Press Release: Engagement in the Universal Periodic Review

Press Release: Engagement in the Universal Periodic Review

By: Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF), Fiji Women’s Crises Center (FWCC) and Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM).

10th December 2014

October 29th marked an important day for Fiji’s human rights commitments. The current human rights situation in Fiji was reviewed by member-States of the UN Human Rights Council at the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. This interactive session, allowed the government to present on the progress toward human rights in Fiji, and respond to, or clarify, human rights issues where appropriate.

The NGO Coalition on Human Rights (the Coalition) applauds the government on the acceptance of 98 of the 137 recommendations put forth by member-States. The Coalition further welcomes assurances from the government regarding their commitment to engage with civil society in furthering human rights in Fiji.

 

The Hon. A Sayed Khaiyum (Attorney-General and Minister of Finance, Public Enterprises, Public Service and Communications) is correct in that the process regarding the UPR does need to be clarified, as stated in Parliament on 1 December.

The UPR is a State-driven process aimed at improving the human rights situation on the ground of the 193 member-States of the Human Rights Council. It is a 4.5 year cycle with three stages:

  1. Review of the human rights situation of a State, in which recommendations are put to the State by the Working Group. The Working Group is composed of all UN member-States. The State under review makes voluntary pledges to either accept or reject recommendations from member-States.
  2. Implementation of the accepted recommendations over 4.5 years.
  3. Reporting at the next review on the implementation of the accepted recommendations, and of the human rights situation since the previous review.

This year was Fiji’s second UPR cycle, with Fiji’s first review being conducted in 2010. In October, Fiji reported back to member-States on the implementation of accepted recommendations from 2010, and had the current human rights situation reviewed by the working group.

The review by member-States is based on information received by three main documents:

  1. A national report prepared by the State;
  2. A report prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) containing information from UN agencies; and
  3. A summary prepared by OHCHR containing information from civil society.

These can be found here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/FJSession20.aspx.

Non-governmental organizations and civil society play a vital role in the UPR process. It is essential that civil society and NGO’s take part in national consultations with the State to assist in compiling the national report (unfortunately this was not an option for NGO’s in Fiji), submit information on the human rights situation, and lobby member-States in order to bring their attention to specific issues.

The Coalition agrees that the 2014 UPR was largely constructive. However, we were disappointed to hear the Hon. Minister and Attorney-General’s assertions in Parliament on 1 December that discredited the involvement of NGO’s in the process.

The Coalition refutes the defamatory allegation that NGO’s ‘do not necessarily tell [them] the truth’. The information provided by the Coalition during the UPR process was evidence based. The NGO’s that were involved in the UPR did so following sound research and genuine engagement with citizens, communities and organizations.

It is misleading to assert that NGO’s from Fiji lobbied member-States with incorrect information, which then turned into recommendations. Member-States conduct their own research in relation to the human rights situation in Fiji, and their recommendations are based on a number of sources. They then raise the issues that they feel are pertinent for Fiji to consider. Estonia and Namibia put forward a recommendation for the State to consider establishing a Constitutional Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the 2013 Constitution. This was raised because, based on their wide-ranging research, these member-States consider this issue to be important to developing human rights in Fiji.

The Hon. Minister and Attorney-General responded to this by asserting that the 2013 Constitution already contains a review mechanism in the Chapter 11 amendment provisions. This response uses the term ‘review’ and ‘amendment’ interchangeably. Unfortunately, it does not address the fact that the ‘amendment’provision contained in the Constitution is distinctly different from a ‘review’ of the Constitution. A ‘review’ involves an evaluation and assessment of the entire Constitution, having regard to public submissions, with the possibility of instituting change if necessary. That is, if and where it is found that the Constitution does not reflect the will of the people, consideration can be had to amending and improving these parts.

This is quite distinct from an ‘amendment’, which would involve changing, repealing or adding to the Constitution.

There were no assertions by the Coalition that Fiji did not have a Domestic Violence Decree, or had not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as implied by the Hon. Minister and Attorney-General. On the contrary, these areas of advancement are celebrated by the Coalition, while recognizing that there is still a lot of work to do.

The Coalition strongly refutes the implication that funding by external parties renders NGO’s susceptible to a political agenda. The Coalition is staunchly apolitical and stands for the furtherance of democracy, human rights and good governance. We are principle based, and have advocated for the same principles, regardless of the government of the day. It is fundamentally incorrect to imply that funding from international sources has given NGO’s a political agenda. It simply has not.

The NGO Coalition places solidarity with the recommendations by many states that have shown the true spirit of democracy by testing critical issues. These include the constitutional process, human rights institutions and protection of basic human rights for citizens and defenders.

The Coalition would like to reiterate the value and importance of NGO’s in the UPR process. The State accepts these recommendations on behalf of its people, and the role of civil society is to represent the voice of those Fijians that are disempowered, and unable to otherwise access these forums.

The interests of government and civil society are aligned in achieving the goals of the accepted recommendations in the UPR. The NGO Coalition is committed to assisting in the implementation of these recommendations and furthering the full realization of human rights and democratic governance in Fiji.

 

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