‘Poor human rights’

Participants during the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre annual Reclaim the Night march in Suva last month. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU

Participants during the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre annual Reclaim the Night march in Suva last month. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU

FIJI continues to face strong criticism for its poor human rights record from international organisations, including the UN Human Rights Council and Amnesty International.

The Constitution

A number of fundamental rights of our people — the right to freedom of association, expression and assembly — are restricted in the imposed 2013 Constitution which itself is deeply flawed in many other respects.

The requirement that any limitation for a right be “reasonably justifiable in a free and democratic society” has been removed from this constitution.

Civil, political, trade union and workers’ rights embodied in the Constitution are effectively derogated with the continued enforcement of draconian decrees sanctioned under military rule.

They violate core international conventions and instruments on the basic rights of the people.

We believe the Constitution circumscribes the authority, independence and jurisdiction of the judiciary. We believe it vests extraordinary powers in the hands of the executive thereby undermining the doctrine of separation of powers.

Independent institutions

The lack of autonomy of the so-called independent institutions such as the Constitutional Offices Commission, the Elections Office and the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, was questioned recently by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights following his visit in February.

We believe the media in Fiji is not free. It faces the threat of prosecution and hefty fines imposed under the Media Act, not to mention media licensing. Hence, we see a media that is forced to exercise restraint to stay on the “right side” thus violating its own code of ethics in relation to balanced and fair coverage of news and political statements.

Workers’ rights

Despite an agreement signed between the State and the Fiji Trades Union Congress in 2015 to respect workers and union rights, government continues to make unilateral decisions regarding conditions of employment for teachers and other civil servants in gross violation of this agreement.

Recently, it rejected, without reason, an application by the FTUC to stage a march in Suva in protest against anti-worker policies, making it clear that union rights are still not respected.

Parliamentary opposition

Further evidence of a lack of respect for people’s rights is found in the manner in which parliamentary opposition is stifled in its criticism of government policies and actions.

Parliament has virtually been reduced to a one-party institution. Unilateral amendments to its Standing Orders have put the Opposition in a straight jacket curtailing free debate. Opposition Members of Parliament have been suspended for exercising their right to freedom of speech.

Torture of prisoners

Gross human rights violations, and abuse and torture of prisoners and accused persons by both the police and the army, in the past 10 years has resulted in strong condemnation from the international community and has brought disgrace to Fiji.

What will Labour do?

* Labour will observe compliance with all international conventions on the rights of the people, including civil and political rights;

* Labour will fully restore the right to collective bargaining and ensure the security of employment of all workers, including those in the civil service. We will make statutory provisions for a fair minimum wage;

* Labour will restore media freedom, and encourage the development of fair, honest and balanced reporting by the Fiji media. Promote intensive journalism training to offset the debilitating impact of 10 years of censorship on standards of reporting and media ethics;

* Labour will fully restore the independence and mandate of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission which was watered down by the present government making it an instrument of the State;

* Labour will set up a special court for constitutional redress against violations of fundamental human rights; and

* Labour will remove restrictions which compromise the independence, authority and jurisdiction of State institutions.

More Stories