Human dignity

PRIME Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has urged members of the Convention Against Torture Initiative (CTI) to give Fiji the same treatment as it gives democratic powerhouses such as the US and Australia when judging the country’s ratification and implementation of the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT).

“America is using an acknowledged method of torture to combat terrorism,” he said.

“Australia detaining innocent people in cruel, inhumane or degrading circumstances to protect the integrity of its borders.

“What we have had by contrast in Fiji is vastly different though, no less serious. Isolated instances of individuals or groups from the disciplined forces acting in an undisciplined way and resorting to acts of torture and other forms of punishment that violate the human rights of their fellow citizens.

“The same conduct has occurred from time to time in the law enforcement agencies of larger democracies, including Australia and New Zealand.

“And while they can never be condoned, whatever the setting, the difference in Fiji’s case is that such events have been politicised.

“We are singled out for condemnation, for behaviour that also occurs in the jurisdictions of our critics.

“I am not excusing such behaviour in any shape or form. I merely ask that Fiji be judged by the same standards that apply to any nation.”

Mr Bainimarama said he accepted the issue of torture was a vexed one for many countries given the global security climate, especially for nations under direct attack in the war on terror.

“But it is a tragedy for the whole world that in the interests of state security, democratic societies feel obliged to cling to practices that belong to another age and violate the most basic standards of human decency and human dignity,” he said.

“Even that standard bearer for democracy — the United States of America — has resorted to torture, with the stated objective of protecting itself against a determined and ruthless enemy.

“While the practice has now been banned by presidential order, the (Central Intelligence Agency) has admitted using water boarding against captured terrorist suspects, extracting information from them through a process that replicates the sensation of drowning.”

He said for the other pillar of the UNCAT such as the use of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, there was a stark example in Australia’s policy of detaining asylum seekers offshore.

“While Australia maintains that this policy is necessary to stem the tide of asylum seekers, it has clearly been at the expense of the rights of ordinary men, women and children seeking refuge from some of the most troubled places on earth. Successive United Nations and other human rights reports have strongly criticised the conditions faced by asylum seekers being held on Nauru and Manus Island.

“The latest, less than three weeks ago by the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Children, condemns the physical and mental state of children being detained on Nauru. Fiji shares the widespread concern in the international community about the position of asylum seekers in these detention centres, and especially women and children.

“As well as the wider issue of Australia dumping this problem on its Pacific neighbours when it clearly has the capacity to house these people within its own borders.”

Mr Bainimarama said the examples given of US and Australia, were state policies which was a deliberate course of action taken by democratically elected governments.

More Stories