Tonga’s Prime Minister said, “We are not trying to impress anyone. This was a sovereign decision made by the Government of Tonga…,” when he was asked why Tonga had opposed the UN General Assembly resolution that called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian ceasefire” between Israeli forces and Hamas in Gaza.
Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni was responding to a journalist who asked if Tonga was trying to impress rich potential aid donors with its “No” vote.
Tonga was one of only 14 countries, including the U.S and Israel, to reject the resolution, which urged the cessation of hostilities. However, the resolution brought by Jordan and co-sponsored by nearly 50 countries, was adopted late on Friday.
After rejecting an amendment proposed by Canada and the United States, the General Assembly, by 120 votes in favour, 14 against and 45 abstentions, on 27 October adopted a non-binding resolution calling for an immediate and sustained humanitarian truce. It also called for “continuous, sufficient and unhindered” provision of lifesaving supplies and services for civilians trapped inside the Gaza enclave, as the UN learned that Israel had expanded ground operations and intensified its bombing campaign.
At Wednesday’s media briefing in Nuku’alofa, the Prime Minister Hu’akavemeiliku called on his Minister for Foreign Affairs, Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu, to explain Tonga’s position.
She said the reason why they had voted against the resolution was because it did not include the proposed amendment seeking an explicit condemnation of the Hamas, attack against Israel on October 7, and Israel’s right to defend itself. – an amendment that Tonga backed, but did not pass, as it failed to get two-thirds support.
The amendment by Canada has been widely criticised for not including calls for Israel to not attack civilians.
Fekitamoeloa answering questions Wednesday, said that Tonga’s vote did not mean that they opposed the whole resolution.
“Tonga supports the call for humanitarian support, however, because of the UN condition for voting on a resolution, a country vote cannot be based on just a part, but of the whole resolution,” she said.
“That is why Tonga voted against the Resolution,” Fekitamoeloa said.
She said that Tonga stands for Human Rights and cited two points of the Geneva Conventions:
Firstly, is “the protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War..” (fourth Geneva Convention, including that the Detaining Power provides for the maintenance of prisoners of war. (Article 15 of the third Convention).
Secondly, is “self-defence”, the right of a State to use of force in response to an armed attack.
“The government of Tonga does not support the illegal killing of people, especially women and children, in Gaza. But, every country has their right to protect its own country according to clause 51 Charter of the UN,” Fekitamoeloa said.
The Minister detailed four main reasons for Tonga’s rejection of the UN Resolution for a humanitarian ceasefire:
Firstly, a condemnation of the attack made by Hamas on Israel on 7 October, was not included in the Resolution.
Secondly, Israel’s right to protect its people and land from the attack, was not included in the Resolution.
Thirdly, “We should remember that we recently just rescued 61 people from Israel, amid Hamas attack. If Israel didn’t defend themselves, the consequences would be different for the lives of these Tongans that got out.”
Fourthly, that this resolution focused on the commitment between country states members, she said, “Whereas, Hamas is a terrorists’ organisation, they would not consider the Resolution.”
“Tonga supports Israel in the right to protect their own country, at the same time, also recognises the need for humanitarian aid to reach the people in Gaza,” she said.
Prime Minister Sovaleni was asked, whether Tonga’s “No” vote contradicted King Tupou V’s statement on Tonga’s support for peace at the opening of the 2023 session of Tonga’s Legislative Assembly, in June, when the King said, “while the wars in faraway countries have also impacted us but we remain in our support for peace.”
Fekitamoeloa answered on the PM’s behalf and said: “No, the vote did not contradict the Kings statement… We are a permanent member of the UN, and every country under the UN has a commitment to uphold peace and security.”
“The resolution vote does not influence our stand for peace.”
Fekitamoeloa also explained that the resolution that came from the General Assembly relating to security is not binding: “the resolution was raised by Jordan …so Tonga was not in favour of all this resolution, it was only the issue relating to humanitarian aid…was supported, but according to the Resolution, it is simply, your response is Yes or No.”
Also present at the joint media briefing, covering a range of topics, was the Australian High Commissioner, Rachael Moore.
Commenting on the UN vote she thought Australia was: “very disappointed to abstain and that was because we felt the statement was incomplete the attack on 07 October.”
“We have committed significant humanitarian assistance into Palestine, most recently an additional 15 million AUD, we understand the severity of the humanitarian situation…But that statement was incomplete according to our foreign policy position because of the absence of those statements that recognise the beginning of this conflict from October – understanding that it is within the broader context of decades of difficulty.”
Among the 45 countries that abstained, 15 were from the EU. Samoa also abstained.
The 14 countries that voted ‘No” were the U.S, joined by Austria, Croatia, Czechia, Fiji, Guatemala, Hungary, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay and Tonga. Although the General Assembly resolutions are an important expression of world opinion, the Assembly cannot force a Member State to follow its recommendations on a particular issue.