PR05/2012

Friday October 12, 2012

PRESS RELEASE

FWCC and FWRM make constitution presentations

The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC) and the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement’s (FWRM) today made (separate) presentations to the Fiji Constitution Commission, outlining the key provisions envisioned in Fiji’s next Constitution.

“While both the organisations sent in our full documents to the Commission on the 10th, as per the deadline for written documents, due to time constraints, we chose to highlight a few of the main  points in our oral presentation today,” said FWCC Coordinator Shamima Ali.

Both FWCC and FWRM have concerns about the legitimacy of 2012 constitution-making process.  The Fiji Constitutional Process Decrees (Numbers 57 and 58), eliminate certain principles from discussion on the basis that they are “non-negotiable”, and contain demands for immunity. 

“As organisations that have consistently advocated for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, we uphold the 1997 Constitution Amendment Act 1997 and the 2009 Court of Appeal Judgment of Qarase v Bainimarama ([2009] FJCA 9),” said Ali.

“We believe the issue of immunity for coup perpetrators can only be decided following a truth, reconciliation and justice process.  We are also proposing a parallel citizens assembly, to support and expand the opinion base of the Constituent’s Assembly, as we remain concerned how the official Constituent’s Assembly will be formed and function.  We are also troubled by the current environment in which this constitution-making process is taking place, in particular the continuing restrictive atmosphere in which citizens attempt to participate and the news media must operate,” said FWRM Executive Director Virisila Buadromo.

“We also believe that to create an enabling environment for appropriate access to justice, the role and the independence of the judiciary needs to be addressed. We also feel that in order for these processes to proceed in earnest, there is a need for military personnel to withdraw from the structures of government so that people may participate freely and fairly and without fear in any process which determines the future of our country,” said Ali.

Nevertheless, the importance of this exercise and the hope it represents in this opportunity to start afresh is welcomed. We are taking part because of our responsibility to the women of this country to speak for them and to advance the cause for meaningful gender equality.  And so we embark on this journey with a fragile faith and a faint trust that, despite our deepest fears surrounding the Constitution Commission and the unfathomable intentions of those in power, a new Constitution will presage the restoration of the rule of law, democracy and free and fair elections by September, 2014.

We take the 1997 Constitution as the foundation from which we make our recommendations on the 13 areas.

In some cases we build upon the existing provisions of the 1997 Constitution, while in other recommendations we suggest alternatives, and in others entire new provisions. 

“Under the Bill of Rights, we have suggested appropriate clauses based on international standards regarding substantive equality and the definition of discrimination.  Two new proposals include special protections for human rights defenders, and a section on the link between human rights and the environment.  We have also extensively discussed and made recommendations regarding temporary special measures for women in national decision-making.  Suggestions include quotas or party lists that are aimed at ensuring 50 per cent representation of women at national level.  These measures are temporary and we have recommended that they are reviewed after 20 years,” said Buadromo.

Both FWCC’s and FWRM’s full recommendation can be accessed on www.fwrm.org.fj

For information or queries please contact FWRM on 331 2711 / 8677330 or email

ENDS.

Note: Below is FWCC's Preamble and FWRM's Executive Summary

 

Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre

PREAMBLE

The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre (FWCC) is a human rights organisation, established in 1984, which provides crisis counselling and legal, medical and other practical support services for women and children who are sufferers and survivors of violence.

The FWCC is also involved in public advocacy and community education on gender violence. The Centre's strategies are based on the conviction that violence against women is a fundamental human rights and development issue. The Centre's work addresses all forms of violence against women including sexual assault, beating, sexual harassment and abuse of children. The FWCC is also the current Chair of the Fiji NGO Coalition on Human Rights.

The FWCC has consistently advocated for democracy, the rule of law and human rights throughout the course of its history. The protection of human rights requires accountable democratic government, adherence to the Rule of Law and Constitutionality.

The FWCC upholds the Constitution Amendment Act 1997 (also referred to as “the Constitution”) and the 2009 Court of Appeal judgment of Qarase v Bainimarama([2009] FJCA 9).

The FWCC notes that the refusal of the interim military administration to abide by the 2009 Court of Appeal Judgment and the Constitution has led to a lacuna in constitutionality in Fiji. In this regard, the FWCC notes that this Constitution Commission has been set up outside the framework of the Constitution Amendment Act 1997, ostensibly as part of a process to return Fiji to parliamentary democracy.

