Fiji: Activists Battle to Preserve Constitutional Rights for Sexual Minorities

In the wake of intense backlash by right-wing political forces and conservative church groups against democratic measures in the new 1998 Constitution, a coalition of non-governmental organizations in Fiji seeks to avert removal of a clause that embraces sexual orientation in its provisions against discrimination. Section 38 (2) of the Bill of Rights of the new Constitution, which drew widespread acclaim for its strong democratic character, explicitly includes sexual orientation in its roster of categories protected from discrimination.

Bowing to pressure from reactionary forces within the Methodist Church and the Fiji Council of Churches, the Committee on Consequential Legislation of Parliament, with approval from the office of Prime Minister Siliveni Rabuka, has introduced a proposal to amend the Bill of Rights to read explicitly that same-sex marriage and homosexual relationships remain illegal. According to Attorney General Ratu Etuate Tavai, the amendment seeks "to remove any doubts and fears about same-sex marriages and unnatural offences being allowed." Bill No. 2 of 1999, officially issued in Parliament on January 4 and slated for its second reading on January 8 and voting in May, defines marriage as the union of one woman and one man "to the exclusion of all others" and declares that the persecution of "unnatural offences, indecent assaults, or indecent practices" does not breach Section 38. According to the language of the Bill, it ensures that "the inclusion of the phrase 'sexual orientation' in Section 38 (2) does not itself invalidate the relevant provisions of the Marriage Act or the Penal Code. They are left for Parliament to decide on in the future." This amendment, in sum, would effectively invalidate the protections granted in Section 38, and would create a precedent for Parliament to qualify or eliminate other constitutionally enshrined rights and liberties for sexual minorities.

The NGO Coalition on the Right to Sexual Orientation, which includes Women's Action for Change, Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, Citizens Constitutional Forum, and Fiji Women's Rights Movement, has issued an urgent call for individuals and human rights groups to protect the breadth and constitutional sanctity of the Bill of Rights. According to the Coalition, these political parties and the churches with which they are allied have misleadingly framed the question of sexual orientation exclusively in terms of the right to homosexual marriages. In thus sowing hatred against sexual minorities, these forces are using Section 38 as a sensationalist political ploy to gain needed public attention in time for the 1999 elections.

These ulterior motives, the Coalition maintains, are anchored on the false assumption that the right to sexual orientation revolves solely around the issue of same-sex marriage. According to the Coalition, however, Section 38 "upholds the rights of sexual minorities to be treated equally in terms of their civil and human rights as any other person of majority sexual orientation. For instance, it would guarantee that sexual minorities would have the right to equal employment, the right to own properties, the right to use and enjoy public facilities, the right to be safe, the right to choose a place of abode, and the right to be treated equally in various aspects of social life. With Section 38 in place, Fiji joins the ranks of countries with strong democratic traditions in the Commonwealth who guarantee protection of sexual minorities from unfair discrimination."

The NGO Coalition on the Right to Sexual Orientation calls on friends and supporters from the international human rights community to send letters to the Prime Minister, other Ministers, and Members of Parliament asking for protection of this Constitutional provision through the defeat of Bill 2 of 1999, and calling on them to uphold the principles of democracy as enshrined in the new Constitution. Letter-writers may wish to refer to the United Nations Human Rights Committee's decision in Toonen v. Australia (1994), in which the Committee held that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights implicitly includes sexual orientation as a status protected >from discrimination. Letters may remind Fijian leaders that the inclusion of sexual orientation in their constitutional protections brings it into accord with existing provisions in international law; indeed, it stands as a progressive model in incorporating such recognized protections in explicit and articulated form.

Please forward letters to:

Hon. Major-General Siliveni Rabuka
Prime Minister, Minister with Special Responsibility for Constitutional Review, and Minister for Regional Development and Multi-Ethnic Affairs
Prime Minister's Office
Parliament Complex
Box 2353, Government Buildings
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
Fax (679) 306 034
Hon. Col. Paul F. Manueli
Minister for Justice and Home Affairs
Ministry for Home Affairs
Box 2349, Government Buildings
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
Fax (679) 300 346
Hon. Taufa Vakatale
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education and Technology
Ministry of Education
Private Mail Bag, Government Buildings
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
Fax (679) 302 404
Hon. Vincent W. Lobendahn
Minister for Labour and Industrial Relations
Ministry of Labour and Industrial Relations
Box 2216, Government Buildings
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
Fax (679) 304 701
Hon. Leo B. Smith
Minister for Health
Box 2223, Government Buildings
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
Fax (679) 306 147
David S. Pickering
Minister for Tourism and Transport
Ministry of Tourism and Transport
Box 1260, Government Buildings
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
Fax (679) 302 060
Hon. Seruwaia R. Hong-Tiy
Minister for Women and Culture
Ministry of Women and Culture
Box 2131, Government Buildings
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
Fax (679) 303 829
Hon. William Aull
Member for Suva City
G.P.O. Box 12355
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
Fax (679) 303 291
Hon. Jai Ram Reddy
Leader of Opposition and Member for Lautoka Rural
National Federation Party Office
Box 2352, Government Buildings
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
Fax (679) 305 317
Hon. Maan Singh
Member for Navosa/Serua/Namosi/Naitasiri West/Rewa West
P.O. Box 414
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
Fax (out of order)
Hon. Dr. Wadan L. Narsey
Member for Suva City Central
P.O. Box 524
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
Fax (679) 384 158
Hon. Mahendra P. Chaudry
Member for Ba West
Labour Party
P.O. Box 1405
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
Fax (679) 301 099

Please send copies of letters to:

Fiji Women's Crisis Centre
88 Gordon Street
P. O. Box 12882
Suva
REPUBLIC OF FIJI
E-mail: fwcc@is.com.fj