Suva, Fiji- The Pacific Community’s Regional Rights Resource Team (SPC RRRT) and the Australia High Commission, Fiji, today convened a donor roundtable on the progress of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the Pacific. The roundtable was held in partnership with the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF), and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The roundtable considered recent developments in the Pacific in establishing effective and sustainable NHRIs. It discussed the requirements for them to succeed and thrive, and the types of support they need in the medium term. It also identified opportunities and challenges for development partners in supporting the establishment of NHRIs and their work.
In his opening remarks, Australian High Commissioner to Fiji, John Feakes, said Australia remains committed to supporting human rights in the Pacific.
“Australia is thankful for the strong support it received from the Pacific region on its successful candidacy for the Human Rights Council. We want to use our three-year term (2018-2020) to amplify the voice of the Pacific, including by showcasing its human rights achievements.”
SPC RRRT Director, Mr Miles Young said “Pacific Island countries should lead the establishment of NHRIs in their countries. They are best placed to understand their human rights priorities and how to achieve them. SPC RRRT, APF and OHCHR are here to provide technical support and this roundtable is part of that process.”
Participants acknowledged the progress provided through the partnership between RRRT, APF, and OHCHR as highlighted by the recent peer learning exchange between Samoa and Tuvalu.
In addition, national and regional-level dialogue will continue to remain a key focus offered by the partnership going forward.
Development partners who participated in the roundtable included the European Union, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, the Melanesian Spearhead Group, and the US Embassy.
Pacific Island countries who participated included Fiji, Samoa, Tuvalu, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshal Islands.
NHRIs are specialised bodies established by governments to provide an independent assessment of the nation’s protection and promotion of the human rights of its people, including the vulnerable. While governments are responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights, NHRIs support governments by providing advice, monitoring standards and practices, investigating violations, and promoting education and training.
In the Pacific, the number of NHRIs, either established or under consideration, has more than doubled in the past 12 months. Tuvalu, Nauru, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Cook Islands, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), have joined Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Samoa in strengthening their institutional environment to ensure that human rights remain a top priority for the Pacific.
Of these five countries, Tuvalu has progressed the furthest, with legislation drafted and passed to set up a NHRI. There is a growing interest from the others to follow suit, having hosted NHRI scoping missions, towards the creation of fully operational, sustainable and Paris Principles compliant NHRIs.
Honiara, Solomon Islands- This month more than 50 local court members in the Solomon Islands are taking part in intensive training on their role as Authorised Justices as stipulated in the Island nations Family Protection Act. The trainings, part of a 3-year program, are designed to give court officials a better understanding of the Act as well as covering sensitive topics such as gender roles and domestic violence.
Under the Act, Local Court Justices are authorised to issue interim protection orders for survivors of domestic violence in their communities. With this responsibility, the Local Court Justices can bring access to justice closer to communities where it is often difficult to get a protection order from a magistrate court.
The trainings have been organised by the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) with funding support from the United Nations Trust Fund (UNTF) and the Australian Government. Two training sessions were planned, with the first having already taken place in Honiara from 12-16 March and the second, now underway in Malaita, due to conclude on 23 March.
The training in Honiara saw a total of 32 Local Court Justices, including two women from Guadalcanal take part. Daniel Sade, the president of the Guadalcanal Local Court urged the participants to use the tools that the training had provided to improve their work, saying, “now that we are equipped with this knowledge, I appeal to all the Local Court Members or Authorised Justices to carry out our duties”.
The training taking place this week has brought together 15 Local Court Justices from around Malaita province to the capital of Auki. The Local Court Justices have been enthusiastic about their role and keen to better understand the Act and their role as Authorised Justices.
Phillip Waletobata of Radefasu said, “this training is giving us a fair idea of what the Family Protection Act is and will help us to do our work in the community”. Another participant, Mr. Nelson Ne’e from Central Kwara’ae stated, “with this training we will know how to execute the interim protection orders and better serve the community.”
Senior Human Rights Advisor, Ms. Rose Martin said, “RRRT is pleased to provide this support to Local Court Justices. The training will help ease the challenges faced by rural communities who need to access to the justice system for domestic violence issues. It also provides valuable capacity building for the members of the Solomon Islands court officials”.
The Access to Justice Project is implemented by RRRT in partnership with the Solomon Islands Judiciary (Local Court), the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs and the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs.
The project is funded by UNTF and the Australian Government.
