Friday, February 12, 2010

Fiji Challenged by UN Reps in Geneva on Human Rights

Lies, Lies and More Lies from Fiji

February 12, 2010

Fiji has told the United Nations Human Rights Council it is defending human rights as its delegation spoke positively about the current situation in Fiji and its plans for the future.

But other nations on the review panel, including Australia and New Zealand, have proven to be a tough audience, and have strongly criticised the island nation's record since the 2006 coup.

Presenter: Campbell Cooney, Pacific correspondent

Speaker: Peceli Vocea, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the European Union; Sainivalati S Navoti, Director Political and Treaties in Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Fiji; Alex Van Meeuwen, President of UN Human Rights Council; Wendy Hinton, New Zealand representative; Miranda Brown, Australia representative; Valerijs Romanovskis, Latvia representative; John Von Kaufmann, Canada representative; John C Mariz, United States representative; Peter Gooderham, United Kingdom representative; Nico Frandi, Italy representative; Walid Abu-Haya, Israel representative; Qian Bo, China representative; Jesus Enrique G Garcia II, Phillippines representative; Idriss Jazairy, Algeria representative; Anna Uggla, Sweden representative; Nynke B Wijmenga, Netherlands representative

COONEY: As part of the review of its human rights record Fiji submitted its own report which it says provides a true story of what's happening with human rights issues within its borders. Amnesty International has told Pacific Beat it believes that report is misleading. But using it, and some of the questions submitted by nations taking part, Fiji's Representative to the European Union Peceli Vocea began the review with an upbeat evaluation.

VOCEA: From April 2009 in abrogating the 1997 constitution and ushering in a new legal order for Fiji, His Excellency Ratu Josefa Iloilo, the President, directed government to hold true democratic and parliamentary elections by September 2014 at the latest. Following this presidential directive on 1st of July 2009, Fiji's Prime Minister announced the government's roadmap for democracy and social economic development 2009 to 2014.

Consultations on the new constitution will commence by September 2012, consultations on the new constitution will involve all the ordinary citizens of Fiji as well as civil society groups focussing on issues such as electoral reform, the size of the new parliament, the sustained ability of a bicameral system, the term of office of a government and systems of accountability of government to the people. Fiji's new constitution will be in place by September 2013. The people of Fiji will have a year to become familiar with its provisions before elections are held in September 2014. And I respectfully urge the international community, appeal to our neighbours, suggest to international organisations and request UN member states to support Fiji in its end role to fulfil the desires of the government of Fiji's roadmap.

If one is to be concerned about Fiji and its people, its long term political stability and sustainable economic survival, please support the roadmap and show the citizens of Fiji that you care. Let me re-emphasise that every person in Fiji has the right to freedom of speech and expression, including freedom to seek information and impart ideas and freedom of the press an other media. However the Public Emergency Regulations 2009 places certain limits on these rights in the interests of national security, public safety and public order. Security assessments indicate that the undercurrents or resentments continues to exist within certain sectors of the population and it is in the overall security interest of Fiji that the PER remains. Mr President recent history has shown that the Fiji media industry in a lot of occasions has not been responsible and balanced in their coverage, and have contributed towards a negative and confrontational political and social economic environment.

Following the abrogation of the 1997 constitution there emerged a need for preventative measures that address security concerns that threatened the nation. These measures materialised in the form of the Public Emergency Regulations 2009. Since the implementation of the censorship exercise there has been a marked shift from negative journalism to positive journalism.

COONEY: But Mr Vocea didn't mention that the positive reporting in Fiji follows nearly 11 months of media censorship.

VOCEA: The government is currently drafting a media law that will ensure that responsible journalism is practised. The government continues to emphasise the non-permanent nature of the PER. Basically the government has made pronouncements that the PER will be lifted after the promulgation of the media decree.

COONEY: When the constitution was scrapped Fiji lost its Human Rights Commission. Mr Vocea says his government wants it to restart, and he has blamed Australia and New Zealand for the delay.

VOCEA: It must be admitted that such efforts is meeting reluctance for fear of being subjected to travel sanctions and other restrictions imposed by some of Fiji's neighbours.

COONEY: Mr Vocea's overview was positive. But when he'd finished it was the turn of the 47 country representatives taking part in the review.

Since the coup New Zealand has been one of the most vocal critics of Fiji's military backed interim government, and while there has been recent discussions between the two countries, and also Australia, it didn't pull its punches in its assessment and recommendations.

NZ REP: New Zealand continues to be deeply concerned about the civil and political rights situation in Fiji since the December 2006 coup. The human rights situation has deteriorated further in the past year. The Fiji Court of Appeal ruled last April that the interim government was unlawful and that a caretaker prime minister should be appointed to call elections. In response the judiciary was dismissed, the constitution abrogated and rule by presidential decree introduced. The police and public service have been militarised and the independence of the judiciary and law is compromised.

New Zealand calls on the Fiji interim government to respect its people right to self-determination and recommends that the Fiji interim government take immediate steps towards holding democratic elections and returning Fiji to constitutional rule. Further New Zealand recommends that the Fiji interim government implement the UN basic principles on the independence of the judiciary and the role of lawyers. The state of emergency in Fiji as authorised under the Public Emergency Regulations 2009 severely limits human rights, including the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, and allows the security forces to use lethal force with impunity. New Zealand recommends that the Fiji interim government rescind the Public Emergency Regulations 2009 and not replace them with equivalent measures, that it provide independent investigation and prosecution of all human rights abuses, and that it ensure that all those in detention have the right to habeas corpus and due process.

