Fiji-Indians suffer from racial discrimination: CERD

  • 12th March 2003
  • 2003
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Certain members of CERD have observed that Fiji-Indians suffered from clear practices of racial discrimination and were given less attention politically.

The United Nations Committee for elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (CERD) examined Fiji on the afternoon of Tuesday 11 March and issued a four page Press Release on the proceedings. The significant points made by committee expert (country rapporteur for Fiji) Ms Patricia January -Bardill and other member experts are summarised as follows:

Article 3: States condemn racial segregation and apartheid and undertake to eradicate all practices of this nature

Ms January-Bardill said there was segregation of a sort in Fiji, if not in intent at least in effect. There were separate schools for specific groups, having the effect of discriminatory practices. Some legislation might be separating rather than bringing people together.

Article 4: States condemn all propaganda and all organisations based on superiority of one race:

The Fiji rapporteur said she did not understand Fiji’s refusal to accede to Article 4 of the convention especially in the light of the specific racial problems faced by all Fijians. She wanted to know how existing Fijian legislation was addressing the issue of outlawing incitement to racial hatred and was criminalising the activities of organisations that promoted racial discrimination.

Affirmative action which might have been beneficial to disadvantaged groups in society, have in fact been harming Fijians as practised. These practices had resulted in systematic and institutionalised forms of discrimination, she said.

It would be interesting to know more about the main challenges of affirmative action for the Government. What were the main challenges?

Ms January-Bardill said lack of land reform had been among the causes of racial discrimination in Fiji. Land rights had been based on group rights rather than individual rights. She asked what measures had been taken to deal with the issue.

Article 5 : State parties undertake to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the rights of everyone to equality before the law, without distinction as to race, colour, national or ethnic origin…

.Ms January-Bardill pointed out there was no specific legislation to give effect to the Constitutional provision relating to the article. What specific measures existed to prohibit or deter certain public institutions from directly or indirectly discriminate against others?I

Questions raised by other members:

1. Why Fiji maintained its reservations on certain paragraphs of Article 5 relating to land in Fiji and the school system as well as Article 4? These provisions were not in conflict with Fiji’s legislation, the expert said.

2. The reports submitted by Fiji were extremely comprehensive and contained valuable information. Besides the positive aspects in the report, were negative ones.

There had been prejudice against people of mixed race in Fiji. He suggested that Fiji should withdraw its reservations, particularly those under Article 5, which in the expert’s opinion did not contradict with the right to freedom of opinion.

Why the government was not distributing land not under cultivation to those farmers who desired to use it. Other committee members also raised similar questions and wondered why Fijian land was exclusively owned by the indigenous peoples.

Several experts referred to Fiji’s reservations and declarations on certain paragraphs of Articles 4 and 5 of the Convention, urging Fiji to withdraw the reservations.

6. Some experts said the UNDP report showed that some racial groups were economically most disadvantaged with low incomes compared to other members of society. Indo-Fijians were given less attention politically, they said, and suffered from clear practices of racial discrimination.4