While the FWCC supports an immediate return to parliamentary democracy, it considers that due to the unconstitutional nature of this Commission, this Commission should restrict itself to making recommendations to amend the 1997 Constitution. The FWCC supports the return to Parliament under the Constitution Amendment Act 1997. It is our belief that once Parliament is reconstituted, issues of concern in the Constitution, as identified by this Commission, can be amended by the process set out in that Supreme Law. This report by the FWCC is premised on this basis.

We make these submissions without acknowledging the legitimacy of the current military regime, nor the agencies appointed by it, consistent with the rule of law, human rights and democracy, embedded in the International Bill of Rights (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

We maintain that only an elected legislature has the legal authority to amend the existing Constitution, which we consider to be extant. Any suggestions that we make in these submissions for constitutional reforms need to be made by a lawfully elected legislature and government, and not an unrepresentative Constituent Assembly.

We call for the total withdrawal of the Fiji Military Forces from all current governance structures to ensure a free and non-threatening process in the return to democracy.

We are acutely conscious of the continued ambivalence and conflictedness of our present circumstances, compounded by added misgivings about certain aspects of the process: such as the dearth of civic education, the relatively brief period for submissions and consultations as well as the potential for abuse in the discretion to appoint members of the Constituent Assembly to debate the draft document this Commission will produce.

The FWCC proffers this report on provisions to strengthen human rights protections in the Constitution without prejudice to its position on the continued legitimacy of the Constitution. This document is not intended to, and must not be construed as in any way legitimising the purported abrogation of the Constitution Amendment Act 1997 and any purported new legal order subsequently established.

 

Fiji Women’s Rights Movement

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement has concerns about the legitimacy of 2012 constitution-making process.  The Fiji Constitutional Process Decrees (Numbers 57 and 58), eliminate certain principles from discussion on the basis that they are “non-negotiable”, and contain demands for immunity.  We believe the issue of immunity for coup perpetrators can only be decided following a truth, reconciliation and justice process.  We are also proposing a parallel citizens assembly, to support and expand the opinion base of the Constituent’s Assembly, as we remain concerned how the official CA will be formed and function.  We are also troubled by the current environment in which this constitution-making process is taking place, in particular the continuing restrictive atmosphere in which citizens attempt to participate and the news media must operate.

Nevertheless, the importance of this exercise and the hope it represents in this opportunity to start afresh is to be welcomed. We are taking part because of our responsibility to the women of this country to speak for them and to advance the cause for meaningful gender equality.  And so we embark on this journey with a fragile faith and a faint trust that, despite our deepest fears surrounding the Constitution Commission and the unfathomable intentions of those in power, a new Constitution will presage the restoration of the rule of law, democracy and free and fair elections by September, 2014.

We take the 1997 Constitution as the foundation from which we make our recommendations in the following 13 areas: the Bill of Rights; separation of powers; the structure of government; the electoral system; the judiciary; governance and accountability; the security forces; the Compact; a secular state; a common identity; land; the Bose Levu Vakaturaga; and the review of the Constitution.  In some cases we build upon the existing provisions of the 1997 Constitution, while in other recommendations we suggest alternatives, and in others entire new provisions. 

Under the Bill of Rights, we have suggested appropriate clauses based on international standards regarding substantive equality and the definition of discrimination.  Two new proposals include special protections for human rights defenders, and a section on the link between human rights and the environment.  These clauses reflect the changed Fiji context and align our new Constitution with recent developments in international human rights law.  We have also extensively discussed and made recommendations regarding temporary special measures for women in national decision-making.  Suggestions include quotas or party lists that are aimed at ensuring 50 per cent representation of women at national level.  These measures are temporary and we have recommended that they are reviewed after 20 years.  This is based on international human rights best practice, as well as the clear needs identified by women in Fiji.  In other recommendations, we have suggested a proportional representation electoral system, the retention of a dual house system of Parliament and Senate, and the reinstatement of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga. 

Finally, another new addition among our recommendations is a provision on duties of citizens, attached to the Bill of Rights.  We would like to call attention to the responsibilities individuals and communities have to each other and to the State.  For us, this is a beginning in bringing rights home.  We are working towards a Fiji where each Fijian begins to understand human rights as part of our lived experience, in our communities – where the promotion and respect for human rights, rule of law and democracy becomes our way of life.