Universal Periodic Review
Second session meeting highlights
14 May 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record
The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Tonga this afternoon, during which 34 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.
This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Japan following the review of the country on Friday, 9 May.
Presenting the national report of Tonga was SONATANE TU’AKINAMOLAHI TAUMOEPEAU TUPOU, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Acting Minister of Defence and Acting Governor Of Vava’u, who said his country welcomed the advent of the Universal Periodic Review process as a means of ultimately improving the state of promoting and protecting human rights at a national level. Tonga shared the view that the Universal Periodic Review process was one that should ensure complementarity with existing mechanisms so as to avoid any duplication. The Government of Tonga was committed to the success of this Universal Periodic Review process and more broadly to the advance of the discourse on human rights at the international level. Consultations with the Civil Society Forum – a group of 49 civil society organizations operating within Tonga - was an integral part of the preparatory process. Consultations also took place with a Forum representing Church leaders as well as the Tonga Chamber of Commerce and the Tonga Media Council.
Tonga remained a Constitutional Monarchy and the foundation for the promotion and protection of basic human rights in Tonga was founded on the 1875 Constitution promulgated by King George Tupou I, the head of delegation noted. The Constitution continued to dutifully serve as the overarching fabric that bound Tongan governance and Tongan society together. Following 70 year as a British Protectorate, Tonga joined the comity of nations in 1970 and, despite being active members of the United Nations’ agencies for many years prior, in 1999 joined the United Nations as a fully fledged member State. Last year Tonga hosted the annual meeting of the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum and as such currently held the chairmanship of the group. As the first member of the Forum to take part of the Universal Periodic Review process there was added significance from a regional perspective for those members of the Forum who will follow and who were also United Nations member States of which there were 14. One of the ongoing initiatives within the regional “Pacific Plan” was concerned with strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights including the ratification of international human rights instruments.
While noting that Tonga was overdue in its human rights reporting duties, the head of delegation appealed to the Working Group to understand the financial, technical and capacity constraints to provide reports to the relevant treaty bodies on a regular and timely basis. However, Tonga was of the view that the Universal Periodic Review process maybe a positive catalyst to a fresh and innovative consideration of those remaining international human rights instruments. It was recalled that Tonga was embarking on a path of significant constitutional and political reform to determine a more democratic form of governance but also one that was a reflection of Tonga, its values, norms, culture and people. Debate had been properly robust and despite the recent challenges of November 2006 and its aftermath the commitment to a more democratic path remained steadfast. The peaceful and orderly conduct of recent elections last month predicted a quiet determination to advance the debate on this reform and to resolve issues of divergence through dialogue and mutual respect and understanding.
Responding to question submitted in advance, a member of the delegation said the ongoing political and constitutional reform process may give rise to extending a standing invitation to Special Procedures in the future. As to gender equality issues, per Tongan laws and amendments there was nothing to prevent any man or women from acquiring land. On access to justice, the Constitution and criminal justice system of Tonga, which was in line with the common law approach, allowed for access to lawyers and family members by criminal suspects. As to delays in submitting human rights reports and in ratifying human rights treaties, the delegation affirmed that Tonga was prepared to discuss innovative means to accede to human rights treaties and had sought technical assistance on its reporting obligations. As to human rights awareness, the Government had embarked on a reconciliation and awareness programme to promote awareness of the rights enshrined in the Constitution at the village level. On the creation of a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles, the delegation stated that at this time it was not feasible for this body to be created given the limited resources of the Government. With regard to media freedom, the State had established an independent media council providing training for public officials in the area of media relations; the training included a course in media and journalism instituted through the Tongan Institute for Higher Education.
During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the high ranking among Pacific Island States in the Human Development Index; the progress made in human development, particularly in the health and education sector; progress made in achieving the Millennium Development Goals; the Tongan Education Support Programme; efforts made to promote and protect the right of the child; attention given to the education of children with special needs; the wide range of political reform measures undertaken; Tonga’s openness to constructive engagement through dialogue and cooperation in the field of human rights; human rights training and education efforts; the creation of the Anti-Corruption Commission; raising the standards of the Tongan Police Force; and efforts in combating violence against women.
Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to the status of the security forces who were accused of physically abusing detainees who were arrested following the November 2006 riots and whether the security forces were held accountable for these abuses; plans to expand the scope of offences to cover beyond the November 2006 riots; the position of the Government on the appeal to the joint urgent appeal by the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders in December 2006 to establish a multi-agency task force to conduct an immediate review of Police lock-up and prison facilities in accordance with international standards; and steps to restore faith in the police by the citizens of Tonga following the 2006 riots.
