Prime Minister seeks people’s opinion on CEDAW, ignores Privy Council warning

Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva said this week he would go to the people over the CEDAW controversy, despite a warning from the Privy Council.

The Prime Minister’s comments were made after the Privy Council wrote to him saying that according to the kingdom’s constitution, only His Majesty could sign documents ratifying the United Nations’ Convention on Eliminations of All Forms of Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW) .

Hon. Pohiva  told Tongan television program Tnews Focus this week he had received a letter from His Majesty’s Privy Council which suggested the king agreed with those who did not want Tonga to sign CEDAW.

About 500 protesters marched to the palace recently with petitions asking him to intervene with government’s move to ratify CEDAW.

The protesters, who also gathered about 14,000 signature of petitioners, told the king CEDAW could open the door to legalise abortion and same sex marriage.

The Prime Minister said the government would ask the public for its opinion about CEDAW and the cabinet would submit the outcome to the king.

Hon. Pohiva said the United Nations’ Convention was good for Tonga, but ratifying it would depend on what the majority of the people said.

He said more than 180 United Nations member countries had ratified CEDAW, leaving only Tonga and six other nations not to have signed it.

Hon. Pohiva said Tonga should sign CEDAW because most of the countries that had ratified the convention had mature civilisations and religions, Tnews reported.

He strongly believed CEDAW was right for Tonga because the countries that had signed up for it had tested and scrutinised the economic, political and social ideologies human beings struggled with in their environment.

Hon. Pohiva said Tonga was a democratic country and when the public was divided on issues like CEDAW the best thing to do was to seek the will of the majority and not a decision made by the Privy Council.

He said the king had already relinquished part of his powers to allow the Tongan people to run the government.

The Prime Minister also responded to complaints by those who supported CEDAW and said he had defected from the people.

Hon. Pohiva told Tnews if he listened to those who did not like CEDAW, those who supported the convention would complain that he was not listening to them either.

He said that when people were divided he must do his best before making a decision that is fair and reasonable.

The Prime Minister said he and his cabinet were on the same side with those who were anti-CEDAW. They did not want to legalise abortion as well as same sex marriage.  The issue was that they interpreted CEDAW from different perspectives.

He said CEDAW had been brought to the Tongan public more than 12 years ago, but the government recognised it had to take more time to educate and discuss the convention with the people.

Hon. Pohiva said if the outcome of the public consultation showed that the best way forward was to hold a referendum on CEDAW, the government would work to create a legal platform to allow this to be done. At the moment Tonga has no law allowing referenda to be held.

If the majority of the people voted for CEDAW, cabinet would submit the result to his Majesty and ask him to sign the documents ratifying the convention.

Background

The Tongan government announced in March that it would sign the United Nations’ convention banning discrimination against women.

The decision to ratify the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) came after lengthy debate in cabinet and consultations with community groups during the past four years.

Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva said at the time that the kingdom would reserve the right to maintain its own laws on abortion, same sex marriage and the rules regarding the succession to the throne.

The main points

  • Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva said this week he would go to the people over the CEDAW controversy, despite a warning from the Privy Council.
  • The Prime Minister’s comments were made after the Privy Council wrote to him saying that according to the kingdom’s constitution, only His Majesty could sign documents ratifying the United Nations’ Convention on Eliminations of All Forms of Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW) .
  • Pohiva said Tonga was a democratic country and when the public was divided on issues like CEDAW the best thing to do was to seek the will of the majority and not a decision made by the Privy Council.
  • Pohiva said if the outcome of the public consultation showed the best way forward was to hold a referendum on CEDAW, the government would work to create a legal platform to allow this to be done.

For more information

CEDAW (United Nations)

Video explaining CEDAW principles (International Women’s Rights Action watch Asia Pacific)

Sometimes when a business is growing, it needs a little help.

Right now Kaniva News provides a free, politically independent, bilingual news service for readers around the world that is absolutely unique. We are the largest New Zealand-based Tongan news service, and our stories reach Tongans  wherever they are round the world. But as we grow, there are increased demands on Kaniva News for translation into Tongan on our social media accounts and for the costs associated with expansion. We believe it is important for Tongans to have their own voice and for Tongans to preserve their language, customs and heritage. That is something to which we are strongly committed. That’s why we are asking you to consider sponsoring our work and helping to preserve a uniquely Tongan point of view for our readers and listeners.

Latest news

Related news