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Fiji’s Attorney General and Minister for Justice, the Honourable Siromi Turaga, has re-affirmed that it is paramount to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of all individuals and that the country's new government will increase its investment in the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission as part of its commitment to delivering this in Fiji.
He shared this while delivering the opening address at the first-ever Pacific Regional Forum on National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) which is currently underway at the Sheraton Resort in Nadi from 21 – 22 February 2023.
Hon. Turaga said that the Pacific Regional NHRI Forum is his first engagement outside of parliament since his appointment on 24 December 2022 highlighting the dedication of this government to progressing human rights.
The event has brought together senior government representatives, attorney generals and human rights practitioners from 15 Pacific Island Countries including Australia, Cook Islands, FSM, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
The aim of the regional forum is to facilitate dialogue among Pacific government representatives to share experiences, and challenges and identify strategies to establish NHRIs in the Pacific across the region.
Currently, only three Pacific Island Countries have formally established National Human Rights Institutions -Samoa, which is the only A accredited NHRI in the region, Fiji and Tuvalu.
The Forum was organised by the Pacific Community (SPC) Human Rights and Social Development Division (HRSD) and the Asia Pacific Forum for National Human Rights Institutions (APF), through funding provided by the United States Agency for International Development (under the PROJECT Governance) and New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade.
Hon. Turaga shared that “In the Pacific, climate change is threatening the health of our people, as well as our economic and social development, and NHRIs play a critical role in bringing these issues to the forefront at the international arena through their monitoring and reporting roles of human rights situation at the national level.”
He told the regional delegates that “as Pacific Island Countries, we often share common challenges, for instance, the lack of financial and human resources, loss of institutional knowledge due to staff turnover and many more that may delay the establishment of NHRIs or ensure the effectiveness of existing NHRIs.”
Miles Young, Director of the SPC Human Rights Social Development division said human rights are guaranteed in constitutions across the Pacific and Pacific Island countries have committed to at least one of the nine core international human rights treaties – Fiji is a party to all nine treaties, the Republic of the Marshall Islands is a party to seven, and Samoa and Papua New Guinea are each party to six.
He said “Nonetheless, as a region, there is much work to do to improve our collective human rights situation. While ratifying human rights treaties is one thing, translating them into real, tangible benefits for Pacific Islanders remains a challenge.”
Mr Young further highlighted that many from the Pacific claim that ‘human rights’ is a foreign concept for the region, however, core human rights values and principles such as dignity, fairness, respect, inclusion, non-discrimination, and the protection of the vulnerable, resonate in the rich and diverse tapestry of Pacific cultures.
“Fijian concepts such as veidokai (honour) and veirokovi (respect), Tuvalu’s fale pili (my neighbour) and Samoa’s fa’aSamoa, all resonate with human rights values. Human rights support and promote community, which we in the Pacific value and prioritise, by ensuring no one, especially the most vulnerable, is left behind,” he said.
Kieren Fitzpatrick, Director of the Asia Pacific Forum for National Human Rights Institutions stressed the importance of NHRIs being established within each Pacific State so that they can consider cultural and traditional beliefs. “An independent national body is best placed to understand, promote and resolve human rights issues. The APF has worked in partnership with SPC to ensure that we can provide the Pacific States with the best advice on how to establish a national body that suits their needs.”
Some key topics that will be discussed at the NHRI regional forum include the establishment of NHRIs and ensuring their effective roles, the relationship between human rights, Pacific cultures and faith-based values, the role of NHRIs in addressing development challenges such as climate change and demystifying the Paris Principles and the accreditation process.