27 Feb 2019

Fiji to champion right to a safe environment

7:10 pm on 27 February 2019

Fiji's prime minster has told the UN Human Rights Council his country will use its membership of the body to champion global recognition of the universal right to a safe and healthy environment.

Frank Bainimarama presents a gift to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

Frank Bainimarama presents a gift to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. Photo: Facebook / Fiji Government

Fiji's record was questioned by human rights groups prior to its election to the council last October.

But the prime minister Frank Bainimarama used his speech to the first meeting of the council's 40th regular meeting in Geneva to extol advances for human rights in Fiji through the creation of the 2013 constitution.

"In our case, we had inherited laws and systems that were inherently at odds with the human dignity of thousands of our rightful citizens, including an electoral system that determined the weight of votes based on ethnicity," Mr Bainimarama said.

"Our economy was rigged in favour of a societal elite, while the socio-economic rights of our people remained an afterthought. And the basic building blocks necessary to foster a culture that promoted human rights were weak and crumbling under the strain of socio-political and economic upheaval, which, amongst other things, manifested in communal divisions," he said.

"There was no building a new and better Fiji on such a tenuous foundation. We needed a dramatic re-thinking of who we were as a country, and a bold new vision for what Fiji could become. That dream, that ambition and that commitment gave birth to the 2013 Fijian Constitution, which established a common national identity among our people and enshrined a vast array of rights guaranteed to all Fijians, for all time."

The prime minister also heralded Fiji's recent ratification of the UN convention against torture.

"This month, I addressed a high-level Seminar on the ratification and implementation of the UN Convention Against Torture in the Pacific where I gave a comprehensive update on our work since ratifying the Convention Against Torture in 2016," Mr Bainimarama said.

"That work includes our First Hour Procedure partnership with the United Kingdom to ensure the provision of legal counsel to every suspect at the police station, within one hour of arrest, with a protocol guiding the conduct of both police and lawyers in relation to the implementation of this right," he said.

"We're also reforming our prisons procedures and conducting a larger campaign of societal change to condemn violence in all forms. And Fiji is proud to accept the invitation to join the Convention Against Torture Core Group of Denmark, Ghana, Chile, Morocco, and Indonesia, to do our part in seeking the universal ratification of UNCAT."

Mr Bainimarama then took the opportunity to praise the recently deceased speaker of Fiji's parliament Jiko Luveni and her legacy as a champion in the fight against domestic violence.

Fiji's Speaker of Parliament, Dr Jiko Luveni

Jiko Luveni Photo: Fiji Department of Information

"But our progress will only remain limited to the few if it ignores systemic limitations that have been placed on equal members of our society, particularly on women. In December last year, Fiji lost a historic champion for women's empowerment with the passing of Dr Jiko Luveni - the first woman speaker of our parliament.

"Her legacy lives on in our work to ensure that women in our society are made safe from violence, that they have steadfast protections of their sexual and reproductive rights, and that women and young girls are empowered with opportunity to become the Fijians they want to be.

"I believe our commitment to gender inclusion has forged a new and powerful economic engine that has helped drive our economy to its record streak of unbroken growth."

The prime minister's speech was concluded with the undertaking that Fiji would continue its legacy on climate action leadership.

"Fiji is the first Pacific island nation to hold on a seat on this Council. We also had the privilege of leading the world in the United Nation climate negotiations, as President of COP23.

"And we plan to imbue our membership to this Council with the passion and legacy of our climate action leadership. It is for this reason that we have pledged to champion global recognition of the universal right to a safe and healthy environment."

Mr Bainimarama finished his speech by urging council members to honour their commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change by limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

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