Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination
20 February 2008
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the combined sixteenth and seventeenth periodic reports of Fiji on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Ross Ligairi, Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Civil Aviation of Fiji, said that in the two years since it had submitted its reports, Fiji had faced a number of challenges that had put that small developing nation on the international agenda. Among the reasons underlying the December 2006 military intervention, a fundamental one had been that the political governance of the nation had been characterized by a deepening racial schism. The interim Government was now developing the "Peoples Charter for Change and Progress", with the objective of resolving the countries problems and helping to build a better Fiji – a Fiji that was non-racial, culturally vibrant, united, well-governed and truly democratic. The Government had mandated the National Council for Building a Better Fiji with drawing up the Charter, prior to the elections planned for May 2009.
Mr. Ligairi also informed the Committee that Fiji intended to declare its recognition of the Committee as competent to receive complaints against the State, as set out in Article 14 of the Convention.
In preliminary concluding observations, Patrick Thornberry, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Fiji, said that on reservations that Fiji had taken to the Convention, it was suggested that the Government look at what indigenous rights could do to ensure protections needed. With regard to Fiji's special measures, the Rapporteur reiterated that affirmative action was very narrowly drawn in the Convention; it was a sort of emergency measure. It was noted, however, that there was a change of direction in Fiji on this issue. Other outstanding questions that might figure in the Committee's conclusions included the issue of public and private schools, figures on detention, and indicators for equal opportunities. A lot was hanging on progress in evolving the People's Charter for Change and Progress, and whether it would actually help to heal the fractured nation.
Committee Experts also raised a number of concerns and asked questions on issues including Fiji's stance to maintain its reservations to the Convention; the policy not to prohibit racist organizations for fear of infringing on free speech; the concept of "indigenous" as understood and used by the Government; the present status of the Fiji Human Rights Commission, which had associated itself with the military in the recent coup; government policy on métissage; a lack of recent data on the make-up of the population; more information on the role of the National Commission on Human Rights, and the composition of that body; data on individuals in detention; and concerns about the procedures for dealing with schools that had demonstrated discriminatory practices – essentially withdrawing public assistance without taking any further punitive measures.
The delegation of Fiji also included other members of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Civil Aviation and a representative from the Permanent Mission of Fiji to the United Nations in New York.
The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the combined sixteenth and seventeenth reports of Fiji at the end of its session, which concludes on 7 March.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it is scheduled to take up the fourteenth and fifteenth periodic reports of Italy (CERD/C/ITA/15).
Report of Fiji
Following two coups in 1987 and the one in May 2000, the Fijian Government has implemented various measures to restore security and stability to the country. In particular, the combined sixteenth and seventeenth periodic reports of Fiji (CERD/C/FJI/17), presented in one document, notes that the following actions have been taken: establishment of the Ad Hoc Select Committee on Land, responsible for searching for an amicable and long-term solution to the future of agricultural leases on land, which must be just and fair to both the landowners and tenants; establishment of the Standing Committee on Constitutional Review, responsible for deliberating on those Constitutional provisions that are controversial, to make amendments or alterations which are considered to be non-contentious and do not in any way impinge on the rights or interests of any individual or group or community; and establishment of the Standing Committee on Human Rights and Equal Opportunities – a "landmark consensus-based decision between the two major political parties in Fiji" – responsible for examining and considering reports dealing with human rights issues, such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
The main objective of the Government’s Affirmative Action Programmes, including the Blueprint and the 50/50 by 2020 Development Plan, is to allow for equality of access to opportunities by addressing the social and economic inequalities that were reflected in the 1997 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Fiji Poverty Report and the 1996 Census. In 1996, Fiji’s population stood at 775,077, of which 403,302 were Fijians (52.0 per cent), 338,818 Indians (43.7 per cent) and 32,957 were from other ethnic communities (4, 25 per cent). The 1997 UNDP Report and the 1996 Census clearly outline social and economic inequalities. The average weekly household incomes for Fijian households was 36 per cent lower than that for the minorities, 20.3 per cent lower than Indian households and 13 per cent lower than the national average. Average per capita income for Fijian households was 43.5 per cent lower than minorities, 20.3 per cent lower than for the Indian community and 15.5 per cent lower than the national average. There has been much controversy in recent years over affirmative action. It is the Government’s stance that Fiji will only resolve its racial differences by dealing with them honestly and openly and removing the inequities and inequalities, which cause social and political tensions. In total, there are 27 programmes for Fijians and Rotumans, and 19 that benefit Indians and minority communities.
