Chance for Fiji to send strong message against torture
A human rights researcher says Fiji's ratification of both the UN Convention Against Torture and its optional protocol would send out a strong message internationally.
A human rights researcher says Fiji's ratification of both the UN Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol would send out a strong message to the community.
Fiji's parliament is reviewing whether to sign up to the treaty which obliges countries to prevent torture and redress victims.
Kate Schuetze of Amnesty International told Sally Round signing the optional agreement as well would offer victims of torture redress through the United Nations, if they have no luck in their own country.
KATE SCHUETZE: Essentially if Fiji ratifies the Convention, there will be reporting obligations to the UN every couple of years. That's a new thing that Fiji has to take on and has to decide that they want to do that. Only if they decide to ratify the optional protocol for the Convention Against Torture, which we would strongly support as well, does that create an alternative mechanism. So people who haven't received any justice in-country for torture cases could then raise their case directly to the UN, if they say there hasn't been any response in-country.
SALLY ROUND: So just being a signatory to the treaty, ratifying it, does that mean (Fiji's) laws have to come into synch? I'm thinking here of the Constitution which gives extensive immunities to coup-makers.
KS: I mean essentially international law doesn't automatically become law in the country. The country then needs to look at ways to make the national laws, including under the Constitution and under the Crimes Decree consistent with their international obligations. We do already have a definition and an offence for torture under the criminal code but of course as you've highlighted some of that could be undermined with the current provisions of the Constitution creating far-reaching immunities. Essentially ratification of the Convention at this stage would open up technical assistance and support to the Fiji government so that they could work with the UN to adopt laws and policies to make what they're doing in-country consistent with those international standards and I think that would be a very positive step. Of course sometimes aligning the national laws with the international standards can take a little bit of time but that would be a very positive step for Fiji and the people in Fiji.
SR: So they're not obliged immediately to change everything at the drop of a hat?
KS: No you ratify the Convention and then you take steps to comply with it and if you haven't fully complied with that Convention of course there are other reporting mechanisms where the UN can feed back and say where it thinks the gaps are in-country in terms of compliance with the Convention.
SR: And does ratification of the Convention also mean providing redress for victims of torture?
KS: Yes, one of the requirements is that there has to be appropriate remedy. In some cases there might be appropriate remedies in Fiji but of course in the past that hasn't consistently been the case. But like I said here we're not providing an additional mechanism for people to go to to make complaints against torture unless Fiji decides to ratify the Optional Protocol because that actually gives an additional mechanism for them to say we've been tortured in-country, we haven't received justice in-country, we've gone through the processes here and we haven't received any outcome. That means they can then write to the UN and ask the UN to look into the issue.
SR: So is it likely that Fiji will ratify that optional part?
KS: I don't know that the Optional Protocol has been talked about in as much length as the Convention at this stage. I think it'd be very positive for them to sign both at the same time but as you've highlighted earlier they might want some time before they create that alternative mechanism to bring laws and standards in the country to meet the Convention Against Torture and then seek to ratify at a later stage the Optional Protocol but what we would be saying is that doing both together would send a very strong signal to the community that the Fiji government is not prepared to tolerate torture in any of its forms in-country and that would significantly boost public confidence in the police and the military.
SR: With ratification of the Convention how then would Fiji rate in terms of human rights? You've just brought out the latest Human rights report. How would Fiji stand?
KS: In the last couple of weeks, we've seen quite a few surprising signs of progress in Fiji. We've seen eight police officers and one military officer were arrested in relation to the death of Vilikesi Soko who was killed in custody last year in August. We've seen that Fiji has fully met its commitments to fully repeal the death penalty which only applied for military crimes and of course the third action they're taking is that they're having public discussions in a very open format about whether they should as a country ratify the Convention Against Torture and I think this is showing that the tide has changed a little bit in Fiji, that they're trying to take action to further strengthen and protect human rights in-country. We're not all the way there yet and I should say that most countries don't have a perfect human rights record including Australia or New Zealand but it has been very reassuring to see the progress that Fiji has started to make this year.
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