Shamima Ali. File Photo.
“We have been fighting for the rights of all Fijians for 30 years and will not allow ourselves to be drawn in to the political squabble of politicians. We have proven ourselves as human rights activists on the local, regional and international scene and will not be moved by baseless accusations that have been uttered for political gain.”
This is the statement of the chair of the NGO Coalition for Human Rights Shamima Ali in response to comments by Fiji First leader Voreqe Bainimarama about NGOs “cowardice” in remaining silent on alleged racist and xenophobic comments by former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.
Ms Ali says their stand against human rights violations in Fiji and the Pacific is widely known and while there has been some concern on recent remarks by some politicians, human rights activists in the country have been silenced by decrees put in place by the very man who is now accusing NGOs of being silent.
“Everyone knows that we spoke out against section 115 of the electoral decree because it more or less muzzled NGO’s in the lead up to elections in September. It took away our rights as citizens to take part in political debates and discussions. We had meetings with Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum calling for the removal of 115 but nothing was done. So we have to be very careful about what we say or do for fear of breaching the decree.
“Just recently one of our sister organisations the CCF has come under FICAC scrutiny for allegedly “breaching section 115” of the electoral decree. Because of that they have had to defer the series of conversations they were holding as a lead up to free and fair elections. This sort of intimidation has forced us to refrain from any political issues. In other words, we adhered to the decree and then now we are being criticised for it,” said Ms Ali.
Ms Ali says there hasn’t been any clear explanation regarding what NGOs can or cannot do under section 115.
She is also calling on journalists to be more responsible when reporting such stories as there were no attempts to get comments from her or any other representative of other NGOs in the country.
“This is a critical time in Fiji where media organisations must play their role with integrity and fairness. But if you have reporters quoting Mr Bainimarama criticising NGOs and no comments are sought from the NGO’s, then where is the much touted “balance”? The people of Fiji look to the media for information so it is crucial that journalists play their role with great responsibility, integrity and fairness.”
Ms Ali goes on to caution politicians about what they utter in their campaigns, saying Fiji needs responsible leaders and not those who are out to discredit each other and use divisive politics for personal gain.
She says while human rights based NGOs would like to be a part of the process leading up to 17 September, it’s quite unfortunate that certain decrees have prevented that.
“Even now when preparing press statements, we have to be very careful not to breach 115. So I’d like to remind Mr Bainimarama, before he says such things to remember why we are not able to say it. It was his government that created the electoral decree so he should know too well why we have remained silent. However, members of the NGO Coalition will continue to input and participate wherever it “legally” can in the electoral process.”