Comment by Dr Shaista Shameem on the highlighted portion of Ro Teimumu’s speech (attached) delivered on 26th January 2013.
I was interested to read Ro Teimumu Kepa’s comment that the Fiji Labour Party was responsible for the Chandrika Prasad case in 2000 and 2001 (CA) which restored the 1997 Constitution. I have written to Mr Mahendra Chaudhry to ask him to have this part of Ro Teimumu’s speech corrected.
But for the avoidance of doubt, I need to make an explicit correction and hope that the (new) SDL Party will also note it for the record:
The Chandrika Prasad case was never a Fiji Labour Party action. The case was initiated by Mueniweni farmer Mr Chandrika Prasad himself who was a victim of Tomasi Vosalevu and others of the Mueniweni area (see decision of the High Court of Fiji in The State v Lasarusa Benu and Ors Criminal Appeal No HAA041 of 2003) during the height of the 2000 takeover of Parliament by George Speight. It was reported in that case that Speight himself was apparently sighted in Mueniweni during the violations that took place there night after night.
The people of Mueniweni were assisted by a number of individuals, myself included, to seek refuge in Lautoka, initially relocated to the Sanatan Dharam Primary School and later moved to the Girmit Centre. They eventually returned home to Mueniweni when peace was restored there – facilitated by the RFMF and the Police. However, Chandrika Prasad was himself still a target, as were some others of his community, because of his court case, and they were moved to New Zealand for safety.
The Chandrika Prasad case was never a Fiji Labour Party action for the good reason that it was not a political case. It was a simple human rights redress matter. Mr Prasad’s appeal to the Lautoka High Court and later the Court of Appeal was to have his Constitution restored because without the Constitution his rights were demolished. In this application he was hugely successful because not only was his Constitution given back to him (and was current until 2009), but his right to human dignity and citizenship as an equal member of Fijian society was restored and assured.
The Labour Party, along with many other organisations, supported the action in the Appeal Court by providing some funding and affidavits to state that the 1997 Constitution was a widely accepted law that could not be removed by anyone other than the people themselves. In this sense this case is significant for current circumstances in Fiji. It is also well-known internationally as one of the few court cases that actually restored a constitution after it had purportedly been abrogated.
The lawyers who took up the case free of charge at my request were the following: Neel Shivam, Anu Patel, George Williams, and Geoffrey Robertson. All these lawyers strictly followed my instructions on the conduct of the case. Mr Justice Sailosi Kepa, who was Ombudsman and Chairperson of the Fiji Human Rights Commission at the time, was kept fully briefed by me during the course of the activities after Mueniweni violations and the subsequent hearings. However, it appears from her recent speech referred to above that Ro Teimumu Kepa was not made aware of the facts at the time.
The very first decision of High Court Judge Justice Anthony Gates at page 1 of his Lautoka High Court decision reveals how the case was conducted from day 1 in the Lautoka High Court and the people involved.
It is important for the sake of our constitutional history- especially at this particular time- that the record is corrected. The evidence is available for anyone who wishes to view it.
Dr Shaista Shameem