Fiji prohibits torture, upholds human dignity: Bainimarama

Venkat Raman

Torture and any other form of abuse is banned in Fiji which values dignity of the human race, Fiji’s Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama has said.

“Our Constitution explicitly prohibits torture in its Bill of Rights. Every person has the right to freedom from torture of any kind, physical, mental and emotional; and from cruel, inhumane, degrading or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment,” he said, speaking at the High-Level Regional Seminar on the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) in the Pacific on Wednesday, February 6, 2019 in Natadola.

Every person has the right to security of the person, which includes the right to be free from any form of violence from any source, at home, school, work or in any other place, he said.

His views were later reinforced by Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum during his address to the delegates.

Manifestation everywhere

“All too often, we see violence rear its ugly head in the places where we are meant to feel most safe: Our homes, our workplaces, and our schools. The fact that this type of behaviour is manifest at all levels of our society indicates a larger problem –– a culture of violence, and a passive acceptance of it that needs to be uprooted,” Mr Bainimarama said.

Stating that his government has taken a hard stance against any form of violence or corporal punishment in Fiji, he said that there will always be resistance to change.

“We received a great deal of pushback when we banned corporal punishment in Fijian schools, and there is often an outcry to justify the behaviour of teachers who have inflicted harm on their students. But doing what is right does not always come easy. And breaking this cycle to foster a more peaceful and harmonious society for future generations; that is worth any political cost,” Mr Bainimarama said.

“We must take a stand and stay firm, because in a culture where violence may be ingrained in our subconscious, it’s not always politically popular to change,” he added.

First Hour Procedure

Since ratifying UNCAT in 2016, Mr Bainimarama’s government embarked on a pilot project called the ‘First Hour Procedure,’ which ensures provision of legal counsel to every suspect at the police station, within one hour of arrest, with a protocol guiding the conduct of both police and lawyers in relation to the implementation of this right.

The programme has seen a sharp decrease in the number of allegations of brutality being levelled against police officers.

Robust Human Rights

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said that the Bill of Rights is comprehensive and robust in Fiji.

“For the first time in Fijian history, the Constitution actually facilitates the concomitant application of civil and political rights, and social and economic rights. It obligates the State, by law, to advance, protect and progressively realise these fundamental rights for all Fijians. These rights of course are enforceable through an independent judiciary, which continues to develop human rights jurisprudence under the Fijian Constitution. Of course the development of human rights jurisprudence is subject to the number of cases brought before the courts, which is why you need an active bar,” he said.

The solutions we have identified are reforms in three critical areas:

Firstly, we are working in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), following our ratification of the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime in 2017, to help our prisons adopt the requirements under the Nelson Mandela Rules and promote humane conditions for imprisonment.

Secondly, we are also providing an avenue for alternate and effective sentencing options, Finally, the Fiji Corrections Service has been given funding under the 2018-2019 National Budget to continue with the construction of remand centres in major population centres throughout the country and to address various issues that may arise from a growing prison population.

Among those who attended the event hosted by the Fijian Government were Head of the Convention Against Torture Initiative Secretariat Dr Alice Edwards, Attorney Generals, Justice Ministers, Judges of Fiji and the South Pacific, diplomats and officials of governments.

The core of UNCAT is to support States in their efforts to curb and prevent torture and other ill-treatment. Here in Fiji, joining on to the treaty was a natural extension of progress we’ve made on our own in recent years.

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