The Fiji government was thoroughly grilled by members of the United Nations Committee on the elimination of racial discrimination when it met in Geneva Tuesday to examine Fiji’s report to the committee.
Dr. Ganesh Chand who is representing the National Farmers Union at the hearing, said Fiji officials presenting the report were particularly questioned on government’s affirmative action programmes, land policies and eviction of tenant farmers, and encouragement given to groups that advance racial supremacy.
On its race based affirmative action programme, Government has been given time till Wednesday morning (Geneva time) to respond to the committee’s queries.
“Members questioned the logic of a race based affirmative action programme when there was ample data in a UNDP report that poverty was spread across all racial groups. The committee noted from the report that the poorest ethnic Indians were worse hit by poverty than ethnic Fijians,” Dr. Chand said, reporting from Geneva.
Land Policies and eviction of tenant farmers.
Based on the fact that indigenous Fijians owned 88% of all land in the country, the committee questioned the SDL government’s naked land grab policy when large tracts of land were still unutilised.
“The committee said this raised serious concerns about government’s commitment, if any, to making land accessible to those who did not own any land,” Dr. Chand said.
Advancing racial supremacy:
Government was grilled on why it did not ban groups which encouraged and promoted the notion of racial supremacy in Fiji. Government replied that it did not want to limit the freedom of such groups in Fiji.
Dr. Chand and the NGO Coalition represented by Rev. Akuila Yabaki and Jone Dakavula had earlier submitted that government was in fact encouraging and supporting groups that were advancing the notion of racial supremacy in the country.
“Government was urged to consider this and to actually ban groups which promote notions of racial supremacy,” Dr. Chand said.
He said the government’s entire case at the Geneva hearing rested on the human rights provisions in the 1997 Constitution.
“The government delegation hailed the 1997 Constitution as one which enabled the country to ensure that it did not breach provisions of human rights and did not institute racial discrimination,” Dr. Chand said.
He said the government had sent a “huge” delegation to Geneva and questioned the justification for wasting taxpayers’ money on sending all these people “to an expensive place like Geneva”.
Dr. Ganesh also questioned why a representative from the Law Reform Commission was there while the Fiji Human Rights Commission was not represented in the government delegation which was led by Isikeli Mataitoga, Fiji’s ambassador in Brussels.
The Fiji government is a signatory of the United Nations Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination but had failed to file annual reports to CERD for more than two decades. The government was forced to file reports covering this period after the NFU and the NGO Coalition made their submissions on racial discrimination in Fiji to UNCERD in 2002