HRC39: Safeguards against torture – Implementation of UNCAT in Fiji

Friday, September 14, 2018

Geneva, 13 September 2018: On the margins of the 39th session of the Human Rights Council, the Republic of Fiji and CTI hosted an event on Safeguards against torture – the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) in Fiji. This event took the form of a panel discussion followed by an interactive dialogue.

This panel discussion was held at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva, and brought together four distinguished panelists from Fiji: the Hon. Mr. Justice Anthony H.C.T Gates, Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Fiji; Mr. Itendra Nair, Assistant Commissioner of Police; Mr. Shahin Ali, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Commission of Fiji; and Mr. Ashwin Raj, Director of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission. The event was moderated by Dr. Alice Edwards, Head of the CTI Secretariat.

Having ratified UNCAT in 2016, this was an occasion to exchange on Fiji’s experiences of implementing the Convention and to give examples of progress that have been made in the country over the past two years. The focus was placed on the launch of a pilot scheme, the “First Hour Procedure” as well as the introduction of video recorded interviews. International research has documented that individuals are at heightened risk of ill-treatment during the first hour after arrest, and so schemes that address this situation have an important impact on reducing the number of abuses, as well as the number of complaints against public authorities.

The Chief Justice explained that since the use of video recording, the number of disputes regarding confessional material in court had significantly reduced court time. The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Commission noted that, in two parts of the country, they had managed to respond to every call they had received, with arrested persons being made aware of their rights prior to interview. These new procedures have not only reduced coercive forms of interrogation, they have also led to real efficiencies and attitudinal changes in police. Since the start of the pilot, the Assistant Police Commissioner was able to show that video recording was now used in 57% of all interviews, compared with 8.13% previously. While there remain a number of challenges to full implementation, these new measures have led to multiple benefits including importantly safeguarding the fundamental rights of arrested and detained persons, and reducing incidents of ill-treatment.

The panelists highlighted the importance of internal coordination between different sectors – police, judiciary, legal aid commission and the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, as well as international cooperation. In relation to the latter, the First Hour Procedure has drawn inspiration from the experiences of the Geneva Bar Association and the police of England and Wales (in Norfolk), and the panelists thanked the support provided for training and technical expertise, such as that provided by UNDP, CTI and the Association for the Prevention of Torture.

The discussion and the exchanges that followed showed that while challenges persist, including limited financial resources and some technological constraints, the ratification of UNCAT and its active implementation through national and international cooperation can yield positive results in the short term, and allow for tangible human rights improvements overall.

This side event and the experience of Fiji, as a new State party to UNCAT will hopefully inspire other States to ratify UNCAT and to review and reform, where needed, national practices.

For more on Fiji, see CTI’s Blog on Fiji.

For more on non-coercive investigative interviewing, see CTI’s training tool.

For more on safeguards in police detention, see CTI’s safeguards tool.