Human rights in Tuvalu
Tuvalu is a small island nation in the South Pacific. The population at the 2012 census was 10,837 (2012 Population & Housing Census Preliminary Analytical Report). Tuvalu has a written constitution which includes a statement of rights influenced by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. While most human rights in Tuvalu are respected, areas of concern include women’s rights and freedom of belief, as well as diminishing access to human rights in the face of global warming.
The Constitution of Tuvalu states that it is "the supreme law of Tuvalu" and that "all other laws shall be interpreted and applied subject to this Constitution"; it sets out the Principles of the Bill of Rights and the Protection of the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.
Tuvalu became one of the smallest members of the United Nations on 5 September 2000. It has ratified two of the nine core human rights treaties - The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). During its Universal Period Review in December 2008, Tuvalu accepted recommendations to ratify human rights treaties to which it is not yet a party, yet it refused to amend domestic law in order to be in compliance with CEDAW. Tuvalu has now ratified CRPD. Tuvalu issued a standing invitation to special procedures on 26 April 2013. The Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation visited Tuvalu in July 2012.
Tuvalu acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1999, however it has not been implemented into Tuvalu’s national legal system.
Tuvalu law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, colour, and place of origin, with no mention of gender. In 2005 the High Court of Tuvalu held that this omission was deliberate, therefore there is no constitutional protection against sex discrimination. Domestic violence is a problem in Tuvalu, with a 2007 demographic and health survey conducted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community reporting that approximately 47 percent of the women surveyed had experienced some type of violence in their lifetime. Police have been criticised for seeking to address violence against women using traditional and customary methods of reconciliation rather than criminal prosecution.
The UN CEDAW Committee observations on the 2015 review of Tuvalu notes the introduction of new domestic violence legislation, more participation by women in local council meetings and the end of some discriminatory education practices. However the Committee highlighted that women in Tuvalu continue to have low levels of political participation and economic participation. Violence against women is also described as a concern because of the "cultural and the silence and also impunity and this also really stops women to report the cases."
While sodomy is illegal in Tuvalu and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment, this law has not been used to prosecute citizens in recent years, and discrimination based on sexual orientation is not common.
As it is a low lying island, it has been predicted that Tuvalu will be the first nation to be wiped out due to global warming. The impact of global warming is curtailing some of the human rights of Tuvalu’s citizens including the right to life and the right to health. If Tuvalu is able to establish these human rights violations, it may be able to seek injunctive relief to prevent States from continuing to contribute to global warming through the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Those seeking to leave the island due to global warming do not fit the legal definition of a ‘refugee’, as set out in the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Thus as current international law stands, Tuvaluans seeking to escape the effects of global warming are not privy to the extensive legal protections offered to those who do fulfil the definition of refugee.
In 2014 attention was drawn to an appealed to the New Zealand Immigration and Protection Tribunal against the deportation of a Tuvaluan family on the basis that they were “climate change refugees”, who would suffer hardship resulting from the environmental degradation of Tuvalu. However the subsequent grant of residence permits to the family was made on grounds unrelated to the refugee claim. The family was successful in their appeal because, under the relevant immigration legislation, there were “exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature” that justified the grant of resident permits as the family was integrated into New Zealand society with a sizeable extended family which had effectively relocated to New Zealand. Indeed, in 2013 a claim of a Kiribati man of being a “climate change refugee” under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) was determined by the New Zealand High Court to be untenable. Permanent migration to Australia and New Zealand, such as for family reunification, requires compliance with the immigration legislation of those countries.
National human rights institution
Tuvalu lacks a national human rights institution, and most enquiries from the public relating to human rights are received by the Tuvalu National Council of Women (TNCW)’s Legal Rights Training Officer and the Office of the People’s Lawyer. Both NGOs and Youth Groups alike run human rights workshops to inform their respective audiences of their rights.
In 2014 the office of the Chief Ombudsman was established, with the appointment of Sa'aga Talu Teafa. The primary role of the Chief Ombudsman is to work to achieve good governance through the enforcement of the Leadership Code Act.
Freedom of belief
The Church of Tuvalu, (Te Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu) is the de facto state church of Tuvalu, although in practice this merely entitles it to "the privilege of performing special services on major national events". Theologically the Church of Tuvalu is part of the Reformed tradition. Its adherents comprise about 97% of the 10,837 (2012 census) inhabitants of Tuvalu.
According to the 2008 Universal Periodic Review, the People’s Lawyer’s Office has received complaints from religious organizations concerned by limitations on their activities in the outer islands. In 2009 the Court of Appeal of Tuvalu confirmed the freedom of religious organisations to carry out their activities in a case that considered the freedoms of religion, expression and association that are set out in the Constitution of Tuvalu against the values of Tuvaluan culture and social stability that are also referred to in the Constitution.
Religious groups remain free to proselytizing or holding meetings, although the U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2014 noted reports of discrimination against followers of non-traditional and minority religious groups who are viewed by some Tuvaluans as disrupting traditional societal structures.
- "Tuvalu: Millennium Development Goal Acceleration Framework - Improving Quality of Education" (PDF). Ministry of Education and Sports, and Ministry of Finance and Economic Development from the Government of Tuvalu; and the United Nations System in the Pacific Islands. April 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
- Farran, Sue. "Human Rights in the Pacific Region - Challenges and Solutions" LAWASIA Journal (2005) at p. 41.
- "PACLII". The Constitution of Tuvalu. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
- "Tuvalu Islands". The Constitution of Tuvalu. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
- Member States of the United Nations
- Universal Periodic Review: Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Tuvalu A/HRC/WG.6/3/TUV/1 (12 September 2008), para 29, 46-47, 40, 41, 48-49.
- UPR Recommendations
- Report of Special Rapporteur Visit
- "2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Tuvalu)" (PDF). U.S. State Department. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
- "Long way to go for women in Tuvalu". Radio New Zealand International. 10 March 2015. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
- Duong, Tiffany T.V. "When Islands Drown: The Plight of "Climate Change Refugees" and Recourse to International Human Rights Law" University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law Vol.31 Issue 4
- Rick, Noack (7 August 2014). "Has the era of the ‘climate change refugee’ begun?". Washington Post. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
- Rive, Vernon (14 August 2014). ""Climate refugees" revisited: a closer look at the Tuvalu decision". Point Source. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
- Vernon Rive (14 August 2014). ""Climate refugees" revisited: a closer look at the Tuvalu decision". Point Source. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
Teitiota v Chief Executive of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment  NZHC 3125 (26 November 2013) Priestley J. stated “The attempt to expand dramatically the scope of the Refugee Convention and particularly Article 1A(2) is impermissible. The optimism and novelty of the applicant’s claim does not, in the context of well settled law and the current concerns of the international community, convert the unhappy position of the applicant and other inhabitants of Kiribati into points of law.”
- Online Editor (12 August 2014). "PACNEWS". Tuvalu appoints first Chief Ombudsman. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- "2010 Report on International Religious Freedom - Tuvalu". United States Department of State. 17 November 2010. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
- "Te Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu". Reformiert Online/Reformed Online. 2015. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
- "International Religious Freedom Report for 2014: Tuvalu". United States Department of State - Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. 2014. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
- Universal Periodic Review of Tuvalu
- 2010 Human Rights Reports: Tuvalu (US State Department)
- Constitution of Tuvalu