Human Rights And Good Governance

Postdate: 16/ 04/ 2004

CONSULTATION ON THE ROLES OF CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS IN THE PROMOTION OF GOOD GOVERNANCE
(5TH – 16TH APRIL 2004 – SOUTHERN CROSS HOTEL, SUVA)

I wonder why the CCF was given this broad subject: “Human Rights and Good Governance” and not the topic “The Role of Civil Society in Promoting Good Governance” given to the earlier presentation by the Human Rights Commission.

I have noted the four broad objectives of this Consultation, one of which is to “explore values and ethical norms that enhances best practices on governance, transparency and accountability”. In this presentation I will begin by outlining the broad scope of CCF activities. Then I will very quickly survey the good governance and human rights principles that are contained in the 1997 Constitution. And following that I will outline most of the priority areas of work of the CCF in the last year and current year as this may give some pointers on how they relate to the Constitution. I will not explain too much about what we have done, are doing or plan to do in the work programme I will outline. I can do that later in answer to questions or at the discussion groups. At the end I will make some general comments by way of conclusion. As far as CCF is concerned the main charter, or guideline for human rights, good governance, the rule of law, accountability and transparency is the 1997 Constitution.

From our earliest beginning (1993) and continuously as an advocacy and public education committee, the CCF activities have focused on the following:-

  1. Educating the public through workshops, booklets, pamphlets, public lectures, media statements, articles and interviews about the contents of the Constitution and broadly, what we regard as Constitutional issues, which are often controversial political issues.
  2. This has involved defending the Constitutional Settlement of 1997 publicly on many specific issues in our Media Statements as well as in our letters, submissions to Government Ministers and Officials in Fiji, and Members of Parliament and their Committees.
  3. It also involved initiating legal research and funding support for the land mark Chandrika Prasad that restored the Constitution in the Courts. Also supporting other challenges in the Courts and initiating constitutional test cases.
  4. Informing representatives of foreign governments of the situation in Fiji and our views on particular matters that we consider relevant for them to know.
  5. Briefing papers and presenting submission to international organizations such as the European Union Secretariat, the Commonwealth Secretariat, South Pacific Forum Secretariat and United Nations Committees, such as CERD, on issues of good governance and human rights in Fiji and the region.
  6. Working with other NGOs’ in Fiji and international partner NGOs’ on these issues of common concern. Supporting international human rights campaigns of NGOs.

Constituitional Democracy And Human Rights

The type of political system that a country has is closely related to the standard of human rights its citizens’ enjoy.

It is widely assumed that human rights and democracy are firmly linked together – that is democracy is the form of government most likely to defend human rights.

What then is a democracy?

The core idea of democracy is that all citizens’ are entitled to a say in public affairs through participation in governments and the associations of civil society. This entitlement should be available to all on terms of equality to all. Control by the citizens over their collective affairs and, equality between the citizens in the exercise of that control are the basic democratic principles.

How are these principles made effective in the modern state?

This is answered through how the institutions of the state are arranged to bring about effective popular control. There are number of ways in which these democratic principles are effected. In Fiji’s case, we have the 1997 Constitution that defines the structures and authority of the main components of the democratic state (i.e. the Parliament, the Executive, the Courts, Police and Armed forces). It also spells out the principles and procedures to be followed to make the system work effectively. These democratic principles are institutionally effected through:-

  1. Electoral competition between political parties offering alternative programmes for political approval.
  2. A representative legislature (Parliament) acting on behalf of the electorate in holding the executive to account.
  3. An independent judiciary to ensure that all public officials act according to the laws approved by the Parliament.
  4. Independent media acting to scrutinize the government and to voice public opinion.
  5. Institutions for individual redress of maladministration (e.g. Ombudsman), unlawful discrimination and abuses of human rights (Human Rights Commission and so on).
  6. Protection of civil political, economic and cultural rights such as :
    • Citizenship
    • The right to life
    • Personal liberties and guarantees against arbitrary arrest and detentions.
    • Legal procedures for and fair trials in Courts.
    • Freedom from servitude and forced labour.
    • Freedom from cruel and degrading punishment.
    • Freedom of speech and expression.
    • Freedom to assemble and demonstrate.
    • Freedom of association.
    • Freedom of residence and movement.
    • Freedom of conscience, religion and belief.
    • The right to vote by secret ballot.
    • The right to privacy in personal communication.
    • The right to basic education and equal access to educational institutions.
    • Equality before the law and the right not be unfairly discriminated against on grounds defined as unlawful.
    • Protection of Property rights.
    • Rights of labour and employers to form associations.
    • The rights of the disadvantaged to effective access to social justice programmes in education, training, land, housing and participation in commerce.
    • The right of access to official documents.
    • Codes of conduct and legal accountability of public office holders.
    • Rules and conventions for formation and conduct of responsible government.
    • Protection of group rights in land, resources, matters of cultural identities, customary rights and minority rights.
    • Guarantee of the independence of the Judiciary.
    • Public accountability for expenditure of public finance (Auditor General and Parliament).
    • Accountability of Public servants.
    • Protection of human rights and their limitations in times of national emergencies.

This list is not exhaustive. The rights of citizens and groups, and their limitations, are defined in the Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution. The rights and obligations of accountability and transparency also originate from the Constitution and may be elaborated in laws and Codes of Conduct passed by Parliament or inherited from our history of democratic government practices (e.g. Manuals of Codes of Conduct for Cabinet and Ministers).

In our experiences of human rights, good governance advocacy and public education initiatives at CCF we have learnt much from getting to know more about the 1997 Constitution. Practically we have also learnt a lot from dialogues and debates within the CCF Office, with ordinary people in our grassroots workshop programmes in the villages, through the news media and especially the newspapers and radio. We have developed knowledge also through our many meetings and communications with Cabinet Ministers, Government department officials, academics, Parliamentary Committees, visiting experts, trade unionists, local visitors to the CCF Office, international organizations, international NGO partners, and local NGO partners in the Coalition.

