12 December 2016
Mr. Mutuma Ruteere on 12 December 2016 in Suva, Fiji
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I undertook a visit to Fiji at the invitation of the Government from 7 to 12 December 2016, which is the first visit of a Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in the country. During my visit, I held meetings in Suva where I met with representatives of the Government at the highest level, such as the President of Fiji, the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General, the Ministers for Education and Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation. I had meetings with various representatives of various ministries including the Ministry of Itaukei Affairs. I also met with Members of Parliament, the Honourable Chief Justice and other High Court judges, Director of Public Prosecution, Director of Legal Aid, representatives of the Police, the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, the Media Industry Development Authority, the Supervisor of Elections, United Nations entities and international organizations, religious and faith-based organizations and non-governmental organizations as well as community members and other groups and individuals working in the field of racism and anti-discrimination.
I also attended the annual Attorney-General Conference in Natandola on 10 and 11 December where I was honoured to be a panelist at a session entitled “Black, White or Purple – Does it really matter?” I also visited the Vatukarasa Village near Sigatoka where I was received with warm hospitality and had the opportunity to interact with the traditional leaders and the community.
I would like to thank the Government of Fiji for the invitation extended to my mandate, in particular the Attorney-General and his staff for the organization of a rich and varied program of visits, the full cooperation and the insightful and rich discussions. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations Office in Geneva and in Switzerland for the coordination of the visit together with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in Geneva and in Suva.
Finally I am indebted to my interlocutors from civil society and communities who have been very helpful to my visit.
First, I would like to take note of the fact that Fiji’s history is significantly shaped by its colonial past and that since its independence in 1970, the country has experienced political instability in the form of military coups. I have noted that Fiji is addressing that past by putting into place new institutions, laws and in 2013 adopted a new Constitution. I was informed by various leaders of the Government’s stated commitment to build a Fiji that guarantees equality for all citizens, irrespective of their race, ethnic background, religion, and efforts to redress past policies of racial and ethnic discrimination. I was informed and noted that the government programmes have the stated aims of improving the social and economic welfare of all and that they are also intended to promote social cohesion and non-discrimination.
I commend this Government policy of inclusiveness which has resulted in a comprehensive reform of the education system, and in particular the end of the practice of separate ethnic schools and the policy of enhancing the accessibility of education at all levels through substantive aid and scholarship programs based on merit and financial needs. I am particularly impressed by the policy of teaching conversational Hindi and Itaukei languages to students at a young age, which can only improve community relations and help promote a sense of inclusiveness for all citizens of Fiji.
I was informed of several poverty alleviation programs that the Government has undertaken to tackle social and economic challenges faced in particular by persons living in rural and remote areas and have noted that all Government departments are working together in a cohesive and coordinated approach to ensure quality delivery of social services to beneficiaries.
I was informed that the rebuilding of independent institutions such as the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission is ongoing as part of the efforts to ensure that complaints are investigated and addressed effectively.
I welcome the recent ratification of the Convention against Torture as well as the reporting to various Human Rights Treaty Bodies, such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and align myself with CERD’s conclusions especially regarding the efforts made towards the elimination of institutionalized racism, the establishment of democratic institutions and the numerous measures made to eliminate racial and ethnic discrimination and promote diversity and inclusiveness.
However, I have been informed in the numerous discussions undertaken that although the Government has taken a clear and unequivocal stance against any form of hate speech and racial vilification, whether in the media, in Parliament or in public, such messages remain strong in the internet and social media, where it is much more difficult to fight such messages given the complexities of the system and the limitations of various possible measures. I recommend that any measures to address racial and ethnic incitement on the internet be designed and implemented from a multi-stakeholder approach while keeping within the provisions on international human rights law and in particular the protections on freedom of expression and opinion.
While appreciating the history of instability that the people of Fiji are working to put behind them, I am concerned that the space and opportunities to constructively discuss issues of ethnicity and race within society at large is quite limited. Yet in order to effectively address the troubled past and ensure healing and reconciliation among all Fijians, there needs to be open conversations and dialogue as well as forums where such issues can be discussed and expressed openly while keeping within the law and international human rights norms.
In this regard, I would like to underscore the role of civil society, the media, academics as well as religious groups and faith-based organizations in spearheading such conversations and dialogues. Such institutions are the building blocks for the emergence of a strong, open, and inclusive Fijian society.
Political leaders of all parties need to work together to address this crucial issue of reconciliation and move towards an inclusive society. The elimination of racial and ethnic divisions depends on the unequivocal commitment of the country’s political leadership and willingness to denounce and reject those keen on organizing politics along ethnic or racial lines.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In order to measure progress made on the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the policies of inclusiveness set up by the current Government, there needs to be an objective evaluation which can only be undertaken if statistics and in particular disaggregated data are collected and made available. This does not mean only data on race and ethnicity, but a whole range of different factors such as gender, age, sexual orientation, geography, income, access to social and economic services and rights. Without disaggregated data, it will be difficult to assess the effectiveness of the merit-based measures that the Government has adopted in recruitment and in awarding scholarships as well as in other areas. Such data is also valuable as it provides the baselines upon which new policies and programmes can be designed. As the CERD Committee recalled in its recommendations to Fiji in 2012, if progress is to be monitored, such disaggregated data is needed to measure whether the policies are effective and are reaching those most in need.
I would also like to reiterate the recommendation made by the CERD Committee that Fiji adopts a comprehensive legislation against racism and racial and ethnic discrimination, including a National Action Plan and establishing racial/ethnic motives as aggravating circumstances in the criminal legislation.
In this regard, the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission has a fundamental role to play in providing guidance to the Government but also in receiving complaints and providing assistance and guidance to victims of alleged acts of racism and discrimination. To this end, I recommend that Fiji urgently moves to strengthen this Commission and accord it necessary resources to ensure that it can secure the necessary confidence and legitimacy of relevant actors as an independent and professional human rights body.
I will present a more comprehensive report on this visit to the Human Rights Council next year.
I thank you for your kind attention and will be pleased to answer any questions you may have.