The NGO Coalition on Human Rights (NGOCHR) condemns the victimisation and bullying tactics on Fijian citizens who raise their concerns relating to the deteriorating public healthcare system through media and social media platforms.
The Coalition condemns these bullying tactics and reiterates the role of Government in enforcing its commitments towards the protection of human rights and upholding democratic values and principles. Enshrined in our Bill of Rights is the right to the freedom of speech and expression, and this must be protected especially in times where our citizens are expressing their concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak in Fiji.
Fiji’s deteriorating public healthcare system is not an overnight phenomenon. At every national budgetary process and consultation with Government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs) have repeatedly raised issues with our public healthcare system and its deteriorating state; the shortages of beds, the need for urgent and increased resources and the upgrading and maintenance of all hospitals and healthcare centres, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is not the time for the Government to be victimising its citizens who are raising valid concerns about the deteriorating public healthcare services provided to COVID-19 patients and to Fijians who have lost their lives to the virus. Instead, the Coalition urgently calls on the Government to work with the Permanent Secretary for Health to address and mitigate the mishandling of COVID-19 patients, so that it is done with sensitivity, dignity and respect.
In the last Universal Periodic Review process (2019-2020), Fiji had accepted the recommendation by a member of the UN Human Rights Council to safeguard freedom of expression by ensuring that criminal and speech-related legislation are not used to suppress media, civil society, and opposition politicians’ criticism of the Government. It is crucial that we put into practice the recommendations which we have accepted.
We cannot, as a nation, call ourselves global leaders in human rights when we continuously target citizens who raise valid concerns with the way the Government is handling the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
The NGOCHR strongly believes that in a democratic society the role of citizens in voicing concerns and raising alarm on issues which affect them and others need to be nurtured rather than be curtailed. It is crucial to have different perspectives and voices in a rich and diverse society.
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The Members of the NGOCHR include the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC), Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Citizen’s Constitutional Forum (CCF), femLINKpacific, Social Empowerment and Education Program (SEEP), and Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality Fiji. Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) and Haus of Khameleon (HoK) are observers.