6 Sep 2013

Amnesty International says new Fiji constitution a backwards step

5:11 pm on 6 September 2013

Amnesty International says Fiji's new constitution falls far short of international standards of human rights law and is another step backwards for human rights in Fiji.

The draft constitution goes to the president Ratu Epeli Nailatikau later today for assent.

But the executive director of Amnesty International in New Zealand, Grant Bayldon, says there are a number of critical issues that need to be addressed.

GRANT BAYLDON: Well, contrary to the claims of the Fiji government, Amnesty International believes that the new constitution actually weakens human rights protection in Fiji. We're especially concerned that the new constitution upholds decrees. We've seen the military government put in place since 2006. And those decrees severely restrict freedom of speech. They even give the state the power to detain people without charge or trial in times of emergency. And this constitution upholds those decrees. But most worrying of all for Amnesty International is the issue of immunity, and that's that the new constitution grants military police, government officials even, absolute immunity for past, present and even future human rights violations committed if they can show that they were done for state security.

DW: The New Zealand government has come out and said it can live with that.

GB: That immunity is almost unprecedented in the world in terms of constitutions, we very rarely see that. We think this is a significant issue, so we're very disappointed that the New Zealand government has said that it's prepared to overlook that. Really, the foundations of democracy are around disrespect for basic human rights - a free press, the rule of law, freedom of expression. Those things are essential and they need to be in Fiji's constitution for it get back to a good place with its democracy.

DW: What does it need to do, in your view now?

GB: Well, in Amnesty International's view, this constitution needs serious revision to deal with the human rights issues that it perpetuates.

DW: One of the major issues is the difficulty there is going to be in making any changes to it. The requirements are quite prohibitive, aren't they?

GB: They are. And Amnesty International has repeatedly raised serious concerns with the draft text since it was released back in April. There have been some amendments made through the process, but most of the concerns that Amnesty International has raised havent been addressed. Changes will be difficult to make from now, once the constitution has given assent. We really believe these are issues that the Fiji government needs to address.