NATION

Ashwin Raj’s Team Brings To Life People’s Rights As Enshrined In 2013 Constitution

The Commission understands and respects that landlords have rights, they have mortgages. However, they need to remove families lawfully through a court order.
19 Nov 2020 15:27
Ashwin Raj’s Team Brings To Life People’s Rights As Enshrined In 2013 Constitution
Ashwin Raj

Ashwin Raj and his Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission team have visited some of the poorest in our communities.

They have intervened to see whether their rights have been violated particularly in the wake of an increase in arbitrary evictions during this COVID-19 crisis.

They seek remedies to ensure that the affected individuals and families can access basic necessities of life like housing, food and water.

As they extend their helping hand they bring to life the meaning of the various rights enshrined in the 2013 Constitution.

They include people’s:

  •  right to freedom from arbitrary evictions
  •  right to housing and sanitation
  •  right to adequate food and water
  •  right to social security schemes
  • right to a clean and healthy environment

Some of the complaints had intersectional human rights violations that are under investigation.

In recent weeks the commission has been working tirelessly in dealing with these cases. Their service has been recognised by many and their popularity is being spread by word of mouth.

As a result, more and more people in distress are going straight to the Commission for help.

These are some of the cases chosen at random that highlight the incredible work that Ashwin Raj’s team has been doing.

Case 1

– A family of seven including a three-weeks-old baby and a 74-year-old grandmother who were arbitrarily evicted by their landlord in Nadi last month.

A team from the Commission is in Nadi to conduct interviews with the family and engaged with key stakeholders including the Department of Social Welfare to seek assistance for the family.

The family has been placed in a private home in Nadi under the care of Lusi Waqairawai , a 62-year-old grandmother from Vunayasa Nadi. Ms Waqairawai is wheelchair-bound and is from Kadavu. She says she feels the pain and wants to help the aggrieved family.

The Commission had received food packs and baby essentials from Rotary Club, Lautoka for the family. Director Mr Raj is thankful to individuals from Lautoka who have come forward to help the family. Everyone has a right to live with dignity irrespective of their race and religion, he says.

The Commission also liaised with HART Fiji and Model Town Charitable Trust Koroipita to secure housing for the family.

The Commission also assisted the family obtain the necessary documents to make an application to access financial support available under the Department of Social Welfare.

The family was subjected to inhumane treatment as their landlord had forcibly removed them from their rented home without a court order. Their belongings were packed by the persons hired by the landlord and left on the roadside on the highway in Nadi.

Case 2

– Tamavua family which was evicted by its landlord. It involved a family of five including a nine-days-old baby and an elderly woman.

The Commission had worked closely with the Department of Social Welfare and the Samabula Old People’s Home in providing temporary housing for the family. The family was placed in a hotel after a good Sanitarian, a businessman, Quality Print’s owner, Dewan Chand Maharaj paid for their temporary accommodation.

The Commission had assisted by ensuring the Police intervened in a timely manner to investigate the alleged physical abuse of the elderly mother of the complainant was subject to during the course of the eviction.

The Commission had accompanied the elderly mother to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital for her medical examination and was in touch with the Sexual Offences Unit.

The Commission requested the Police to organise counselling sessions for the elderly mother.

The Commission is still in touch with the family.

Case 3

– Case of deprivation of water supply and verbal abuse as a result of a property dispute involving an elderly person with psycho-social disability and his ailing wife in Nadi.

The Commission visited the family which is living in appalling conditions without water and electricity for the last eleven months. The property is under a legal dispute. The elderly couple were subjected to verbal abuse by other occupants of the property they are presently residing in.

The Commission is liaising with the Water Authority of Fiji to reconnect the water supply.

In the meantime, the Commission has requested a neighbor to assist the family with water. The Commission is thankful to this good Samaritan (Martintaar Hotel).

The Commission sought assistance of the Legal Aid Commission (LAC) to get a DVRO to assist the aggrieved couple

Case 4

– Two families were threatened with evictions in Nadi Highlands following a property dispute involving two children with severe disabilities that have been deprived of electricity and the children can only have blended food.

Case 5

– Mother and a new born baby were locked out of their home and were also locked out of their premises without a court order.

Case 6

– 19 families to face eviction in Nausori area.

The Commission visited 19 families on Monday (Diwali Public Holiday) that have been threatened with eviction. Some families have been living there for the last 80 years. There are nine widows, most of who are elderly and on social welfare allowances to survive. The Commission has sought the assistance of the LAC to provide legal advice to these families.

Case 7

– Assisting a person with disability secure housing with HART Fiji.

Case 8

– Assisting a single mother secure housing with HART Fiji.

The Commission remains concerned that a number of these cases involve arbitrary evictions which are unconstitutional.

They often arise as a result of property disputes in which tenants get caught and disproportionately affected.

Mr Raj says people fail to understand that arbitrary eviction is not just an interdiction of the right to housing, It is also about food, water, sanitation, safety, security and to love with dignity.

“Families are being torn apart and the Commission sadly on Prophet Mohammed’s birthday weekend had to take an elderly mother to the Old People’s Home because there was no other place where we could keep her.

“The Commission understands and respects that landlords have rights, they have mortgages. However, they need to remove families lawfully through a court order. What has been transpiring sadly is that houses have been demolished while people are still in it such as the case of a grandmother with a baby while the walls and roof of the house was being removed.

“Surely there is a much humane way of dealing with such issues that are lawful and consistent with human dignity. The Commission is engaging with all relevant stakeholders such as the Department of Social Welfare, the Legal Aid Commission, and good Samaritans such as those in business community and Rotary clubs to provide immediate assistance knowing well that some of the legal battles cannot be resolved overnight but that does not change the fact that these families need a roof over their head, they need food, water, sanitation, children need to be safe, they must enjoy the right to education, the families must have their human dignity restored because they cannot live in a bus shelter.

“The Commission in also working with the Ministry of Housing and Community Development is addressing the issue of affordable accommodation for low income earners and renting of houses in informal settlement which is illegal. Greater awareness is also needed on the importance of tenancy agreements, issuance of receipts upon payment of rent.

“It must be noted that most of these complainants are poor, do not have high levels of literacy and have nowhere to turn to. Most times, they come to the Commission, they are hungry and desperate for immediate help.”

Mr Raj and his team deserve a special recognition for their exceptional efforts.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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