Rose Martin, RRRT Senior Human Rights Adviser, [email protected]
Nuku'alofa – Tonga will soon be the first country in the Pacific to have a legal aid centre specifically dedicated to helping people who are survivors of domestic violence. The Family Protection Legal Aid Centre will be opening its doors on Monday 12 March 2018.
The Centre was established by Tonga’s Ministry of Justice, with support provided by the Pacific Community (SPC) through its Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT). The Centre was initiated under the leadership of the late Susana Faletau, Chief Executive Officer for the Ministry of Justice.
Tonga passed the Family Protection Act in 2013 to ensure the safety and protection of all persons, including children, who experience or witness domestic violence. Domestic violence is any physical, sexual or mental abuse that occurs within a domestic or family setting.
The courts have the power to issue Protection Orders, which have a number of conditions that clearly outline that the perpetrator cannot contact or harm the person named in the Order (the survivor). The Act also provides for specific offences relating to domestic violence, which again clearly outlines that the reported violence is no longer considered a private matter; rather, it is a societal concern requiring intervention and eradication.
The Family Protection Legal Aid Centre will assist any persons facing violence within their families by providing quality free legal assistance, advice and representation. People will be able to come to the centre to receive assistance in applying for protection orders under the Family Protection Act, and other related family law matters which occur as a result of a breach of the Family Protection Act.
The Centre will open from 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday, and will also be available after hours over telephone. People can drop in at the Centre located next to the Magistrates’ Court at Fasi, or contact by telephone at 26-387 or 26-388.
The Family Protection Legal Aid Centre is funded by the Government of Tonga, in partnership with the Australian Government and the Government of Sweden.
“Sweden commends the groundbreaking work of the Tongan Ministry of Justice and RRRT for the establishment of the first Legal Aid Centre in Tonga to support survivors of violence. We are convinced that the legal aid centre will make a positive impact on individuals and families who have experienced violence,” said Charlotta Bredberg, Counsellor -Human Rights and Democracy Development section at the Embassy of Sweden, Bangkok.
This is also considered to be an important step in addressing impunity for acts of family violence in the society. Freedom from violence is a fundamental human right and a precondition for peaceful and inclusive societies,” Bredberg added.
Australian High Commissioner to Tonga, HE Andrew Ford, said the new legal aid centre is an essential service for survivors of violence. “Australia is proud to support this new and important legal aid centre, particularly as a legacy left by the late Ministry of Justice CEO Susana Faletau. We look forward to close cooperation with the Ministry and RRRT once the centre is in service.”
Onorina Saukelo, RRRT Communications Assistant, [email protected] or +679 337 0733
‘Aunofo ‘Aholelei, Tonga Ministry of Justice, [email protected] or 23-015
Fitilagi Fa’anunu, Family Protection Legal Aid Centre lawyer, [email protected]
Honiara, Solomon Islands- Stakeholders in the Solomon Islands participated in a three-day workshop aimed at generating public information and education (IEC) materials that will help create awareness on the justice services available for survivors of family violence.
Held from 21 to 23 November, the event was facilitated by the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) with the support of the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women and the Government of Australia.
The consultation built capacity of participants to develop information and education materials generally. In addition, the participants outlined a production plan for writing, designing, pre-testing, printing and distributing the materials developed on family violence. Participants discussed the issue/problem they wanted to advocate on; stated the actions they wanted to promote; identified target audience; and discussed advocacy strategies.
Participants included key government ministries, civil society groups and service providers for survivors of family violence.
Family violence affects women and children in all communities throughout the Solomon Islands. The Family Protection Act (FPA), which came into effect on 1 April 2016, enables women to access the protection and services they need to be safe within their communities. It defines and criminalises family violence, and prohibits physical, sexual, psychological, and economic abuse against family members.
IEC materials developed as a result of this consultation will ensure there is clear and simple information on family violence and the protection available to women and girls under the existing Family Protection Act.
At the outcome of the consultation, Nicol Cave, the Interim Director of SPC RRRT indicated that “making available education materials about the FPA is an important step to ensuring that all women and children are protected and can lead happy and healthy lives free from violence”.
Nuku’alofa, Tonga – The Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) and the Ministry of Justice, Government of Tonga are pleased to announce the launch of a new access to justice project in Tonga aimed at providing free legal advice and assistance to survivors of domestic violence. The project was launched on 8 December at the Ministry of Justice in Fasi-moe-afi in commemoration of International Human Rights Day on Sunday 10 December and during the 16 days of activism to mark the joint efforts to End Violence Against Women and Girls.
