Racism Tops At A-G talks

What is being done about people who are openly promoting racism, xenophobia and inciting communal antagonism on social media? And, why had some non-government orgaisations remained quiet during the events
10 Dec 2016 10:50
Racism Tops  At A-G talks
From left: Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, American Ambassador to Fiji Judith Cefkin and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Christopher Pryde at the 18 th Attorney General's Conference at InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa in Natadola yesterday. Photo:ARISHMA DEVI-NARAYAN

What is being done about people who are openly promoting racism, xenophobia and inciting communal antagonism on social media?

And, why had some non-government orgaisations remained quiet during the events of 1987 and 2000.

These were some hard hitting questions asked during the Attorney-General’s Conference currently underway at the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa, Natadola.

Day one of the two-day conference saw eminent local and overseas speakers talking about a whole range of issues, but the panel discussion focussing on racis- Black, White or Purple, Does it Really Matter – stirred up most discussions yesterday.

The high-power panel included Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan in Geneva Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Director Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission Ashwin Raj, UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial intolerance, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mutuma Ruteere, and Chitralekha Massey, the regional representative – UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The former acting Director of Public Prosecutions, Aca Rayawa, raised a question as to why people were allowed to get away with their attempts to incite racial antagonism in Fiji through social media, most of whom were doing so from the comfort of their homes overseas.

He further questioned why proceedings hadn’t started to extradite them and whether they would be taken to task. A clear response to his questions did not come from the panel or the floor.

A lawyer representing a local NGO raised a question when NGOs could be given opportunities to engage on issues of racism.

Discussions also centred around the need to collect race-based data, something Fiji had decided not to do.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum gave reasons for this and also talked about how NGOs have not played fair if one looks at Fiji’s history.

“Unfortunately, in Fiji we have seen that data has been highly politicised to the point people become obsessed about data about how many people have scholarships, how many people have received TELS (Tertiary Education Loan Scheme), how many people are on senior positions,” he said.

Examples of this has already been seen in Parliament where Opposition Members of Parliament have continuously demanded to know a breakdown of how many people of which race were employed in the civil service and how many received scholarships also to be given as a breakdown of race and ethnicities.

On the issue of NGOs, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said NGOs in Fiji were not headed by angels, at least not all of them.

“Some NGOs were completely muted in 1987, in 2000 when various atrocities were carried out against certain groups of people, but were very vocal post 5 December, 2006,” the Acting Prime Minister said.

“The point I am trying to raise is that even as politicians we have to take a principled position towards racism, xenophobia and I think this is essentially what is missing- there is no principled position.

“As Mr Aca Rayawa talked about what he has seen on social media. Yes, it is quite horrendous what is going on in social media. But the fact is that the very people who are making very blatant xenophobic, racist comments are in the same breath talking about democracy.

“And, they do not necessarily see the hypocrisy of it and again, it is not a principled position.”

Government, he said, firmly believes that socio-economic issues need to be solved.

He said generally people who drove a wedge using ethnic issues were one or two elites.

“The people whom they tend to look support from are the underprivileged. They appeal to them saying we are the same group. They say that look the reason why you do not have septic tanks, the reason why you do not have cars or the reason why you do not have five television sets is because the other people have it,” the A-G said.

“If you look at people who entered Parliament in 2000, where did they come from? What was their socio-economic background? That is something we have to be critically aware of, for us to help people understand that the problems that you are facing is not because you are of a certain ethnic group but probably because of the unequal development agenda of governments.”

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum also spoke about a former Prime Minister who defended a member of his Party for her racist remarks.

“That Prime Minister stood in Parliament and outside and said that that’s her freedom of speech. This is the historical background that we have. I completely agree with you (the panel) that a society like Fiji – what happens in Parliament – what the leadership says filters right down to the grassroots and they create the atmosphere that exists in a country,” he said.

“This is precisely the reason why such tough positions have been taken on such issues in Parliament. If we focus on development issues, that is more important than anything else.”

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said a person from Tavua called him a few days ago complaining that they did not have electricity and he was unable to watch the 7s match.

He said the person who called did not care who the chair of Fiji Electricity Authority was, he did not care about the race of the engineer fixing up the problem, he only worried about the services, driving how the point that people do not necessarily think along racial lines unless it is politicised by political parties and politicians.

Edited by Naisa Koroi



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