CCF Priorities On Human Rights And Good Governance 2003 – 2004

  • Owners & Tenant Research and Workshop on Land Legislations (ALTA & NALTA) Reconciliation and Future of Sugar Industry.
  • Public Lecture Series On :-
    • Multi Party Government o Race Relations
    • Affirmative Action o Independence of the Judiciary.
  • Development of Human Rights Curriculum in Schools.
  • Research and Advocacy on Corruption in Government and Public Bodies.
  • Research and Advocacy on Code of Conduct Bill, Freedom of Information Bill, Electoral Systems, Land Claims Tribunal, Telecom Bill, Prisons Reform Bill etc.
  • Organization of Religious Leaders Workshop on the Fiji Constitution, human rights and religious tolerance.
  • Research, advocacy and media statements on development of Mahogany industry.
  • Research Papers on reform of the Fijian Administration.
  • Publication of Workshop Proceedings on Housing & Social Exclusion and further research on squatter settlements.
  • Research and review Workshop on Governments’ Affirmative Action Programmes, within and outside the Social Justice Act.
  • Workshops on Proposed Amendments to 1997 Constitution.
  • Workshop on Terrorism Legislation and the Constitution.
  • Workshop on the Role of the Security Forces in a Constitutional Democracy.
  • Grassroots Workshops on the Constitution, Human Rights Land Rights etc in:- o Ba Province o Ra Province o Tailevu North and Wainibuka o Macuata o Mamanuca Islands o Koro Island o Yasawa Islands o Vanuabalavu Island
  • Work with NGO Coalition on Human Rights Members on issues of common concern.
  • Human Rights Film Festival.
  • Youth Peace Camp and Youth Theatre.
  • Constitutional Court Cases on the Immigration Act. ICC Agreement etc.
  • Citizenship Advice Bureau. International Work
  • Global Partnership Project on the Prevention of Armed Conflict – Pacific Network.
  • Publication of CERD Submissions as reference Text for Schools.
  • Support for Tongan Democracy Movement Opposition to Restrictive Media Legislations.
  • Submission to CERD on race discrimination in the Immigration Act.
  • Support for International Criminal Court Campaign.
  • Work with International NGO Partners in briefing and lobbying in London, Brussels etc.
  • Attendance of Human Rights Conferences in Geneva, Nepal, Seoul, Ireland, etc.
  • Development of Network with Human Rights NGOs in the Asia Pacific region.

Conclusion

We will see from the above outline of the scope the principles of good governance and human rights in the Fiji Constitution and the programme priorities of the CCF in the past and current year, that the concerns of NGOs is broad. There is plenty of scope for activism on a narrower range of specific issues for individual NGOs. The CCF breadth of concerns is very wide and we may often appear to be trying to do too much! However we are compelled to try and be proactive in as many areas as possible mainly because the issues come on the public agenda and we often find that there are not many NGOs who are willing to take public leadership on some of these issues for various reasons that we could discuss later. That is not to say that there are no effective NGOs on particular broad concerns. Indeed there are some we are proud to have been associated with. For example, on issues of Womens’ Rights, Violence and oppression of women, the Fiji Womens Crisis Centre, the Fiji Womens’ Rights Movements and others are our leaders. On theological and some social concerns, ECREA is the leader. The Constitution is strong on Civil and Political Rights but not as strong on social, economic, cultural and group rights. It is a truism to say now that NGOs have an important role as watchdogs over abuse of human rights and bad governance practices. That we play an important role in building a public awareness about human rights and therefore a political culture that we hope will increasingly not tolerate abuses, and demand accountability under the law, in the Courts or in Elections.

The news media play a crucial role in informing the citizens’ and expanding their awareness. It is easier to focus on abuse of civil and political rights but NGO also need capacity building to take lead roles in the area of social, economic, cultural and group rights. The long term viability of our democratic institutions do depend on the sustainable development of the economy, which involve reasonable access to land and other resources, for our export industries, such as sugar, textiles, fish, forestry and the tourist industry. The CCF in its programmes recognizes the importance of building concensus decision making not only at the political level but also at the grassroots level. That has been evident in the issues we discussed in our grassroots educational programmes, the land workshop programmes and other workshop and public lectures that we organized in the urban areas. At these levels we try to bring awareness to community leaders of the inter-depence of our communities, economically and socially and hence the importance of developing concensus approaches to resolving most of our critical areas of interest group and community conflicts. Our Constitution is structured principally, through the protection of our civil and political rights, to encourage lawful and healthy dissent and debates and to encourage concensus governance decision-making through the multi party provisions of the Constitution. It is a Constitution designed to encourage representation of all communities in Government to develop a sense of national unity and broad agreement on policies. Unfortunately, the present Government does not share the vision of this Constitution. It prefers one ethnic group dominance and dictatorship of policies over other communities and opposition groups. In taking this ethnic nationalist approach the Government quite often ignores the laws that are inconvenient to its interests.

That is why the CCF is often critical of the Government and we do out most to expose the detrimental effects of many of its decision on the interest of groups that are affected and, the likely consequences on race relations, the confidence of our skilled citizens, entrepreneurs and investors. Fiji needs to retain and attract investors and people with development knowledge and skills if we are to have developing sustainable economy and democracy. It does mean some NGOs must decide to take strong and sometimes controversial positions on issues of the day and the risks of being labelled political N.G.Os. That is inevitable and we believe it is vital for democracy that some NGOs should be bold and fearless in taking critical leadership on some issues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.