The new project will create a community legal advice Centre, based in Nuku’alofa. The Centre will offer services aimed at increasing the capacity of survivors to effectively apply for protection orders under the Family Protection Act through the provision and availability of free legal assistance. It is anticipated that the centre will open to survivors of violence in the first quarter of 2018.
Tonga is committed to gender equality and ending violence against women. The revised national gender and development policy (2014-2018) recognises that domestic violence is a “rampant problem, largely underreported, which affects our family, our society and our economy.”
One of the outputs of the policy is to enact measures to “eliminate domestic violence and provide services to the victims.” In line with these obligations, Tonga adopted the Family Protection Act (FPA) in 2013. It came into force in July 2014 and provides the legal framework for the protection of survivors of domestic violence.
RRRT worked with all the relevant stakeholders to develop the draft FPA and to pass the legislation through Parliament. The Act defines domestic violence and provides for specific roles and protection mechanisms to assist those that are affected by domestic violence.
One of the challenges in the implementation of the Act is the lack of free legal advice for survivors of domestic violence, and a lack of legal literacy around the application of protection orders. Accessing services in Tongatapu is costly and not practical especially when there is a need for urgent assistance, as is usually the case in matters involving domestic violence. In addition, there is a lack of services for survivors in the outer islands as most service providers are based in Tongatapu. Services available in the outer islands, such as police stations, offer limited options for survivors, and there are currently no permanent judges in the outer island courts, except for the Vava’u Magistrate’s Court.
RRRT is working with the Ministry of Justice to implement the family protection legislation to ensure that women and children are able to access the justice services and the protection offered by the legislation. The Ministry of Justice will take the lead in the implementation of this project. Office space at the Ministry of Justice has been identified for the centre near the Fasi-moe-Afi Magistrates’ Court and staff members will be recruited jointly by the Ministry of Justice and RRRT. RRRT will provide funding support and technical assistance to train and mentor staff members through the lifetime of the project. The centre is expected to open in the first quarter of 2018.
The new project will look at addressing the issue of lack of legal assistance to ensure that everyone in Tonga can have access to the services of the centre, and staff at the centre will be available to provide assistance over the phone to women who may not be in Nuku’alofa. Staff at the Centre will also travel to the outer islands with the regular court circuit in order to provide assistance in person as well as speak with other stakeholders in the outer islands to better tailor the services of the centre to the needs of those survivors.
Interim Director of SPC RRRT, Nicol Cave noted that: “The purpose of this project is to complement and work with agencies already providing services to survivors of domestic violence. RRRT recognises the important work being done by other partners and will work collaboratively to ensure that the work is not duplicated but rather integrated to assist the government in meeting all its obligations under the FPA”
Speaking at the launch event, Minister for Justice, Government of Tonga, Hon. Sione Vuna Fa’otusia said “the new Access to Justice project is being launched with the intent that vulnerable victims will find easy and faster, free access to services under the Family Protection Act. This project is part of instilling confidence in our laws and our justice system so vulnerable victims can seek help and redress”.
A number of other agencies have been involved in the creation of this project including the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, TWCCC and other NGO partners.
RRRT and the Ministry of Justice acknowledge with appreciation the support of the Australian Government and the Government of Sweden in funding this project.
Media contact for Ministry of Justice: ‘Ana Laulaupea’alu, Legal Officer, Ministry of Justice [email protected] or +676 25 618;
Onorina Saukelo RRRT Communications Assistant, [email protected] or +679 330 5582.
Useful link: SPC Regional Rights Resource Team:http://rrrt.spc.int
Magistrates in Vanuatu participated in a two-day consultation on 3 and 4 October aimed at strengthening their role in the implementation of the 2008 Family Protection Act which provides a framework for assisting survivors of domestic or family violence.
The consultation, led by the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) and supported by the German Development Bank (KfW), the Australian Government and the Government of Sweden, examined strategies for strengthening existing systems to support the domestic violence prevention and protection measures set out in the Act.
The consultation was facilitated by RRRT staff together with retired Judge Mere Pulea, who has on extensive experience working as a judge on family law matters in Fiji as well as drafting a number of domestic violence laws for Pacific Island countries.
