Under pressure: crimes ignored in the Kingdom

For many years hundreds of domestic violence, rape and sexual assaults have been dealt with as a crime that can be forgiven and forgotten. Perhaps it is because 99% of the time it is women and children who fall victim to these atrocious crimes, and so it wasn’t taken too seriously.  Perhaps because in society’s view the women or the young girl deserved it.  Perhaps we have been quick to offer excuses such as alcohol, drugs, family pressure.  Perhaps it is viewed as simply not a crime at all?
More than 80% of the clients received at the WCCC have reported that family pressure, community pressure and pressure from those in authority to reconcile coupled with social and economic pressures have forced female victims into reconciliation with the overall goal of dropping the charges made against her violent husband, partner or male perpetrator – preventing the case from reaching court.

The newly released Ministry of Police Statistics indicate that since the year 2000, 2,753 women have reported physical abuse. Less than half of those – 1304 (47%) have ended up in convictions. Perhaps this is a clear indication that society is still steeped in the belief that re-uniting the relationship should be the focus and on the other hand it could be a sign of actual conviction rates improving – the problem is that we haven’t got past statistics specifically on domestic violence to make a more thorough analysis.  In saying that it will also be interesting to see how much has changed with reporting and convictions following the implementation of the No Drop Policy at the Ministry of Police over the next five years.
One of the priorities of the WCCC over the next five years is to contribute towards more evidence based research, disaggregated statistics and data from all agencies involved so that we can get a much clearer picture on what is improving and what is not improving.  We urge all agencies to make this their priority as well.


A judiciary that can protect our freedom

Having an independent judiciary in Tonga has worked to protect our freedom. Without a doubt, we have been proud of being able to maintain a Judiciary acting on the basis of what is right and just as according to our constitution, not just what is popular. Over the years we have been proud to witness a Judiciary able to protect ordinary citizens from political groups, big business, big government, and sometimes even each other.

We all have a duty to support and protect an independent Judiciary. To do otherwise would be to violate and corrupt the basic tenets of our hopes to achieve a more democratic form of government.

When special interest groups, media or groups with specific agendas mis-state facts, withhold facts or attack the judges and court decisions that don’t happen to support their particular cause, they do a great disservice. While the Executive (privy council) and the Legislative (parliament) branches of government are more directly impacted by popular demand, our judges and courts must follow our laws and constitution. Our system of government requires judges and courts to make hard and sometimes unpopular decisions – that is their sworn duty.

For the Crisis Centre it is critical that our judiciary maintains its independence especially as we are now supporting legislative reform in the area of violence against in women in Tonga. Moreover, all the rights secured to Tongan citizens under the Constitution are worth nothing and mean nothing, unless guaranteed to them by an independent and honest Judiciary.

Independence and accountability necessary as Tonga maps out political future

The role of the Tongan government is under scrutiny with the Attorney General’s resignation as Tonga maps out its political future – and the outcome matters to women and children the most.

Placing the powers of the Attorney General back under the Ministry of Justice indicates that true independence of the judiciary is not a priority.

The WCCC believes that independence strengthens the role of the judiciary, executive and legislature, and this strength will mean that it is more likely the realities of women and children are taken into account. The time is now to begin talking about why we need stronger legislation to protect women and children.

A Government with a just and fair system will provide more opportunities for women not only in their daily needs but overall in the political process. This will empower women and enable them to stand up for their rights and these will address some important issues because women are a particularly vulnerable group that suffer from the injustice in the government decisions.

‘Ofakilevuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, Director of WCCC said “Our Government has a national commitment to promote equitable representation at all levels of the political process and public life but so far all the discussions about political reform have ignored the role of women”.

The Women and Children Crisis Centre calls on those who are considering campaigning to consider the rights of women and children as a platform.

“It is clear that we need to make some national changes to improve the lives of women and children. We need to promote women in decision making roles and to use policy and the law to empower women” said Guttenbeil-Likiliki.

The WCCC urges people to consider what democracy means for Tonga and what kind of legal rights citizens should be demanding to improve the lives of women and children.


“US women and men we’re equal like wings of a bird…”

Staff members from the Women and Children Crisis Centre have recently conducted awareness programs at ‘Ahopanilolo Technical College, St. Joseph’s Business College, Tonga High School and Fokololo oe Hau Technical Institute.

The awareness programs have enabled WCCC to send the message out to students and communities regarding the issue of violence against women and children. Students expressed interest in programs and messages of the crisis centre, statistics of women and children seeking support services and also case studies that were read to help show the real experiences of clients.

