Gender-based violence in families – including sexual-related violence - is top of the agenda for the Pacific Islands Law Officers' Network (P.I.L.O.N.) meeting, which started in Apia yesterday.
Guided by the theme- “Through fundamentals and common sense, we can tackle the most complex legal issues”, the three-day conference was opened by Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.
The Prime Minister reminded that gender-based violence is a very sensitive issue not only in Samoa, but also in other Pacific countries.
“The topic is continuously discussed in different meetings,” he said. “But this is particularly targeting legal officers and police who are in the forefront in the fight to deter such violence in our countries.”
According to Tuilaepa, discussions on the issue have raised the profile in terms of public awareness.
“The theme of this meeting is a reminder that no matter how hard the problem is, our legal officers should remember and understand the basic legal principles,” he said. “And it is this through this good understanding that they can apply common sense to provide solutions that make common sense for the Pacific.”
There are 56 participants attending the meeting with 13 participants from the different countries from the Pacific - including Australia.
Attorney General, Lemalu Herman Retzlaff, believes the conference is essential both for local lawyers and their colleagues from around the region.
“The Attorney General office is supporting this meeting hundred percent,” he said. “P.I.L.O.N is the key support from New Zealand and Australia for not only Samoa but also for the Pacific. So it is our responsibility at the A.G’s Office to make sure that P.I.L.O.N programmes are not only supported but also encouraged.”
According to Lemalu, a similar meeting was held in November last year, where top lawyers, judges and Justices of the High Court from Australia and New Zealand came and listened.
“So this is a little bit different from that,” he said. “This meeting is crucial because it aims at tackling the issue of violence based in families. And instead of getting the outside judges and lawyers, we are using our local judges and lawyers.
“So that is the fundamental reason why this is a very good programme. It deals with an issue that is very sensitive in our country. Therefore, it is appropriate that our local lawyers and judges are doing it.”
The Police Commissioner, Fuiavailili Egon Keil, couldn’t agree more.
“It is very important not only for lawyers, judges and justices but also for Samoa Police,” he said. “Because there are a lot of parts that we need to grow in and this is one of them discussed here which is prosecution and conviction because we assist the National Prosecution Office.
“And the better we do our job as cops, investigations and such, present a better case at the N.P.O, the better it is for them to determine if they can prosecute a case or not.”
He added that the Police play a huge role in the exercise. This is because they deal with the issues from the ground level aspect of the criminal justice system.
“And if we don’t do it right in this foundation level, it is never going to be strong as it should be.
“So it is very important for us to listen and learn because there is always growth in things like this. And we always gain something from meetings like this and it can help us do our job more efficient and accountable in the way we do our job in Samoa.”
The meeting will involve a workshop focusing on practical skills required by law enforcement agencies in dealing with family violence and sexual based violence.