The consultation for Magistrates included discussions on the links between gender, human rights and domestic violence, and the specific legal issues faced when applying the Act. In addition, guidelines to support the courts in interpreting and applying the Act were examined and refined. Once approved, these guidelines will be made available to all Magistrates.
The consultation was closed by Chief Justice Lunabek, who emphasised that while domestic violence is often seen only as an act of violence, it is also important recognize it as a human rights issue. He highlighted that Vanuatu still has very high rates of domestic violence that must be addressed through effective implementation of the Family Protection Act.
The consultation is part of RRRT’s regional judicial strengthening programme, providing tailor-made training programmes to support judges, magistrates, lawyers and prosecutors in implementing family violence legislation.
In recognition of the need for continuous engagement with justice actors, RRRT provides on-going support after the initial consultation to collect data and develop judicial tools, and offers follow up training, as needed.
The first consultation of this regional programme was held in Tonga in December 2016 with subsequent meetings taking place in the Solomon Islands, and Marshall Islands in July and August of this year. Further consultations are planned in Kiribati and Nauru during the next 6 months.
Onorina Saukelo, RRRT Communications Assistant, [email protected] or +679 330 5582
SPC Regional Rights Resource Team: http://rrrt.spc.int
Majuro, Marshall Islands- District and Community Court Judges in the Marshall Islands participated in a two-day consultation on 21 and 22 August aimed at strengthening their role in the implementation of the 2011 Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act.
The consultation, led by the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) and supported by the Government of Australia, examined strategies to strengthen existing systems to support the domestic violence prevention and protection measures set out in the Act. The consultation was facilitated by SPC RRRT staff together with Retired Judge John Adams, who has over 45 years of experience working in family law in New Zealand.
The consultation was opened by the Hon. Chief Justice Carl Ingram, who highlighted the importance of Judges understanding how to apply the law to ensure gender equality and family protection. He stated, “These cases that will come before you for protection orders are difficult. However, if you hear a case early and make a decision that protects a person, you may save that person from injury and even death.”
The consultation for Judges included discussions on the links between gender, human rights and domestic violence, and the specific legal issues faced when applying the Act. Guidelines to support the courts in interpreting and applying the Act were examined and refined during the two days. These will now be made available to all Judges.
The Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act came into force in 2011 and provides protection orders to assist those that are affected by family violence and ensures their safety. It defines and criminalises domestic violence, namely any physical, sexual, psychological, or economic abuse against family members.
The consultation is part of RRRT’s regional judicial strengthening programme which provides tailor-made training programmes to support judges, magistrates, lawyers and prosecutors in implementing family violence legislation.
In recognition of the need for continuous engagement with justice actors, RRRT provides on-going support after the initial consultation to collect data and develop judicial tools, and offers follow up training, as needed.
The first consultation as part of this regional programme was held in Tonga in December 2016 and the second in Solomon Islands in July 2017. In the next six months, similar consultations are planned in Kiribati, Nauru and Vanuatu.
Honiara, Solomon Islands- Magistrates, lawyers and police prosecutors in the Solomon Islands recently participated in consultations aimed at strengthening their role in the implementation of the Family Protection Act 2014.
The consultations led by the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resources Team (RRRT) and supported by the Government of Australia examined strategies to strengthen the existing systems to support the prevention and protection measures against domestic violence set out in the Act.
Over a period of 10 days from 17 to 26 July, SPC- RRRT conducted three consultations with the following justice-sector service providers: (1) the Magistrates, (2) the Police Prosecutors, and (3) the Public Solicitor’s Office including those working in the outer islands.
The Family protection Act came into force on 1 April 2016. It defines and criminalises domestic violence. The Act prohibits physical, sexual, psychological, and economic abuse against family members.
The Act provides for protection mechanisms to assist those that are affected by domestic violence. Significant is the power of the court to issue Protection Orders, which include various conditions to protect victims of violence within domestic relationships.
Focusing on “The Family Protection Act Human Rights Law and Practice”, the consultations for Magistrates discussed links between gender, human rights and domestic violence; developed tools to support the court in its work on the Family Protection Act and discussed some of the specific legal issues faced when applying the Act, including key challenges.
The Public Solicitor’s and Police Prosecutor’s consultation discussed links between domestic violence, human rights and gender; analysed procedure, evidence and remedies in the Family Protection Act; and examined the role of the Public Solicitors and Police Prosecutors in implementing the Act.
