A Fijian government delegation has told a UN meeting that the indigenous people of Fiji are firmly in control of their destiny.
The 14th session of United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is currently underway at the UN Headquarters in New York.
The Forum heard that the iTaukei enjoy full rights to land, culture, institutions and religion, with all these rights firmly protected within the 2013 Constitution and the nation’s written laws and regulations. In no way, the Fijian Delegation affirmed, should these rights of the iTaukei be perceived to be under threat.
The Permanent Mission’s First Secretary, Mr. Gene Bai, advised the Forum that Fiji’s 2013 Constitution is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. He directed the Forum to the relevant provisions in the Constitution of Fiji that specifically protect the rights of the iTaukei.
He said 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. He explained that for the first time, the Constitution’s Bill of Rights sets out 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 Permanent Mission’s statement reported that in contrast to many other countries in the Pacific and Pacific Rim, the colonial experience of Fiji was not one of large-scale dispossession of land and the suppression of the indigenous people. Mr Bai told the gathering that around 90% of all land in Fiji is owned by the indigenous people through customary ownership and cannot be permanently alienated from them. He said this has given the iTaukei a level of security that has been central to their social, cultural and economic wellbeing.
First Secretary Bai said the Fijian Government was committed to achieving the goals of the soon-to-be-installed Post-2015 Development Agenda, saying that the agenda fitted with the Government’s own aims of leaving no one behind, removing discrimination by providing access to basic rights, and eradicating poverty. He reported that in furtherance of these aims, the Fijian Government had implemented policies and laws that establish a common and equal citizenry; reaffirm civil, political and cultural rights; and as such, guarantee the social and economic rights of the iTaukei.
The Fijian Delegation’s statement affirmed that the iTaukei are firmly in control of their own destiny and that they are secure in their customary land ownership and unique culture. The UN forum was told that the indigenous people of Fiji “are a proud and vibrant member of the human family, committed to the well-being of the international community and the planet we inhabit”.