Burial dispute hits Tonga supreme court, deceased’s mother finally withdraws petition

An unprecedented Supreme Court fight over possession of a woman’s body has been finally resolved after her mother withdrew her petition before Lord Chief Justice Owen Paulsen in Nuku’alofa.

The body of Susana Lovely Vunga Lolohea was finally buried in Matahau on Monday, April 17 and not in the United States like her mother’s wish.

The court was told Susana told her husband ‘Iseki Lolohea of Navutoka before she died to bury her at Matahau because her maternal grandparents were buried there.

Susana, a Tongan citizen of the United States died in Tonga while she visited her husband last month. They just married earlier this year and after two weeks of their marriage Susana returned to the United States.

After a week of her recent arrival in the kingdom she was sick and was admitted to hospital.

She later died from a heart disease, the court was told.

The deceased’s mother who was in the United States at the time of Susana’s death contacted ‘Iseki and they agreed for her to come to Tonga and return her daughter’s body.

When she arrived ‘Iseki changed his mind and said he wanted his wife to be buried in Tonga.

The dispute ended in court after attempts by the mother to resolve the issue between her and ‘Iseki were unsuccessful.

Lord Chief Justice Owen Paulsen said there was no burial law in Tongan that govern requirements around how the remains of people’s loved ones are dealt with.

However he said the law that gives husband the right to his wife could be used in this case.

The mother finally withdrew her petition after the two parties were returned to a mediation process and Justice Paulsen ruled that the deceased had to be buried in Tonga.

Legal counsel Fatai Vaihu represented the deceased’s mother while Petunia Tupou acted for ‘Iseki.

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