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Tuvaluans Asserting Their Rights More - Helping them is UNDP's RRRT

Pacific Magazine, October 2003

By Samisoni Pareti

Standing for your rights...Sussie Kofe teaching Tuvaluans to assert their rights


Small may be beautiful but the fundamental rights of individuals still ought to be respected and ideals of democracy championed.

This in a way is the underlying theme of UNDP's Regional Rights Resource Team's (RRRT) work in the tiny island nation of Tuvalu.

Being a country of no more than 10,000 people, any other international agency would have opted to use its limited resource and expertise in much more populated nations.

Not the UNDP though. Since the formation of RRRT in the region in August, 1995 and funding from the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, RRRT has been conducting various legal training workshops in Funafuti, targeting policymakers in government and the community.

"Subjects of human rights, democracy, good governance, family law, national laws, international laws and (Tuvalu) constitution are the predominant areas that I focus on a lot in my awareness raising work," explains Sussie Kofe, RRRT's Legal Rights Training Officer in Funafuti.

A trained schoolteacher, she joined the team in 2001 and holds a master's degree in education from Victoria University in Wellington.

I use the radio a lot in my awareness raising activities and these radio programmes vary from normal lecture format to panel discussions and group debates.

"The goal is to create an enabling environment in Tuvalu that respects the principles of democracy and human rights with a focus on social justice and the reduction of poverty."

Kofe said it is culturally inappropriate for her to select those attending her training, which is why she leaves it up to organisations to nominate their own candidates. Ultimately, women and community leaders form the bulk of the attendees.

Teaching people about human rights and democracy is one thing, but getting them to assert those rights is another. For this, former director of women in Tuvalu's department of women affairs, seeing trainees push for good governance and accountability in public and community affairs is proof that RRRT's work in the atoll nation is bearing fruit.

When asked about tangible evidence of her work, Kofe listed a few which included:

  • A change in leadership with a former prime minister's humiliating loss in last year's general election, scoring only less than 50 votes in his constituency.
  • An increase in clients seeking legal advice.
  • Policy change in scholarship provisions concerning pregnant women. Government was forced to drop its policy of terminating scholarships of women who became pregnant after the policy was described as a perfect example of a national policy that truly violates principles of human rights of women and the spirit of the constitution.
  • Opening up the government's top ten scholarship awards to other students in Tuvalu and abroad, and no longer restricted to Tuvalu's only secondary school as was the practice.
  • Pushing for the removal of former Fijian Finance Minister Jim Ah Koy as Tuvalu Government's representative on the Air Fiji board.

For the future, Kofe would like to get enough funding to take her training into the outer islands of Tuvalu.
 



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