PM's UN Address on Racism and Racial Discrimination
That address will be webcasted live through the United Nations website at http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/webcast/.
On this occasion of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, my delegation wishes to take this opportunity treaffirm its unwavering commitment towards the achievement of the objectives
of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the Durban Declaration.
Addressing racism and racial discrimination is central to Fiji; one of the
main priorities for my Government is to fully and effectively implement the
Durban Declaration and Programme of Action at all levels of our societies.
In this regard, we are working towards the dismantling all initiatives that
institutionalized racial discrimination, and encouraged racism as a result.
This priority is based on the knowledge that it is the State's
responsibility to provide equal opportunity to all its citizens, and to
encourage tolerance and dignity for and by all. We believe that only by
doing so will we be able to achieve harmonious and fair societies that will
be able to focus on economic empowerment and equal opportunities for all
regardless of race or creed.
Declarations of equality in the law, in constitutions, in human rights
provisions, are only the beginning of a long and hard battle to transform
unequal societies into communities committed to equality. The hardest battle
of all is to dismantle social and legal structures which institutionalize
racial discrimination, and then to change attitudinal suspicion between
Fiji has a history of racial discrimination, entrenched by our colonial
past, and perpetuated by post-colonial governments to preserve power by
dividing our society on ethnic lines. Until 2009, the Fiji Constitution
created a Parliament which preserved ''communal seats'', in respect of which
a voter could only vote if he or she came from the same racial group as the
candidate. Reserving seats for racial groups in Parliament and government
bodies has not worked well in Fiji. The reservations were not based on
disadvantage, and they led to the creation of privileged groups from ethnic
communities which then continued to perpetuate ethnicity as a distinguishing
feature to access financial services, housing, education and political
favors. These features of institutionalized racism in Fiji, perpetuated a
lack of national unity, a culture which was undemocratic and led to the
growth of nationalistic violence in our society, and which is one of the
most important reasons for the reforms which my government is determined to
implement for the sake of the Fijians who will call Fiji home in the next
I come to the word ''Fijian''. For a hundred years, the different ethnic
groups in Fiji, were unable to call themselves 'Fijian'', because this was a
term reserved for the indigenous population. So our citizens were born in
Fiji, they carried Fiji passports, they were called ''Fijian'' in every
other part of the world, yet they could not all call themselves 'Fijian' in
Fiji! My government has changed that. Now every citizen of Fiji can proudly
call himself or herself "Fijian'' with no fear of reprisal. The indigenous
population is referred to as the itaukei.
Similarly, there were many schools in Fiji called 'Indian' schools, or
'Fijian' schools. The policy of my government is to abolish all communal
names for school, to open them up to children of all ethnicities and to
ensure that schools do not perpetuate ethnic polarization.
There are many such structures to dismantle. Appointment and promotion must
be on merit. Merit is paramount. This means re-visiting appointment and
promotion criteria in the public service, and it means having effective laws
in place to protect public servants and people in the private sector from
racial discrimination in the workplace. Our Employment laws already have
comprehensive anti-discrimination provisions which include a wide definition
of fair and unfair discrimination and by amendment to the Public Service
Act, these provisions also apply to public servants. Breach of the
anti-discrimination provisions can lead to disciplinary action or a case
brought before the Employment Tribunal.
The new Crimes Decree, which came into effect in 2010, created an offence of
'Inciting Communal Antagonism', an offence committed when a person makes a
statement or spreads a report which is likely to incite dislike or hatred or
antagonism of any community, or which is intended to promote feelings of
ill-will between different communities in Fiji. The maximum penalty for this
offence is 10 years imprisonment, an indication of how seriously my
government takes 'hate speeches''.
Communal philosophy has not served our people well. Affirmative action
policies which were not based on acceptable definitions of disadvantage, but
on racial origin alone, created a more divided society, and one in which
many depended on handouts rather than on personal enterprise. Politicians
represented particular ethnic groups, and drove policies which were intended
to further divide the people of our nation. As in all parts of the world,
ethnic origin and religious divisions simply became a tool to maintain
power. I am determined that our society will remove the narrow walls of
ethnicity and communalism to create unity and strength as a nation.
In Fiji, we are removing electoral provisions that were based on race, which
have clearly divided our people over the years. For this reason, we will be
introducing a race-free electoral system to lead our country forward towards
elections in 2014, at which for the first time will our people have common
and equal suffrage. We have rejected special measures which were based on
race, particularly those that suppress the rights and dignity of our people.
In order to achieve our aspirations, my Government has now put in place
appropriate laws and policies that reject racial discrimination in all its
manifestations. With Fiji's political and social history, nothing less but
equal treatment of all our ethnic communities, can be accepted.
The electoral system and the education system are two areas under which Fiji
has had reservations listed under the Convention (ICERD). Given my
Government's priorities and commitment on these issues, Fiji will be closely
examining these reservations with a view to removing them. This would
provide the institutional commitment to ensure the recognition, justice and
development for victims of racial discrimination, which is the theme of
today's commemorative meeting.
As noted ten years ago in the Durban Declaration, racism and racial
discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance constitute a negation of
the purposes and principles of the United Nations, and with national action
by all, we can contribute to eliminate the scourge. To this end, Fiji urges
ALL States to exert concerted efforts towards achieving this goal.
Fiji looks forward to working with the international community through the
Convention and the Durban Declaration in the efforts to eliminate racism.
Fiji trusts that the Declaration to be adopted by this meeting will provide
the impetus necessary to achieve full and effective implementation of the
Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
I thank you Mr. President.
(Friday 23rd September 2011, No:1803/MOI)
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