“Crucial to the effective implementation of the Family Protection Act is ensuring the accessibility of remedies provided under the Family Protection Act to victims of family violence. From a human rights lens, combating family violence requires addressing the barriers that confront victims of family violence when they engage with the justice service providers that offer remedies for their protection. These consultations provided an opportunity for Justice Sector Providers to reflect on the implementation of the Family Protection Act to date and provoked critical thinking around the development of practical tools and resources to enhance the implementation the Family Protection Act through their work,” RRRT Acting Director, Nicol Cave said.
SPC RRRT’s support to the Solomon Islands Family Protection Act commenced in 2009 with the placement of a staff member within the Ministry to support the following: the development of the Bill, the creation of the Violence Against Women (VAW) Legislative Task Force in 2010, the development of drafting instructions based on international best practice standards in VAW legislation in 2010 and 2011, public consultations on the Bill in 2011 to 2012, drafting of the Bill in 2013 to 2014, drafting the implementation plan and briefing the members of parliament about the Bill in the months and weeks before the Bill was passed.
The current consultations are part of RRRT’s regional judicial strengthening programme. Through this programme, RRRT works with justice-sector service providers and develops tailor-made training programmes to support Magistrates, lawyers and prosecutors in implementing family violence legislation.
In recognition of the need for continuous engagement with justice actors, RRRT provides on-going support after the initial consultation to collect data and develop judicial tools, and offers follow up training, as needed. The first consultation as part of this regional programme was held in Tonga in December 2016.
In the next six months, similar consultations are planned in Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Vanuatu.
Nadi, Fiji – Representatives of Churches and Faith-based Organisations from nine Pacific countries gathered in Nadi this week (8-10 May) for a consultation convened by the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resources Team (RRRT) to discuss ways in which to work together on implementing Domestic Violence and Family Protection (DVFP) legislation in the region.
Organised by RRRT with the support of the Government of Australia, and co-facilitated by UnitingWorld, the consultation focused on identifying common ground between human rights-based and faith-based approaches to ending violence against women, and working toward marrying these two approaches.
Twelve Pacific Island countries have now enacted some form of DVFP legislation, with Nauru being the most recent in May 2017. The main purpose of this legislation is usually to provide immediate, accessible protection for victims of domestic or intimate partner violence and, in some cases, enable justice for victims. However, as Rev James Bhagwan of the Methodist Church in Fiji pointed out in his opening remarks delivered to the consultation, “Legislation is one thing, implementation is another. We are now faced with the challenge of making this protection real for women and families.”
This is a challenge that RRRT is taking on; in nine countries, RRRT has Country Focal Officers situated in the government ministry responsible for implementing DVFP legislation. This work is undertaken together with governments, international organisations, NGOs and, indeed, faith communities, whose active partnership remains a critical ingredient in spreading awareness, breaking the silence and tackling the stigma around survivors accessing protection. Rev Bhagwan noted that there is nothing new about human rights organisations and faith communities working together; in fact the two often overlap and their histories are intertwined.
“Though they are sometimes positioned in conflict, it is increasingly recognised that there is an intersection between religious values and human rights principles, and that Pacific faith communities must be take the lead if efforts to protect women, children and families are to be meaningful and effective,” he said.
“It has fallen to us, indeed it is our responsibility to connect the head, the heart and the hands in this effort of guiding our communities of faith to recognise the divine imperatives at the core of human rights principles and in our Christian tradition – recognising that even beyond rights – are our individual and collective responsibilities to ensure dignity, safety and the vitality of our women, our children and our families,” Rev Bhagwan added.
The workshop acknowledged that, despite the work of both human rights and faith-based organisations, and despite some major milestones of progress such as passage of new legislation, the Pacific continues to be afflicted by some of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. The enduring scale of the problem mandates an intensified effort on the part of all actors working to end the violence, and closer cooperation than in the past. Human rights and faith-based organisations need to align their messages and, according to Rev Bhagwan, that means learning from each other and working toward a common language.
“For people of faith, that means being able to recognise the heart of secular human rights language. For those in secular organisations it means understanding the theological expressions used by faith communities. Your work is of listening and understanding each other, recognising the truths we both speak and the common objectives we all have.”
The consultation participants agreed that principles such as non-discrimination, equality, human dignity, access to justice, duty of care, love, peace and fullness of life were common to both human rights and faith-based approaches and could underpin this work going forward.
Countries represented included Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu. Guest speakers in attendance included representatives of the Pacific Theological College, House of Sarah, UN Women and the Fiji Police Force.