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“Human rights are not for begging” (ed. in FT 10/12/2016)

10/12/2016

Human Rights are Not For Begging

An extremely dismaying aspect of Fiji society today, is the frequency of public requests, appeals, petitions, entreaties, and prayers, essentially “begging” the Bainimarama Government to respect the human rights of individuals.

But a “human right” is, by definition, a fundamental entitlement of each and every human being on this planet- because they are human beings.

Human rights” are NOT to be at the mercy of any government or person, and certainly not to be “begged for”, which is tantamount to strengthening and legitimizing governments’ illegal “authority” to grant or refuse that request.

The Bainimarama Government, despite many public pleas, has refused to back down from their original decision to ban Dr Padma Narsey Lal and Professor Brij Lal from Fiji.

They refuse to respond publicly, indicating their refusal to be publicly accountable for their decision to deny the basic human rights of Padma and Brij.

Fiji citizens should however be encouraged by organizations such as Amnesty International and the small signs of progress by the Fiji judiciary to restore human rights on another front – freedom from torture and violence.

It is clear that there is an urgent need for international organizations to take up the struggle for the basic human rights of Padma and Brij to enter Fiji, the country of their birth, just as they have taken up the struggle to eliminate torture from Fiji.

UN Declaration and Amnesty International

All Fiji citizens and residents ought to carefully read the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which you can download here: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

The Preamble notes: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

Amnesty International, a few days (FT 5 Dec. 2016) ago released a Report  ‘Beating Justice: How Fiji’s Security Forces Get Away with Torture’, detailing severe beatings, rape and other sexual violence reportedly conducted by uniformed officers.

The Amnesty International Website supports the UN Declaration of Human Rights as being:

* universal: they belong to all of us, everybody in the world, of whatever nationality;

* inalienable: they cannot be taken away from us

* indivisible and interdependent: governments should not be able to pick and choose which are respected and which not.

But the Bainimarama Government has been doing precisely that, with individuals it does not like, with their own security forces being found guilty of trashing our human rights.

Worse still, government institutions that are charged with protecting our human rights (such as the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission), often refuse to take proactive action to defend them, while eager to prosecute those opposed to government views.

Brij and Padma

In 2009, Professor Brij Lal was deported from Fiji with the Bainimarama Government claiming, without any evidence whatsoever, that he was “prejudicial to the peace, defence, public security of the Government of Fiji”.

In 2010, his wife Dr Padma Lal, was stopped from entering Fiji with the Government refusing even to explain why they banned her, merely the spouse of Brij Lal.

Why are these two law-abiding persons denied their fundamental human right to enter Fiji, when all and sundry, even those with criminal convictions, are able to do so freely?

Many respectable Fiji citizens have publicly called on the Bainimarama Government to remove the bans on Brij and Padma, pointing out what distinguished citizens they have been in their respective fields and how enormously they have contributed to Fiji.

Read the interesting array of Letters to the Editor of Fiji Times by Professor Biman Prasad (24/3/2015), Professor Vijay Naidu (26/3/2015), Dr Ropate Qalo (11/4/2016) Kiniviliame Keteca (20/10/2015 and 19/10/2016), Tara Chetty (22/10/2016),  Dr Vanessa Griffen (23/10/2016), Satya Samy (18/11/2016) and the  many brave opinion pieces of Seona Smiles (30/10/2016 and others).

They detail the grand contributions made by Professor Brij Lal and Dr Padma Lal to Fiji and the honors they have received in Fiji and abroad.

Some are polite requests praising Bainimarama’s potential magnanimity, some are poignant, some are demanding and one (by Keteca) even pointed out the hypocrisy of Prime Minister Bainimarama  declaring to Sydney Indo-Fijians that “the fact that you were made to feel unwelcome in your country of birth is the most shameful episode in our nation’s history”.

But it is a basic human right of all law-abiding former Fiji citizens to enter and leave Fiji according to our laws, whether regardless of their brilliance, status, contribution to Fiji.

The human right to enter Fiji (Brij and Padma) or leave Fiji temporarily (FT publisher Hand Arts) should not have to be begged for.

Why are the relevant Fiji institutions not fighting for Padma and Brij, and Hank Arts?

The Fiji FHRADC

One would have thought that the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission would have proactively taken up the case of Brij and Padma.

The FHRADC is headed by responsible persons Justice Mohammed Ajmeeer, and includes Faiz Khan (businessman), Selina Lee Wah (social leader), Peceli Rokotuivuna (radio announcer) and Sashi Kiran (head of EU-supported NGO, FRIENDS).

Its CEO is the redoubtable Ashwin Raj, who also is the head of MIDA, and appears to be extremely proactive pursuing Government concerns.

But their website (http://www.fhradc.org.fj/) has little of the informative content which one would normally expect- such as annual reports outlining a description of the human rights they are supposed to protect, the cases they have addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully), the cases currently in front of them, the difficulties they are facing etc.

Not surprisingly, the latest Amnesty International Report on Fiji noted on another but related front, that while the FHRADC “could in theory take a strong role in the independent assessment of complaints against police, corrections and the military, it is still in the process of rebuilding, and is not yet functioning as a national human rights institution compliant with international laws and standards.”

The Amnesty International Report was also concerned (as is the Fiji public) at the militarization of key state institutions such as Police and Corrections (Prisons) involved with the protection of human rights.

Ray of hope: judiciary recovering

A month ago, nine men belonging to the security forces, were found guilty of the rape and sexual assault of Vilikesa Soko in 2014 and jailed for various terms (FT 23 Nov. 2016)

Justice Aruna Aluthge said that his sentences signalled that Fiji was serious about upholding the United Nations Human Rights Conventions against Torture and Abuse.

But the Fiji public is also concerned at the lack of even handedness and respect for human rights by the Office of Public Prosecutions.

While one media is charged with inciting communal antagonism in relation to an article published in the iTaukei language newspaper Nai Lalakai on April 27 this year, another media (Fiji Broadcasting Commission) is not seen to be worth charging despite clearly similar behaviour arousing public complaints.

One also has to be concerned that the judiciary is unable to grant a bail variation to allow the elderly publisher of the Fiji Times to travel for a mere two weeks to NZ in February 2017 to attend his step-daughter’s wedding and have a medical test, despite he and wife putting up a financially massive bond to ensure his return, which this senior, morally upright and most reputable citizen would never dream of putting into risk.

The decision was postponed to another judge and hearing in January.

Justice delayed is justice denied and it is surely a basic human right to be free from mental torture, to be able to travel abroad freely, just as it is to be free from physical torture.

Those in power might note what the UN Preamble warns “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”.

The Fiji public should not have to beg for our basic human rights.

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