21 Mar 2016

Fiji's anti-torture move 'hollow'

10:51 am on 21 March 2016

A human rights lawyer says Fiji's ratification of an international anti-torture treaty is a hollow and meaningless gesture.

Fiji's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Peter Thomson, receives the instruments of ratification for the UN Convention Against Torture at the UN

Fiji's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Peter Thomson (L), receives the instruments of ratification for the UN Convention Against Torture at the UN Photo: Supplied

The country last week ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, but did so with several reservations.

These include the definition of torture used by the UN, and querying the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Aman Ravindra-Singh - who last year raised allegations about colleagues being beaten by security forces - said the reservations watered down the convention and made it meaningless.

"That's alarming. In fact, that's shocking. If you're not agreeing to the definition of torture in the first place, then why sign the United Nations Convention Against Torture? If you are questioning the definition of the very convention that you have signed you have declared absolutely that the convention is not worth the paper that it is written on."

Mr Ravindra-Singh said he doubted the ratification would have any effect on the number of alleged abuse cases.

He said there appears to be little appetite to put an end to such practices, and he doubts the ratification of the treaty will do anything to stop torture in Fiji.

"On the ground there has been no real action taken to eliminate the use of torture. There has been no signs that torture has lessened in the last few months since Fiji has been harping on about wanting to sign the convention against torture. The reality on the ground remains the same."

Nothing done about torture complaint

Aman Ravindra-Singh said nothing appears to have come from investigations into the allegations of torture he raised.

In December, Mr Ravindra-Singh lodged an official complaint with police about alleged torture involving his colleagues.

He alleged that in one incident his law clerk was bound and gagged near Nadi and tortured for two hours by what he says were members of the security forces, who were not in uniform.

fiji police

Photo: Fiji Police

The case was also raised in a parliamentary committee that was stopped at the instigation of the attorney-general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who said the committee didn't have the authority to investigate.

Four months on, Mr Ravindra-Singh said he has heard nothing about the investigation's progress, and he has little faith that they will reach a conclusion.

"The record speaks for itself, there have been other instances where people have been tortured by members of the state security service and nothing has ever happened. There another person who was torture in Ba around about the same time by members of the police force and nothing has come out of that. It is deliberate, and it is nothing that is new to us or surprising."