Fijis women stand up for human rights by maclaren1

VIEWS: 3 PAGES: 4

									                                                                                                        April – June 2005


                              Fiji’s women stand up for human rights
What’s inside?               Public opinion may be divided, but a new bill for Fiji has galvanized the efforts
                              of civil society – demonstrating the debate, solidarity and advocacy efforts so
                                               necessary to a healthy, functioning democracy.
Editorial               2
                             Fiji’s Government has recently attracted
                             much attention thanks to a bid to introduce
LRTO profiles           2    its Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity
                             Bill.
RRRT highlights         3
                             The Bill has divided Fijians because it
Comings & goings 4           proposes possible amnesties for the
                             perpetrators of an attempted coup in May
                             2000 that saw the country’s first ethnic
What’s happening? 4          Indian prime minister deposed in the name
                             of restoring political power to Fiji’s
                             indigenous population.

                             If passed, the law would allow those
                             already serving sentences, as well as those
                             currently awaiting conviction, for coup-
                             related offences to apply for amnesty.
                             They would be freed if a government-
                             appointed reconciliation commission rules
                             that their actions were politically rather
                             than criminally motivated.

                             The Bill has provoked organised vocal
                             dissent and calls for greater public          Democracy in action: Edwina Kotoisuva of the Fiji
                             consultation and debate in Fiji – not only    Women’s Crisis Centre and Virisila Buadromo of the Fiji
                             from opposition parties, but from the Fiji    Women’s Rights Movement protest against the
                                                                           Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill outside the Fiji
                             Law Society, the military, civil society      Parliament on 2 June.
                             groups, and even the US Embassy in Fiji.

                             Strongly behind this call is RRRT’s national partner organisation, the Fiji Women’s Rights
                             Movement (FWRM). In the past two months FWRM, in collaboration with Fiji’s NGO Coalition
                             on Human Rights, has been a prominent force in encouraging debate, raising public awareness
   The Pacific Regional      and mobilising public opposition through lobbying, media advocacy, public rallies, Community
  Rights Resource Team       Paralegal support and awareness raising campaigns. This has included distributing a pamphlet “8
(RRRT) provides training,    reasons why the RTU Bill is not good for Fiji” via local newspapers The Fiji Times and Nai
 technical support, policy   Lalakai to dispel misconceptions surrounding the Bill.
 and advocacy advice in
 human rights to promote     In a submission to the Government’s Sector Committee on the Bill in mid June, FWRM argued
  social justice and good    that while “every right thinking citizen in this country wants reconciliation and unity … One of
  governance throughout      the main objectives of the Bill is to absolve perpetrators of gross violations of human rights
    the Pacific region.      during the designated period (19 May 2000 to 15 March 2001).”

                             “There is no justification for violations of a human right,” FWRM said.
                                                            1                                                 Continued on page 4
Editorial

                          The bumpy road to independence
As chronicled in past editions of Right Hia, RRRT has been steadily moving on the path towards becoming the Pacific’s first
indigenous human rights institution. The path has not always been smooth and we are still facing both major and minor bumps
along the way.

One of the major bumps is the lack of legislation in the Pacific for the operation of non-state actors or civil society
organisations. Such legislation would ensure that regional and national organisations have a clear set of rules of operation, and
are also protected in their operations by law. Currently, in most Pacific Island countries, there exists legislation for charities or
charitable trusts. This allows organisations to raise funds for charity and to run charitable activities. However, charities are only
one type of non-governmental organisation (NGO) or non-state actor (NSA). There are many other kinds, ranging from groups
working on environmental issues, such as Greenpeace, to groups that promote sports like the rugby unions and football clubs
that exist around the Pacific. These groups are sometimes lumped under the term “civil society”. What is important is that all of
these different types of organisations require legislation that both allow them to operate as well as ensure that they are
accountable to the state(s) in which they are operating and to their respective constituencies.

The range of benefits which civil society organisations provide is enormous; from organising our children’s sporting or cultural
events, to informing us about new health issues, the environment, good governance or workers’ rights. Hence the need to have a
clear set of rules for operating that protects and supports all of these different types of organisations is essential. Currently in Fiji
we have a Charitable Trusts Act as well as a Companies Act which allows for the operation of “not for profit” companies or
companies “limited by guarantee (CLG)”. Neither of these acts encompasses the full range of activities that civil society
organisations cover. And neither of them permits for operation on a regional basis.

This is one of the hurdles which RRRT is facing in becoming a regional operation, and for this reason we will be extending
under UNDP until the end of 2006. This additional year will allow for us to do two things; one is to explore agreements that
would facilitate our operation into the future, and the other is to work together with civil society in developing improved
legislation that will enable and facilitate the operations of civil society organisations.

While this hurdle has been a disappointment for us, we are also pleased to have the continuing support of UNDP for this
additional time. RRRT’s objectives will remain the same regardless of its mode of operation; and one of our objectives is still to
become the first Pacific regional human rights institution. We will continue to work hard in order to meet this objective through
the remainder of 2005 and 2006.

