Fiji Parliament Ratifies UN Convention Against Torture

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Unanimous support of treaty ‘with reservations’ welcomed

By Nasik Swami

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, March 17, 2015) – Parliament has unanimously endorsed the ratification of the United Nations Convention against Torture.

This after the Prime Minister and acting Minister for Foreign Affairs Voreqe Bainimarama moved a motion on behalf of Government for the ratification to be agreed on.

However, the ratification of the convention was expected to be met with reservations as the head of Government in Parliament Pio Tikoduadua outlined the State's non-endorsement of the recommendations put forward by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence yesterday.

Committee chairman Netani Rika, who earlier agreed that recommendations of the committee be met with no reservation, yesterday concurred with Government's decision for the convention to be ratified with reservations.

And while the specifics of the reservation have not been outlined, Mr Bainimarama said the ratification itself sent a strong message to the rest of the world that torture would not be tolerated in Fiji.

He said Government's reservations stood because the State wanted to be responsible for the people of this country.

"I was very gratified that in the hearings before this Committee, the Fiji Military Forces and the Fiji Police both publicly committed themselves to the implementation of UNCAT," he said.

Mr Bainimarama said the commitment by the RFMF and police displayed a positive attitude.

"The Fijian Constitution already says that every person has the right to freedom from torture of any kind, whether physical, mental, or emotional, and from cruel, inhumane, degrading or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment.

"This provision in our supreme law provides Fijians with a level of protection from torture and abuse that is unprecedented in Fiji's history and is superior to that afforded by a great many countries."

He said the ratification told the world that Fiji was willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with those nations who opposed any use of torture or cruelty as instruments of State policy.

"It tells the world that for Fijians, torture is unacceptable under any circumstances. And we are siding with those nations who are intent on upholding the human rights of their own citizens and the citizens of every country," Mr Bainimarama said.

He said Fiji was determined to fight torture and cruelty in all its forms - and to affirm human dignity, fairness, justice and the rule of law as our core values as a nation.

Mr Bainimarama said Fijians already had the strongest constitutional protections against torture.

"But by ratifying UNCAT, Fiji goes a step further by strengthening its opposition to torture in the global community generally.

"It strengthens its position in all the human rights agencies of the United Nations. And it sends a message to all countries - most of which are already parties to UNCAT - that Fiji is serious about protecting individual rights and freedoms."

He said the ratification of UNCAT also opened up the possibility of a lot more international assistance for Fiji to maintain the highest standards of behaviour in the treatment of those who come before the law and especially those who were detained as criminal suspects.

"We intend to train our police officers, prison officers and members of the judiciary on international best practice for the interrogation of suspects and the incarceration of prisoners.

"There are a number of countries that are already willing to engage with us on training and assistance on the implementation of the convention. And we look forward to receiving their help as we strive for world's best practice in this area."

The President will soon be briefed on the Parliament's decision to ratify UNCAT.

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