New Zealand condemns the ongoing harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders in Fiji. New Zealand recommends that the Fiji interim government take steps to protect human rights defenders from such actions. Finally New Zealand is concerned about religious discrimination within the Fiji police force. New Zealand recommends that the Fiji interim government provide its police force with training to ensure respect for the right to freedom of religion. New Zealand's relations with Fiji are longstanding. The military authorities in Fiji need to heed the calls of the Pacific Islands Forum, the Commonwealth and other international partners to restore legitimate government through a credible process.

COONEY: Australia was just as strong in its critique.

AUSTRALIA REP: Australia strongly condemns the widespread human rights abuses that have occurred under the Fiji military regime since the December 2006 coup. The situation in Fiji has deteriorated since the proported abrogation of Fiji's constitution and imposition of Public Emergency Regulations. We're deeply concerned that Fiji's ruled by administrative fiat and by an unelected and unlawful interim government headed by the commander of Fiji's military. The regime has declared it will not reinstate a constitution until 2013, and will not hold elections for another four years. This is an unnecessarily long delay and it denies the people of Fiji legal protection of their human rights.

The regime also prohibited the courts from hearing cases challenging the abrogation of the constitution or decrees, and decisions made by the interim government. The regime has sought to place itself above the rule of law. The regime continues to censor the media and harass journalists. Recent incidents of intimidation and persecution of critics of the Fiji interim government, including of church leaders, human rights activists, lawyers and judges have further demonstrated the regime's total disregard for human rights.

COONEY: In fact the language being used by Australia and New Zealand led to this rebuke from the President of the Human Rights Council, Alex Van Meeuewen.

VAN MEEUEWEN: I would like to ask everybody to respect each other's view and uphold UN terminology and standards when referring to countries and territories. In particular the world "regime" should not be used in this forum.

COONEY: But other countries taking part in the review also had concerns.

LATVIA REP: Latvia recommends to Fiji to consider extending a standing invitation to all special procedures of the Human Rights Council.

COONEY: Also in Geneva was Canada.

CANADA REP: It has been over three years since the democratically elected government of Fiji was overthrown. Since then the military has steadily increased its control of the country through measures that have undermined the rule of law and violated human rights.


USA REP: The United States remains deeply concerned about increased censorship and intimidation of the media in Fiji. We are concerned that the Public Emergency Regulations that curb freedoms of speech, press and assembly remain in place.

COONEY: The United Kingdom.

UK REP: The UK is deeply concerned that the military authority's continuing denial of basic civil and political rights to the people of Fiji.

COONEY: Italy.

ITALY REP: With reference to several reported cases of torture and ill treatment against detainees following the military takeover in 2006, Italy recommends we align domestic legislature with international standards on detention and to ratify the Convention against Torture.

COONEY: And Israel.

ISRAEL REP: Uphold the rule of law, including human rights and domestic law by immediately reinstating the 1997 Constitution.

COONEY: But Fiji wasn't without its supporters. Since the 2006 coup China has massively increased the amount of aid it provides to Fiji, and at the Human Rights Council it was also offering its support.

CHINA REP: China would like to commend the Fiji government for the efforts it has made in the promotion of protection of human rights under the present circumstances.

COONEY: The Philippines was also supportive. Sort of.

PHILIPPINES REP: We would like to ask the delegation their assessment of the impact of climate change on enjoyment of human rights of the people of Fiji.

COONEY: Halfway through the country presentations a member of Fiji's delegation, the Director of Political and Treaties at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sainivalati Navoti, spoke in his country's defence.

NAVOTI: Concerns have been raised in relation to the general theme of rights to life, liberty and security of persons. References were made specifically on allegations of deaths whilst in police, military custody. I am to report that all cases involving in death in custody have been dealt with by the courts. Perpetrators of human rights breaches involved in these cases have all been charged, prosecuted and convicted. Fiji is under a new legal order. The judicial machinery is functioning and its wheels are rotating independently. Appointment of judges to these courts, despite all sincere effort of the government, remains a challenge due to reluctance of possible candidates to take up appointment for fear of being subjected to travel restrictions and other sanctions imposed by neighbouring countries. Fiji again appeals to the international community and to the countries concerned to revisit their sanctions policy with a view of lifting them to assist Fiji and the Fiji judiciary in administering justice to its citizens.

COONEY: Mr Navoti was referring to the November 2009 appointment of magistrates from Sri Lanka. At the time they were informed by Australia's High Commission in Colombo that if they accepted the job, they would not be able to travel to Australia. After criticism from Fiji's Chief Justice Anthony Gates, the interim government said it was attempt to influence the judiciary, and in response it expelled Australia's High Commissioner, and New Zealand's acting Head of Mission. Its High Commissioner, and acting High Commissioner had been already been expelled in previous years.

But Mr Navoti's half time defence did not end the criticism. There was Algeria.

ALGERIA REP: The Algerian delegation would like in this regard to echo the UN Secretary General's call for the reinstatement of the legitimate authority in Fiji.

COONEY: Sweden:

SWEDISH REP: Persons expressing their views or otherwise seeking to participate in the political process have been detained and harassed.

COONEY: And The Netherlands:

NETHERLANDS REP: The international community has expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Fiji. The High Commissioner for Human Rights raised grave concerns regarding the country's ability to guarantee human rights.

COONEY: The head of Fiji's Delegation Peceli Vocea finished.

VOCEA: Ratification of other human rights conventions will be made upon Fiji's assessment on its ability to implement the conventions and therefore seek international support to allow Fiji to achieve this.

COONEY: Over the next few days Fiji's delegation at the review will sit down with a troika of nations, in this case Slovenia, France and Angola to formulate a response to the questions and recommendations put to it. That final report will be presented to the Human Rights Council next Monday afternoon.

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