UN treaty causes stir in Tonga
Despite announcing last month the ratification of CEDAW, the Tongan government still hasn't done it.
Over a month ago the Tongan government announced with much fanfare that it was to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, but it still hasn't done it.
Now a women's rights advocate describes the process as a disaster.
Koro Vaka'uta reports.
The Director of the Women and Children Crisis Centre Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki says since the announcement that the UN convention would be ratified there has been huge debate. Church and community leaders have come out against the move, delaying the ratification. Ms Guttenbeil Likiliki says the process is a mess because of the government using terms such as abortion and same-sex marriage which she says are not referred to in the convention.
OFA GUTTENBEIL-LIKILIKI: The communication of this government agreeing to ratify CEDAW has been somewhat based on a lot of misconceptions, hence the reason why CEDAW has probably become the most debated issue. I haven't seen anything like this since the move towards democracy.
Ms Guttenbeil Likiliki says the opponents' fears come from articles in CEDAW referring to a woman's right to choose her spouse and family planning. She says there is also a political element to it.
OFA GUTTENBEIL-LIKILIKI: Unfortunately with all the politicking that is going on in Tonga right now in terms of it's a new government, there are people out to get them out on a vote of no confidence and unfortunately they're using CEDAW as a vehicle to do that.
The chief executive of Internal Affairs Lopeti Senituli agrees that there are some people that will simply never agree with the government. However Mr Senituli does concede that the government is planning law changes to satisfy church leaders.
LOPETI SENITULI: Under our existing Deaths, Births and Marriages Registration Act there is no specific reference for or against same sex marriage. The government is proposing now that we amend our Deaths, Births and Marriages Registration Act to prohibit same sex marriage.
Mr Senituli says ratification will include reservations or conditions to allow for cultural considerations, such as same-sex marriage, abortion, the royal succession and noble titles. The Deputy Regional Representative at the UN Human Rights Office in the Pacific Catherine Phuong says they are working with the Tongan government to help them move towards ratification.
CATHERINE PHUONG: It's definitely part of the mandate of our office so in recent months and weeks we have been in regular contact with Tonga to answer questions and provide technical support in the ratification process.
Ms Phuong says her office is aware of the current debate.
CATHERINE PHUONG: We are aware that there are some political sensitivities and sometimes ratification requires more discussion but is important that government and partners understand what the convention is about. We remain hopeful that ratification will proceed. CEDAW is a very important convention. It's one of the most ratified human rights treaties in the world because it addresses an issue that is important to all of us.
Ms Phuong says there is no deadline for CEDAW ratification. Tonga is one of only seven member nations which haven't ratified CEDAW.
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