Evaluations have indicated that the students are engaged with the content, and interested in finding out more. WCCC Community Education Trainer Asela Sauaki said “It is often young people who can clearly see an abuse of human rights in our society. They have not had time to become used to such things. We were amazed with what one student wrote on her evaluation form: It is time for us women to do something. Raise our voices and change the world. Us women and men we’re equal like wings of one bird, two wings must work together so the bird can fly”


Working together to address domestic violence

A new referral strategy was mapped out today at the Crisis Centre which brings relevant Ministries and NGO providers together to improve services for survivors of domestic violence.

The Pacific Prevention of Domestic Violence Programme (PPDVP) visited with representatives from the Solomon Islands and New Zealand to share their experiences, with leadership from Detective Sergeant Haley Ryan. Together they designed a new referral strategy involves a weekly case management meeting – which brings together all the service providers involved in a case – such as the staff from the Police, Hospital, WCCC, Tonga National Centre for Women and Children and other service providers that may be involved, such as Tonga Family Health or the Salvation Army.

Susana ‘Utahafe, Counsellor Advocate at the WCCC said “Case management meetings allow service providers to share vital knowledge – within their confidentiality agreements of course – so that together we can provide complete support for the survivor”.

The case management meetings are a first for the Kingdom and will begin this month.


Urgent rethink on accountability and independence in Tonga

The Women and Children Crisis Centre calls for an urgent re-think in light of the resignation of the Attorney General John Cauchi.

The centre supports the resignation of the Attorney General as a brave move to highlight the reduced level of accountability and transparency in Tonga.

Former Attorney general John Cauchi was appointed in May 2009 as the first AG that was not concurrently the Minister of Justice. The independent role was developed to strengthen the separation of powers under the democratic reform that the Tongan government is currently undertaking.

However Cauchi’s resignation indicated that the Government’s commitment to independence is ‘highly qualified’ – meaning that it must be on the Government’s terms. This was illustrated by:

·         The Government appointing a Judge  that was not approved by the Attorney General or the Judicial Services Commission

·         The Government taking steps to abolish The Judicial Services Commission and repeal the Judicial Services Commission Act

“It is clear the Government is committed to judiciary independence in theory only and not in practice. And really, what is the point of that?” said Ofakilevuka Guttenbiel-Likiliki


“Independence and the fusion of powers strengthens the principles in our constitution. It strengthens the checks and balances in place to ensure that each part of the existing system – the executive, judiciary and legislative assembly including the media as we commemorate Media Freedom this week – fulfill their roles in providing accountability and transparency for Tonga.  An independent judiciary in Tonga is something we should be embracing – not pretending to embrace.”


The Crisis Centre is gravely concerned about the implications of returning to a system that does not embrace the core elements of Tonga’s constitution, especially as it has flow on effects for women and children.


“For years we have had a legislative assembly that answers to government. And for years, we have seen women and children made even more vulnerable by existing laws, it’s obvious from the number of people who report domestic violence and assaults. The Centre viewed the move towards judicial independence as a chance to create law that was free from the constraints of the Government – and what a shame to see that the commitment to this critical idea is non-existent”


The staff of WCCC calls for the role of the Attorney General to remain independent from the Ministry of Justice and for the Judicial Services Commission and the Judicial Services Commission Act to remain in place.

Judicial independence is critical in our move towards achieving democracy and should be protected at all costs.  The maintenance of the independence of the judiciary is a real, live, practical matter which all judicial officers must guard jealously. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

“This is exactly what Cauchi has done and as responsible citizens of Tonga we need to ensure that under no circumstances shall we fall short of achieving this freedom ” says Guttenbeil-Likiliki.


LAUNCHED: Inspiring – Young Emerging Leaders Program

The Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC) is pleased to announce its Inspiring – Young Emerging Leaders Program (I-YEL) to commence as a pilot program from April 2010 to March 2011.

The I-YEL program is accepting Expressions of Interests from young women between the ages of 16-30 to take part in the WCCC I-YEL Pilot .

The WCCC I-YEL program will be a safe space that will aim to encourage, prepare, and challenge young people from diverse backgrounds to be advocates for human rights with a special focus on women and children’s rights, environmental and social change and the overall goal of promoting the ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN.

Although initiated by the WCCC, the overall I-YEL pilot will be designed and coordinated by the young women who receive support and training in planning and implementing projects that create positive change in their communities. Through leadership development, career exploration and goal setting, I-YEL participants acquire the skills necessary to be the teachers and leaders of today and the future (an idea similar to that of the Crissy Field Centre)

The I-YEL program will also be linked to the Ta’okete (Big Sister) Mentoring Program.  This is where individuals are given the opportunity to team up with another inspiring female leader in Tonga who can provide one-on-one mentoring and coaching, particularly if the selected partner has a career path that the younger partner aspires to follow.