Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has highlighted Fiji’s progress in combatting institutional and systemic racism to the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mr. Mutuma Ruteere, at a meeting in Suva.
The AG said that the Fijian Constitution has formed the basis for the Fijian Government’s work to establish a level playing field in Fijian society and uphold the socioeconomic and political rights of every Fijian.
“It may seem a simple thing, but by establishing our shared identity as ‘Fijians’, the Constitution sent a clear message that every Fijian is equal under the law and equally entitled to the benefits of our nation’s progress,” said the AG. “That mantra has driven the progress we have made over the past decade to reverse the years of discrimination that plagued Fijian society and stagnated our national development.”
The AG pointed to the 2014 elections as the first held under an electoral system that was not predicated on the basis of ethnicity by, for the first time, giving equal weight to all votes cast.
“When politicians are elected through an electoral system that divides society on the basis of ethnicity, it encourages an ethnic way of thinking and incentivises ethnic favouritism. The 2014 election was a landmark for Fiji because candidates were assessed by the voters on their policies and their vision for the future of the country,” he said.
The AG emphasized that the Fijian Government is building on the progress achieved by strengthening independent institutions in Fiji to ensure accountability, transparency and impartiality throughout all levels of Government.
“Racism has been the bane of Fijian society since colonial times, and it has always been used as a means to preserve the power and influence of the elites. When Fijians are homogenised into groups on the basis of ethnicity, we are unable to address intra-group injustices, such as gender, economic participation and socioeconomic rights," he said. “Government’s work is therefore focussed on those Fijians on the margins of society. We are using the promotion of socioeconomic rights as a vehicle to overcome the racist paradigm that has been used by the elites to withhold resources and opportunities from the rest of society.”
Mr. Ruteree said he was glad to be the first Rapporteur on racism to visit Fiji and looked forward to working with the Fijian Government to formulate a report detailing recommendations and policy strategies for confronting racism in Fijian society. The report is scheduled for release next year.