Presentation of Report
ROSS LIGAIRI, Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Civil Aviation of Fiji, said that two years had gone by since Fiji had submitted its sixteenth and seventeenth periodic reports. During those years, Fiji had faced a number of challenges that had put that small developing nation on the international agenda. The December 2006 military intervention had had numerous underlying reasons; one of the fundamental ones had been that the political governance of the nation had been characterized by a deepening racial schism. Fiji now had an interim Government. Given its historical context and related contemporary issues besetting Fiji, the interim Government was developing the "Peoples Charter for Change and Progress", with the objective of resolving the country’s problems and helping to build a better Fiji – a Fiji that was non-racial, culturally vibrant, united, well-governed and truly democratic.
Fiji was now in the process of developing that Charter and putting in place all the necessary infrastructure for implementing it, Mr. Ligairi said. The Government had mandated the National Council for Building a Better Fiji with drawing up the Charter, prior to the elections planned for May 2009. The supplementary report contained a copy of the proposed Charter.
On the general legal framework, Fiji acknowledged that there was no legislative framework in place that specifically incorporated the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Nevertheless, Fiji reiterated its stance that the Bill of Rights provision in its 1997 Constitution specifically underlined the doctrine of equality before the law. The Constitution provided that a person might not be discriminated against, inter alia, on grounds of race, ethnic origin or colour. The rights of individuals to freedom of belief and opinion were also protected, Mr. Ligairi added.
The Fiji Human Rights Commission, the watchdog for the Bill of Rights under its enabling legislation, was responsible for monitoring and raising awareness on the State's compliance with those safeguards. As for the implementation of the Convention in the courts, Mr. Ligairi said that section 43 of the Constitution strengthened the Bill of Rights by obligating the courts, when interpreting it, to give due regard to public international law, including the Convention, where applicable.
As to the existing reservations to the Convention, which had originally been done by the Colonial Government when it ratified the Convention on Fiji's behalf, Fiji intended to maintain those reservations, until the appropriate time when proper reviews were conducted and completed satisfactorily on the areas covered under the relevant provisions of the Convention.
Here, Mr. Ligairi wished to inform the Committee that Fiji intended to declare its recognition of the Committee as competent to receive complaints against the State, as set out in Article 14 of the Convention.
As for the definition of indigenous, Mr. Ligairi noted that the international legal concept of "indigenous peoples" might not strictly apply to groups within Fiji. Indigenous Fijians as a group did not face injustice, as they played a dominant role in the governance of the country and other areas of national life. Plainly, indigenous Fijians were merely related to the concept of indigenous peoples based on the fact of their history, and not on the definition of indigenous peoples in international law. The Government also recognized that indigenous rights, if any, were not in any way superior to any other human rights.
The Fiji Human Rights Commission had established a full-fledged Race Relations Unit, Mr. Ligairi continued, following the upheavals in 2000. However, the Unit was no longer functional owing to funding constraints, in particular the non-renewal of the European Union Project Grant. That Human Rights Commission had received 23 complaints of racial discrimination to date, the major one being the affirmative action complaint against the former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's Government that had been removed from office on 6 December 2006. The basis of the complaints related to, among others, discrimination in employment; discriminatory remarks based on race made in the media; and racial discrimination in housing.
On the question of affirmative action on poverty, unemployment and education, Mr. Ligairi acknowledged the Committee's request for updated data on the effectiveness of those programmes. However, they were unfortunately not able to provide the requested data at this juncture. The department charged with delivering that programme had been disbanded. More importantly, the interim Government was reviewing the programme itself to ensure that the disadvantaged group would secure a maximum benefit, without compromising other community groups in the process. The interim Government was determined to lay down a solid foundation and framework through such programmes, ensuring peaceful coexistence among all communities and a place for everyone, regardless of race, religion and creed. In doing so, the interim Government was committed to continuing the process of dismantling discriminatory and race-based policies that had been put in place by previous administrations. The interim Government was firm in its resolve to continue to ensure that any measures implemented would not lead to the maintenance of unequal separatist rights for different ethnic groups. It was also determined to ensure that the ethnic communities concerned were fully consulted, before any special measures were put in place.
