Tonga has received mixed reactions during its human rights evaluation at the 43rd Session of Universal Periodic Review in Geneva.

The Kingdom’s Foreign Minister Fekitamoelo ‘Utoikamanu heard mixed reviews by over 50 UN member states, with all of them commending Tonga’s Government for continuing efforts to ratify international treaties.

“New Zealand…commends advancement in human rights,” said New Zealand’s delegate Anna Louise Duncan.

“We note with satisfaction the steps undertaken by the Kingdom to improve its human rights mechanisms,” said Russia’s delegate Kristina Sukacheva.

However, there were concerns expressed by a number of states about the rights of LGBTQ people, an existing law on capital punishment, the right of women to inherit land, the non-existence of a Human Rights Institution and the continuous non-ratification of various treaties including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Canadian delegate Louise Blais commended Tonga for continuing programmes to address domestic violence.

“Canada commends Tonga for implementing a series of child abuse awareness programmes in schools through the women and children crisis centre…and takes note of the increased presence of women parliamentarians,” said Blais.

“We note the positive steps by the country to addressing discrimination against women and continued efforts to increase participation against women in all levels of social and political decision-making in government,” said Yevheniia Filipenko of Ukraine.

However, delegates from all Western countries including New Zealand, Great Britain, the United States and Australia all urged Tonga to give women the right to inherit land.

Currently, Tongan law and traditional custom forbids land ownership by women – only a son can inherit land with rights passed on to other male relatives if parents do not produce a male heir.

“Brazil recommends to Tonga to ratify the convention on legislation to remove all forms of discrimination against women…in particular the right to own land and inherit it,” said the country’s representative Tovar Nunes.

Western states apart from the United States also called on Tonga to abolish the death penalty, although legislation on hanging those guilty of murder has been unenforced for decades.

“Switzerland is concerned that Tonga hasn’t abolished the death penalty including for minors,” said the Swiss delegate Jürg Lauber.

“We recommend Tonga…totally and indefinitely ban capital punishment from law. Although we recognise that since 1982 it has not been carried in the country,” said Paraguyuan delegate Carmen Parquet Sosa.

Namibia and Samoa praised Tonga’s continued policy of Universal Health Care.

“We commend Tonga on providing universal health,” said Samoa’s delegate Marissa Noelani Toomata.

“Among others, we commend Tonga for offering free dental and medical care to all persons,” said Namibia’s delegate Jerry Mika.

The rights of gay and transgender people was strongly emphasised throughout the reviews, citing unenforced laws forbidding homosexual relations, including from the United States.

“The Netherlands commends the Tongan govt for establishing family legal aid centre including for same sex people…nonetheless we remained concerned about the challenges that prevent full inclusion in society and enjoyment of LGBTQ people in Tonga,” said the Dutch delegate Charlotte Marres.

The British delegate noted the death of LGBTQ activist Polikalepo Kefu in 2021, widely believed to have been motivated by homophobia.

“Great Britain commends Tonga for taking steps to ending gender-based violence…however we were saddened by the murder of Polikelpu Kefu,” Charles Kent said.

“We encourage Tonga to concrete steps to repeal laws that sanction and discriminate against LGBTQ persons.”

A number of countries congratulated the Kingdom for its conduct of the 2021 general election.

The U.S was among them, but recommends greater efforts to address corruption.

“We commend Tonga on a successful 2021 general election which international observers described generally free and fair,2 said the U.S delegate Kaitlin Sandin.

“Address impunity against corruption by investigating corruption cases and by the office of the ombudsman, and the office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Ombudsman by increasing their political independence and funding.”

Reviews from Tonga’s largest donors were generally positive.

“Australia commends launching a gender equality and national plan to improve the rights of women and the rights of disability policy,” said Australia’s delegate Nina Pregellio.

“We encourage Tonga to use robust data to inform decision-making, planning and service delivery, and to ensure funding to continue this,” she added.

“Confronted by the difficulties and challenges posed by covid-19 and natural disasters, Tonga has done its upmost to protect the wellbeing of its people,” said China’s delegate Han Xincheng

“(Tonga) continues to protect people’s cultural and economic rights,” added Han.

“New Zealand…commends advancement in human rights,” said Kiwi delegate Anna Louise Duncan

“We recommend that Tonga (1) ratifies the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, and the UN convention on torture and other cruel and other inhuman or degrading punishment, (2) elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, (3) amend existing legislation that discriminates against LGBTQ Plus people,” Duncan added.