with responsibilities and a balanced approach does not mean that the human right in question does not matter.”

In the context of same-sex marriage, Mr Raj said the commission issued a principled statement that the priority must be towards addressing everyday structural violence and discrimination faced by the LGBTQI community whether it be an interdiction of their rights as arrested and detained persons, hate speeches and cyber-bullying, ability to secure gainful employment, discrimination in the health sector, workplace or in schools, intolerance and lack of acceptance by family and communities often leading to depression, sufferance and ultimately suicides.

“Fiji needs to have calm and rational debate on this sensitive subject and we must not mislead and politicise what international human rights law says on the issue.

“The claim that saying no to same-sex marriage is contrary to international law is factually incorrect precisely because such a right does not exist in international law.”

On the subject of human rights violations, Mr Raj said the commission had received and independently investigated a total of 477 complaints between 2016 and 2018.

He said the commission was fully committed towards ensuring compliance with the Paris Principles and was working with the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions to that end.

Mr Raj said the commission had also constructively engaged with diverse groups including the UN agencies such as UNDP, OHCHR, the European Union, Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, International Red Cross and civil society organisations in Fiji.

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