Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre Condemns Draft Bill Of Rights

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Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre Condemns Draft Bill Of Rights Director: basic human rights ‘no longer guaranteed’ under bill

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (Pacific Scoop, April 2, 2013) – The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre has condemned a proposed Bill of Rights in the Bainimarama regime’s draft Constitution as "opening the door to abuse of power and impunity."

Executive director Shamima Ali said the Draft Constitution restricted civil and political rights in "significant ways" and was s a "major regression" from the civil and political rights guaranteed by the abrogated 1997 Constitution.

"While on the one hand, the [draft] Constitution specifies various civil and political rights which it says are available to people in Fiji, on the other hand the numerous and widely drafted exceptions and derogations from these rights means that effectively, basic human rights are no longer guaranteed for the people of Fiji," she said.

Ali added that one of the most worrying aspects of the Bill of Rights were the "derogations from the right to life."

"The right to life is an absolute right under Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the derogation of the right to life in this manner is totally unacceptable," said Ali in a statement.

"What the [military-backed] government is attempting to do is tantamount to the legalization of the killing of all escaped and escaping prisoners and detainees, and all persons engaged in ‘riots and insurrections.’

"To give such powers to the police and military given the recent evidence of the use of torture by police in the capture of escaped prisoners opens the door to abuse of power and impunity," she said.

Worrying aspects

"Other worrying aspects of the Bill of Rights include the derogations from freedom of assembly and association for workers and union members.

"Not only are trade union officials defined as holders of public office and are liable to have their freedom of assembly and association restricted, but freedom of association may be limited to regulate collective bargaining, employment disputes and strikes.

"The rights of workers to collective bargaining and fair employment practices are undermined by these allowable derogations from their basic human rights."

"Furthermore, freedom of expression is restricted by prohibition of ‘insurrection against this constitution.’"

Ali said this could be widely interpreted to mean that the Constitution may not be criticized or challenged.

"Other worrying aspects of the Bill of Rights include the restrictions on the right to personal liberty and the clauses which restrict rights by ‘such other limitations as may be prescribed by law.’

"What is the point of stating that a right exists, if that right can be limited by a law made by simple majority in Parliament?" asked Ali.

Meaningless rights

"For instance, the broad limitation on freedom of expression (Clause 17) and environmental rights (Clause 37) make these rights meaningless as constitutional guarantees," said Ali in the statement.

"The derogations from the rights set out in the Bill of Rights are even more worrying given that the draft Constitution purports to continue the Human Rights Commission (as the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission) as established by the Human Rights Commission Decree 2009″ concluded Ali.

"The Human Rights Commission as set out by the 2009 Decree is not independent of government and is not compliant with Paris Principles. It is therefore ineffective as an independent mechanism for the people of Fiji to challenge human rights abuses by the state."

Ali said FWCC was analyzing the draft Constitution and would make a series of statements on issues raised in the next few days.

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