Oral Submission to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

National Federation Party – Youth Wing

Friday 4th May 2018

Honourable Chair and Members of the Committee, we would first like to thank you for extending an invitation to the National Federation Party – Youth Wing to present on the two treaties currently before this Committee. However, something that must be stated from the get-go is our desire to have been given more than 48 hours to compile and submit a response to what seems to be a very comprehensive set of conventions that have enormous ramifications in terms of our rights.

We say – Enormous ramifications because the covenants echo the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and translate the principles of the Declaration into legal OBLIGATIONS for State Parties. It is therefore important that in order to fully realise the scope of what it would mean to ratify these treaties, we must first take an introspective glance at the 2013 constitution to determine whether the underlying values align with those of the treaties.

We’ll keep it short Honourable Chair and Members of the Committee, THE PAINFUL REALITY IS THAT THE VALUES OF THIS ENFORCED CONSTITUTION DO NOT, AND WE REPEAT, DO NOT ALIGN WITH THAT OF THE TREATIES.

We acknowledge the commitment by Government in moving towards ratifying all core human rights instruments by 2020; as stated in the then military regime’s Universal Periodic Review Report in 2010 and again recommitting to it at the last reporting cycle of 2014 by the current Fiji First Government before the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

It is at this juncture that we would like to state for the record; our support for the ratification of these conventions. However, we believe that in the context of Fiji’s current legal framework, at the heart of which sits the 2013 Constitution, these treaties would be rendered useless when pegged against our current legislations.

Honourable Chair and Members of the Committee, not only do we have a SUBSERVIENT Constitution, but we also have LIMITATIONS in the constitution—SUBSERVIENT to the decrees now being referred to as “Acts” after they have been lumped together in a consequential legislation, passed by parliament without being brought to the floor of parliament for ratification individually and…

LIMITATIONS in the sense that the constitution authorises the enforcement of limitations to most rights in the constitution by including exception clauses which has the potential to curtail a person’s ability to exercise their economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights.

Examples of these include: –

  1. The Proposed Parliamentary Privileges Bill that is currently before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights. This Bill curtails the rights of individuals from criticising parliament.
  2. Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree, which prevents trade unionists and trade union staff from becoming members or even supporters of political parties whilst in employment. They have to resign to even become members of political parties. The restrictions on civil servants and members of the security forces namely the Military and Police are understandable but there have been cases of victimisation if they make or post personal comments on social media. However, we have very senior civil servants, in one case a permanent secretary and even independent constitutional office holders, making political statements and are allowed to do so with impunity. For example in 2014, the then Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank and the then CEO of Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority spoke on radio about how a change of government would affect economic policies that were working well for Fiji. IT WAS, AND IS A CASE OF ANIMAL FARM as far as implementation and enforcement of legislation albeit draconian provisions of the Decree is concerned.
  3. Media Industry Development Authority Decree is a regressive and draconian legislation, prescribing punishment for media owners, publishers and editors for mistakes that can be easily and expeditiously dealt with under other legislation. The Media Industry Development Authority is chaired by a person appointed by the Government. The 2013 Constitution also authorises prohibitions on freedom of speech, expression and publication. Legislation on how to regulate the media is one of the limitations in the Constitution.
  4. Electoral Decree: Only cosmetic changes were made to the Electoral Decree 2014 by parliament in early 2017. Major recommendations of the Electoral Commission’s 2014 Annual Report in respect of the 2014 elections and the Report of the MOG – Multinational Observer Group were not implemented. Both Reports are before the parliamentary standing committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights, and have been with them for the last two years. The next elections are around the corner, But the reports of the committee have not been presented to parliament.
  5. It is important to re-state that these decrees are preserved in the constitution in Chapter 12 Section 173, aptly named the Preservation of Law.

THE authorisation of enforcement of the curtailment of rights is further made controversial through the lack of independence in the appointment of independent and constitutional offices that are tasked with the enforcement of Civil and Political Rights.

Independence in 132 and 133 of the constitution in respect of the composition of  the Constitutional Offices Commission as well as that of the independent offices is highly questionable.

The COC or Constitutional Offices Commission is an apolitical body for all intents and purposes. It is chaired by the Prime Minister and has as members, the Attorney General, Leader of the Opposition, two nominees of the PM, one nominee of the Leader of the Opposition and the Solicitor General is the Commission’s Secretary. The appointments are done by the President but on the recommendation of political office holders.

The nominee of the Opposition Leader is the Leader of the largest Opposition Party while the two nominees of the Prime Minister are very closely linked to the governing Fiji First Party. One of them – and we have evidence – is a fundraiser for Fiji First. The other sits on boards of various statutory organisations. SO WHERE IS THE INDEPENDENCE?

Honourable Chair and Members of the Committee, we bring these pertinent concerns up merely to highlight the dilemma between what ratifying these treaties is SUPPOSED to signify, and our current legal framework, which seems to limit the full realisation of these treaties.

In essence, the National Federation Party – Youth Wing believes that ratifying these treaties is definitely a positive and progressive move in the right direction, BUT the current law and legislations NEGATE the positive aspects of the ratification of these treaties. So then the question begs: WHY RATIFY THESE TREATIES WHEN THE 2013 CONSTITUTION IS ESSENTIALLY CANCELLING OUT THE PROGRESS THAT WOULD ACCOMPANY THE RATIFICATION OF THE TREATIES?—the literal equivalent of taking one step forward and one step back.

Unless there is a commitment by Government to reviewing and making the necessary legislative changes to conform and reconcile the 2013 constitution with the two treaties, we see this as a mere stunt aimed at misleading the international community into thinking that economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights are legislated when it is then clearly being diminished by our current legislative framework.

If the ratification of these treaties would accompany a review and subsequently an overhaul of current legislation, then we think that Fiji would be better for it.

Honourable Chair and Members of the Committee, once again we would like to thank you for the opportunity to present our views as a Youth Wing for your consideration and we look forward to reading the report this committee will be tabling in the next parliament sitting. Vinaka.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJ1PSWl_tJ8&t=964s