FIJI GOVERNMENT DRAGS FEET ON RIGHTS

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Mar. 2) - Fiji Human Rights Commission Chairman Walter Rigamoto yesterday urged the government to play a more leading role in the protection and maintenance of human rights in the country.

Presenting a paper at the National Human Rights Mechanisms workshop at Nadi, Rigamoto said one of the commission's most important challenges was to try to secure funding from the Government.

Although funding for projects and operational activities were forthcoming from aid agencies, he said they continued to face difficulty trying to secure government funding.

"As the institution develops, there is a greater expectation by the international community that governments will foot a larger percentage of the operational costs, thus increasingly reduce its dependence on aid funding," he said. "There has been some progress, but a great deal more needs to be done in this area."

Rigamoto said a national human rights institution was the Government's responsibility as it portrayed the firm commitment of a State to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to the protection of its own people's human rights.

He said while some Ombudsman Offices in the Pacific had the responsibility of protecting human rights, they did not meet the criteria of having a broad mandate on human rights.

"As noted by the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, it is the right of each State to choose the framework that is best suited to its particular needs at a national level," he said. "The key factor is the degree of commitment that our government has toward establishing a national human rights mechanism."

Rigamoto said while they needed the Government's support, any national human rights institution must be independent of the Government so it could protect and promote the human rights of everyone in the country without interference from the State.

He said apart from government funding, another problem the commission continued to experience since its establishment in 1999 was the lack of public awareness on its functions.

He said they needed to work hard in the early stages to raise awareness while developing public confidence in the Ombudsman's Office.

March 3, 2005

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