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Tongan Cabinet has decided not to Ratify CEDAW

Ratify CEDAW

Cabinet has decided not to ratify CEDAW, which is The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

CEDAW is often referred to as a “Bill of Rights” for women. It is the only international instrument that comprehensively addresses women’s rights within political, civil, cultural, economic, and social life. Click here to find out more.

Ratifying (or accepting) CEDAW is the first step in making legislation that accounts for women’s human rights. It will make Tonga accountable on an international level, and show the world that we take women’s rights seriously.

However it is not the same as passing legislation.

And we are gravely concerned about our government’s lack of commitment to creating a legal system that supports women’s rights.

The National Centre for Women and Children of Tonga is committed to the elimination of violence against women and children – and a big part of that is ratifying CEDAW, as it is the beginning of making legislation that can empower women.

The Centre’s mission statement is based on the principles of Human Rights with special focus on women’s human’s rights, the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and CEDAW.

Please find the TNCWC’s responses to the reasons Cabinet have provided:

MYTH #1: ratification of CEDAW would give too much power to the international community with the provisions of the Convention superseding the Constitution and national laws of Tonga.

FACT: Treaties adopted in Tonga are not “self-executing.” This means that legislation to implement any treaty provision would come before the Cabinet in the same way any other bill does. As with many international agreements, countries can express “reservations, understandings and declarations" in cases where there are discrepancies between the international convention or treaty and domestic law. Where differences do exist, the convention calls on states to take appropriate measures to progressively promote the principle of nondiscrimination. Such language upholds Tongan sovereignty and grants no enforcement authority to the United Nations.

Please note that there has been a legislative comparative analysis undertaken in Tonga regarding CEDAW however this has been ignored. The full report is available here. There are already parts of the Tonga law which generally comply with the requirements of CEDAW and the Treaty is compatible with the principles of the Tongan Constitution.

MYTH #2: ratification of CEDAW supports abortion through its promotion of access to "family planning."

FACT: CEDAW does not address the matter of abortion. The U.S. State Department has officially stated that CEDAW is “abortion neutral.” Many countries in which abortion is illegal - such as Ireland, Burkina Faso, and Rwanda - have ratified the Convention.

MYTH #3: ratification of CEDAW might be used to sanction same-sex marriages.

FACT: There is no provision in the CEDAW Treaty that would compel the Tonga cabinet to pass same-sex marriage laws in order to comply. The CEDAW Treaty makes clear that it is not aimed at all sex-based discrimination, but only at discrimination that is directed specifically against women. A same-sex marriage claim would refer to discrimination against men and women, and be handled under a completely different section of human rights declarations. Many of the countries who have ratified CEDAW do not sanction same sex marriage.

MYTH #4: many other countries have not ratified CEDAW

FACT: As of 2008, 185 countries have ratified the convention of countries who are members of the United Nations. That means that 95% of UN members have already ratified CEDAW.

Only eight countries have refused to ratify CEDAW: the United States, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Qatar, Nauru, Palau and Tonga.

The most high profile country not to ratify CEDAW is the US – who is a signatory, but has not yet ratified the convention. CEDAW’s provisions are consistent with U.S. law and include rights that many American women take for granted. These rights include as access to education, legal redress against domestic violence, and access to health care.

Lack of U.S. ratification has dampened the country’s leadership in promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. During Senate hearings in 2002, Yale Law School Dean Hongju Koh noted, “Lack of U.S. ratification has hindered their role as a human rights leader, damaged their diplomatic relations, and reduced their international standing.”

Get talking. If you care about having a legal system that accounts for women’s human rights please pass on this email and start explaining how important it is for Tonga to ratify CEDAW.

***To become a signatory to our petition to ratify CEDAW, please email with your contacts.***

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