On criminal prosecutions for racially motivated acts, Mr. Ligairi said no statistics were available at the moment; statistics on prosecutions were not recorded in that order. Continuing on criminal provisions, he noted that, while there might not be a provision per se in the criminal laws of Fiji that established aggravating circumstances for criminal acts committed for racial reasons, the Courts, in interpreting the Public Order Act or the Penal Code, could weigh the seriousness of the offence by testing the gravity of seditious intentions of the offender.
Regarding the high rate of emigration, Mr. Ligairi said that Fiji had recognized that the periodic political instability over the past 20 years had resulted in high levels of emigration, particularly among Fiji's Indo-Fijian population. The Government, in an effort to lure back former citizens particularly in the Indo-Fijian community, had recently introduced a "Permanent Residence" immigration status for those former citizens who wished to return and invest in Fiji. To facilitate that policy, the Government had also made amendments to the Foreign Investment Act and the Land Sales Act. Given the significant degree of interest expressed by former citizens, it was envisaged that a good number would return.
Turning to land issues, Mr. Ligairi highlighted that the Farming Assistance Scheme covered all evicted farmers and was applied by the current interim Government. However, not all evicted farmers had come forward seeking the Government's assistance. The Government policy was currently being reviewed with regard to resolving the issue of expiring leases by addressing issues relating to that area with a view to ensuring the maximum usage of land while addressing the concerns of all parties. A supplementary report submitted today provided examples of the type of assistance with resettlement programmes in place for those farmers whose leases had expired. That programme continued to date and the 2008 budget for the programme was $1 million.
Moreover, the interim Government was addressing the longstanding issue of leases related to the sugar industry, and encouraging an improved relationship between landowners and tenants in that area, which had basically remained unresolved. The issue of access to land and land utilization was therefore a focus in the formulation of the People's Charter, and the establishment of a Committee on Better Utilization of Land had been approved by the Cabinet.
Regarding education, Mr. Ligairi noted that the Ministry of Education scrutinized very closely the constitution of all schools to ensure that no discrimination in enrolment occurred. In terms of enrolment trends, it had been noted that there was more integration of the student population in multi-ethnic schools, while schools managed by the Indian communities tended to have more Indian students and those managed by Fijians had more Fijian students. Policies on eliminating racial discrimination in schools were being put in place by the Ministry of Education to force more integration of students.
However, the results of Fijian students in the external examinations were below those of other ethnic groups. That disparity became more obvious in the School Leaving Certificate Examinations two years after the Fiji Junior Certificate Examination. It was on that basis that the Ministry of Education had embarked on several programmes to address that disparity, including through counselling of communities and making available to needy schools assistance that would contribute to an improvement in the pass rate of students.
As for the legal status of persons of mixed parentage, a child of mixed parentage born to an indigenous father, whether the child was born in or out of wedlock, automatically qualified for registry in the Native Lands Commission's register as indigenous; a child born out of wedlock to an indigenous mother required consent of the extended family to be registered as indigenous. Children of other ethnic parentage did not qualify.
Oral Questions Raised by the Rapporteur and Experts
PATRICK THORNBERRY, the Committee Expert serving as country Rapporteur for the report of Fiji, welcomed the delegation's affirmation of its desire to make a declaration under Article 14 of the Convention, recognizing the competence of the Committee to consider complaints by individuals or groups that Fiji had violated their rights under the Convention. He also welcomed Fiji's membership in and adherence to a number of the main human rights conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
However, it remained a matter of concern that Fiji continued to maintain a number of reservations to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, including with regard to property, and education rights, and that it intended to keep those reservations for the moment. Noting that many of the reservations related to measures of protection for indigenous Fijians, Mr. Thornberry recalled that many new instruments in the area of indigenous rights now existed. He therefore suggested that, rather than maintaining a negative stance of reservations to the current Convention, Fiji should contemplate a positive strategy of affirming indigenous rights, via the new instruments such as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Mr. Thornberry was also concerned about the Fijian interpretation of indigenous rights, given that Fijians were a majority in the country.
