Civil Society calls on Fiji to address civic space concerns

On 6 November 2019, Fiji’s human rights record will be reviewed by UN member states as part of the 34th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  Civil society groups CIVICUS, the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisation (PIANGO), Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) and Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) urge the Fiji government to use this opportunity to make commitments to improve civic freedoms in the country. We also call on the international community to use this opportunity to make recommendations to expand the democratic space in the country.

Civic space in Fiji is currently rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global tool tracking civic space, owing to the serious constraints on fundamental rights in the country. This is due to an array of restrictive laws that have been used to silence freedoms of opinion and expression as well as ongoing restrictions to the right to peaceful assembly.

During a country visit in February 2018, then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that civil society groups are facing a “narrow civic space and the suppression of dissenting voices." As documented in a joint submission to the Human Rights Council in March 2019, since Fiji’s last review in 2014, human rights defenders have continued to face harassment for undertaking their work.

Although Article 17 of the Constitution of Fiji guarantees the “right to freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication” in law, policy and practice, restrictions on the freedom of expression and media freedom persist. Sedition provisions in the Crimes Act have been used by the Fijian authorities to target the media and opposition politicians while the Public Order (Amendment) Act has also been used to harass journalists and civil society. The Media Industry Development Act (Media Act) has also created a chilling effect for media and press freedom.

The right to peaceful assembly has been arbitrarily restricted with the use of the Public Order (Amendment) Act 2014, particularly for trade unions. The Fiji Trade Union Congress were denied authorization to hold a march at least six times between 2018 and 2019, without any valid reason and often at the last minute.

Our joint submission presented a number of recommendations to the Fiji government to address these civic space concerns.

These include, among others:

  • Take measures to foster a safe, respectful and enabling environment for civil society, including by removing legal and policy measures that unwarrantedly limit the right to association.
  • Ensure freedom of expression and media freedom by bringing all national legislation into line with international standards.
  • Halt the use of sedition, contempt for scandalising the courts and judiciary, and other laws against individuals simply for peacefully exercising their right to the freedom of expression.
  • Amend the Public Order (Amendment) Act in order to guarantee fully the right to the freedom of assembly and to remove restrictions other than those provided for within the framework of international law.

Fiji’s UPR presents an opportunity for the country to make at the national level the commitments to civic space and human rights that it demonstrates at the multilateral level through its engagement with and leadership within the UN Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. We urge the government of Fiji to take this opportunity to create and maintain, in law and practice, an enabling environment for civil society, in accordance with the rights enshrined in international human rights law.