Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Media statement

12 September 2007

Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer

Alison Quentin-Baxter

Helen Aikman QC

Fiji Human Rights Reports Flawed

Three Constitutional lawyers combined today to make a statement in response to a report written by the newly appointed Chair, and former Director of the Fiji Human Rights Commission, Dr Shaista Shameem. The report is on the legality of the military's action in taking power in Fiji on 5 December 2006.

"We dismiss the report both as to its account of the facts and its analysis of the law. it is an attempt to provide a legal justification for the unlawful usurpation of power."

"Our concern is that this report of the Human Rights Commission may be taken seriously in some quarters. It does not deserve to be. Not only is the reasoning flawed, but the opinion is in conflict with the Constitution of Fiji"

"That Constitution vests jurisdiction to interpret the Constitution in the High Court, no where else." (Constitution of the Republic of the Fiji Islands, section 120)

"It is therefore for the Courts of Fiji to determine the legality under the Constitution of the actions taken, not for the Human Rights Commission."

"The Fiji Human Rights Commission should instead encourage the observance of human rights of all people in Fiji, as set out in the Constitution. These include rights to freedom of speech, movement and assembly."

"Although those rights may be limited in the interests of national security or public order, any restrictions must be reasonable in a free and democratic society."

The democratic system provided in the Constitution also gives effect to a basic principle in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: (Article 21(3))

"The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures."

"It is significant to note that in the Compact set out in the Constitution there is a requirement that:

"É.to the extent that the interest of different communities are seen to conflict, all interested parties negotiate in good faith in an endeavour to reach agreement."

The lawyers concluded the statement by saying that "the time has come to look to the future and conduct a discussion within Fiji to get out of the constitutional crisis the country is now in."

"If there are difficulties with the Constitution, then working together, with sound leadership, amendments could be made to the Constitution under the process it lays down," the lawyers said.

"In the final analysis, the problems of Fiji have to be cured by the people of Fiji."

Sir Geoffrey Palmer is a former Prime Minister, law professor and current President of the Law Commission, Alison Quentin-Baxter was the Senior Counsel to the Fiji Constitutional Review Commission (the Reeves Commission) in 1996 and the author of and advisor on a number of Pacific Island and other constitutions, and Helen Aikman QC, also a Law Commissioner, was educated and worked in Fiji

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