As for affirmative action or special measures, Mr. Thornberry wished to underscore that there were limitations on such measures: they should not degenerate into a form of racial discrimination; they were time limited; and should not engender racial segregation. It was important to look at their justification and scope, as well as how they were monitored. Special measures were also to be developed for groups that were in need of such measures, to provide for adequate development and protection of groups that needed those measures. They were not to be granted to any member of a group by virtue of their membership in it.
Mr. Thornberry asked for more information on the Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill of 2005, and what was the current status of the Council of Chiefs
Also, was it the case that ethnic groups were required to identify themselves as members of such groups when filling out Government forms, Mr. Thornberry asked? He was particularly concerned by reports that those of Indo-Fijian ancestry were required to fill in their father's names on such forms, whereas members of other ethnic groups were not.
Other Committee Experts then raised questions and asked for further information on a number of subjects. Several Experts were concerned about Fiji's stated intention of maintaining its reservations to the Convention, and asked for more details on the reasoning behind that stance. Many Experts were also concerned about Fijian policy not to prohibit racist organizations owing to an asserted need to protect freedom of speech. Free speech was not an absolute right, an Expert observed, but one that had to be tempered by considerations of other rights.
Referring to the delegation's statement in its presentation that there was no further information on prosecutions being undertaken on racist crimes, an Expert was a bit confused as to what was meant as there were statistics provided in the report. Did this mean that there had been no new prosecutions undertaken since 2006?
An Expert was concerned about the dissolution of the Race Relations Unit in the Fiji Human Rights Commission, and wondered what action was being taken to address this issue. Indeed, he said that the Unit had lost European Union funding specifically because of concerns about the bias of the Commission in favour of the military Government.
An Expert echoed the country Rapporteur's concerns about the usage of "indigenous" by the Government of Fiji, in particular in the report they had submitted. The report was full of the terms "indigenous persons", "indigenous Fijians" and "indigenous communities", and he wanted to know what was meant by those terms. Also, he would appreciate clarification on the statement in the report that the Constitution was based on and in keeping with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. A couple of Experts brought up the issue of métissage, and wondered what the Government policy in that area was. Other questions concerned requests for recent statistics on the make-up of the population; additional information on the role of the National Commission on Human Rights and the composition of that body; a lack of data on individuals in detention; and how national human rights mechanisms reached all citizens, given that Fiji was an archipelago, spread out on a number of islands.
On a discriminatory policy in school enrolment, an Expert was concerned by the supplementary report provided today, according to which, if he had read it rightly, if the Ministry of Education had found that a school had introduced a discriminatory policy, it would deregister the school as public and register it as private, removing all public assistance. However, it did not appear to take any other measures to combat such discriminatory policies.
Response by Delegation to Oral Questions
Before responding to questions, Mr. Ligairi wished, first, to note that the combined sixteenth and seventeenth reports before the Committee was a report of the previous Government led by Laisenia Qarase. Since the military intervention of 2006, most of the Government policies in relation to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination that had been discussed in the report had been changed and some had been reviewed. Consequently, to a certain extent, they could not rely on those reports. The interim Government's policy was continuing to develop and evolve as it tried to consult the people and looked for a way forward that was acceptable to all of Fiji's communities. In that regard, the "Peoples Charter for Change and Progress" was a very important initiative in the implementation of the Convention. Part of that initiative was the review of all Government policies including those of relevance to the Convention. The process was a very interactive one, which involved all the different sectors of the economy who had a say in the rebuilding of the nation.
As to whether the elections timetable could be brought forward, there was already a road map in place which the interim Government was strictly adhering too, Mr. Ligairi explained. That road map had been endorsed by the Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting and was overseen by the Forum Technical Working Group of the Pacific Islands Forum.
Turning to questions raised by Experts yesterday, regarding the use of the term "indigenous", Mr. Ligairi reiterated that the concept of indigenous peoples as formulated in international law might not strictly apply in the context of Fiji. The delegation was also aware of the provisions of Article 1, paragraph 3, of the ILO Convention No. 169 that the use of the term "peoples" in the Convention should not be construed as having any implications as regarded the rights which might attach to the term under international law.
As for the Reconciliation Bill of 2005, which had aimed at providing amnesty to a number of convicted Government ministers, their supporters and those who were yet to be charged for the insurrection of May 2000, Mr. Ligairi said that the insistence of the former Government to pass that Bill despite warnings by the Military had led to the 2006 intervention and subsequently the withdrawal of the Bill. The other part of the Bill that had raised some concerns yesterday – the provision that entailed forgiving wrongdoers of May 2000 that had no criminal intent – was also a provision that was not acceptable to the Military, which had led to their intervention.
