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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Maganti Tonga, Apr. 1) – The Chief Secretary to the Tongan Cabinet, 'Eseta Fusitu'a, is disputing and discrediting the U.S. State Department's 2003 report that cited Tonga's "poor record" on Human Rights.

'Eseta told a Television Tonga panel on Human Rights on March 30 that the U.S. report lost its credibility because of major error. She said the report stated that a bill to do away with the right of Judicial Review was submitted to parliament, when there was none, and she said that because there was no list of sources at the end of the report it left one wondering where they got their information from.

'Eseta pointed out that Tonga failed in only three out of the 23 criteria that it had been judged on.

To classify Tonga's status on human rights as being poor was disputed by another panelist, Rev. Dr Viliami Fukofuka, one of three Methodist Church ministers who participated in the panel. Viliami said that a poor record put Tonga on the same level as countries like Zimbabwe, but he was certain that Tonga was not the same as Zimbabwe. He questioned if we had seen the same kind of problems in Tonga that we have seen on television in Zimbabwe.

He said that, according to the report, Tonga got a poor record because Tongans do not have the ability to change their leaders or their system of government because of the suppressive new media legislation and because of violence against women and because women do not have the right to own hereditary land.

Viliami argued that even though there was some truth in these claims, he disagreed with the use of the word "poor".

Rev. Simote Vea, the Chairman of the Tonga Human Rights and Democracy Movement, on the other hand agreed with the report that Tonga's human right record is poor. He pointed out that the new media laws infringe on people's right to press freedom, and that following the biggest demonstration that had ever been held in Tonga, the government did not respond to what was demanded by the people.

Simote also disagreed with 'Eseta and supported the claim by the report that a bill was presented to the House to do away with judicial reviews.

Viliami Fukofuka clarified the disagreement, saying that the bill was presented as a draft but was later struck out.

The panel at the end agreed to disagree, with 'Eseta and Viliami on one side, Simote on another, and Rev. Mohenoa Puloka sitting in the middle.

April 2, 2004

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