The Office of the Ombudsman/National Human Rights Institution (N.H.R.I) was recently graded as an ‘A status’ Institution by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (G.A.N.H.R.I) during its Accreditation session held in Geneva on May 2016 and publicly released on the 5th of this month.
The G.A.N.H.R.I is a network of N.H.R.Is from all around the world, which coordinates the relationship between N.H.R.Is and the United Nations human rights system. It is the only non-UN organisation whose internal review accreditation system grants access for an N.H.R.I to various committees within the United Nations, including the UN Human Rights Council.
The ‘A’ level rating means that the Office of the Ombudsman/N.H.R.I is now able to engage with various human rights bodies and participate independently at the UN Human Rights Council and its subsidiary bodies. The accreditation decision also means that the Office joins other ‘A status’ N.H.R.Is in the Asia Pacific Region as full member of the Asia Pacific Forum (A.P.F) of National Human Rights Institution.
Kieren Fitzpatrick, Director of the A.P.F secretariat, said: “The Sub-Committee’s decision reflects the strong legislation that underpins Samoa’s N.H.R.I and the tremendous work it has done since it was established in 2013. We hope the structure adopted by Samoa may serve as a model for other Pacific Island nations and to Small Island States, and inspire them to take steps to establish their own N.H.R.Is”.
The Office has traditionally had the mandate to investigate matters of good- governance in public administration.
However, in 2013 the Office was given additional mandates with regard to police conduct and to be Samoa’s National Human Rights Institution. Samoa submitted its application to the G.A.N.H.R.I last year for assessment for accreditation during its 2016 session. After the G.A.N.H.R.I has reviewed an application from an N.H.R.I, it gives the institution a grading in relation to how well that country’s N.H.R.I is compliant with what is known as the Paris Principles. The Paris Principles are a set of UN criteria which set out how a N.H.R.I is to perform its function as an independent institution which protects and promotes human rights.
The grading of ‘A’ status is the highest grading a N.H.R.I can be awarded. The Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, says “the grading of the Office as an ‘A’ level N.H.R.I is in recognition of its independence from government and the work that the Office has done in the past two years.”
The Ombudsman further adds “while the Office is delighted in the achieving ‘A’ status, I am determined not to become complacent.
“There is still much work to be done in promoting human rights in Samoa. There is still confusion in Samoa about the true nature of human rights. Some like to portray it as a foreign idea. In many respects Human rights and fa’asamoa complement each other in fundamental respects and we will continue to emphasize this relationship in our work with our community”.
The Office of the Ombudsman recently submitted its 2nd State of Human Rights Report, which this year is on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and expects to make this available soon to the public.