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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review


11 December 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Tuvalu this afternoon, during which 23 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Burkina Faso following the review of the country on Tuesday, 9 December.

· Presenting the national report of Tuvalu was ENELE SOPOAGA, Permanent Secretary in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Labour, who noted that Tuvalu, as a small island State, had unique vulnerabilities to the challenges presented particularly by the threat of the adverse impacts of climate change and sea level rise. Comprising four reef islands and five atolls, Tuvalu was the third least populated independent country in the world and the second smallest member of the UN family. At the core of Tuvalu’s existence as a nation was the belief in the strength of the values of its cultural traditions, courtesy and respect to elders, and commitment to the common good of island community life. The impacts of globalization, such as those recently demonstrated by the sudden hikes in fuel and food prices, especially for a resource-poor island State such as Tuvalu, which was both a Small Island Developing State and a Least Developed Country, were overwhelming. They have seriously undermined Tuvalu’s ability to manage its affairs and to provide vital services to its people.

Tuvalu was exerting every effort to cope with the adverse effects of climate change and sea level rise, the Permanent Secretary stated. These were the everyday realities and the challenges faced in implementing economic, social and cultural rights. While the Government of Tuvalu was committed to human rights, the reality was that many of these commitments were dependent on the availability of financial and technical assistance and therefore the Government was unable to implement many of the things they would like to commit to. Tuvalu’s responsibility to human rights was actualized through State laws and regulations, its National Sustainable Development Strategy – Te Kakeega II, and its National Plan on the Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. To compliment national efforts on human rights, Tuvalu was also committed to appropriate regional arrangements particularly to the Pacific Plan, which aimed to promote the protection of human rights in the Pacific.

Responding to a series of questions submitted by delegations in advance, Mr. Sopoaga said, as regards the preparation of Tuvalu’s UPR report, civil society was closely involved throughout the process. On the issue of the National Human Rights Mechanism, Tuvalu supported the concept of establishing a national human rights mechanism, but this had to be considered in light of the availability of financial and technical resources. The Regional Rights Resources Team (RRRT), through the Tuvalu Legal Rights Training Officer, has provided human rights training since 1997 in Tuvalu to about 12 trained community paralegals. As regards access to justice, the Government continued to support the availability of legal services to the public through the people’s lawyers’ office.

As regards gender equality, Tuvalu had ratified the CEDAW [Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women] and submitted its report to the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women. The Government, through its Department of Women's Affairs, was supporting the promotion and awareness of gender issues, and advocating educational and public training campaigns on the issues. While the Tuvalu Constitution was explicit that discrimination on the basis of race, colour or place of origin was prohibited, it did not currently mention that discrimination on the basis of gender was prohibited. People of different sexual orientation did not suffer from any social discrimination in Tuvalu. On domestic violence, the Government was currently collecting data on domestic violence and violence against women. In 2007, the Tuvalu High Court made a decision on the first sexual harassment case in the Pacific Islands. Although Tuvalu did not have a specific sexual harassment law the court still recognized the common law tort on sexual harassment and ruled in favour of the female employee. The head of delegation noted that education was free and compulsory for primary school up to Class 8 (middle school) and health care was also free.

On the issue of ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), he said the Government of Tuvalu had no objection to the substance of these instruments, however the resources required to report on, and implement these, as well as many other international conventions, were considerable. Responding to a question on alleged torture, he said this was a case of misreporting; the only act of torture in Tuvalu was the regular slaughtering of pigs for feasting. On another question, Tuvalu was ready to consider extending an invitation to Special Procedures provided that it did not incur a financial burden.

