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The obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of individuals is paramount and applies to all individuals within a State's territory, regardless of nationality or migration status and without discrimination, in order to preserve their safety, physical integrity, well-being and dignity - Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Honorable Siromi Dokonivalu Turaga
21 February 2023
The Honourable Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Lynda Tabuya,
The Honourable Stuard Penias, Assistant Secretary for the Department of Health and Social Affairs for the Federated States of Micronesia
The Acting Attorney-General for Tuvalu, Laigane Itakeki Talia
The Cook Islands Ombudsman, Niki Rattle
The Chief Executive of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Leanna Smith
The Equal Employment Commissioner for the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, Sauanamaali’i Karanina Sumeo
The Director, Asia-Pacific Forum for National Human Rights Intuitions, Kieren Fitzpatrick
The Director of the Pacific Community’s Human Rights & Social, Development Division, Miles Young,
The Chair of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, Pravesh Sharma
Ladies and Gentlemen
On behalf of the Fijian Government, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to this unprecedented event — the Pacific Regional Forum on National Human Rights Institutions with representations from every Pacific Island Government and the National Human Rights Institutions for Fiji, Samoa, Australia, and New Zealand. It is encouraging to see the Pacific dedicated to such a worthy cause.
Ladies and Gentlemen, every person by virtue of his or her humanity is entitled to certain natural rights. Time and history have revealed that the existence of human rights is necessary for the well-being of civilisation at any given time.
The obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of individuals is paramount and applies to all individuals within a State's territory, regardless of nationality or migration status and without discrimination, in order to preserve their safety, physical integrity, well-being and dignity.
This obligation rests not only with Government but civil societies, non-government organisations and independent institutions particularly National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs).
As you know, NHRIs are independent State bodies with a constitutional and/or legislative mandate to protect and promote the fundamental rights of all people in their countries. It monitors and reports on the domestic human rights situation and assists the State to meet its international human rights obligations. NHRIs also provide advice so that international human rights standards are properly implemented at the national level.
It is in recognition of this pivotal role of NHRIs that Fiji’s Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (Commission) was established. The Commission is mandated under section 45 of the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji to ensure the human rights of all persons in Fiji are protected and promoted, and that the public is educated about the nature and content of human rights.
The Commission is comprised of the Chairperson and Proceedings Commissioner (who is also present here today) and three Commissioners.
Since its inception in 1999, the Commission has received and investigated complaints of alleged human rights violations and has also instituted legal proceedings in the High Court in Fiji.
In 2018, the Commission successfully instituted proceedings in the High Court after investigating a complaint of arbitrary detention of a ten-year-old in a police station. The child was awarded $25,000 by the High Court of Fiji. In another matter, a complainant was paid $40,000 in an out-of-court settlement initiated by the Commission for being arbitrarily detained.
The Commission has also appeared as amicus curiae in other cases to uphold human rights principles, ensuring appropriate redress or remedies are afforded to the victims of human rights violations.
The Commission has also conducted many human rights training for schools and communities. In 2022 alone, 5 schools and 18 community visits were carried out with 159 high school students and 425 community participants that participated in the human rights awareness and training carried out by the Commission.
Last year, the Commission completed its reaccreditation with the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions and was warmly welcomed as a new member of the Asia Pacific Forum on National Human Rights Institutions. Accreditation with the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions allows NHRIs like our Commission to have a voice at the Human Rights Council to bring our issues onto the global agenda and mobilise the support that Fiji and the Pacific need, especially on climate change.
Climate change is an emerging human rights issue posing a serious risk to the fundamental rights to life, health, food and an adequate standard of living of individuals and communities across the world.
In the Pacific, climate change is threatening the health of our people, as well as our economic and social development. Extreme weather events, especially cyclones and floods are displacing communities, causing injuries and psychological trauma, and are increasing the risks of infection and malnutrition.
As I had mentioned earlier, climate change issues are brought to the forefront in the international arena through the work of the NHRIs through their monitoring and reporting roles of human rights situations at the national level.
I also note the various topics that will be covered in the next two days and in particular the establishment of NHRIs and ensuring their effective role in your respective countries. 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.
What is reassuring is that there is assistance available from our key partners, most of which are present here today. Our development partners are vital in our journey as we strive to uphold the well-being and dignity of our people through the protection of their rights.
I encourage you all to take advantage of this opportunity and share your experiences and lessons learned particularly from those countries that have established their NHRIs and to encourage those that are in the process of establishing their own human rights institutions so that we continue to move the Pacific forward in our work to promote and protect human rights and dignity.
I would like to close by thanking the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions and the Pacific Community for organising such a Forum and also welcome and thank the experts who will lead the various sessions throughout the next two days. It is without a doubt that there will be many positive outcomes from this Forum and I wish you all a very successful two days of deliberations and exchanges.