TONGA CRITICIZES NEW ZEALAND OVER RIGHTS

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GOVERNMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF TONGA Government Information Unit Prime Minister’s Office Nuku‘alofa Tonga

MEDIA STATEMENT March 15, 2002

The Tongan Government has strongly criticized New Zealand for detaining refugees seeking asylum. Mr. Clive Edwards, Tonga’s Minister of Police, says New Zealand is not fulfilling its international human rights obligations.

"In Tonga we are not permitted to deprive people of their liberty in this way, because it would contravene our constitution and legal processes," Mr. Edwards said.

The Minister denounced the New Zealand Associate Foreign Affairs Minister, Matt Robson, for claims that Tonga did not respect human rights. Mr. Robson, he said, was hypocritical.

"Mr. Robson did not hesitate to pass judgment on Tonga. Yet at the same time, his own Government has provoked opposition from human rights groups about its treatment of refugees. Mr. Robson is clearly applying double standards."

Mr. Edwards said the New Zealand Government stands accused of breaching its own Immigration Act, Bill of Rights and international protocols.

Tonga, he said, was proud that it had led the way in the Pacific in observing constitutional law, which fully guaranteed rights and freedoms.

Constitutional rule had been in force in the Kingdom since 1875. The Tonga Constitution contained a declaration on civil liberties, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. There were stringent provisions ensuring protection before the law and governing the application of due legal process.

"Constitutional law and civil liberties prevail in Tonga," said Mr. Edwards. "There is no oppression."

The Minister said it was also significant that the New Zealand Government was under attack for introducing legislation which many felt infringed press freedom and free speech.

"In the light of Mr. Robson's condemnation of Tonga, this is another example of New Zealand double-speak," he said. "Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."

Mr. Edwards said local and international attention would be focused on important legal proceedings in Tonga connected with allegations of forgery and other matters. They involve claims about the finances of His Majesty King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV.

"The Government is already being falsely accused of breaching the rights of those implicated," said Mr. Edwards. "Our system of justice is being applied impartially and fairly in accordance with the Tonga Constitution and the Police Act."

"Every step we take must conform with the law."

Mr. Edwards said the police were bound by strict measures in their investigations and arrest procedures.

Search warrants issued by the Judiciary were always required and there could be no undue delay in bringing an accused before a magistrate.

"The system we have to follow is much more protective of the rights of the accused than procedures in many other countries," Mr. Edwards said.

"Tonga has an independent Judiciary. Its magistrates are well-trained and qualified, and our Supreme Court judges are well respected in the region."

For further information please contact: Government Information Unit Prime Minister’s Office Nuku‘alofa, Tonga Tel: (676) 24 644 Fax: (676) 23 888 Email: pmomail@pmo.gov.to or kmatoto@pmo.gov.to 

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