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Call To Speak Out against Law Changes in Tonga

9 June 2003 Media Release

UNESCO NZ Calls on Pacific States to Speak Out against Law Changes in Tonga


The National Commission for UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in New Zealand is urging Governments in the Pacific to follow the lead from the New Zealand Government and speak out strongly against the Tongan Government’s plans to make legislative changes to its constitution that would result in a serious breach of basic human rights.

“We understand that the law change would in effect legalise an ongoing ban on the distribution of the newspaper Taimi’o Tonga, and we feel this constitutes a breach of press freedom and freedom of expression”, said Laurence Zwimpfer, a member of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO and a member of UNESCO’s 26-country Intergovernmental Council for the Information for All Programme.

“The principles of freedom of expression and press freedom go to the very heart of what UNESCO is all about,” said Mr Zwimpfer. “For a UNESCO member state like Tonga to ignore these principles is a great concern for all Pacific nations.

“New Zealand and other Pacific nations work hard in Paris, where UNESCO is headquartered, to promote the needs of Pacific Island states and secure resources for the region, and to have something like this come along really undermines our efforts,” said Mr Zwimpfer. “How can we make a case to the international community to recognise the special needs of Pacific Island states while Tonga appears to be heading in a direction that is in total conflict with such a basic human rights issue.

“We appeal to the Government of Tonga to reconsider the serious implications of such a law change, and reflect on how damaging such a move could be for Tonga as a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the Pacific Forum.”

The New Zealand National Commission is consulting with UNESCO in Apia and Paris to determine strategies for influencing the Government of Tonga to reconsider this move and immediately remove the ban on Taimi’o Tonga.

“We have asked for this matter to be included on the agenda for our UNESCO Pacific Islands consultation, to be held in Fiji in July. We are gearing up for the biennial UNESCO General Conference, to be held in Paris later this year. Our success as a sub-region depends on a united voice; it is easy for the needs of other regions with much higher populations to swamp the views from the Pacific. The last thing we need is to have one of our Pacific member states out of step on such a fundamental human rights principle,” Mr Zwimpfer said.

“We support the practical initiatives of organisations like the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), that hosted a workshop in Tonga on World Press Freedom Day (3 May 2003) to debate the current controversy.

“We hope that through dialogue and an ongoing international exchange of views, Tonga may find another way to address its concerns without threatening press freedom or freedom of expression by its citizens.”


For further Information please contact:

Laurence Zwimpfer
UNESCO NZ National Commission
Ph +64-4-472 9797

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