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Human rights still of concern in Fiji

Monday 14 December 2015 | Published in Regional

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SUVA – The Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission said it has received 284 complaints since it was re-established in May this year.

Those complaints have included access to services, such as electricity and water, violence against women, climate change and alleged brutality and torture by police and prison officers.

A Commissioner, Peceli Rokotuivuna, said as the Fiji public better understands the Commission’s role, the number of complaints it receives increases.

“There have been complaints of access to government services, and definitely there have been some complaints about the use of force with police officers and remand centre officers – we are working very closely with the police,” Rokotuivuna told Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific.

“Issues of domestic violence, we are working very closely also with the Women’s Crisis Centre in trying to get these cases more properly to police.”

Rokotuivuna said the majority of complaints this year were around access to services issues, such as people complaining their water or power had been disconnected.

He said most of those issues have been resolved and did not need to go to court.

Rokotuivuna said there are four cases still being investigated. He would not be drawn on the details of those complaints, but said some involve alleged police brutality.

He said the Commission had been working closely with the former Police Commissioner, Ben Groenewald, but is yet to catch up with his replacement, Brigadier General Sitiveni Qiliho.

“We are looking at renewing this work with the new Commissioner, we haven’t started just yet conversing with the new Commissioner.

“But definitely with those police officers that we started the work with, in terms of making police officers a lot more aware, educating the police officers on how exactly they are to approach the work they do in terms of human rights.”

Fiji’s opposition said the country’s human rights situation is not getting any better, and that those responsible for severe violations are going unpunished.

Opposition leader Ro Teimumu Kepa said there are people in Fiji whose human rights have been severely curtailed to keep various groups in power.

She said if the country was serious about human rights, those who order the torture and intimidation of citizens, regardless of their position, should be tried for their crimes.

The Citizens Constitutional Forum chief executive officer, Sara Bulutani Mataitawakilai, said it wants to work with police to help them understand the importance of human rights.

“We are going to approach the Fiji police force and ask them if we can work together to train them to raise awareness on human rights issues and also if we can work with communities for them to understand the role of the police and the powers in the police force to ensure no life is affected, We have zero tolerance on police brutality.

Bulutani Mataitawakilai said there is also room for improvement in other areas.

“There is many work that is required for human rights to be understood. One is the introduction of freedom of information bill, a law to enforce and ensure the protection of whisteblowers – protection of human rights defenders – which Fiji declined to sign at the UN level.”

The Coalition on Human Rights said while there are signs the human rights situation in Fiji is getting better, the government needs to do more.

Its head, Shamima Ali, said the government must engage more with civil societies to see people’s political and civil rights fulfilled.

“Not just concentrate on social and economic rights, because rights are interconnected and indivisible, and one right cannot have priority over other rights.

“So government needs to review the decrees and make them compliant with universal standards of human rights. There are certain decrees that we object to. So they need to actually come to the table.”

The United Nations Human Rights Office in the Pacific said while there has been some progress for human rights across the region, many challenges remain.

“Its head, Catherine Phuong, said the ratification of human rights treaties is still very low – one of the lowest in the world.

She said understanding of rights is limited in some countries, rates of violence against women and children are very high and more needs to be done to address allegations of police brutality.

“There’s still some limitation in some countries on freedom of expression, more work needs to be done on the rights of persons with disability, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in offshore processing centres is also of concern. So there’s still a lot of work to do.”

But Phuong said there have also been some promising developments.

She said Pacific governments now having to go to the Human Rights Council in Geneva every few years to report on progress made and agree to new commitments has brought momentum to change.

- Dateline Pacific