Fiji Statement to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
The Fijian delegation has the honour to extend its gratitude and appreciation to you and members of the panel for your valuable insights. We also thank the Secretariat for circulating the concept note that has formed the basis of our discussions this afternoon.
In the introduction of the circulated concept note, two important points are made. The first is that the small developing States of the Pacific face specific environmental, social and economic challenges. The second refers to the diversity of Pacific countries and territories, with significant variations in the social, political and economic situation of indigenous peoples in the region.
In the case of Fiji, the indigenous race of Fiji, known as the iTaukei, enjoy full rights to land, culture, institutions and religion, with all these rights firmly protected within the nation’s written laws and regulations. In no way should these rights be perceived as being under threat.
The 2013 Constitution of Fiji, is consistent with the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights, in particular in the following contexts:
- The first entry in the Preamble of the Constitution recognizes the indigenous people of Fiji and Rotuma, their ownership of lands, their unique culture, customs, traditions and language;
- The Constitution’s Bill of Rights enshrines the values of human dignity, equality and freedom for all citizens, and protects all people, indigenous or not, from discrimination on the basis of ethnicity;
- The Constitution affirms that the ownership of all iTaukei land shall remain with the customary owners and that iTaukei land can never be alienated by sale or transfer;
- For the first time, the Constitution’s Bill of Rights affirms the right to a fair share of royalties for the landowners of any minerals found under their land or under the seabed in which they have customary fishing rights.
The Fijian Government is committed to achieving the admirable goals of the soon-to-be-installed Post-2015 Development Agenda. For the Fijian Government, the agenda fits with its own aims of leaving no one behind, removing discrimination in providing access to basic rights, and eradicating poverty. In furtherance of these aims, the Fijian Government has implemented policies and laws that establish a common and equal citizenry; reaffirm civil, political and cultural rights; and as such, guarantee the indigenous race social and economic rights including the right to education, adequate health care, adequate food and water, housing, sanitation, economic participation, a just minimum wage, social security and specific rights of people with disabilities.
The Fijian delegation wishes to place on record at this Forum, that Fiji’s colonial institution, the Great Council of Chiefs, has been abolished and that the Fijian Government has no intention of reinstating it. The Council was a creation of the colonial period of Fiji between 1874 and 1970. It was used by Fiji’s colonial administrators as an institution of indirect rule. With Independence, and the creation of democratically elected institutions, in particular the Parliament of Fiji, the Council of Chiefs became redundant to national governance. Any calls for its restoration at this Forum, Mr. Chairman, would be akin to minority groups from England coming before the Permanent Forum to defend the British House of Lords. It goes without saying that this Forum is not the place for opposition groups from nations where the indigenous people are in over-whelming control of their country, to further their domestic political interests. Indigenous rights must not be used, Mr. Chairman, as a disguise for justifying the repression of the rights of others.
As correctly clearly spelled out in the concept note, climate change is a threat and a challenge to the indigenous community living in the Pacific. The Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his opening address, emphasized the importance of the year 2015 and in particular its importance in combatting Climate Change, both at the COP in Paris at year’s end, and at the September Summit that will adopt the sustainable development goals. As you know, SDG13 will take action on combatting Climate Change and its impacts.
The Fijian delegation urges all indigenous groups represented here today to join with the global community pushing for real solutions to our Climate Change challenges. For a Small Island Developing Country like Fiji, the collective failure of the global community to date, in dealing with the negative consequences of climate change, is unacceptable. The repeated failure of the industrialized nations to curb their carbon emissions is a direct threat to the human rights of indigenous people living in vulnerable Small Island developing States.
The Fijian Government is working closely with communities within disaster prone coastal areas, the majority of whom are indigenous, and facing the effects of climate change. Government has been cognizant of the need to conduct relocations in a manner that preserves the traditional ties to land and livelihoods of these communities. The Fijian delegation proposes that the relevant indigenous communities represented at this Forum initiate a combined effort to convey to our partners the vulnerability of the indigenous communities to the effects of climate change.
In contrast to many other countries in the Pacific and Pacific Rim, the colonial experience in Fiji was not one of large-scale dispossession of land and the suppression of the indigenous people. As we have said, over 90% of all land in Fiji is owned by the indigenous people through customary ownership and cannot be permanently alienated from them. This has given the indigenous people of Fiji a level of security that has been central to their social, cultural and economic wellbeing.
Today ten out of fifteen Cabinet Ministers of the nation’s Government are indigenous Fijians. There are more indigenes in the public service, military, police and correction services than all other ethnicities. Demographically, indigenous Fijians make up nearly 60% of the national population, and this demographic figure is trending upwards. It is therefore the duty of the Fijian delegation to report to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, that the iTaukei, the indigenous people of Fiji, are in a state of being firmly in control of their own destiny. They are secure in their customary land ownership and unique culture, and are a proud and vibrant member of the human family, committed to the well-being of the international community and the planet we inhabit.