Solicitor General’s Office misleads Parliament’s standing committee

  • 8th May 2018
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Fiji Labour Party refutes a claim by Senior Legal Officer at the Solicitor General’s Office that Fiji’s laws were already compliant with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). (FT 5 May)

“It is ridiculous to make such a claim when the truth is quite the opposite,” said Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry. He has written to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence  asking that the Solicitor General be summoned by the Committee to provide an explanation.

The claim was made by Senior Legal Officer Seema Chand
while addressing the parliamentary standing committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence last Thursday (FT May 5).

The fact is that a number of laws currently in force in Fiji violate the provisions of the ICCPR. These are the: Public Order Act, the Media Decree, Political Parties Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures Decree and above all the provisions in the 2013 Constitution that limit the right to fundamental freedoms.

“One would expect the Solicitor General’s office to accurately inform the parliamentary committee and the people and not mislead them,” Mr Chaudhry said.

Ms Chand should be aware of the critical comments made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in his media statement dated 12 February 2018, following his visit to Fiji.

Mr Al Hussein called on the government to ratify the ICCPR and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights  and “to ensure that its legislation is in line with their provisions”.

Moreover, a working group of the UN Human Rights Council severely criticised the human rights situation in Fiji and recommended that the Constitution and national legislation be amended to respect freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

Mr Chaudhry said that an abhorrent provision in the imposed 2013 Constitution and the Electoral Decree (Act) was the restriction placed on trade unionists from contesting parliamentary elections, in blatant violation of their rights under the ICCPR.

In the face of all this, how can the Solicitor General’s office claim that Fiji’s legislation is in compliance with the Convenant?” asked Mr Chaudhry.

Similar statements were also made by the DPP and the Director of  Fiji Human Rights and anti-Discrimination Commission.

“It is disgusting that independent constitutional officers have become pawns in the hands of the Bainimarama government,” said Mr Chaudhry.

Below: FLP’s  letter to the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence:

7 May 2018

The Chairperson
Parliamentary Standing Committee on
Foreign Affairs and Defence
Parliament House

Dear Sir

re: Submission by the Office of the Solicitor General on ICCPR

I refer to a report in the Fiji Times of May 4 2018 ( P6) wherein Ms Seema Chand, Senior Legal Officer in the Solicitor General’s office is reported to have submitted to your Committee on 3 May 2018 that “Fiji’s laws are already in compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights…”

May I, respectfully, point out that her statement, as reported, is not only incorrect but, in my view, is an attempt to mislead and misinform Parliament.

I believe Ms Chand and, indeed, the office of the Solicitor General, must have been aware of a contrary opinion expressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and also a Working Group of the UN Human Rights Council which examined the human rights situation in Fiji in its sitting of March 2015.

Despite the well documented statement and report which clearly pointed to the fact that Fiji’s laws were far from compliant with the ICCPR, Ms Chand proceeded to make a submission which was factually incorrect and misleading.

I attach for your information copy of a media statement I have issued on the subject together with the statement made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the relevant extract from the report of the UN Human Rights Council Working Group. It is necessary, in the public interest, to correct the misleading and incorrect information imparted in Ms Chand’s submission to your Committee and the public at large.

In the circumstances, we call on your Committee to examine the matter to ascertain whether the Solicitor General should be summoned before the committee to provide an explanation.

Yours faithfully

Mahendra P. Chaudhry