On the Great Council of Chiefs, Mr. Ligairi said the Council had been suspended by the interim Government, and a task force had been set up to investigate, inter alia, the membership of the Council. The task force had conducted consultations with the relevant stakeholders and had submitted its – as yet unpublished – report to the Government.
With respect to numerous concerns about the availability of statistics, Mr. Ligairi was pleased to announce that the interim Government had held a national census in September 2006, and the results were yet to be finalized and published. The new Census Report would certainly answer most, if not all, of the questions and concerns of Committee members.
On hate speech, Mr. Ligairi reiterated that the 1997 Constitution recognized the delicate balance between freedom of association and opinion and acts intended to incite ill-will and hostility among the population, and he cited the relevant provisions.
Responding to queries with respect to the credibility of the Fiji Human Rights Commission, and to the suggestion that another body be set up, Mr. Ligairi recalled that the Human Rights Commission operated independently of the State. There had been no interference by the interim Government in its operations. Indeed, in Fiji's view, it would be unconstitutional to dissolve that body and set up another one. Nevertheless, the question should have been put in advance to the Government of Fiji to allow for a discussion between the Government and the Human Rights Commission so that a proper response could have been tabled in front of the Committee.
On why Fiji intended to maintain its reservations to the Convention, Fiji maintained that the reasons justifying those reservations had not changed. That issue had been covered extensively in Fiji's previous reports and was an issue that was currently being discussed by the interim Government. It was a part of the interim Government's development of a People's Charter and to resolve long outstanding issues of discontent that could be linked to the underlying causes of the coups. Until acceptable solutions were found, Fiji would not be in a position to change its stance with regard to those reservations.
Here, Mr. Ligairi stressed that Fijians were fortunate to be one of the few indigenous groups in the world that could still claim ownership of their ancestral land and heritage. That was due in large part to the protective measures put in place by the Colonial Government and to the foresight of a few Fijian statesmen and Chiefs. Those protective measures continued to be challenged over time as the demands of an increasing population met the boundaries of available land. But until that issue and others were resolved, the reservations would remain in place.
Mr. Ligairi underscored that the issue of concern to the Committee – whether special measures put in place would degenerate into discrimination – was foremost in the minds of policymakers on those measures and more so of the interim Government as it sought to develop the People's Charter to guide Fiji forward in an inclusive way. Special measures under the Social Justice Act and those under the Blue Print were currently being reviewed, while some considered discriminatory had been suspended or extended to all disadvantaged groups. Parallel to that effort was the development of a more effective monitoring mechanism.
As to why Indo Fijians were asked to provide their father's name on official forms, Mr. Ligairi explained that was simply to guarantee that the identity of the person was accurately recorded. For example, the name Vijay Singh was shared by hundreds of Fijians, hence the requirement for providing the father's name provided some accuracy.
On the issue of deregistration of a public school and registration as a private one if a public-assisted school was found to have discriminated, Mr. Ligairi noted that most, if not all, schools in Fiji enjoyed some form of Government assistance. That financial or other public assistance (such as teacher training) was based on a proviso that the school was open to all ethnic groups. It was also important to note that, unlike in other countries, in Fiji many private schools required more assistance than public schools.
Further Comments and Oral Questions by Experts
FATIMATA-BINTA VICTOIRE DAH, the Committee Chairperson, said the Committee took note of the delegation's position, taking exception to Fiji's sixteenth and seventeenth report before the Committee, which had submitted by a previous Government. Nevertheless, Fiji needed to take the Committee's position into account as well – which was that they had not received any further documentation, specifically replies to the list of issues, from Fiji until yesterday. That was of relevance to the Committee because of new procedures in place regarding reporting and the scheduling of meetings. Hopefully, next time, Fiji would strive to answer the questionnaire and send written replies to the Committee well in advance.
An Expert clarified his position stated yesterday on the Fiji Human Rights Commission, and his worries that that body had aligned itself with the Military coup so closely that it had compromised its impartial and independent stance. His question had not been whether the Government would establish a new institution. Indeed, he believed that that institution had previously done very good work, to very high standards. His question was what was being done within the Human Rights Commission to restore an impartial stance and to regain the full support of all sectors following the events of the coup, and its alignment with it.
