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In 2018, the level of domestic violence remains a critical human rights issue in Tonga and has been identified by the Government as a major impediment to gender equality. Necessary measures still have to be taken, in order to effectively implement provisions of the national Family Protection Act of 2013 which recognises domestic violence as a legal offence and provides a legal framework for preventing domestic violence. While there is no discriminatory legislation with regards to participation of women in politics, traditional system and cultural factors limit participation of women in political processes and local government. Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) by Tonga is still stalled.
There is no full equality of suffrage and not all the seats of the Parliament are directly elected. This is not in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and other international standards.
Women also face challenges with regards to the full enjoyment of economic rights,
particularly inheritance and land rights. The legal status of same-sex relationships is not recognised in Tonga and consenting same-sex relationships between adults remain criminalised by the law (there are no reports of law enforcement though). A de facto moratorium on the application of the death penalty is in place since 1982.
EU action - key focus areas: EU actions focus inter alia on supporting the ratification of or accession to the remaining core Human Rights Conventions; promoting gender equality and women rights and supporting Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) engagement with the Government of Tonga on policy dialogue and governance.
EU bilateral political engagement: The EU followed up on issues discussed in the first Enhanced High Level Political Dialogue under Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement in Nuku'alofa in April 2017. In the area of human rights, the EU urged Tonga to abolish the death penalty, to ratify (or accede to) the Rome Statute and core Human Rights Conventions, and to decriminalise same-sex relations. The EU carried out demarches and outreach activities inviting Tonga to support human rights initiatives and priorities at the UN level.
EU financial engagement: Tonga is covered under a regional roadmap for CSOs in the Pacific, with the purpose of ensuring a more structured and effective dialogue with CSOs as well as to intensify the linkages between CSOs, local authorities and the government. EU financial support was devoted to capacity building of CSOs, strengthening CSOs role in advocacy towards gender equality and women's rights and addressing the problem of domestic violence and its impact on families and the development of the society.
The "Experiences and Needs of Children and Children with Disability in Tonga'' project, aimed at advancement of children's rights, contributed to understanding violence against children and children with disability in Tonga and to improving conditions for children. A study served as a baseline for the government, civil society and the community to develop and implement immediate and long term protection and prevention measures against violence on children.
Tonga is a focus country under the new regional Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls programme, launched in November 2018 and funded primarily by the EU with targeted support from the Australian Government and cost-sharing from UN Women. The action is implemented in partnership with the Government, CSOs, communities and other partners towards transforming harmful social norms to prevent violence against women and girls, improving access to quality services for survivors of gender-based violence and monitoring and reporting on government's commitments to gender equality and elimination of violence against women and girls. The activities under the programme will support, inter alia, working with states bodies and faith leaders on the development of a national prevention strategy; supporting technical review of the National Policy on Gender and Development 2014-2018; supporting the Women and Children Crisis Centre, supporting awareness and further implementation of the Family Protection Act 2013.
Multilateral context: Tonga's human rights record was reviewed under the Universal Period Review (UPR) on 15 January 2018. So far Tonga has ratified only two of the core UN Human Rights Conventions - the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in 1972 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1955. Since these ratifications, the government of Tonga has submitted some national reports on ICERD. In 2018, Tonga submitted its first report on CRC implementation. Tonga has also signed but not yet ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
UPR recommendations supported by Tonga include, inter alia, improving record of reporting to the UN bodies, establishment of a NHRI, prioritising gender equality and adopting legislative measures to combat discrimination against women. Tonga will examine recommendations to continue efforts to ratify core international human rights treaties, particularly CEDAW, the CRPD, the Convention Against Torture (CAT), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to introduce legislation to provide equal protection to vulnerable groups and on all grounds, including sexual orientation, and to formally abolish the death penalty.