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Fiji: Parliament Approves Ratification of Convention Against Torture

(Mar. 19, 2015) On March 16, 2015, the Fijian Parliament voted unanimously to support the ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT). (Nasik Swami, Yes to UNCAT, FIJI TIMES (Mar. 17, 2015).) The Parliament voted on a government motion following a debate on a report by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on the proposal to ratify the Convention. The debate included a speech by Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, who stated that formally ratifying the Convention would send an “important message to the international community” on Fiji’s stance on the use of torture as an “instrument of state policy.” (Speech, Hon. Bainimarama, Speech to Parliament on the Ratification of the U.N. Convention Against Torture (Mar. 16, 2015), Fijian Government website.)

Submissions to Hearings on the Ratification Proposal

The Committee recently held hearings on the proposal to ratify UNCAT. (Call for Written Evidence for Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, Parliament of the Republic of Fiji (last visited Mar. 17, 2015).) It received 16 submissions, including from individuals, nongovernment organizations, and government agencies. (Nasik Swami, Committee Prepares Report for Submission, FIJI TIMES (Mar. 15, 2015).)

In a submission to the Committee, a representative of the U.N. Human Rights Office for the Pacific stated, that Fiji has committed to investigating alleged acts of brutality and detention and holding perpetrators responsible. In addition, the Office noted that the laws of Fiji are already largely compatible with the UNCAT. (Sofaia Koroitanoa, Parliament Committee to Approve on Convention Against Torture, FIJI ONE (Feb. 2015).)

Other submissions supporting ratification included those of the Fiji Police Force and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF). The Deputy Police Commissioner stated, “[w]e see that this will really help to build trust within and amongst the people of Fiji especially on law enforcement.” (Fiji Disciplinary Forces Support UN Convention Against Torture, ISLANDS BUSINESS (Feb. 25, 2015).) The RFMF Land Commander told the Committee that ratification would assist Fiji’s image internationally and specifically in relation to contributing troops to U.N. missions. (Ana Paula & Meli Tavaga, RFMF and Police Support UN Convention Against Torture, FIJI VILLAGE (Feb. 2, 2015).)

Reservations Issue

Many submitters called for the Convention to be ratified without reservations, and news articles indicate that the Committee’s report did not recommend any reservations. (Vuniwaqa Bola-Bari, Against Torture, FIJI TIMES (Mar. 5, 2015); Litia Cava, PM Backs Anti-Torture Laws, FIJI SUN (Mar. 17, 2015).) However, the Solicitor-General indicated during the hearings that a reservation would be made to articles 21 and 22 of UNCAT, on the international complaint mechanisms for individuals. (Vuniwaqa Bola-Bari, Articles 21 and 22, FIJI TIMES (Mar. 4, 2015).) In response to questions during the hearings, he stated, “…of course Government’s position is that, there will be a reservation but what is important is to ensure that you have the domestic regime whereby a complaint can be investigated, prosecuted and brought before an independent judiciary, as well as having a regime in place whereby a person can sue the State for compensation.” (Id.)

During the parliamentary debate, members noted that most of the principles of UNCAT are already part of domestic legislation under the new Fijian Constitution, and some argued that there should be reservations, including to the articles on complaints. (Litia Cava, supra; Nasik Swami, Don’t Ratify Blindly, Minister Says of UNCAT, FIJI TIMES (Mar. 17, 2015).)

A Note on the 2014 Fijian Parliament Elections

The 50 members of Fiji’s Parliament were sworn in on October 6, 2014, following the first national elections to be held since a 2006 military coup. (Members of Parliament Sworn In, FIJI LIVE (Oct. 6, 2014).) The elections were held under the 2013 Constitution, which was signed into law in September 2013. (Kelly Buchanan, Fiji: New Constitution Signed into Law, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Sept. 9, 2013).)

The Fiji First party, led by coup-leader Voreqe Bainimarama, gained 59% of the votes and formed a government with Bainimarama as Prime Minister. International observers said the election was credible, and the result broadly reflected the will of voters. (Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama Confirmed as Election Winner with Outright Majority, GUARDIAN (Sept. 21, 2014).)