Tonga and the EU

EU ANNUAL REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY IN TONGA, 2019

23/06/2020 - 06:14
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1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: Tonga's Constitution, the oldest in  the  Pacific,  provides  for  the  protection  of  certain  fundamental  rights  and  freedoms.    International  observers  acknowledged  that  the  2017  elections  were  generally  credible, transparent and inclusive. However, 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 ICCPR, and other international standards. 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 have to be taken to effectively implement  provisions  of  the  national  Family  Protection  Act  of  2013,  which  recognises  domestic violence as a legal offence and provides legal framework for preventing domestic violence.  In  2019,  the  government  launched  its  first  gender  statistics  publication  titled  ‘Gender  Equality:  Where  do  we  stand?’   along  with  the  National  Women’s  Empowerment  and Gender Equality Tonga Policy and Strategic Plan of Action 2019-2025, and the Gender Mainstreaming  Handbook.  Since  2019,  Ministry  of  Internal  Affairs  Woman  Affairs  Division,  together  with  civil  society  and  partners,  is  leading  on  developing  Tonga's  National  Service Delivery Protocol for Responding to Gender Based Violence.

While there is no discriminatory legislation concerning participation of women in politics, the traditional system and cultural factors limit participation of women in political processes and local government. Women also face challenges concerning the full enjoyment of economic rights,  particularly  inheritance  and  land  rights.  Ratification  of  CEDAW  by  Tonga  remains  stalled.  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 the law enforcement). The level of ratification of key Human Rights Conventions remains low. A de facto moratorium on the application of the death penalty is in place since 1982.

2. 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  CSOs  engagement  with  the  Government  of  Tonga  on  policy dialogue and governance.

3.  EU  bilateral  political  engagement:  The  EU  bilateral  engagement  continues  to  focus  on  issues  discussed  in  the  first  high-level Enhanced  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.

In   the   Pacific   region,   including   Tonga,   climate   change   and   human   rights   are   closely   intertwined.  The  EU  delegation  for  the  Pacific  will  continue  to  actively  promote  climate change awareness. 

4.  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  on  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.  In  November 2018, a Mapping Report on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) was launched. The conclusions of this mapping provided a range of recommendations aiming at empowerment of the civil society, share information, develop synergies and for the government to consider a CSO project management unit as centralised repository.

The Family Protection Act 2013 became the first legislation to specifically address domestic violence  in  Tonga.  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 by providing an action-oriented study to serve 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.   A number   of   recommendations  have  been  issued,  ranging  from  development  of  risks  and  protective  factors  framework   to assessing the long and short term effects of violence on the children; the need for national policies and laws to address violence against children;  strengthening rights of children in decision making processes; surveys for awareness and understanding of issue of violence against children in schools; calling the Government of Tonga to  ratify the Convention  on  the  Rights  of  Persons  with  Disabilities  and  making  changes  to  the  current  domestic policies and practices.

Tonga  has  remained  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 address, inter alia, working with the 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.

5.   Multilateral   context: 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.  UPR  recommendations  from  2018,  which  Tonga  accepted,  include,  inter  alia,  improvi n g 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,  CRPD,  CAT,  the  International  Covenant  on  Civil  and  Political  Rights,  the  International  Covenant  on  Economic,  Social  and  Cultural  Rights,  to  introduce  legislation  to  provide  equal  protection  to  vulnerable  groups  and  on  all  grounds,  including  sexual orientation, and to formally abolish the death penalty.   The next UPR for Tonga is expected to take place in 2023. Tonga has extended a standing invitation to the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. Tonga is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  

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