Sandra Bernklau
Project Manager


    On the frontline – Fiji’s LRTOs Seema Naidu & Susana Naivaqa
                                           As human rights defenders, Legal Rights Training Officers (LRTOs) carry out human
                                           rights advocacy work at all levels, and often in the most critical political climates. No
                                           more is this true than for FWRM’s LRTOs, Seema Naidu and Susana Naivaqa, who
                                           have been working in partnership with RRRT since they came on board in 2002.

                                         For Seema, “breaking the culture of silence in the Pacific and giving the voiceless a
                                         voice” is the most satisfying thing about being an LRTO – despite regularly being
labelled a “bra-burner” or “man-hater”. In trying times, Seema likes to draw on the wisdom of the great Martin Luther King,
who once said that “our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter”.

In Susana’s case, the greatest test is “challenging the mindset of the indigenous Fijians about their views on human rights and
democracy and making them accept the fact that it is suitable for us”. But sometimes our biggest challenges lead to the greatest
satisfaction. For Susana, the reward is teaching people “something they never knew and empowering them with this knowledge
that enables them to assert their rights and bring about changes in their lives and their community”.



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                                         RRRT Highlights
Pacific CSOs working together for peace                             Kiribati women’s group to go solo
In mid April, RRRT joined representatives of Pacific regional       At its 5th AGM in mid May, RRRT’s national partner organisation
CSOs in Fiji for a week-long consultation on conflict               in Kiribati, AMAK (Aia Maea Ainen Kiribati), made the landmark
prevention and peace in preparation for a Global Partnership        decision to become a fully-fledged, independent, non-governmental
for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) conference to          organisation (NGO). AMAK, the umbrella association of women’s
be held in New York in late July. Organised by Fiji’s NGO           groups in the country, currently operates as a quasi NGO – with its
Coalition on Human Rights, the consultation brought together        own constitution – under the realm of the Kiribati Government’s
representatives from 10 Pacific Island states to discuss            Ministry of Internal and Social Affairs. An overwhelming majority
experiences and approaches in building and sustaining peace,        of those attending the conference, which included representatives
and the “need for the Pacific region to define a home-grown         from each of the 13 islands of the Gilberts Group and the Line and
Pacific concept of conflict prevention, peace making and peace      Phoenix Group, as well as RRRT, supported the decision. The
building based on the region’s culture and experiences”. The        Kiribati Government has fully supported this move and will assist
recommendations were presented the following week at a              AMAK during the transition period to becoming autonomous.
regional government workshop on peace building and conflict         Come January 2006, the Government hopes AMAK will be able to
prevention organised by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat       run on its own, but will further assist until May 2007. AMAK’s
and UNDP. The Global Partnership, an international network          resolution to become an NGO is a major step forward for not only
of organisations working in conflict prevention and peace           the women of Kiribati, but all its citizens. RRRT wishes them all
building worldwide, aims to strengthen the role and networks        the best!
of CSOs in the prevention of armed conflict and promote
interaction between the United Nations, governments and civil       … and step up human rights training in the process
society in conflict prevention and peace building.                  On the subject of Kiribati, 26 Women Interest Workers, Island
                                                                    Community Workers and other women’s and council
Young legal eagles take to human rights                             representatives from across the country also gathered in Tarawa in
For the seventh year running, this April RRRT took to the           late May to participate in a week-long workshop on the law, human
hallowed halls of the University of the South Pacific to conduct    rights, gender and proposal writing conducted jointly by RRRT and
our annual three-week component of the Professional Diploma         AMAK’s new Legal Rights Training Officer Anne Kautu. More
in Legal Practice. Coordinated by the Institute of Justice and      training is planned for the future.
Applied Legal Studies, the diploma prepares new Pacific Island
law graduates for legal practice – with an emphasis on the          Training up CEDAW advocates in Tonga
practical aspects of practice. Looking at issues of human rights,   In partnership with Tonga’s Women and Development Centre, in
international and family law, the course provides RRRT with         late May/early June RRRT facilitated the first part of a Training of
an opportunity to set regional human rights standards and to        Trainers (TOT) on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms
build the capacity of lawyers from across the region to promote     of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for 20 government
and protect human rights. Previous graduates have gone on to        and civil society representatives. Discrimination, equality and
apply human rights law and standards in the courtroom and are       gender were the cross cutting themes in the training, stimulating
now working alongside human rights defenders in pursuing and        discussions on women and culture, land rights and decision making.
addressing injustices.                                              The second half of the training will be scheduled for later this year.
                                                                    It is hoped that these trainers will spread the word on CEDAW to
Pacific educators talk human rights                                 government and civil society in an effort to facilitate Tonga’s
Facilitated by RRRT in May, the Council of Pacific Education        ratification of this important women’s convention.
(COPE) convened its third and final human rights awareness
raising workshop for its Women’s Network. With participants              Board member for the month: Dr Jimmy Rodgers
from affiliates around the region, this truly representational
group of empowered female teachers came with lots of                Dr Jimmy Rodgers is the Senior Deputy Director General with the
experience, personal anecdotes and positive attitudes. They         South Pacific Community (SPC) and heads the organisation’s Suva-
enthusiastically grasped the human rights issues and illustrated    based programmes. Dr Rodgers is a medical doctor by profession
this by integrating the concepts into school lesson plans. The      and is widely known and respected in the areas of health and
idea is that these lesson plans will be compiled into a teaching    medicine around the Pacific. Prior to joining SPC, he was employed
tool that may be used by the affiliates in their own respective     as Under-Secretary – Health Care with the Solomon Islands
countries. All in all, the workshop was a resounding success        Ministry of Health and Medical Services and also as the Solomon
and further strengthened ties with this important regional body.    Islands Permanent Secretary for Health.

