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Foreign nations urge Tonga to ratify conventions

Geneva, Switzerland

Sione Sisifa with Susana Faletau presents Tonga's national report at the UNHR Council’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland. 15 January 2018.

Forty-five foreign governments delivered their short reviews and recommendations to the Government of Tonga at the United Nation’s 29th Session of Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland on 15 January.

The countries offering recommendations included Tonga's primary aid donors; China, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Most of the recommendations called on the Tongan Government to ratify core conventions such as CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women), CAT (Convention against Torture), and ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).

Many of the reviews also called on to Tonga to amend laws that discriminate LGBT citizens (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transsexual), to abolish the death penalty and to establish a Human Rights Institution.

The recommendations provided by China, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, India, the Netherlands, Denmark, Cuba, Chile, Ivory Coast, Italy and South Korea are listed below:

Canada offered four recommendations;

  1. Repeal legislation that criminalizes same-sex practices between consenting adults and increase efforts to eliminate all forms of discrimination that target individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
  2. Ratify the following conventions: ICCPRICCPESR, CEDAW and the CAT, and “take steps to raise social awareness in understanding these instruments."
  3. Abolish the death penalty.
  4. Reinforce protections for freedom of expression including “guaranteeing the independence of public and private media.”

China offered two recommendations;

  1. Implement Tonga’s strategic development framework 2015 – 2025 to achieve substantial social and economic development.
  2. Continue to take effective to protect the rights of vulnerable groups.

United States of America 
The United States offered three recommendations;

  1. Repeal the provisions of the Tonga criminal offences act that criminalizes LGBTI status and conduct.
  2. Develop a broader legal aid system that offers free legal counsel to indigent defendants.
  3. Prioritize gender equality as well as increase women’s participation at all levels of social, political and economic decision making in government.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 
The United Kingdom offered three recommendations;

  1. Ratify the International Labour Organization’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (C. 182) as part of the Government’s ongoing commitment to achieving SDG 8.7.
  2. Ratify and implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and support the disaggregation of SDG Reporting data by disability.
  3. Adopt an open, merit-based process when selecting national candidates for UN Treaty Body elections.

Australia recommended that Tonga;

  1. Ratify the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women, Australia also recommends that Tonga prioritize work to eliminate violence against women and to improve gender equality including in relation to property and employment.
  2. Formally abolishes the Death penalty, including ratifying international covenant on civil and political rights, and it’s second optional protocol.

New Zealand
New Zealand recommended that Tonga;

  1. Strengthen efforts to increase women’s participation at all formal decision-making levels.
  2. Continue with their efforts to combat violence against women and children, and the efforts to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.
  3. NZL commends Tonga for signing the convention on the rights of people with disabilities and recommends that Tonga ratifies this convention.

Denmark recommended that;

  1. Tonga ratify CEDAW and CAT and “to do so without delay.”

Indonesia offered three recommendations;

  1. Continue its efforts to ratifying all core Human Rights conventions.
  2. Continue taking measures to establish a national human rights institution in line with the Paris principles including by building CAT Pacific programmes for all stakeholders.
  3. Continue its democratization process including efforts to respecting civil rights of its citizens.

France recommended that the Tonga government;

  1. Ratify ICCPESR, CEDAW, CAT and the convention on the rights of people with disabilities.
  2. Accede to the Rome statute on the international criminal court by creating a human rights institution that “could rely on the ombudsman that was recently setup.”
  3. Create gender equality and combat domestic violence.

Germany recommended that the Tonga Government;

  1. Ratify CEDAW.
  2. Decriminalize same sex relations.
  3.  Introduce “comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation to provide equal protection for all persons including vulnerable groups like people with disabilities and on all grounds including sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Chile’s recommendations to Tonga were;

  1. Scale-up efforts to ratify CEDAW and conventions against torture.
  2. Adopt specific measures to raise the representation of women in decision making bodies including in to the legislative assembly.
  3. Continue working together with civil society leitis and the LGBTI NGO to adopt the reforms to eradicate discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Cote D’ivore 
Ivory Coast offered two recommendations;

  1. Ratify CEDAW and ICCPR.
  2. Draft and present the reports requested by the committee rights of a child.

Cuba recommended;

  1. Tonga do what they need to do as described in paragraph 138 of the national report as part of the revision and amendment of their national laws.”

India Recommended that Tonga;

  1. Ratify CEDAW and convention on rights of people with disabilities.

Italy recommended that Tonga;

  1. Abolish death penalty.
  2. Raise the marriage age to 18.
  3. Ratify CEDAW.
  4. Abolish provisions that authorize corporal punishment.

The Netherlands recommended that Tonga;

  1. Introduce comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that provides equal protection for all persons and all grounds including sexual orientation and gender identity.
  2. Further strengthen mechanisms for citizens including for civil society organizations to participate in law making, national planning and budgeting processes.

South Korea 
South Korea recommended that Tonga;

  1. Ratify conventions.
  2. Adopt concrete measures protecting vulnerable groups and assist them to be more resilient against effects of climates change/natural change.
  3. Make efforts for protection of female workers by issuing them out maternity leave by law.

The delegation of Tonga at the review in Geneva was headed by Sione Sisifa, Solicitor General.


It's remarkable how there is such strong opposition to CEDAW. Cedaw at the end of the day is about women's rights and something Tonga needs to show the international community that it's something we are committed to.

Some opposition argue it will affect our sovereignty, then what about the other treaties and conventions Tonga's signed up too, how is this any different? Some argue there's a hidden agenda that it will force us to change our customs, but how do we explain that most of the countries in the world, with various backgrounds, religions, traditions and history have signed up, are we saying we the only ones that spotted the hidden agenda? That would be unreasonable and not enough to reject CEDAW just like that. Every country can have reservations about it, we can sign up but also have reservations.

Some have argued why do we need even to cooperate and why do we need the UN? Well for one, we may be an island in a big ocean but we are very much connected with the world. There are so much more benefits in discussing issues with the international community than not doing so. The list of those benefits are very long.

So why do we need CEDAW anyway? Well it comes down to showing the world our firm stance on women's rights. Say the international community is talking about women's rights and we want to make our opinion known, it will not look too good when our international stance on the topic is a little hazy or unsure. Sometimes word of mouth or verbal promises is not enough, we need to something more firm like signing a convention. Thats why it's important we make our stance clear. God bless

So why do we need CEDAW anyway? We don't need it in order to show the world "our firm stance on women's rights" because Tonga has been advocating women's right ever since the beginning of its becoming a Constitutional Monarchy. We have had a woman reigning as our head of state, in Queen Salote Tupou. Ever since the introduction of education to our country by the missionaries in the nineteenth century, both women and men were trained in Tubou College. Eventually, the need for an all girls College arose because of the recognition of the women's academic achievements being far greater than their male counterparts. And there are others of such stance on women's rights which we had, even before the UN was established. If we go back even to pre-Christian times, women in terms of "fahu" held higher social ranks not only in families but even in the Royal family. The notion of the "Tamaha" in the Tu'i Tonga dynasty acknowledged that women, in the ancient Tongan society, long before CEDAW, held higher ranks than even the male, namely, the Tu'i Tonga, who was regarded as occupying the highest place in the hierarchical ranking of the social order. The point is, we don't need CEDAW in order to show that Tonga has a firm stance on women's rights. Just look at our history, our social pegging order and our culture, we are a society immersed in upholding and supporting the rights of women in every aspect of life.

Ma'afu Palu