Other issues pertained to information on equal rights between men and women in the area of child support; concrete steps being taken to protect the rights of women; measures to fight prejudice and stereotypes undermining equality of women; concrete policies as well as specific legislation undertaken to guarantee protection, equality and non-discrimination of women; measures to avoid domestic violence; steps to advance the legal position of women in Tonga and to remove any laws that discriminated against women; measures being taken to reintegrate parentless children in Tongan society; measures adopted to combat growing unemployment among youth and to prevent their drift into criminal activity; Plans to prohibit corporal punishment of children in all settings; and efforts to decrease school drop out rates.
Information was also sought on the availability of human rights training and in the education system and human rights training for public officials; plans to establish a media code of conduct; efforts to fully respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press; the powers and membership of the Anti-Corruption Commission; steps taken to ensure the collective enrichment of the entire populations and to narrow the gap between the rich and poor; efforts to protect the cultural rights and identity of the country; steps to promote the rights of human rights defenders and to allow the right to a fair trial; plans to consider introducing mandated provisions of services for persons with disabilities; Government plans and experiences in realizing the right to food and education for its citizens; and plans to establish a national human rights institution.
A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To ensure full compliance with human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Tongans; to enact laws to protect women in employment free from any form of discrimination, in compliance with the recommendations of CERD; to continue to promote the goals in education and improve the ratio of women in leading positions in the country; to pursue efforts to combat violence against women; to amend legal dispositions and decriminalize sexual activity between consenting adults; and to amend legislation that would discriminate against women in the area of inheritance law and ownership of land.
To launch a credible investigation into reports that surfaced following the riots of November 2006 and prosecute offenders; to step up efforts in human rights training and education, in particular for members of the police force; to consider a complete abolition of the death penalty; to facilitate extended access to prisoners by NGOs; to take measures to ensure that a diversity of opinions could be expressed and published without repressive restrictions and that Tonga amend legislation that censored freedom of expression in the media; to maintain and develop practical steps taken to enhance freedom of speech and freedom of the press; and to step up measures to uphold the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
Several delegations recommended that Tonga give favourable consideration to acceding to the core international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention against Torture, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child pornography and child prostitution. Delegations also recommended that the Government of Tonga participate report more regularly to the human rights treaty bodies to which they were already a State party and that it extend a standing invitation to the Special Procedures mandate holders.
In view of the accession to the human rights treaties and in meeting its reporting obligations one delegation recommended that Tonga officially seek to renew its request for assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and through the Universal Periodic Review Trust Fund to that end.
Other recommendation included: To create a national human rights institution so it could more effectively improve their human rights performance and implement its human rights obligations; to advise potential donor agencies of the type of technical assistance that would help in meeting treaty body obligations; to eliminate graft within the public sector so that the enjoyment of human rights was not imperilled by rent seeking within government; and to continue in the political reform process.
Some delegations also called on the international donor community to respond favourably to the Government of Tonga’s request for capacity building and technical assistance, and others expressed their wish to see a permanent representation in Geneva of the Pacific Island Forum.
Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Mexico, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Canada, France, Cuba, Azerbaijan, Switzerland, Brazil, Malaysia, Slovenia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Egypt, Japan, Senegal, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.
Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, New Zealand, the United States, Bhutan, the Holy See, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Maldives, Morocco, Australia, Israel, Syria and Tunisia.
The 6-person delegation of Tonga consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Office of the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and the Office of the Permanent Representative of Tonga to the United Nations.
The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Tonga are Nigeria, Qatar and Mexico.
In accordance with its institution-building package, 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 UPR 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. The reports on Tonga can be found here.
Adoption of report on Japan: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Japan are France, Indonesia and Djibouti. Introducing the report on behalf of the troika JEAN-BAPTISTE MATTEI, (France) paid tribute to Japan for its commitment throughout the exercise and for its transparency and cooperation shown. In all there were 26 recommendations in the report on which Japan would express its view at the June session of the Council. Representing the State under review, MAKIO MIYAGAWA, Ambassador at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said his delegation was grateful for the keen interest of the Working Group in the promotion and protection of human rights in Japan. A number of constructive encouragements, suggestions and comments were insightful and valuable for the Government and people of Japan in their further efforts to enhance the enjoyment of human rights in the country. Japan would continue to be open to dialogue with all relevant actors in the field of human rights protection. Japan remained committed to joining in the efforts of the international community, in particular through the Human Rights Council, to upgrade the level of human rights protection, as part of its active engagement in the Universal Periodic Review process with the hope that this mechanisms would serve effectively to the improvement of the human rights situations on every corner of the world.
The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Tonga on Monday, 19 May.
When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Romania after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of Ukraine.
Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.
To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp