Tonga’s second universal periodic review on human rights

TONGA’S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD REVIEWED BY THE UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL’S UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW WORKING GROUP

 Friday 25 January 2013

Geneva, Switzerland

Tonga’s second universal periodic review on human rights was conducted on Monday 21 January 2013 by the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group in Geneva, Switzerland, and concluded on Friday 25 January 2013 with the preliminary adoption of the Working Group’s report on Tonga’s review.

Tonga’s national report was presented by Lord Vaea, Minister for Internal Affairs, and was assisted by Mr ‘Aminiasi Kefu, Solicitor General, and Mr Sonata Tupou, Charge d’Affaires, from the Tonga High Commission in London.

Tonga was among 14 States whose human rights records were examined under the universal periodic review mechanism between 21 January and 1 February. The 14 States included (in order of scheduled review): France, Tonga, Romania, Mali, Botswana, Bahamas, Burundi, Luxembourg, Barbados, Montenegro, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Liechtenstein and Serbia.

Tonga presented its second national report before the Working Group, which comprises of the entire membership of the 47-member Human Rights Council. Tonga’s report outlined Tonga’s efforts to fulfil its human rights obligations and commitments, assessing both positive developments and identifying challenges. As an integral part of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, Tonga also reported on the steps it had taken to implement accepted recommendations posed to Tonga during its first review.

In presenting the report, Lord Vaea reported that Tonga continued to devotedly protect the fundamental human rights enshrined in Tonga’s 137 year old written Constitution, and also completed the democratisation of Tonga’s constitutional and political system in a short period of time, most importantly in a peaceful and orderly manner.

Tonga also highlighted efforts and activities carried out by Government and civil society organisations to improve Tonga’s human rights commitment, including pursuing gender equality; rights of persons with disabilities; combating domestic violence; elimination of use of torture and cruel, degrading or inhumane punishment; freedom of expression; anti corruption; right to drinking water; and the ratification of core human rights conventions.

There were however difficult human rights issues that Tonga still needed to carefully consider against certain factors such as traditional cultural values, fundamental Christian beliefs, Government policy and the limited resources available to implement such human rights. These included elimination of sexual discrimination, abolishing the death penalty, corporal punishment, women access to land rights, establishing a human rights institution and adoption of legitimate children.

The fifteenth session was the third session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group to be held under the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review process. The first session of the second cycle – the thirteenth – was held from 21 May to 4 June 2012, and the second session of the second cycle –the fourteenth – took place from 22 October to 5 November 2012.

Tonga was the first Pacific Island State to be reviewed under this mechanism in 2008 in the first cycle of review of the 193 UN Member States, and again it is the first Pacific Island State to be reviewed in the second cycle.

Tonga’s review was facilitated by a group of three Council members from different regional groups, or troikas, who acted as rapporteurs. The troikas for the session were selected through a drawing of lots on 14 January. The troika for Tonga consisted of Costa Rica, who chaired the troika, and Pakistan and Angola.

The Working Group’s report on Tonga was adopted on Friday 25 January 2013, without issue.

According to Lord Vaea, this was a successful presentation of Tonga’s second national report on human rights commitments, and there were a number of States who came forward to express their appreciation and support for Tonga’s efforts.

He stated that “It was important that Tonga was able to explain the situation and circumstances it was facing in advancing human rights, and that the States appreciate that Tonga needs time and technical assistance to fulfil its human rights obligations”.

He further added that, “Most of the human rights recommendations presented by States during the interactive dialogue were acceptable to Tonga, as they are currently pursued or already achieved by Government. These amounted to 56 recommendations. However, there were 28 recommendations that are quite sensitive to Tonga’s circumstances, and they needed further and careful consideration. The four recommendations that were not accepted were against Government policy and priorities, and those recommendations suggested that Tonga intensifies and prioritises the ratification of CEDAW with reservations.”

Lord Vaea explained that Government is committed to ratifying CEDAW, but this will be done after public consultation on reservations to CEDAW. Tonga does not want to speed up the ratification of CEDAW until all stakeholders give their views to Government.

During the week Lord Vaea and the Tongan delegation also had the opportunity to meet His Excellency Ambassador Moses K. Mose,  of the Solomon Islands; Her Excellency Ambassador Dell Higgie of New Zealand, His Excellency Ambassador Thanh T. Nguyen of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; Her Excellency Ms Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Mr Simon Dawkins, Aid for Trade Officer for the Delegation of the Pacific Islands Forum to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva.

Lord Vaea also expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the Permanent Missions of New Zealand and Australia in Geneva for their assistance to the Tongan delegation during the week.

The Working Group’s report on Tonga’s universal periodic review will be finally adopted in the twenty-third regular session of the Human Rights Council that will take place from 27 May to 14 June 2013.

MEDIA RELEASE ENDS

 

Released by:

The Office of the Minister for Internal Affairs

Government of the Kingdom of Tonga

For Inquiries, please contact:

Mr Sonata Tupou

Charge de Affaires

Tonga High Commission

Telephone: +44 207 724 5828

Email:sonatat@tongahighcom.co.uk

 

Mr ‘Aminiasi Kefu

Solicitor General

Attorney General’s Office

Telephone: +676 24055 / 24007

Email: sg@crownlaw.gov.to

ANNEX

 

GENERAL INFORMATION ON THE UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW PROCESS FROM THE SECRETARIAT OF THE UPR WORKING GROUP

Under General Assembly resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006, the Human Rights Council was created and mandated to “undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfilment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States; the review shall be a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialogue, with the full involvement of the country concerned and with consideration given to its capacity-building needs; such a mechanism shall complement and not duplicate the work of treaty bodies.”

Subsequently, the Universal Periodic Review mechanism was established through the adoption by the Council of its “institution-building package” – Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 – on 18 June 2007, one year after its first meeting. Among the elements of this package was the new Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which aims to ensure that all United Nations Member States, starting with the members of the Council, have their records examined in order to improve human rights conditions worldwide. Furthermore, the Council decided that these reviews would be conducted on one working group composed of the 47 members of the Council.

The Universal Periodic Review Working Group consequently held its inaugural session in April 2008 for the first group of States, the order for which was decided through the drawing of lots. With the holding of this first session the first cycle took off through which all 193 United Nations Member States have had their human rights records reviewed over a four-year period; this includes South Sudan which became a Member State during the course of the first cycle.

Per Human Rights Council resolution 16/21 adopted on 25 March 2011 and decision 17/119 pertaining to the review of the Council, the second and subsequent cycles of the Universal Periodic Review should focus on, inter alia, the implementation of the accepted recommendations and the developments of the human rights situation in the State under review. This resolution and decision also established that the periodicity of the review for the second and subsequent cycles will be four and a half years, instead of four, and thus 42 States would be reviewed per year during three sessions of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group. Moreover, the order of reviews established for the first cycle was to be maintained.

In accordance with the Council’s “institution-building package”, and as reinforced by the outcome of the Council’s review adopted last March, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the Universal Periodic Review including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document.

Per the adopted institution-building package, the objectives of the Universal Periodic Review are: the improvement of the human rights situation on the ground; fulfilment of the State’s human rights obligations and commitments and assessment of positive developments and challenges faced by the State; the enhancement of the State’s capacity and of technical assistance, in consultation with, and with the consent of, the State concerned; the sharing of best practice among States and other stakeholders; support for cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights; and, the encouragement of full cooperation and engagement with the Council, other human rights bodies and OHCHR.

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