Fiji Government Has ‘Zero Tolerance’ For Domestic Violence: PM

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Bainimarama says culture of violence extends across the Pacific

By Reginald Chandar

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, April 29, 2015) – Tackling domestic violence is at the core of Fijian Government’s efforts to improve the position and status of women generally, says Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.

Speaking at the opening of the Pacific Women Parliamentary Forum in Suva today, the Prime said his Government takes the issue of domestic violence extremely seriously and is doing its best to tackle the situation and provide women with an environment free from intimidation and fear.

"At Government level, we have zero tolerance for domestic violence in Fiji. Whether it is men beating women, women attacking men, parents hitting children. It is not acceptable full stop. And we have given instructions to all the instruments of state that the perpetrators of domestic violence are to be subject to the full force of the law."

"For too long, Fijian society in common with other Pacific societies has turned a blind eye to what goes on in the privacy of people’s homes. Worse, we’ve tolerated, even encouraged, a culture in which spouses or partners are entitled to use violence to resolve disputes or bring supposedly errant family members into line."

He said for too long, there was a saying in Fiji that so-and-so "deserved a hiding", but those days are over.

"Put simply, there is no excuse whatsoever for our men to treat women badly. And while we know that some women can also be capable of violence in a family setting, the overwhelming majority of cases involve violence by men against women. And, of course, violence against children – the most vulnerable of all."

"Here in Fiji, the issue is a burning one after a string of incidents in which women have been killed. In the latest, we lost one of Fiji’s best and most respected journalists, Losana McGowan, in an alleged incident of domestic violence that shocked not only those who knew her but the entire nation."

"Yet these killings are merely the most obvious manifestations of a culture that we know extends across the Pacific of men resorting to violence against women in domestic confrontations."

"The days of sweeping the extent of this crisis under the proverbial mat for cultural reasons or to save face are over. The time for action to bring this scourge to an end is long overdue."

[PIR editor’s note: Fiji Times reported that ‘The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre yesterday welcomed Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama's remarks publicly denouncing any act of domestic violence. ... FWCC co-ordinator Shamima Ali said Mr Bainimarama highlighted the issue of family violence at a high political level and forced officials to take seriously the zero-tolerance policy towards domestic violence.’]

The Prime Minister said he was very pleased that the parliamentarians chose to make domestic violence the theme of their gathering and urged them to use the Forum to send the strongest possible message to the region and the world that domestic violence in the Pacific is now a matter not only for legitimate public discussion in our societies but that zero tolerance is the only option.

"Where there is a reluctance to confront the extent of the problem, we need to force it onto our national agendas. And where there is a lack of political will to address family violence, those governments and politicians must be shamed into action."

"Men must be repeatedly told what I tell our menfolk in Fiji: that real men don’t hit women. Real men protect women and treat them as equals. And women need to be encouraged to stand up more for themselves – to keep repeating the mantra that violence is unacceptable in any setting whatsoever, let alone the family. Which is the heart of every society and ought to be a place devoid of conflict. A place of love and acceptance in which our children can be reared and every family member can be safe."

He added that his Government enacted the Domestic Violence Decree, a series of landmark provisions that had been put before previous governments for fifteen years but had been ignored.

"This delay of 15 years speaks volumes about our own cultural attitudes in Fiji at the time. But my Government has a proud record in this area which we have strengthened across the board by either tightening existing laws or introducing new ones to give Fijian women an unprecedented level of legal protection."

"As well as introducing the first domestic violence laws in Fiji’s history, we have strengthened the rights of women who live in de-facto relationships. We have removed the old Victorian rules for the corroboration of rape. No longer does a rape victim’s sexual history have any bearing on a case. Nor are peace offerings accepted to let the perpetrators of crimes go free."

"Our criminal laws are modern and gender neutral.

And the supreme law of our nation, the Fijian Constitution, establishes once and for all that all Fijians are equal no matter who they are or where they come from."

"Our domestic violence law allows any person to apply for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order or DVRO. And any such application is regarded with the utmost seriousness and dealt with as a matter of urgency."

"The police have been instructed and trained never to turn away applicants for DVROs or to attempt to counsel anyone against making such an application."

"In the courts, even before a plea is taken on a charge of assault, the presiding magistrate or judge will ask if there is a domestic relationship between the parties, which includes extended family and clan affiliation. If the answer is yes, an interim DVRO is imposed as a matter of course. And the assault charge and the DVRO proceedings take place simultaneously."

"This is not to say that we have solved the problem of family violence. On the contrary, there is far too much evidence of our failure to do so. Because our revised legal framework needs, above all, to be accompanied by a change in the attitudes of both individuals and society generally. And as every woman in this room knows, that is a test we are still failing."

"Among other things, we need to do a lot more in our schools to educate our young people that violence generally is unacceptable as a means to resolve conflict and in the home as much as anywhere else," he concluded.

30 Pacific women Parliamentarians from the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu and 21 Parliamentarians from Australia and New Zealand are attending the forum.

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