(Speech delivered by CCF CEO Mr Mataitawakilai during the Human Rights Day Celebration at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva on the 10th December, 2015)
The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum is very pleased to be part of this year’s World Human Rights Day, representing the wider civil society. We thank the Fiji Human Rights and Anti Discrimination Commission (FHRADC), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Pacific) and the United Nations Development Programme for this opportunity. Of particular importance today is to acknowledge the much awaited reemergence of the FHRADC in such forums. We congratulate the Commission for its steady and promising progress.
This year’s theme Our Rights, Our Freedoms, Always especially focuses on the yearlong campaign to mark the 50th anniversaries of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Both these areas are of importance in Fiji where much work needs to be done. The theme recognizes that since the inception of this international Bill of Rights framework, the world is still struggling to progressively achieve some of these fundamental rights.
Since signing onto the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1968, Fiji has witnessed a turbulent history of political instability, destabilization of governments, economic growth and social injustices. If anything positive has come from this, it would be the development of a strong and vibrant civil society that still stands in solidarity to promote and protect human rights. As a representative of the country’s civil society, we would like to formally recognize and celebrate the hard work and progress civil society has made in Fiji.
Full realization of human rights faces many challenges in Fiji. These often relate to political challenges and lack of resourcing. Recently the conversation has involved the challenge of rapid development on human rights. And amongst these challenges, we are still grappling with our own understandings and misunderstandings, and how this all fits in with our culture and tradition.
We still bear witness to frequent reports of torture and brutality by security personnel, very few of which we have seen be brought to justice. Gender based violence is still a sore sight as well as environmental impacts that limit access to our social and cultural rights. Given these pertinent issues that relate to the core conventions, we are eager to see development in these areas to complement our robust Bill of Rights.
Much more work is required to ensure human rights is understood, accepted, and meaningfully practiced in Fiji. We are eager to see the introduction of the Freedom of Information Bill; protection of whistle blowers; balanced media reporting; protection of our brave human rights defenders including those in the legal profession upholding the rule of law and access to justice; respect for human rights by our security forces; and adopting a human rights based approach to development and sustainable democracy. Achieving these imminent goals requires our collective effort towards an overall vision to promote the intrinsic link between human rights and a sustainable democracy.
Internationally, we have shown great commitment to protect our stance on human rights. Fiji’s acceptance of 98 of the 137 recommendations at the UPR in March, the pledge to sign and ratify the UN Convention Against Torture; the reinstatement of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission progressing to fully comply with Paris Principles; and the celebrated arrival of a much anticipated visit by the Special Rapporteur on Education, as the first response of many requests since 2006. This shows that we are on the right track to protect, promote and fulfill our obligations and improve the situation of human rights in Fiji.
The Secretary General to the United Nations Ban Ki-moon reinstates the world’s commitment to guarantee the fundamental freedoms and protection of human rights of all. We all need better strategies to implement human rights, continued through awareness and training, spreading a uniform message to different target groups. As citizens, we are responsible to take active steps to understand and respect individual and communal human rights, forming the basis of development leading to healthy economic growth, practices of good governance, and a stronger and vibrant democracy.
We urge everyone to stand in solidarity to recommit ourselves for the protection of our rights and freedoms to build a better Fiji.