Hollow promises of rights, says Rabuka

Hundreds took the streets during the World Human Rights Day march in Suva. Picture: FILE

Hundreds took the streets during the World Human Rights Day march in Suva. Picture: FILE

BEFORE commenting on the status of human rights in Fiji, we must first understand and appreciate the basic meaning of human rights.

We must all recognise and embrace that human rights are fundamental or inherent to every human being. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that everyone is entitled to all human rights and freedoms, without distinction of race, or any other prohibited ground of discrimination.

Native rights have been severely marginalised, contrary to the UNDRIP and ILO C.169 over the past 12 years.

Decrees and administrative changes have reduced the rights of the natives to manage their land and resources, and marginalised their institutions.

These decrees include the suspension of the Great Council of Chiefs in 2007, the termination of the Great Council of Chiefs Regulations in 2008, the authority given to the Minister for Fijian Affairs to appoint all members of the Fijian Affairs Board, the termination of the existence of the Council of Chiefs in the Fijian Affairs Act in 2012 and their representatives from the Native Land Trust Board, among others.

Various changes and laws have been imposed on the people of Fiji without their consent, over the past 12 years of the Bainimarama Government. This includes the imposition of the 2013 Constitution, and various decrees that limit the people’s human rights, such as the Media Act 2010 and the Public Order Amendment Acts 2012 and 2014.

I am concerned with the lack of consultation and dialogue on issues of national interest, leading to confusion and misunderstanding in the implementation of policies that are not practical and rejected by the majority of our population.

On individual rights, civil liberties have been severely restricted since December 2006, these include freedom of expression, media freedom and freedom of association and assembly. The right to free speech and media freedom were severely curtailed by the censorship imposed by the Public Emergency Regulations 2006/7 (PER), and formalised into law by the Media Act 2010 and the Public Order Amendment Acts 2012 and 2014.

The Fiji media have been restricted and threatened by the draconian provisions of the Media Act 2010 which introduced severe penalties including fines and imprisonment for journalists, editors and publishers.

In addition, the PER restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom of association were formalised in the Public Order Act amendments in 2012 and 2014, which remain in force, with minor amendments.

The 2017 amendment to the Public Order Act now no longer requires permits to be obtained from the police for indoor meetings. That amendment saw Fiji’s civil liberties rating improve slightly in the 2018 Freedom House Report, but Fiji is still the worst-performing Pacific country.

The 2018 Freedom House Report on Freedom in the World records Fiji as the worst performing Pacific nation when it comes to civil liberties. The sad fact is that human rights, media freedom, and civil liberties were severely curtailed since December 2006.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on his visit to Fiji earlier this year raised concern about the independence of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (FHRADC), the Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Offices Commission. A SODELPA Government will in its first 100 days urgently review these key institutions to ensure they perform their independent constitutional roles.

SODELPA recognises the equality and indivisibility of all human rights, and the international human rights jurisprudence similarly recognises that all human rights, whether indigenous rights or minority rights, or women’s’ rights, or children’s rights, have equal status. One cannot promote one set of rights over another.

With regards to group rights, SODELPA recognises the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the ILO Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ILO C.169) which affirm that indigenous rights, are human rights. Recognition of the rights of indigenous people of Fiji is in harmony with the party’s welcoming and recognition of the many ethnic communities who have made Fiji their home.

A SODELPA government will be reviewing all decrees that suppress basic human rights in order and ensure any limitations are only to the extent reasonable and justifiable in a free and democratic society. Unfortunately, there is an impressive array of rights in the 2013 Constitution, but they come with an equally repressive set of limitations which hollow out the promise of those rights.

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