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Fiji held general elections in 2018; according to the interim report of the Multinational Observer Group Fijian voters were able to exercise their right to vote freely, the process was credible, inclusive and transparent and the outcome reflected the will of Fijian voters. However, further efforts were needed to address the remaining challenges with regard to the polling process and ensure a meaningful dialogue with civil society which remains determined to become local observers in the next elections. In October 2018, Fiji was elected to the UN Human Rights Council for a three-year term (2019 – 2021) which should give further impetus to strengthening the rule of law and ensuring protection of human rights and freedoms in the country.
Despite the acquittal of three members of the local FijiTimes newspaper of sedition charges in May 2018, concerns on media freedom persist. The Media Industry Development Decree of 2010 is still in place, continuing to impose pressure on journalists, editors and media owners, triggering self-censorship and hindering full and transparent democratic debate. Implementation of the Online Safety Act 2018 is to be done in line with international standards on freedom of expression.
The Government condemns violence against women and children and is involved in awareness campaigns. The Women's Action Plan (2010-2019) is in place and a first ever Child Helpline and Domestic Violence Helpline have been established.
EU action - Key focus areas: EU action key focus areas were inter alia follow-up to the 3rd EU-Fiji High-level Political Dialogue under Article 8 of the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement of May 2018, to continue to promote access to justice and respect to human rights. Besides, support has been provided to Fiji's prominent role on the international stage with regards to fight against climate change, in particular its Presidency of COP23 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The EU had offered to send a self-standing EU Election Experts Mission (EEM) to attend to the general elections in November 2018, but the offer was not taken up by Fiji's government. Instead, the EU was invited to nominate observers to be part of the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) co-led by Australia, Indonesia and India, which had to be declined due to the conflicting methodologies for election observation.
EU bilateral political engagement: During the Enhanced Political Dialogue in May 2018, the EU discussed accession to international human rights instruments, human rights issues and preparation to the 2018 elections, media environment, freedom of expression, domestic violence, as well as legislative reforms. The EU commended Fiji for its openness to discuss human rights matters and to engage on the Law and Justice sectors. The important role of CSOs in discussions on Human Rights and democracy was reaffirmed.
During the year, the EU Delegation for the Pacific carried out demarches and outreach activities inviting Fiji to support EU human rights initiatives and priorities at the UN level.
EU financial engagement: The 11th EDF funded 'Access to Justice' Programme aims at enhancing institutional capacity of the Judicial department, the Legal Aid Commission (LAC) and provide initial support to Fiji's Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (HRADC). Amongst the measures supported in 2018 are digitalisation in court administration and filings to reduce costs and inefficiencies, increasing access to the courts, and ensuring access to laws as reference materials. Institutional capacity has been strengthened and effectiveness improved by procuring critical ICT infrastructure for a Case Management system, establishment of Helpdesks for the Courts as well as specific training and peer exchange for judges and magistrates (both in Fiji and outside). The LAC was supported to deliver services to the most vulnerable, including opening of new offices in the outer islands and developing a toll free Helpline. Dialogue between CSOs and the HRADC continued in 2018 with interactive dialogue events organised across the various provinces of Fiji with 30 CSOs/Community based organisations.
Under the EU-funded project 'Upholding Citizens’ Constitutional Rights for Democratic Consolidation in Fiji' implemented by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) in consortium with four Fijian CSOs, a 3-day workshop took place in April, where 25 CSO participants learnt about the principles of electoral system design and operations, principles of constitutional rights and the rights-based approach, in view of the elections in November. A closed and an open forum meeting were organised in July with leaders of CSOs, members of the academia, selected community leaders and the Supervisor of Elections, providing an opportunity to clarify many of the election related issues.
In November 2018, the Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls that brings together governments, CSOs, communities and other partners, was launched. The programme is funded primarily by the EU with targeted support from the Australian Government and UN Women. Priorities for Fiji, which has become one of the focus countries, include prevention work aiming to address harmful social norms; improving access to essential services for survivors of gender-based violence and monitoring and reporting on government commitments to gender equality and elimination of violence against women and girls.
Multilateral context: In 2018, Fiji has become the first Pacific Island Country elected as a member to the UN Human Rights Council, its 3-year term starting as of 1 January 2019. The next UPR for Fiji is expected to take place in November 2019. The national consultation stage started in May 2018 and completed in January 2019 so the CSO report drafting will begin.
In 2018, Fiji ratified, without reservations, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, thus accepting UPR recommendations in this regard from its last Review in October 2014.
The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment visited Fiji in December 2018. UNSR praised Fiji for its leadership on climate change. At the same time, gaps between environmental commitments and their implementation were noted, environmental problems interfering with a wide range of human rights, including rights to life, health, food, housing, water and sanitation, as well as the right to live in a healthy environment. Fiji was urged to increase its actions to protect human rights and the environment on the ground.