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Fiji Government risks losing public support for new Constitution, says international rights organisation

17 January 2013

The Fiji government’s rejection of the proposed constitution in favour of one written by a government-appointed committee, is likely to delegitimize the entire process, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

‘The draft prepared by the Constitution Commission was a good and fair reflection of the submissions received from the public,’ says Chris Chapman, MRG’s Head of Conflict Prevention.

‘The government’s intervention has, unfortunately, derailed a transparent, participatory process. The risk is that the Fijian people will lose faith and not grant any legitimacy to the new constitution,’ he added.

The government requested renowned Kenyan professor of constitutional law, Yash Ghai, to form a Commission to draft a new constitution in 2012. This Constitution Commission was empowered to base their decisions upon ‘the wishes of the people of Fiji’ and received 7,000 submissions. But after the draft was presented last month, police seized copies of it and burnt printer's proofs.

The government has promised that it will deliver a fresh constitution by the end of January. It will then be sent to a constituent assembly, made up of government appointees, to finalise it.

The draft, while recognising the history and culture of the indigenous peoples of Fiji, insists on the equal status of all communities, including equality of languages, prohibition of all forms of discrimination, and freedom of religion. It requires respect for the culture and heritage of all communities and mandates an independent National Consultative Land Forum to advise the government on land policy, which has been a contentious issue in the country.

It also requires extensive decentralisation of decision-making and seeks to eliminate the role of the military in politics. The document is a key component of measures intended to help return Fiji to democracy ahead of upcoming elections.

MRG urges the government to rescind its decision and allow the constitution-making process to take its course as set out in Decrees 57 and 58 of 18 July 2012; namely that the original Constituent Assembly, made up of representatives of the people, decide what changes, if any, are warranted in the draft constitution.

‘This unjustifiable intervention by the state will significantly undermine the people's confidence in the process, the final document and a democratic future for Fiji. Any enduring document must have the support and ownership of the people if it is to ensure sustainable constitutional democracy in the country,’ says Reverend Akuila Yabaki, of Fijian organisation The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum.

Fiji, a former British colony made up of roughly 330 islands in the central Pacific Ocean, has been under military rule since a 2006 coup. The country has suffered three further coups and a military mutiny since 1987, mainly as a result of tension between the majority indigenous Fijian population and an economically powerful Indian minority.

Professor Yash Ghai is an author and former board member of MRG.

For more information contact:

Chris Chapman, MRG Head of Conflict Prevention (London)

T: +44 (0)207 4224207

M: +44 (0)7973 694529

E: [email protected]

Twitter: @chrisshelane

Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.