A first ever, two week long national human rights consultation programme commenced yesterday in the Kingdom of Tonga for both government officials and non-government participants.
The workshop, which seeks to increase the capacity of government to monitor, promote and advocate for human rights and good governance standards, is funded by the European Union (EU) and coordinated and facilitated by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), in partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Pacific Regional Office and Secretariat of the Pacific Community Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team (SPC/RRRT).
The Honourable Minister of Justice, Mr.Clive Edwards, in opening the workshop expressed gratitude stating, “I would like to especially express the appreciation of His Majesty’s Government to the European Union for providing the necessary resources to hold this workshop, and also to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat for implementing this assistance.”
“Tonga welcomes the opportunity of dialogue that this consultation provides, and hopes that a balanced approach to progressing human rights in the Kingdom is agreed.” Mr. Edwards noted that, “Tonga has completed two reviews under the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Period Review Process in 2008 and 2013 and while Tonga has achieved some human rights advancements, I appreciate that there is more to be done.”
“Tongans are not being oppressed, but their freedoms can always be expanded. Tongans are not being denied access to opportunity, but they could always be equipped with skills and expertise to maximise benefits. Tongans are not deprived from destitution, but their lives can always be improved in the quality and quantity of services provided for them.”
“These are the very issues I hope will be robustly debated and I encourage all to have dialogue and debate.” At the same time, the Honourable Minister cautioned participants, “I would remind you that we are currently the custodians of our cultural values, and the navigators of our future. So I hope that debates and discussions are tempered with a sense of protection of what is Tongan!”
Acting Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Ms. Cristelle Pratt said that, “The Forum Secretariat is pleased to support this important endeavour, with human rights work forming an integral part of the work of Pacific Islands Forum.”
“With the inclusive participation of representatives from government, civil society organisations and non-government organisations, this workshop in Tonga presents an invaluable and timely opportunity for participants to discuss harmonised human rights reporting, implementation processes and opportunities to mainstream human rights into the government’s policies and agenda.”
The national human rights consultation activity is made possible with funding support provided under the EU-PIFS Human Rights Project 2012-2015 signed in February 2012. The Project provides funding of approximately one million Euros to support Pacific island countries ratify and implement international Human Rights Treaties and the Rome Statute. The funding assistance is provided specifically to support the key strategic objectives of Initiative 12.5 of the Pacific Plan in respect of the ratification and implementation of international and regional human rights conventions, covenants and agreements.