STATEMENT BY DR STUART MINCHIN
DELIVERED AT THE OPENING OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS AND MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT SESSION
WITH THE TONGA PARLIAMENTARY STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
16 JULY 2021
Honorable Rev Dr Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa – Prime Minister & Minister for Foreign Affairs
Lord Fakafanua – Speaker of the House
Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade – the Honorable Saia Piukala
Honorable Members of the Parliamentary Standing committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence & Trade
Staff of the Tonga Parliament
Let me first congratulate you today on the convening of this human rights dialogue and the role of MPs. These types of conversations are important for our region and for our leaders to ensure human rights for all our people.
There are some who fear human rights are contrary to and even undermine our Pacific cultures. But at SPC, we believe the opposite to be true … we believe that human rights, Pacific culture and faith are complementary and mutually reinforcing … we believe that by strengthening one we inherently strengthen the other.
Human rights do not exist in isolation and come with responsibilities, in the same way that feveitokai’aki requires mutual respect within Tongan society. Far from being a concept born out of Europe, many of the values of modern-day human rights can be found in our Pacific histories and the values by which we have always lived our everyday lives.
We note that Tonga and other SPC members have taken many strides to progress the human rights of our Pacific people. The Pacific continues to champion human rights regionally and internationally. Our member countries continue to lead the discussion on climate change and the impacts on our people and their rights. Our region hosted the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Samoa in 2020. This was the first time that a treaty body has held an official session outside the UN headquarters in Geneva or New York – a historic first for the international human rights system and an achievement the Pacific should be proud of. This event has informed ongoing global discussions around how human rights treaty bodies like the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child should hold its business and engage with ordinary people around the world – not just in Geneva or in New York but in places like Apia and Nukualofa and Suva.
In the Pacific, many countries are championing the end to violence against women and girls. Also, others that are piloting human rights in education curriculum. Ensuring that our young children are being exposed to the importance of human rights to the improvement of their lives, their families and their communities.
We recognise that it is leaders like yourselves who are leading these various discussions, ensuring that human rights are part of your national development priorities. We recognise that your role as law makers needs to be supported by resourcing of implementation to ensure that rights are made real for our people.
The strategy to integrate your national development plans and implementation of human rights is a smart one. For sustainable development and human rights go hand in hand. More than 90% of the SDGs are rooted in human rights, which means that taking an integrated approach to the Tonga Strategic Development Framework and the protection and promotion of human rights will confer many benefits to your constituents. It will ensure that marginalised communities are not left behind, it will deliver more contextualised and appropriate solutions, and can help to mobilise resources. Additionally, it is an efficient approach. The many links between development and human rights means that tracking and planning in an integrated manner and through the establishment of a National Mechanism for Reporting, Implementation and Follow-Up reduces duplication of reporting and data collection and makes it easier to identify gaps – therefore you are able to deliver more for your constituents for the same or less in terms of human and financial resources.
SPC is grateful for the opportunity to support you, our members through your development plans and working closely with the respective government ministries through the implementation of national priorities.
Thank you for the opportunity for our Human Rights and Social Development Division to come and have these discussions with you today. We hope that it will leave some food for thought as you continue in the important role that you as Members of Parliament undertake. We continue to reiterate the support of SPC to the Tongan government in progressing your human rights commitments. I wish you well for the deliberations this afternoon.
Malo & thank you very much.