10 Feb 2020

Support for Fiji's vulnerable to access justice

5:40 pm on 10 February 2020

The Fiji Access to Justice Project has renewed grants to civil society organisations supporting people with disabilities and survivors of gender-based violence.

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Photo: 123RF

Since 2016, the European Union funded United Nations project has been working to improve Fiji's justice system and the experiences of people exposed to it, in particular those in impoverished and vulnerable groups.

The three organisations to receive grants this year are Empower Pacific, Medical Services Pacific and the Fiji Disabled Persons Federation.

Project manager Andrew Harrington said across the Pacific, victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) needed emotional support and help to navigate the justice system.

"Empower Pacific focuses on management of emotional and psychological issues associated with SGBV and we have contracted them to continue that in terms of crisis counselling," Mr Harrington said.

"We also fund them to do outreach sessions and support our community advocates and that's providing critical information to people in rural and remote areas where the state services don't reach.

"For example... you have situations in small villagers where the victim of an alleged rape may suddenly come face to face with her perpetrator.

"Even though they've been arrested by police, they've been released on bail and nothing has been communicated because it's not legally required. So these organisations help to bridge that gap as well."

Both Empower Pacific and Medical Services Pacific also provide "access to justice accompaniment services" helping survivors not to be "revictimised" by the justice system, Mr Harrington said.

"Anywhere in the world coming into contact with the justice system is, to say the least, a daunting experience. It's powerful, it's run by the government and you're not in control...You can be victimised by a state-centred process whereby the victim is just kind of a passenger.

"In addition, Medical Services Pacific supports the collection of evidence through rape kits and makes sure those make it through in a consistent chain of evidence so that those are able to be used where necessary for forensics in court."

Meanwhile, the Fiji Disabled Persons Federation advocates for and raises awareness within Fiji's disabled community, Mr Harrington said.

"That includes having a look at some of the justice facilities and making sure they meet access requirements.

"We've asked them to pay particular attention to persons living with psycho social disabilities. Persons living with those disabilities often fall through the cracks where they should be getting mental health support services but instead they end up in prisons."