Fiji in Top UN Body
We’re first Pacific Island nation to become a member of the human rights council
Fiji’s leadership in advancing and protecting human rights received major international recognition yesterday at the UN Headquarters in New York, where Fiji won its bid for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Fiji is the first Pacific Island Nation elected to the UNHRC, the world’s foremost body in protecting and promoting human rights.
In a remarkable display of global confidence, Fiji received 187 votes,
the second highest votes among all candidate countries and only one vote shy of the highest number of votes overall.
The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the UN system that is charged with the promotion and protection of all human rights around the world. It makes recommendations on how to address human rights violations and has the ability to discuss all thematic human right issues and situations.
Fiji’s membership will start on January 1, 2019, and last for a term of three years.
Fiji will assume its seat on the back of a proud 40-year legacy of UN Peacekeeping, the ratification of seven of the core human rights conventions and major positions of global leadership.
These include the presidency of COP23, the co-host of the first-ever UN Conference on Oceans, Chair of the G77 Plus China, president of the United Nations General Assembly and, most recently, the chair of the World Bank Small States Forum. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said: “We are honoured to take up this seat on the UN Human Rights Council and grateful to the global community, including many international civil society organisations, for their strong backing of our candidacy.
“Our 187 votes are a powerful recognition of Fiji’s unwavering commitment to the fundamental rights of all global citizens,” he said.
“It is also testament to our tremendous progress on the home front, where we have enshrined a vast array of human, political and socioeconomic rights in the 2013 Fijian Constitution.
“Where we are bringing security, opportunity and dignity to Fijians who historically have languished on the margins of our society, and where we are steadily moving towards a future that is free of racism, nepotism and privilege.” Attorney-General Aiyaz SayedKhaiyum welcomed Fiji’s successful bid as an affirmation of Fiji’s unprecedented investment in the growth of social wages to realise the socioeconomic rights of all Fijians.
“In Fiji, we’ve already ratified seven of the nine core human rights conventions, with plans to complete ratification of the remaining two conventions in our parliamentary sessions following our national elections,” he said.
“We are also realising - in a very practical manner - the socioeconomic rights of all Fijians through our targeted investment in the growth social wages. “Through our national budgets, we’ve set aside historic funding towards those who are vulnerable in our society, to protect their human rights enshrined in our Constitution.
“These are the right to education, healthcare, equal justice, adequate food, clean water, decent housing and many other fundamental rights for human progress and dignity.” The Permanent Representative of Fiji to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan, said this achievement was especially important for the council as an inclusive and truly representative body, capable of hearing the voices of all States, no matter what the size, and of hearing the stories of diverse human rights journeys. The Fiji Human Rights and AntiDiscrimination Commission director Ashwin Raj said the achievement was significant not only for Fiji, but also for the Human Rights Council.
“Because Fiji’s membership will strengthen the fabric of the Human Rights Council by recognising the diverse human rights concerns of small island developing states (SIDS),” Mr Raj said.
“Not only is this a victory for SIDS, but this is the first time that a Pacific Small Islands Developing State (PSIDS) has joined the Human Rights Council as a member.
“Today’s decisive victory is a further catalyst for the national human rights commission and civil society to hold government accountable in fulfilling its commitment towards the protection and promotion of human rights in Fiji,” Mr Raj said. National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad said the party welcomed Fiji’s election as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
“I made it clear in Parliament this year that we fully support Fiji’s bid to become a member of the UNHRC, but at the same time urged Government to fully adhere and respect all fundamental human rights and freedoms,” Mr Prasad said. “There should be no limitations and restrictions whatsoever on any basic human right and freedom. “Having said this we note that countries with far more dubious record have held membership on the UNHRC.
“We also expect the next government to fully investigate all breaches of human rights in the last 12 years.”
Haus of Khameleon (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender activist group) board co-chair Sulique Waqa said that there had been some mixed reactions over the years regarding Fiji’s bid to be a member of the council. However, Fiji’s membership provided a more effective accountability mechanism in terms of the promotion and protection of the human rights of its people. Ms Waqa further added that this mechanism also provided an avenue for citizens to lobby and voice out any human rights concerns at the UNHRC through its civil society engagement mechanism. Unity Fiji party leader Savenaca Narube said: “It is a good thing for Fiji to get a seat at the UN Human Rights Council as it is the first time for Fiji.”
HOPE president and party leader Tupou Draunidalo said: “The United Nations owes Fiji a lot of money for peacekeeping and the costs of our maintaining a military for their use.
“HOPE would prefer the United Nations repay us those hundreds of millions of dollars for our economy, wages, schools, and hospitals rather than giving us a seat on a council with other human rights violators.”
SODELPA general secretary Adi Litia Qionibaravi said yesterday she would respond later.
Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry could not be reached to comment.
Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other organisations in Geneva and Ambassador to Switzerland Nazhat Shameem-Khan (front left) and Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission director Ashwin Raj (front right) with other members of the Fijian delegation at the UN.
The Fijian delegation in New York.