Samoa is hailed as a model for human rights in the region
The Office of the Ombudsman in Samoa has released the country's first Human Rights Review report, revealing a number of issues of concern and producing over 30 recommendations for action.
The Office of the Ombudsman in Samoa has released the country's first Human Rights Review report, revealing a number of areas of concern and producing over 30 recommendations for action.
The report highlights issues like gender inequality, the rights of children and the disabled, and overcrowding in prisons, but one of the key themes is the link between human rights and fa'a samoa or the 'Samoan way'.
Koro Vaka'uta reports.
One issue the report points to is the difficulty women have in participating in village-based political decision-making because some traditional practices hinder or exclude them. It says this translates into under-representation at the national level. A similar study this year which showed 93 percent of matai title holders are men. Women have never held more than five of the 49 seats in parliament since the country gained independence in 1962. Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma says the report provides an opportunity for Samoans to analyse themselves and their traditional ways.
MAIAVA IULAI TOMA: It causes us also to look at our own situation, how we are exercising human rights because we believe that the Fa'a Samoa is a very humane system. It's time we really look if we are living up to how we ought to be.
The report indicates that some Samoans view human rights as a foreign concept and our correspondent, Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia, says this may come down to a case of 'lost in translation'.
AUTAGAVAIA TIPI AUTAGAVAIA: There is a misinterpretation of human rights from English into Samoan and according to the ombudsman we have nothing to do with the words 'aia tatau' which is 'human rights'.
The report says 'aia' on its own is very powerful and implies 'you have no control over me' which may be where the idea of culture and rights being incompatibile comes from. The acting head of the UN Human Rights Office for the Pacific, Catherine Phuong, agrees that there is a misconception.
CATHERINE PHUONG: What this report does quite well and explains it quite clearly is that human rights is actually not incompatible with Samoan culture. That human rights is based on a number of values which include tolerance and respect which are also a part of Samoan culture.
Ms Phoung says Samoa is now providing an example for the rest of the region.
CATHERINE PHUONG: Until only a few months ago when Fiji re-established its own national human rights institution, until then Samoa was really the only Pacific island country to have a national human rights institution. It's really seen as a model now for the rest of the region and it's doing very good work.
Included among the report's many recommendations is for the government and Samoa Law Reform Commission to consider drafting the Village Fono Act which would require leaders to take into account women's participation in decision making within the village. It also calls for economic empowerment programmes aimed at rural women in particular and the launch of a Women's Rights Campaign within a year.
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