Participants at the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission consultation in Suva, Fiji with support from the Fiji Access to Justice Project, funded by European Union and implemented by UNDP. (Photo: UNDP)

With the wider objective to strengthen engagement, collaboration and empowerment of youths, non-government organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) in furthering human rights across Fiji, more than 50 youths and civil society representatives from diverse backgrounds came together for the National Human Rights Commission Dialogue held on 30 August 2017 in Suva, Fiji. 

Led by the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (HRADC), this consultation was supported by the European Union (EU) funded Fiji Access to Justice Project, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Office in Fiji. 

This joint UNDP-HRADC initiative was the fifth in the series on awareness-raising and discussions with youths, NGOs and CSOs held since February until August 2017 across Fiji in locations in the Northern (Labasa and Savusavu), Western (Lautoka) and Central Divisions (Suva). These dialogues have collectively engaged 290 youths and civil society representatives of which there were 105 males, 167 females, 15 transgenders and 3 who did not wish to identify) across Fiji. 

The youth and civil society consultations are of special importance towards marking International Day of Democracy held on 15 September this year. The 2017 theme of this day is “Democracy and Conflict Prevention”, emphasizing the critical need to strengthen democratic institutions for contributing to stability and promoting peace. 

Adopting a cohesive approach through emphasizing respect for human rights and the rule of law calls for effective and inclusive democratic governance. This also links to the Global Goals, particularly Sustainable Development Goal 16 which acknowledges the connection between peaceful societies and effective, inclusive and accountable institutions.

More resilient societies can effectively mitigate disputes through dialogue, mediation and a reasonable degree of legitimacy of governance and other key institutions. In this context, the engagement of young people and civil society in human rights dialogues and discussions is a key factor in contributing to the long-term sustainability of democracy. The objective of this dialogue in Suva was for the empowerment of youths, as well as NGOs and CSOs who could be engaged as ‘advocates of change’ in promoting human rights-related issues in their communities.

The consultation in Suva on 30 August had 53 participants (25 females, 23 males and 5 transgender persons) coming from different backgrounds; including persons living with disabilities and members of the LGBTI community. The HRADC Chairperson, Justice Mohammed Ajmeer, delivered opening remarks for this event, highlighting the important role of HRADC in promoting human rights and the procedures for seeking remedial action with HRADC support for any rights-based violations.  

An active advocate for youth affairs in Fiji, workshop participant Mr. Mosese Walesi said, “Democracy and human rights must coexist to ensure a better, brighter future for our country. The voices of all citizens matter and must be heard. Empowering youth to respect human rights and trust in democracy allows for creating young leaders who will have a positive impact on the nations’ future. This human rights dialogue created an opportunity for us to discuss common concerns and misconceptions about human rights in Fiji. The discussions allowed us to dispel some of these issues.”

Acknowledging that strong leadership can support democracy, strengthen civil society, empower women and uphold the rule of law for effective governance, Mr. Walesi added, “After the discussion, we walked away with an understanding of the importance of ensuring that human rights are upheld and protected. We should not condone the breach of human rights, and that we must always be ready to speak for those who have no voice in society and that true democracy must be a goal that we - as youth - must strive towards.”

Importantly, the ongoing human rights consultations under this series, supported by the EU funded Fiji Access to Justice Project, focus on engaging youth and civil society for building up their human rights awareness and contributing to their role in more democracy-enabling conditions. In addition to raising awareness and having discussions with youths and NGOs about human rights, access to justice and good governance, the consultations explored potential opportunities for collaboration with HRADC for engaging the youth in advancing human rights and in celebrating International Human Rights Day on 10 December 2017 across Fiji. 

The Fiji Access to Justice Project supports access to justice for impoverished and vulnerable groups through empowering people to access legal rights and services through the relevant key justice institutions, in conjunction with strengthening the key justice institutions to undertake improved service delivery.  The dialogues were organized and delivered by UNDP as a part of the EU-funded Fiji Access to Justice Project.

The Fiji Government has endorsed the SDGs, which highlight the importance of access to justice as an enabler for development and an outcome of development in its own right. At Goal 16, there is commitment to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. At Goal 5, there is commitment to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. The Fiji Access to Justice Project supports the achievement of these goals. 

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