The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum Limited (CCF) is a non-governmental organisation based in Suva with more than 10 years’ experience in community education and advocacy on Fiji’s Constitution, democracy, human rights and multiculturalism.
Two independent reviews in 2006 found that CCF is known for its dedication and effectiveness, and confirmed the organisation’s standing as a leader in civil society in Fiji. CCF is not aligned with any political party.
History of CCF
The seeds of CCF were sown in the aftermath of Fiji’s first military coup d’etat in May 1987, which exposed deep divisions in Fiji society. A group of concerned citizens established the “Back to Early May Movement” and called for re-instatement of the pre-coup Government. Several members of the same group were instrumental in organizing an informal forum for discussion of constitutional issues. Participants in this forum came from academia, the public service, faith-based organizations, trade unions and professional associations, as well as other civil society groups. Over a series of meetings in 1991, they agreed to adopt the name, “Citizens’ Constitutional Forum”.
From the very beginning, CCF received support from a UK-based non-government organisation (NGO) called Conciliation Resources (CR), which works with NGOs around the world in the area of conflict prevention and peace building. CR initially helped the CCF to make contacts and raise funds in Europe, later helping to build its capacity in strategic planning, project management and financial management. In 1996, the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) was registered under Fiji’s Charitable Trusts Act. In 2003 CCF de-registered and was registered as a not for profit company limited by guarantee
CCF Through the Years
CCF achieved its first major success with the enactment of the 1997 Constitution which members felt substantially reflected the CCF’s submission and work in bringing leaders together. After the enactment of the 1997 Constitution, the CCF re-examined its role and began the work of educating Fiji’s people on the provisions of their new Constitution.
1998 saw the first publication of ‘Your Constitution: Your Rights’, providing a plain language guide to the 1997 Constitution. The publication was printed in English, Fijian and Hindustani. Later in the same year, CCF hosted the first of what has become an annual public lecture series on issues relating to the Constitution.
In 1999, CCF was instrumental in establishing the NGO Coalition on Human Rights, a network of NGOs working on human rights issues in Fiji. CCF’s new Executive Director, Reverend Akuila Yabaki was also named the Pacific Person of the Year by Islands Business magazine. Within this year, CCF hosted a public audit of the 1999 general election, which suggested that further reform of the electoral system and its administration was required. This event has since been repeated after the general elections of 2001 and 2006.
The coup of 2000 forced another re-think of CCF’s role, leading to a greater emphasis on advocacy, as the values and principles that the organisation stands for – namely, the 1997 Constitution, democracy, human rights and multiculturalism – were directly threatened.
In 2001, after the Chandrika Prasad litigation had restored the constitution, CCF mounted a second court case to re-instate the pre-coup Government, which legal advice suggested was a necessary consequence of the earlier judgment. A general election intervened before the case could be finally determined. In this same year, CCF was awarded the Pacific Human Rights Award in the Fiji Category by the Pacific Regional Rights Resources Team. By 2001, the organisation was involved in projects ranging from national conferences to theater productions and enjoyed a growing international network of friends and supporters.
CCF held its first major workshops on land issues in 2002, at which the General Manager of the Native Land trust Board (NLTB) made a substantial contribution. CCF also ran workshops on squatters, evictions and housing rights. Within this year, CCF prepared a detailed “shadow report” on Fiji for the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on behalf of the NGO Coalition on Human Rights. This prompted the Government to submit its first State report in 20 years under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
As CCF’s reputation grew internationally, Rev. Akuila Yabaki and other staff were increasingly invited to share their experiences at regional and international events. This enabled CCF to learn more about the role of civil society and the use of constitutionalism in conflict prevention from places as close as Fiji’s regional neighbours Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, to those as far flung as Northern Ireland and Zambia.
In 2003, in retaliation at CCF’s legal action against them, the Government directed the Registrar of Charities to revoke CCF’s status as a charitable trust. As a result, the “Citizens’ Constitutional Forum Limited” was incorporated as a company. In 2003, CCF hosted a workshop on the provisions of the 1997 Constitution relating to the formation of a multi-party Cabinet. This was timed to coincide with a court case on the issue and participants included members of parliament, constitutional lawyers and international experts. CCF also presented submissions to parliament in 2003 on several Bills with constitutional implications. In the same year, Rev. Akuila Yabaki received a Diamond Jubilee Human Rights Award from the Fiji Public Service Association, in recognition of his media work and CCF’s role in the restoration of the Constitution.
It was through this series of events that CCF came to be seen by many as a ‘watchdog’ for the rule of law and defender of the 1997 Constitution. While its relations with the post-coup Government were poor at that time, CCF continued to receive recognition from other quarters.
The year 2004 marked the beginning of the CCF’s project entitled ‘Democratisation, Human Rights and Ethnic Group Reconciliation in Fiji Islands’. This project enabled CCF to increase its staff and expand its work even further. The first annual general meeting for CCF as a registered company called the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum Limited took place in November.
CCF, in 2005, acted as Regional Initiator for the Pacific region in the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), which is aimed at developing international networks of NGOs.
In April 2006, CCF marked the 10th anniversary of its registration as a charity with the launching of a book ‘Let’s All Celebrate’ made up of expressions of vision and longing, especially of young people, for a truly multicultural Fiji. Sadly, 2006 was marred by yet another coup d’etat, on 5th December. CCF warned against a military takeover in the period that led up to it and condemned the takeover when it happened. Nevertheless, CCF also decided to remain engaged with the military regime in order to hasten the return of democracy, urging that the 1997 constitution should be retained and upheld.
In mapping the way forward towards returning Fiji to democracy, and after much internal debate, CCF took the road of dialogue and engagement with the Interim Government. This culminated in accepting the interim government’s invitation to join the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF). CCF, in deciding to engage with the interim government in the NCBBF process, had to commit considerable resources to this process, along with promoting broader dialogue and reconciliation in Fiji.
The organization started 2008 with relatively low funding and number of staff. This spurred a process of long-term planning and organization re-building. As part of this re-building, CCF received a major boost to its funding after receiving two long-term funding grants from the European Union (EU) and UK Department for International Development (DFID). The DFID grant commenced in September 2008 and the EU grant commenced in January 2009. This increased funding enabled a dramatic expansion of CCF’s programme. These two grants, combined with other existing donations, increased CCF’s funding to over FJ$1 million per year.
From January 2009, CCF’s full time staffing level grew from seven to 11 and is expected to grow further through the first half of 2009, to reach 15 by the end of 2009. In April 2009, CCF was successful in its application as ‘Amicus Curiae’ (friend of the court) in the ‘Qarase v the State’ Court of Appeal hearing, showing the Court’s recognition of CCF as an independent organisation with constitutional expertise. The Appeal decision on 9 April 2009 held that the President must comply with the Constitution and that his powers are limited by it. The declarations provided the President with a lawful way to appoint a PM and return the country to democratic rule under the 1997 Constitution. The impact of the decision has been superseded by subsequent events such as the purported abrogation of the 1997 Constitution on April 10 and the dismissal of the judiciary. However, the objectives of CCF were achieved by the Court’s decision which remains a legal precedent in Fiji.
CCF has received donations from many sources; some of its earliest funding came from New Zealand Overseas Development Agency (as it was then) and the Canada Fund. This was later supplemented by funding from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid), the European Union (EU) and the Department of State, USA.
CCF’s current donors are the European Union, UK Department for International Development (DFID), Misereor, EED, the Finish Embassy in Canberra, and AusAid.