Tonga’s human rights record will be examined by the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group for the third time tonight, Monday, 15 January 2018, in Geneva. Reviews take place about every five years.
Tonga, which has dropped over ten places in the World Press Freedom Index over the last year, has not met UN reporting obligations for some core human rights treaties, or cooperated with international human rights mechanisms, according to the Joint Submission of the UN Country Team for Tonga for the UN Compilation.
The report also makes submissions on the status and progress of women in Tonga, including their right to health and education. Surprisingly, the submission asserts that: "Various studies have revealed that nearly one-third (30%) of women under 25 [years] currently suffer from an STI [sexually transmitted infection]." The submission (which does not cite the Tongan sources or base figures) goes on to state: "This largely has to do with a strong religious disapproval of the use of condoms."
The UN in the Pacific is encouraging Tonga to continue constitutional reform and amendments "to widen the country's democratic space and respect for human rights."
Among the issues that the human rights review will specifically address include the practice of child marriage (Tonga permits children to marry as early as 15 years of age with parental permission); Gender discrimination in terms of wage and work conditions; and low women's representation in parliament.
The submissions also urge Tonga to respect the right to freedom of expression in law and practice after Tonga dropped from 37th to 49th place on the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, down from 37th place in 2016. The downward slide was due to the creation of a Tonga Internet regulatory agency with the power to block Web sites. This has limited the media freedom provided for by the Constitution (Article 7), along with political interference with public broadcasting.
"The Tonga Prime Minister has recently threatened the public broadcaster due to his dissatisfaction with their reporting. 'Akilisi Pohiva's Government has also fired the board chair and the general manager of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission. ... In June 2017, the Government announced that Tonga's national broadcaster, the Tonga Broadcasting Commission, would be privatized," the submission stated.
Other human rights issues to be considered are corporal punishment in prisons; juvenile defence in the courts; creating an environment for civil society inputs into development of public policy; access to healthcare, including sexual and reproductive health; maternal morbidity; sexual violence; the rights of persons with disabilities; and to encourage more open, respectful and inclusive communities for LGBTI persons.
Tonga is one of the 14 States to be reviewed by the UPR Working Group during its upcoming session taking place from January 15-26.
A media statement from the UN Human Rights Council, said that States are again expected to spell out steps they have taken to implement recommendations posed during their previous reviews, which they committed to follow-up on, as well as to highlight recent human rights developments in the country.
The delegation of Tonga will be headed by Sione Sisifa, Solicitor General.
The documents http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/TOindex.aspx on which the reviews are based are:
- national report - information provided by the State under review;
- information contained in the reports of independent human rights experts and groups, known as the Special Procedures, human rights treaty bodies, and other UN entities;
- information provided by other stakeholders including national human rights institutions, regional organizations and civil society groups.
The three country representatives serving as rapporteurs (“troika”) for the review of Tonga are: Angola, Slovakia and the United Arab Emirates.
The UPR is a unique process, which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. Since its first meeting was held in April 2008, all 193 UN member States have been reviewed twice within the first and second UPR cycles.
The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the recommendations made to Tonga on 19 January.
Tonga’s first and second UPR reviews took place in May 2008 and January 2013, respectively.
The meeting for the third review will be webcast live from the Palais des Nations, Geneva14.30 – 18.00, Monday, 15 January (Geneva time, GMT +1 hour)