Fiji's Minister for Women, Dr Jiko Luveni says a register would address the 'root cause' of sex related crime against girls and women.
The Minister says the register would be able to identify offenders, track and educate them and provide important information to the police.
Shamima Ali, the Chief Executive of the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre says historically sex offender registers have never worked before.
Speaker:Shamima Ali, Chief Executive, Fiji Women's Crisis Centre
ALI: Well I wouldn't say that I'm totally opposed to the idea. But I believe that as someone who's worked in this area for nearly 30 years, I haven't seen this working anywhere in the world, and from a human rights perspective there is no discussion around this. But I still believe that in Fiji there needs to be a lot more discussion and consultation which is seen to be lacking nowadays, and rather than just talking about bandaid solutions, just a quick way to address the situation rather than talking about it and looking at where has it worked, if it has worked anywhere. And from my knowledge it hasn't worked.
EWART: How concerned would you be that if a register is setup in Fiji that because of the nature of the place, the fact that it's a small population where lots of people tend to know each other, that anyone who appeared on this register it would be very hard for them I would have thought to live any sort of life at all? They would face harassment from the local population surely?
ALI: Yes we have to look at the human rights aspect of it all and they won't be able to, but the other thing that we have to look at it, really it will not work, again as you said it's a small community, we all know each other and we are a very forgiving lot. Already we've given them, people who do these things to our own girls, our own women in their own homes, those who are related to them. We keep this hidden, a secret, we don't talk about it at all. So these people are going to get away and we are very forgiving, even if they are convicted we are very forgiving. So it doesn't serve any purpose. The other thing also is our young offenders, there's a trend in Fiji, the offenders are becoming younger and younger, and once they get into a registry, the amount of stigmatisation and so on is going to ruin their lives. We believe that we need to re-educate, we need to come to the table as a society, as a country, and look at solutions and particularly learning from people who have been in the area for a very long time.
EWART: The fact though that you and I are having this conversation and we talked about it on the program quite recently before and more and more people are talking about the issue in Fiji. That in itself has to be significant, because as you say there's been a reluctance to talk about it up until now?
ALI: Yes it's a very significant time for us in Fiji because people are really talking about it, everyone wants to come on board. We have been inundated with requests to do workshops, particularly with the religious, and we're very happy about it. And that is why I'm saying let us not look for bandaid solutions and let us not talk from the top of our head without that sound foundation of knowledge, because this is a great opportunity for us to really make a difference.
EWART: In terms of what the minister has said about the register though, the thing that struck me was identify offenders and track them, that is one issue which I think you've touched on, but they also talk about educating them. Now I mean if these offenders can be re-educated, how much difference potentially could that make do you think?
ALI: It would make a difference because we're already seeing it but it must be done through a criminal justice system, not just like that, not without it. We are already seeing some responses, the correction services, particularly Labasa in Fiji is working very closely with the Labasa Women's Crisis Centre, a branch of ours. And the inmates are already saying things like you should have come to our village a long time ago, we would not be here. So I think it is possible, we just don't have enough people to do it, and we cannot do it through the religious. I mean spiritual learning is one thing and I think it does assist with people giving them peace of mind and so on, but we need to re-educate offenders' minds and to respect women and things like that. And I think it is a possibility provided more and more of us are able to do that.
EWART: So let's come back to our starting point, is it a case that you would prefer not to see a register at all, or would you be happy to see some sort of register setup providing it takes on board the kind of issues that you've raised?
ALI: No the register would already be with the police and the judiciary and the legal system if they have been charged and so on. So that is already there, they have been identified. So I don't believe there needs to be one that other people have access to, and they're tracked down and harassed and so on. So I really don't believe in what the minister is suggesting.
EWART: And have you had talks with the minister or would you approach the minister for talks on this issue?
ALI: Well we have, we've presented the findings of our national research on violence against women that we have just presented to the public here in Fiji. We did a presentation and I think a positive thing that has come out is that I think the ministry is thinking of re-establishing the national taskforces on the elimination of violence against women and girls. So that is a positive way forward, and hopefully a lot of these issues will be talked about, discussed, debated and consulted about at that table.