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Fiji leader criticises resettling asylum seekers in the Pacific

Wednesday 4 March 2015 | Published in Regional


GENEVA – Fiji’s prime minister Frank Bainimarama has taken a swipe at Australia’s practice of resettling asylum seekers in the Pacific.

Hundreds of asylum seekers who arrived in Australia have been resettled in Pacific nations after having their claims processed in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Bainimarama has told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that Fiji wanted closer scrutiny of the practice.

“If human rights are universal, no country should be able to contract out an obligation to respect them, especially when dealing with the displaced, the vulnerable and the children,” he said.

“Fiji’s position is that the international community can no longer continue to turn a blind eye to what we consider to be one of the greatest human rights challenges in the Pacific.”

Bainimarama said Fiji was at a time of “momentous change” regarding its own human rights and pointed to the country’s democratic election last year.

“That election took place on the basis of a new constitution that for the first time creates a secular state, reaffirms civil and political rights and also guarantees the Fijian people an unprecedented array of social and economic rights,” he said.

“This includes the right to education, the right to adequate health care, adequate food and water, housing, sanitation, economic participation, a just minimum wage, social security and specific rights for people with disabilities and children.”

He said every citizen in Fiji “enjoys substantive justice and opportunity”.

“In stark contrast to other countries such as Australia and the US, for example, the colonial experience in Fiji was not one of large-scale dispossession of land and rights and marginalisation of the indigenous people,” he said.

“Today, approximately 91 per cent of all land in Fiji is owned through customary ownership by the indigenous people and cannot be permanently alienated under any circumstances.

“This has given the indigenous people a level of security that has been noticeably absent in other countries and has been central to their social and economic wellbeing.”

In the speech, the prime minister was also critical of the world’s response to climate change and its effects in the Pacific.

“The repeated failure of the industrialised nations to curb their carbon emissions is a direct threat to the human rights of people living in vulnerable small island states like Fiji, including the right to life.

“The very existence of some of our neighbours is threatened.”