Monday, February 25, 2013

Fiji: Political parties decree violates international law

Back in January, Fiji's military regime promulgated draconian political party regulations aimed at eliminating that country's political parties. Parties were required to gather 5,000 signatures in a mere 28 days in order to apply for registration, public servants and members of unions were banned from membership, party names had to be in English, and they could be de-registered (and their assets stolen by the state) if there was any flaw at all in the process. Now, a report by the International Senior Lawyers Project has found that the decree violates international human rights law:

A study by international lawyers of Fiji’s Political Parties Decree has found it to be extreme compared to electoral provisions applied in democracies and in parts unprecedented in global practice.

The International Senior Lawyers Project says banning civil society leaders, such as trade unionists, from party membership manifestly breaches Fiji’s obligations under the ILO Convention.

The New York-based group says in-depth research has failed to identify a single country that has such rules.

It says the decree’s provision allowing anybody access to a party’s records is in breach of the right to privacy under the UN Human Rights regime.

They also identify violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the rights to freedom of association, a fair trial, and an effective remedy. Oddly, they don't consider the effects on freedom of speech of the ban on political activity by unregistered parties, but that is at least as significant.

The Fijian regime is currently considering the applications of the three parties that managed to jump through their hoops. From the sound of it, they will disqualify and crush the Fiji Labour Party, whose leader fell out with the regime in 2008 - and the law gives them the ability to do the same to the others on a whim (because it is likely that someone's signature won't be able to be matched, creating grounds for refusal of registration, seizure of assets, and prosecution of party officials. Yes, the law is that bad). Its not yet clear whether they will do that, or be satisfied with having eliminated virtually all of Fiji's existing parties (and apparently all of its non-Indian ones).

The full ISLP report is here [PDF].