Vinaka vakalevu to our bloggers who brought this article to SV’s attention. It’s unfortunate that some of us are unable to blog full-time (unlike the military goons whom we all pay for).. Hence we depend on you, pro-democracy, anti-coup and freedom fighters, to be our eyes, and ears out there.
The following is Kamal Iyer’s take on the rather sinister, non-transparent parallel processes involved in NCBBF’s charter campaign, that is taking place right under our noses. The process itself encroaches fundamental rights under our Constitution on several fronts, and is simply UNACCEPTABLE as an accurate, genuine, reliable or factual assessment of the people’s will. Your thoughts pls…
A violation of human rights … by Kamal Iyer, 1 Sept 2008, F/Times
LAST Friday afternoon I was surprised to receive a call on my mobile from a well known resident of Nasinu. However, my surprise turned to shock after the conversation. After exchanging pleasantries he said: “Can you please do something about the (response) form being distributed by the draft People’s Charter? “Many civil servants such as school teachers fear victimisation if they do not sign to indicate their support for the draft charter because the form asks them to give their names.”
During the weekend, I contacted the Fiji Television and Fiji Times newsrooms to inquire whether they have a copy of the form. A Fiji TV journalist told me he had a copy because he did a news story highlighting the existence of the form early last week. Similarly, a Fiji Times journalist said she obtained a copy when a draft charter team conducted a consultation exercise at Muainaweni in Naitasiri last Wednesday. The proceedings were reported in The Fiji Times on Thursday. I requested both journalists to send me a copy. To my astonishment, the form given by the Fiji TV journalist was different from the one sent by The Fiji Times journalist which she obtained at Muainaweni. But worse still, both forms require information from members of the public that breach their fundamental rights to privacy, the Bill of Rights of the 1997 Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Section 37 of the Constitution states: “Every person has the right to personal privacy including the right to privacy of personal communications.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. The privacy of an individual is sacrosanct. Just like secret balloting during elections of any kind, people do not want to reveal their names, religion, political affiliation, age, etc, to avoid discrimination and personal embarrassment. It is the norm.
The form obtained by The Fiji Times at Muainaweni requires people to tick the box alongside the statements that they have read the draft People’s Charter and that it has been explained to them.
Part 4 states that their decision on the draft charter has been made on their own free will, without any compulsion, threat or force from anyone. They are then required to tick their support or rejection of the draft Charter. The form compels them to give their names, age, address and signature. The requirement for people to give their telephone number is optional.
Part 5 requires a policeman or Justice of the Peace to act as a witness. The form shown by Fiji TV news last week contains a serial number.
Part 2 of the form is the same as that of the one given at Muainaweni but other parts are different. People are required to either tick to show their full support for the draft charter, tick to show support subject to reasons that they must state in the space provided and tick to reject the charter for reasons they must state in the space given on the form. It is compulsory for them to give their names, address, age, signature and date on which they filled the form. The form states that police, a Justice of the Peace, lawyer, religious minister, pundit, priest, civil servant, doctor, headteacher, academic, accountant and a chief can act as witnesses. This form is seemingly the official response form because it contains a serial number and indicates the name of the Government Printer. As if the draconian and unlawful design of the form is not enough, the media has reported that police officers and military personnel will be part of the public awareness teams. The claim by NCBBF officials that people are first given copies of the draft charter, allowed time to read the document and then form their opinion, which is obtained during a second visit, is laughable. I was told by the resident of Nasinu and by a Western Division lawyer that the teams distributing the draft charter were asking people to fill the response statement immediately. These are the teams that the National Council for Building a Better Fiji says are accompanied by police or military personnel for the “protection of team members only”. If people are not required to sign the forms immediately, will the second team collect the response statements including witnessing officers that the form says must be a police, Justice of the Peace, lawyer, a church minister, pundit, priest, civil servant, doctor, headteacher, academic, accountant or chief?
Will the above category of witnesses leave their profession to concentrate only on witnessing the response forms? It just does not add up. Even people suspected of any unlawful or criminal activity are treated more decently and have the full protection of their constitutional and human rights when being interviewed by police officers. Because if they are denied these rights, it jeopardises trial proceedings in court and the case is either thrown out or a re-trial is ordered if a person is charged with an offence. This is known as judges rules and must be strictly complied with by police officers conducting caution interviews. And the interviewing officer must be accompanied by another policeman or policewoman as a witness. And this must be clearly stated on the interview statement at the beginning of the interrogation. After obtaining the name, age, qualification and the answer to the question as to which language the suspect would like to be interviewed, he or she is required to sign the statement before further questioning can take place. After that, the most important constitutional right is read out to a suspect. Upon highlighting the allegation, the interviewing officer states to the suspect something to the effect that “we would like to inform you of your rights that you are not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so but whatever you say may be put into writing and given in evidence”. The suspect is then asked if he or she has understood the allegation and caution. Further, the suspect is informed of his or her right to consult a lawyer either in person or via telephone in the presence of the interviewing officer. The suspect is also given the opportunity to consult any leader of his or her religious faith. The caution must also be repeated after every break during the interview. This is the essential legal requirement that must be carried out if any criminal case is to withstand the scrutiny of the judiciary in terms of upholding of a suspect’s constitutional and human rights.
What the draft charter response statement requires of our ordinary and innocent citizens is a gross violation of their privacy, constitutional and human rights. This must be challenged as it is morally, legally and ethically wrong to ride roughshod over our people’s privacy.
– Kamal Iyer is a former journalist and spokesman for the National Federation Party.