Several Experts were still concerned about the procedures for dealing with schools that had demonstrated discriminatory practices. One Expert wondered what happened to the students in a public school that was found to have discriminated and was "deregistered". He also asked how many such cases of deregistering there were. Another Expert did not understand why Fiji felt that the practice of deregistering was sufficient to address a discriminatory practice, and why no punitive measures were taken. An Expert also asked for an update on the status of land legislation and other land programmes to address that greatly contested issue in Fiji.
Replies by the Delegation
Responding, Mr. Ligairi noted that on certain questions, which required further consideration and analysis, those answers would have to be sent later.
With regard to allegations that the withdrawal of funding for the Human Rights Commission had been associated with the alignment of the Commission with the military, Mr. Ligairi wished to clarify that the withdrawal of funding by the European Union following the coup of 2006 had been across the board. The European Union had withdrawn funding for any programmes in the country as the European Union had not recognized the current Government.
On the registration system and why there were two separate registers – one for all citizens and one for ethnic Fijians, Mr. Ligairi explained that that was linked to indigenous land issues. Indigenous peoples owned some 86 per cent of the land in Fiji. Archaeological evidence had shown that the indigenous islanders had been present in the islands 3,000 years before the Christian era. Later, during colonial times, other groups had come to the island. One thus provided a register of all Fiji citizens, and the second related to the ownership of indigenous land.
Another member of the delegation, responding on the public/private schools issue, noted that the Ministry of Education had its own listing of schools, public or private. That was not necessarily the same classification that other countries had. It really only applied to funding categories. Further information would be provided in the next periodic report.
As for a lack of legislation prohibiting racial discrimination, the delegation stressed that the Government was currently reviewing its legislation and policies. It could therefore be hoped that such legislation would be enacted in the future.
On detainees, the delegation simply did not have the figures with them. It might be possible to provide them in the next report.
Regarding human rights awareness, the delegation noted that the Fiji Human Rights Commission and other non-governmental organizations conducted seminars, campaigns and workshops to inform people about their rights. He also confirmed that there were human rights mechanisms and offices in the outlying islands, and that there was no difficulty of access for those seeking redress.
On land management issues, the delegation said that the bills mentioned in the sixteenth and seventeenth reports had been withdrawn. That had been done for the same reason as other legislation of the previous regime had been withdrawn, because of racist implications of those bills.
Preliminary Concluding Observations
In preliminary concluding observations, PATRICK THORNBERRY, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Fiji, thanked the delegation for its impressive written and oral responses. He would not forecast the Committee's recommendations, but would note that certain lines of inquiry had been developed. There were many particular points in the responses today that were of great interest to the Committee, including the concept of indigenous peoples. It was an unusual situation when indigenous peoples were in a dominant position in the State, and it did raise complicated questions, in particular with regard to the relationship of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was not an integrationist instrument. The Committee had not even begun to reflect in depth on that issue.
The Committee had made its position fairly clear on the issue of reservations that Fiji had taken to the Convention. Mr. Thornberry reiterated his suggestion that, instead of reservations, which was a sort of subtraction from international norms, perhaps the Government should look at what indigenous rights could do to ensure protections needed.
Regarding concerns on Fiji's special measures, Mr. Thornberry noted that affirmative action was very narrowly drawn in the Convention; it was a sort of emergency measure. He had noted in the presentation today, however, that there was a change of direction in Fiji on this issue.
Mr. Thornberry observed that there were a few questions outstanding, for example, on public and private schools, figures on detention, and indicators for equal opportunities, and the Committee might simply ask those questions in its concluding observations.
Mr. Thornberry noted with interest that there was not only a single national register, but also an optional register related to the land question. While that procedure was in conformity with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which set out that indigenous peoples could themselves determine the criteria for their identification, it remained to be seen whether it was in conformity with the Convention, given the special case of those considered "indigenous" in Fiji.
A lot was hanging on progress in evolving the People's Charter for Change and Progress, Mr. Thornberry concluded, and whether it would actually help to heal the fractured nation. There was a process of national reflection under way and the Committee hoped that it would unfold peacefully and ultimately represent the authentic voice of the Fiji nation.
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