The promise to exercise our right to government and free and fair elections will be severely limited if the spectre of suspicion and fear of 2000 continues to determine our vision for a free Fiji.
The new Provisions of the “modernized” Public Order Amendment Decree 2012 are untimely and raises serious concerns on the severe limitation of rights and freedoms.
The lifting of the Public Emergency regulation on January 7th was a positive step. It brought about eagerness amongst the people to participate without fear during the anticipated national consultations on developing a constitution which would ensure free and fair elections and sustainable democracy for Fiji.
However, the unprecedented discretionary powers granted to the Office of the Commissioner of Police under Section 11A of the Decree, has given police sweeping control and influence which are generally bestowed upon members of the Judiciary in a court of justice.
Without criminal charges being laid, the commissioner has been given powers of the Courts to impose curfews, restrict freedom of movement, order persons to stay away from a certain area or place and impose a bond for good behavior. CCF believes these powers would curtail freedom to exercise an individual’s right and is in breach of the following Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):
· Article 2: Freedom from discrimination.
· Article 6: Right to recognition before the law.
· Article 7: Right to equality before the law
· Article 9: Freedom from arbitrary arrest or exile
· Article 10: Right to fair public hearing.
· Article 12: Freedom from Interference with privacy
· Article 13: Right to free movement in and out of the country
· Article 18: Freedom of belief and religion.
· Article 19: Freedom of opinion and information.
· Article 20: Right to peaceful assembly and association
· Article 21: Right to participate in government and free elections.
Section 11A (b) of the decree also does not specify how long such “temporary control of persons” is permitted, and begs the question on the intention of this particular section. It could be perceived as an instrument to limit the rights of selected individuals from speaking out openly and freely during the national consultations on constitutional development and electoral reforms.
It is also of concern that section 6 of the decree amends the Act 1969 by granting individual police officers discretionary powers to use force, including firearms, to disperse any gathering, whether public or private if, the individual officer deems it is a threat to public safety. Such wide ranging powers in the hands of individual police officers could lead to abuse against targeted individuals and groups and should be reconsidered.
Under Section 8 of the Public Order (Amendment) Decree 2012, members of the RFMF would now be able to arrest civilians and conduct the duties of a police officer and prison officers if so directed by their Commanding Officer. This expands the spheres of control to include the military in addition to the police and the correction services which does not inspire confidence in the citizens of Fiji who have the perception that they will enter into the Consultation process without fear or intimidation.
There will always be the potential spoilers, however, in such a critical process, every citizen should have a say. They must be allowed to express their views so the debate and discussion on key national issues and the way forward represents the view of all citizens of Fiji, a country of diverse people.
CCF believes that serious consideration should be given to review the decree, as people should now be encouraged to engage in constructive dialogue, whether in public or private, without fear.