Turning to climate change, Mr. Sopoaga said Tuvalu was acutely aware of the issue of human rights and the impacts of climate change and as a result the State was very active in various climate change fora. Moreover, Tuvalu continued to play a pivotal role in the AOSIS [Alliance of Small Island States]. Consideration of human rights protection and the effects of climate change was paramount in the minds of the Government of Tuvalu, as it was one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the impacts of climate change. Last year, Tuvalu hosted a national workshop on climate change and had produced a National Adaptation Programme of Action, which identified the most urgent and immediate needs of Tuvalu with respect to addressing the impacts of climate change.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the provision of free basic health care and education; measures taken uphold the rights of young people and women; accession and obligations to the CEDAW [Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women]; the progress made in achieving the Millennium Development Goals; efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change; the high rate of literacy in Tuvalu – 95%; and the progress made in human rights, in general, despite severe capacity restraints.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and observers participating in the interactive discussion related to the major difficulties encountered in guaranteeing the human rights in view of climate change; steps taken to review relevant laws which discriminate of impact negatively on women and efforts to bring them in line with CEDAW standards; measures to combat violence against women given the data collection programmes; how Tuvalu collected information on domestic violence; measures intended to take in order to ensure that all religious groups were afforded equal treatment; steps envisaged to increase transparency in light of corruption; steps taken to provide human rights education and training for police officers; measures to make the high court more accessible to the general public, in light of those living on outer islands; and measures taken to ensure that the basic rights of people living on outer islands were provided for and respected.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To involve the population more in decision making on issues of mitigating the effects of climate change; to continue to take a leading role in the international community in combating climate change and in securing significant global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; and that Tuvalu participate in the discussion of the Human Rights Council scheduled for March on the relationship between human rights and climate change.

Other recommendations included: To eliminate any legislation that had a discriminatory effect against women; to amend the Constitution to include freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sex; to ensure greater public awareness on the issues of domestic violence and gender discrimination and to encourage greater involvement of Government agencies and civil society; to introduce a gender dimension in legislation; to develop a comprehensive strategy to reduce domestic violence, including raising public awareness; to penalize all acts of rape regardless of who the perpetrators were; to reform the Penal Code to cover offences of sexual abuse against minors and to eliminate corporal punishment; and to fully incorporate in its legislation the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Moreover, Tuvalu was encouraged to amend the Constitution to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities; to take steps to enable the Court of Appeal to consider the application in Tuvalu of the right to freedom of religion; to de-criminalize same sex activities between adults; to combat discriminatory societal behaviour, including by working at reforming domestic laws, in particular land and family laws, that require amendment in order for Tuvalu to be in compliance with the CEDAW; to convene the Court of Appeal in the interest of addressing the pending appeal to the 2005 High Court’s ruling of the case of Teonea vs. Kaupule; and to accord the proper attention to the education sector.

Another set of recommendations were: To ratify the ICESC, the ICCPR and the Convention against Torture; to consider giving the Ombudsman responsibility for investigating alleged violations of human rights as a short-term measure; to ensure that the necessary resources were provided to the Ombudsman in order to carry out its task; to extend a standing invitation to the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council; to continue to work with civil society in the follow-up to the review; and to establish a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles.

The international community was also called on to pay heed to the request for technical and financial assistance to meet human rights goals, and in particular towards setting up a national human rights institution. One delegation also suggested that a single permanent mission in Geneva for all Pacific Islands be established as a means of fostering the respect for human rights in the region.

· Working Group Members taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Switzerland, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Italy, Mexico, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Zambia, Brazil, Cuba, Canada and China.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Turkey, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Australia, Algeria, Latvia, Maldives and Morocco.

· The six-person delegation of Tuvalu consisted of representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Labour, the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of Home Affairs and Rural Development, the Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team and the Embassy of Tuvalu to Belgium and the European Union, Belgium.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Tuvalu are Qatar, Zambia and Azerbaijan.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Tuvalu can be found here.

· Adoption of report on Burkina Faso: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Burkina Faso are Switzerland, Qatar and Madagascar. Introducing the report on behalf of the troika DANTE MARTINELLI (Switzerland), said the report well reflected the Statements and recommendations made by delegations as well as the responses from the Burkinabé Government. The Government accepted 28 of the recommendations made, would consider one and rejected 18. Representing the State under review, SALAMATA SAWADOGO, Minister for the Promotion of Human Rights, who said her country’s experience with the UPR had strengthened its conviction that this tool was indeed valuable. The constructive exchanges during the interactive discussion would serve well to assist the Government of Burkina Faso to enhance its efforts to promote and protect human rights. Despite the reservations Burkina Faso made to some recommendations laid out in the report, the State remained fully committed to its human rights goals. Technical assistance was essential in order for Burkina Faso to fully realize these goals.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Tuvalu on Monday, 15 December.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work on Monday, 15 December, at 3 p.m. it is scheduled to adopt the report on Cape Verde, Colombia, Uzbekistan and Tuvalu after which it will close its 3rd session.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx. To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp

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