                                                                             See upcoming issues of this e-newsletter for more
                                                                                    RRRT Board member biographies.



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Fiji’s women stand up for human
rights (continued from page 1):                                               Comings & goings
FWRM argues that the Bill is unlawful and                o   RRRT bids farewell to one of its longest serving staff members, Kelera
unconstitutional: violating laws against equality and        Finau Elder. Kelera has been the Administrative Assistant with RRRT
non-discrimination, usurping the constitutional              since 1995 (apart from a brief hiatus with UNFPA), providing much
powers of public officials and bodies, and                   support and guidance for the team throughout the years. She has been
threatening the independence of the judiciary. It            part of the team that saw RRRT grow from a small human rights project
believes that the Bill violates international and            into the regional body it is today. RRRT wishes you all the best for the
regional law, declarations and agreements,                   future, Cleo!
including universally recognised human rights
conventions, the UN Millennium Declaration, the          o   Also we say a big tang yu tumas to Vanuatu Legal Rights Training
Harare Declaration and UN terrorism conventions.             Officer Reginald Kipe who at the end of June finished up at our
Furthermore, FWRM says, most importantly for the             national partner organisation, the Vanuatu Rural Development and
people of Fiji, the Bill will reinforce the coup cycle       Training Centres’ Association (VRDTCA). Reggie, who’s been with
and threaten democracy and the rule of law.                  VRDTCA since May last year, will be completing his law degree at the
                                                             University of the South Pacific before moving onto new pastures.
Lobbying for legislative reform or policy change is
nothing new for FWRM. The organisation, in close         o   We also welcome Sureshni (Sue) Mudaliar as temporary
partnership with RRRT and other NGOs, spent over             Administrative Assistant. Sue joined us after previously being with the
eight years lobbying for the passage of the                  AusAID-funded Pacific Children’s Program. Since starting in May,
groundbreaking yet controversial Family Law Bill,            Sue’s smiling face and accommodating demeanor has become a
which finally became law in 2003. It has also spent          welcome feature at RRRT’s front desk.
five years pushing for the Employment Relations
Bill to ensure gender equality in the workplace and      o   A big vinaka vakalevu to our two volunteers who provided much help
the introduction of sexual offence laws.                     around the office over the past months. Thank you to Lousia Teaotai
                                                             for your invaluable research assistance to RRRT trainers. Also, thanks
FWRM, as a multi-ethnic, women’s NGO, is                     and all the best to Luisa Katubadrau who again volunteered her free
dedicated to ending discrimination, and like all             time from her university studies. We wish you all the best with your
NGOs, has a legitimate role to play in promoting             final semester at the University of the South Pacific.
good governance, human rights and the rule of law.
It is only through full consultation and participation   o   Congratulations to Tonga’s Legal Rights Training Officer, Betty Blake
in the law-making process that we can have laws the          – one of 36 women from the Pacific region chosen as part of the “1000
truly reflect the views of all.                              Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005” project which aims to
                                                             highlight, and acknowledge the diverse range of women-centred
As FWRM itself puts it; “Let’s together draft a new          initiatives in building and sustaining peace. For the complete list of
unity law which will comply with all the rules of            women nominated, go to www.1000peacewomen.org.
democracy and human rights.”


                                                What’s happening?
July
         Fiji Law Society Convention (2 – 3 July)
         Pacific Regional Leadership Development Workshop (University of the South Pacific) (7 – 9 July)
         Bill of Rights Training for CID Qualifying Course at the Fiji Police Academy (26 July)
August
      Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Regional Workshop on Disability (1 – 4 August)
      HIV/AIDS, Stigma & Human Rights Training for the UN Family (27 August)
      Global Consultation on the Ratification and use of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW (IWRAW Asia Pacific – Malaysia)
      (29 – 20 August)
September
      Solomon Islands CPT Refresher Course (5 – 16 September)

  For more information contact RRRT (tel: +679 330 5582 • fax: +679 330 6582 • email: registry@rrrt.org.fj •
                                          website: www.rrrt.org)

                   To subscribe to this newsletter, please send a message to registry@rrrt.org.fj
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