Working Session of the Commonwealth Pacific Parliamentary Human Rights Group workshop gets underway in Nuku'alofa today.
The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Lord Fakafanua officially opened its two-day workshop and acknowledged Tonga's commitment to promoting human rights. He said PIPITEA Declaration provides an intricate platform for Pacific Parliaments including Tonga to promote and protect people human rights. This is through the recognition of Parliament as the key institution for safeguarding and upholding the rights of its citizens.
He said Tonga aims to play an oversight role on the executive to encourage following through on obligations under human rights agreements and treaties that Tonga has ratified such as regular participation in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reporting cycle, and more so by taking part in the build-up process by participating in Mid-term reporting.
He said, Tonga also aims to adopt strategies that will assist parliamentarians in improving their work towards promoting human rights in Tonga and to promote commitment to more human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
Lord Speaker was also hopeful the two day training will not only strengthen MPs awareness of human rights treaties such as CEDAW but can also encourage all the arms of Government; the Judiciary and the Legislature, to ensure the maximum use of resources for achieving inclusiveness and prosperity. This is through the adoption of humanitarian conventions such as CEDAW.
According to Lord Fakafanua this was evident from the recent message from his Majesty the King in reminding Cabinet of the importance of following the Constitutional process for ratification of treaties.
Meanwhile, Commonwealth Human Rights Adviser Dr Justin Pettit says parliamentarians play a special role in promoting and protecting human rights. He says as a representative institution, Parliament and those who serve in it enjoy a unique democratic legitimacy.
"Its members are entrusted by the people with, amongst other things, the protection and realisation of human rights. Accordingly, Parliaments should seek to use this democratic legitimacy to represent people’s views in the policy-making process and work towards fulfilling their expectations with regard to the enjoyment of human rights,” explained the Commonwealth Human Rights Adviser.
Dr Pettit believes the legislature is just one of three organs of the state with an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. The institutional responsibility for securing human rights and incorporating them into domestic law is, of course, shared with the executive and the judiciary.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Adviser said Parliament is the branch of government best placed to give effect to human rights owing to its primary role in law-making. Parliaments play a central role in upholding international human rights norms, not only to bridge implementation gaps but because of parliaments’ important legitimation role.
"Parliamentarians may influence policies and budgets at the national level, monitor policy implementation programmes at local levels, address the needs and concerns of their constituencies, and act as a catalyst in the realization of human rights domestically and internationally," said Dr Pettit
The objective of the two-day event is for the participants to exchange knowledge and experiences in addressing human rights issues and assist participants in further developing mechanisms and frameworks needed to translate these norms into practice.
Dr Pettit says by providing examples, case studies, interactive discussions and insights, it is hoped that the working session will serve as a useful platform to strengthen their efforts
i. to promote and protect the rights of all their constituents
ii. better respond to human rights issues, debates, challenges AND
iii. implementation gaps in their respective countries.
Lord Speaker Fakafanua also notes that legislators have a unique opportunity to promote human rights principles, through the laws and Parliament's work.
"We can also ensure Committees of the House in their respective terms of references that address global human rights issues. And in considering the national budget by ensuring that all sectors have the right priorities in the new financial year's initiatives to achieving greater resilience in the economy and essentially through to society.
"It is for the Legislature to ensure that vital mechanism are given proper oversight and scrutiny to achieve rewarding national outcomes at an international level," said the Speaker
The Commonwealth Pacific Parliamentary Human Rights Group was initiated in 2015. Parliamentarians in the Pacific adopted in a Wellington seminar the Pipitea Declaration and agreed to support the establishment of the Commonwealth Pacific Parliamentary Human Rights group. As inaugral Chairman of the group, Niua Noble Representative Lord Fusitu'a warmly welcomed the participants to Tonga and also to the Legislative Assembly.
Tonga Parliament in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat is hosting the workshop.