CEDAW issue a challenge for democracy in Tonga
Democracy in Tonga challenged as confusion grows in the country over who has the authority to ratify CEDAW.
There is some confusion in Tonga over who has the authority to sign up to United Nations treaties.
The confusion has been sparked by controversy over Tonga's ratification of the anti-discrimination convention known as CEDAW.
Indira Moala with this report.
The cabinet announced its intention to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, or CEDAW, earlier this year. Tonga is one of only seven countries, including the United States, which have not ratified the convention. Multiple petitions and protests followed the announcement with opponents in the staunchly religious kingdom expressing concern that it will allow same sex marriage and abortion.
The Privy Council responded by saying the government's plans were unconstitutional and it pointed to clause 39 of the Constitution which says that only the King can lawfully make treaties with foreign states. But the director of the Women and Children Crisis Centre, Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki, says past treaties have been signed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and not the King.
OFA GUTTENBEIL-LIKILIKI: If it comes to a point that in fact all conventions under the UN framework - that that's included in treaties, under section 39 of the Constitution, than that's something new that a lot of people were not aware of. So it's good to be clear on who exactly has the authority to sign all conventions and all treaties.
The Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva says democracy means that the decision should be left to the people.
'AKILISI POHIVA: I read the letter from the Privy Council advising government to reconsider their decision but for me it is a matter for the public to decide and since the public is split, there's a split among the people of this country regarding the CEDAW issue, so I think the best thing is to give it to the public to make the decision.
A retired businessman Tevita Peleki is representative of the strong views in the kingdom against CEDAW. He says the convention goes against Tonga's Christian values.
TEVITA PELEKI (translated): Why isn't Tonga standing on it's national emblem "God and Tonga are my inheritance"? When we allow CEDAW, we are allowing satan to dwell among us. Not everyone understands CEDAW. Many people support it but there are still many more who don't.
Mr Pohiva says a planned referendum will take place after a public consultation exercise that aims to help people understand CEDAW.
Ms Guttenbeil-Likiliki says it will be the first of its kind ever held in the country.
OFA GUTTENBEIL-LIKILIKI: : We don't have a legal framework to allow for a referendum, so we'd have to have that in place first. And it will be the first of it's kind in Tonga's history so it's interesting times. We'll just have to see how it plans out.
Mr Pohiva says if the referendum results go in favour of CEDAW, the government will ratify it.
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