The National Human Rights Institution has wrapped up Samoa’s first National Public Inquiry – into Family Violence under s 41 of the Ombudsman Act 2013.
This section of the Act is concerned with systemic or widespread issues or practice/s that violates human rights.
The Inquiry took up months of consultations with relevant N.G.O’s/Government Ministries/International Partners, Community Bodies and the general public in villages across Samoa and weeks of hearing testimonies and submissions (both written and verbal) from all interested members of the public including survivors, perpetrators, village, specialists, academics and church leaders.
Submissions and evidence were carefully examined by the Commissioners of the Inquiry during its sitting period and three days debriefing following the public and closed/private hearings.
The remaining task is to compile the report that will be submitted to Parliament.
This exercise yet again highlighted that family violence in our homes is real and spiralling out of control.
The Commissioners also heard an overwhelming consensus for action to be taken by families, matai, village councils and churches, in conjunction with the central and crucial role that the Government must continue to play in combating family violence. Views expressed show how normalised family violence has become in Samoan attitudes and mindsets.
Maiava Iulai Toma, Ombudsman and Chair of the Inquiry, commented,
“This national conversation reaffirmed that we are very proud of our Christianity and our Culture but we have failed ourselves in both and have allowed ourselves to become bankrupt in both as far as this issue concerned.”
A harrowing part of the Commission’s work was going through written submissions and hearing closed/private verbal submissions from survivors of family violence.
The common types of violence shared to the Commissioners included emotional abuse which normally triggers by verbal abuse, acts and words that causes fear, shaming, or humiliation to undermine the other person’s self-esteem and self-worth.
And unfortunately, this particular type of violence was more common than any of us would like to think.
Adults have come to see no harm in dishing out threating words to young children and to each other. Expressions of violent and threatening words have become normal in our everyday life that we do not acknowledge but it’s every bit as damaging as physical violence.
Other violence heard by the Commissioners included sexual abuse including incest, physical violence against children, violence against in-laws and intimate partner violence.
The Commissioner acknowledge greatly the bravery efforts of all those who came forward to share their stories. Their willingness and positive response was greatly appreciated and a great encouragement to our collective efforts to rid Samoa of violence in our home.
“It came many times across that women tolerate the problem and see it as a personal cross to bear. There were views that if you have faith and patience then things would be OK in the end. What happens in the meantime and to the other members of the family who witness the violence? We need to make the point that we are not just talking about the number of cases but the number of people involved and affected in each case” Commission members.
A church leader’s honest comment that “the church has failed” reflected many views expressed by the public that church leaders needed to step up.
“Some church ministers perhaps see it as just a matter of singing and highlighting through Sunday sermons how the bible doesn’t advocate violence. They under-estimate their potential and usefulness and do not do any counselling with congregation members or families. Some hardly interact with their congregations at all. This is all part of the decline and the problem we are facing”, Inquiry witness.
Time and again the Commission noted Alii and Faipule giving verbal submissions and indicating in village consultations that everything was rosy in their villages “our village is very peaceful, we hardly have any issues such as violence in our village”.
The fact of the matter however is countless cases of family violence occurring in homes amidst a culture of silence and ignorance which override initiative and the need to seek help, report to police or the village councils.
In the end Maiava, Ombudsman and Chairman stressed “we have very good laws in place for Samoa to combat violence, we have the structures and institutions to drive practical measures, what we really need and is very lacking as a community is the willpower to go along with our willingness to change.” He further added, “I encourage individuals, government ministries and organisations who are fighting this social issue to keep at it, do not be discouraged with the state things are in now because change does not come overnight.”
The Commissioners and Inquiry staff are now drafting the report. The deadline for when the report is due to Parliament is June 2018. According to the Chairman, “This does not mean we are aiming for June, we would like for the report to be ready sooner, and that is what we are aiming for.”