First Published: 27 March 2003
A crowd of over six thousand people marched to the New Zealand High Commission Office yesterday to present a petition to repeal that country’s Citizenship Act, 1982.
Singing old Samoan chants and tunes, the young, the old and the ‘very old’ braved the midday sun and later, a slight drizzle, to deliver what has been described as, ‘Samoans’ claims to their birthright.’
They were greeted at the New Zealand office entrance by High Commissioner, Dr Penelope Ridings and several of his staff.
In brief but moving sermon, Rev Lotu Uele pointed to the ‘sleepless nights’ Samoans had to endure so that this “part of their rightful heritage can be reclaimed.” How this ‘Christian nation’ seeks to follow the proper New Zealand parliamentary channels to reclaim this right.
Representing the petitioners, orator Leatiogie Leuluaialii Leota Le Ituau Ale, in a few direct words presented the marches ‘mau’ (opinion).
“We, Samoa has gathered today, to ask the New Zealand government, to repeal the (Citizenship) Act so that it would enable our people to have the citizenship that is rightfully ours,” he said. The petition was then handed over by local Petition Committee chairperson, lawyer Maiava Visekota Peteru.
In return, speaking in Samoan Dr Ridings assured the petitioners that she would promptly hand over “the signatures” in its ‘normal path’ to the New Zealand parliament.
“The petition would then be forwarded to a parliamentary select committee who would look into the matter.”
Dr Ridings also reiterated on the ‘close and strong relationship’ between Samoa and New Zealand which culminated in an official apology by Prime Minister Helen Clarke to the Samoan people “for past wrongs.”
She also spoke of the success of New Zealand’s Pacific Island community in the spheres of politics, arts and sports and how it has continued to provide a positive contribution to New Zealand society.
“Prime Minister Helen Clarke and her government have always been, and continues to be, a strong supporter of Pacific Island development and initiatives.”
As the march was underway in Apia yesterday, a similar march was also making their way to the New Zealand Parliament in Wellington.
Though no word has been received on its outcome, the march presented a petition of over 80,000 names to the New Zealand citizenship under the New Zealand British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act, and a Privy Council ruling in London that year.
On 28 July 1982, the Privy Council in London upheld the New Zealand British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act, and ruled that appellant, Falema’i Lesa of Wellington, was eligible for New Zealand citizenship under that Act.
The New Zealand-British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act, the council ruled, clearly states that all Samoans born in Western Samoa between 1924 and 1948 are New Zealand citizens, as are their children.
Clause 16, Part 3 of that ACT states that “A person who is a British subject immediately before the date of commencement of this Act shall on that date become a New Zealand citizen if he was born in Western Samoa.”
On 21 August that same year, the then Acting Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana, signed a Protocol to the Treaty of Friendship between Samoa and NZ which implied acceptance of the NZ move to void the Privy Council ruling.
According to Anae, there was nothing in the Protocol that states that Samoa had given up its rights to New Zealand citizenship.
“The Privy Council ruling had nothing to do with the Protocol,” claims petition organiser and former New Zealand MP, Anae Arthur Anae.
He also pointed out that of the 106 rulings by the Privy Council, only four have been overturned by the New Zealand Parliament.
Two were on Maori land, one on taxation and this case on Samoan citizenship.
“That, in my view, was a deliberate act by the New Zealand government to restrict Samoan access to New Zealand citizenship.”
The Act was also criticized by the Human Rights Commission before it was passed.
“The Human Rights Commission considers that the Citizenship Bill involves a denial of basic human rights in that it seeks to deprive a particular group of New Zealanders of their citizenship on the basis that they are Polynesians of Samoan origin.”
According to the petitioners, the Citizenship Act was racist and discriminatory.
Anae Afa Anae has said the organizers of the petition would like to see the issue given to a committee of parliament for review and further consideration.
The petitioners also have in mind to take the matter to the UN Human Rights Commission, but only after other avenues have been exhausted.
He said this was a costly exercise.