The Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC) is appalled with the final remark in the Prime Minister’s statement at the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Ashika Tragedy last week. The Prime Minister stated: “finally, counsel assisting the Commission, you may be an excellent counsel in Australia, but when you are in the Kingdom of Tonga, please try to understand our constitution and show some respect for our monarch, for our government, our people and our culture.”

The Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC) believes that the government is using culture as an excuse to side step justice, accountability and transparency.

Coordinator of the WCCC ‘Ofakilevuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki says “This is our problem. As soon as a national crisis hits, leaders are quick to uphold culture and tradition by vigorously seeking public support – reminding the Tongan people of the core principles of Tongan culture; (fe’apa’apa’aki) mutual respect (feveitokai’aki) sharing and cooperating and fulfillment of mutual obligations (lototoo) humility and generosity and (tauhi vaha’a) loyalty and commitment – distracting any attempt of individuals, groups, communities and the nation as a whole to seek justice, accountability and transparency”

The WCCC believes that using culture in this sense is creating barriers to social justice and prevents citizens of Tonga who have constitutional rights to seek justice. The Ashika tragedy is a classic example of this, where many (including women, children and small babies who represent the most vulnerable group in our society) lost their lives.

Justice Warwick, the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into the sinking of the MV Princess Ashika, took the first opportunity after the PM’s appearance to label Sevele’s concluding comments as “inappropriate”.

 

“The Prime Minister took the opportunity given to him to make a personal attack on counsel assisting. The attack was inappropriate…Questions will continue to be asked which some may not like. That is the nature of an inquiry of this sort.” said Justice Warwick.

 

The WCCC continues to support the establishment of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Ashika Tragedy. “This gave and continues to give many people the hope for justice to be done – it’s as simple as that. For the Prime Minister to make such a remark at the end of his statement is a discouragement to those hoping for accountability and transparency on the part of the government of Tonga” said Guttenbeil Likiliki.

The Crisis Centre believes that Tongan cultural values are not in conflict with the nature of the inquiry, and that the Government should stop using culture as an excuse to obstruct justice.

“Mutual respect, cooperation, humility and generosity, loyalty and commitment are great values to have, and are no doubt the cornerstone of Tongan characteristics – but this should not be in any way or form be used as an obstruction to justice “ said Guttenbeil Likiliki, adding “These principles rather should be upheld simultaneously with human rights, social justice, accountability and transparency. It can be done and it should be the way we aim to live as responsible citizens in Tonga.”(ENDS)