Fiji: Battle To Preserve Constitutional Rights for Lesbians and Gay Reignites

On behalf of the NGO Coalition on Human Rights in Fiji, activists from Women's Action for Change (WAC) have issued this urgent call for letters of support within the next week for the preservation of protections based on sexual orientation recently enshrined in the new Fiji Constitution:

Once again the gay and lesbian community of Fiji is under threat. The newly elected government is putting forward an Act to amend the 1998 Constitution. The fourth section in the Bill, addressing issues of "equality", defines marriage as the union of one woman and one man "to the exclusion of all others" and provides for the persecution of sodomy (defined as "unnatural acts")--and effectively eliminates protections based on sexual orientation enshrined in the new Constitution. Fiji is one of only three countries in the world that explicitly identifies sexual orientation as a status protected from discrimination under the Constitution--rightfully receiving recognition for its contribution to setting this landmark international precedent. It is these protections, however, that officials wish to remove.

In early 1999, the previous government introduced a similar Bill. They suggested the amendments after Christian fundamentalists marched on Constitution Day, calling for the removal of the phrase "sexual orientation" from section 38(a) of the Constitution, the document's anti-discrimination clause. They claimed this section would encourage gay marriages and legalise sodomy. However, due to international pressure provided by groups and individuals who had been advised by IGLHRC, and concerted local lobbying, the Bill was shelved.

It resurfaced in Parliament on 14 February 2000 when the Prime Minister reintroduced it. Proponents of the Bill then by-passed Standing Orders--the procedure followed when government is trying to fast-track a Bill or amendment through Parliament. The Bill has become an Act since it has been tabled in Parliament. This means we have to lobby against the Bill this week before it returns for the first reading.

URGENT LETTERS NEEDED!

YOU CAN FAX US AND WE WILL FORWARD!

We are writing to request urgent support in the way of faxed letters or posted letters to the officials named below.

*** Supporters may send faxes (those on official letterhead are especially encouraged) to IGLHRC at 01-415-255-8662 by WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, at 3PM PACIFIC STANDARD TIME, and we will forward this correspondence to the necessary parties.

(Scroll down to see suggested points and sample letter)

Prime Minister
Honorable Mahendra Chaudhry
Prime Minister's Office
Government Buildings
Suva, FIJI
(679) 211 216 (Phone)
(679) 306 034 (Fax)
Leader of Opposition
Honorable Ratu Inoke Kubuabola
Government Buildings
Suva, FIJI
(679) 305 811 (P)
(679) 305 317 (F)
Attorney General
Honorable Anand Kumar Singh
Government Buildings
Suva, FIJI
(679) 905 233 (P)
(679) 305 421 (F)
Solicitor General
Mr. Nainendra Nand
Government Buildings
Suva, FIJI
(679) 302 404 (F)

Please send copies of letters to:

Women's Action For Change
P.O. Box 12398
Suva, FIJI
Phone: (679) 314 363, Fax: (679) 305 033

A MESSAGE FROM WAC:

It is imperative that we get overseas support as we cannot make a big noise here because of the power of the Christian church. It is unsafe to go public, but WAC is generating NGO support to write to parliamentary and civil leaders etc. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

WAC Sexual Minorities Programme WAC Management Collective

On behalf of the following members of the NGO Coalition on Human Rights Fiji Women's Crisis Centre

AIDS Task Force of Fiji

Citizens Constitutional Forum

POINTS TO BE MADE IN YOUR LETTER:

  1. Fiji is only one of three countries that protects sexual orientation in the Constitution.
  2. Fiji has received world recognition for its democratic Constitution but now the government is wanting to change it, on the very issues that brought it to international attention.
  3. By their very actions, the Fiji Government is going against Constitutional rights of all people in Fiji.

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ____________,

We are appalled at the introduction to Parliament of Bill No.1 of 2000 that was tabled by the Prime Minister. The Bill is entitled "A Bill for an Act to Amend the Constitution". We believe this Bill has been fast tracked in order for it to by-pass Standing Orders.

Section 4 of the Bill that aims to amend Section 38 of the Constitution, directly affects the rights of Homosexuals (Sexual Minorities). Passing this amendment will deny Human Rights to some citizens of Fiji. The Bill contravenes the existing Fiji Constitution that has received international recognition for its strong Human Rights stance. When a similar Bill was placed before the last Government, the Opposition was very strong in its assurance that they would never support such amendments to the Constitution. Yet this Bill does precisely that. Now you, the very same people who opposed these amendments when in opposition, have broken all pledges and assurances by considering passing them.

The 1990 Constitution was based on prejudice and discriminated against many citizens of Fiji. This bill is also prejudicial in its intent and will discriminate against many Fiji citizens.

We urge you to take the necessary steps to stop the passing of this bill.

Sincerely,

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

TEXT OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE FIJI ISLANDS (Ratified July 27, 1998) Chapter 4--Bill of Rights: Section 38, 1 and 2: (1) Every person has the right to equality before the law. (2) A person must not be unfairly discriminated against, directly or indirectly, on the ground of his or her: (a) actual or supposed personal characteristics or circumstances, including race, ethnic origin, colour, place of origin, gender, sexual orientation, birth, primary language, economic status, age or disability; or (b) opinions or beliefs, except to the extent that those opinions or beliefs involve harm to others or the diminution of the rights or freedoms of others; or on any other ground prohibited by this Constitution.