A National Public Inquiry on Family Violence led by the Office of the Ombudsman, which is also the National Human Rights Institution of Samoa, has been launched. The Inquiry will be carried out by three Commissioners including former Cabinet Minister, Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Lei’ataua, Auckland University of Technology’s Tagaloatele Dr. Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop and the National University of Samoa’s Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea. It will be Chaired by the Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma. At the launch of the Inquiry on Thursday, this is what Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said:
Welcome to each and every one and thank you all, particularly to the survivors of family violence for being here today. I am happy to be here to celebrate the international Human Rights Day 2016 and to officially launch the National Public Inquiry into Family Violence in Samoa.
Rights Day 2016
Today we celebrate Human Rights Day, which is observed by the international community every year on the 10th of December. Since the 10th falls on a Saturday this year – which is a day of worship and rest for some of us, we will have an early celebration.
Human Rights Day commemorates the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many human rights have been recorded internationally in human rights documents by the United Nations. The Declaration forms the basis of these documents. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights that belong to all of us because we are human.
We celebrate this day to remember and to reaffirm the realisation, the protection, and promotion of each and everyone’s human rights.
The theme for this year’s Human Rights Day is a call on everyone to “Stand up for Someone’s Rights today!” It starts with each one of us to protect, to respect and to help one other. We all are encouraged, today and every day to step up, step forward and be a protector to defend the rights of a person that has been violated whether it be your partner, your parents, your siblings, your children and even your neighbour.
In exercising our individual rights, we must remember that every person, equally to us, has rights - a parent, a partner or spouse, a sibling, a child and even a neighbour. In enjoying our own rights therefore, it behoves us to be mindful of another person’s rights and to stand up for their rights if they are being violated or not respected.
Launch of National Inquiry
It is fitting that on this day we launch the first ever National Human Rights Public Inquiry in this country and indeed in any Pacific Island nation. It is to be on Family Violence.
The Government of Samoa has acted on recommendations from the various UN treaty bodies, including the Human Right Council, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child to reduce the prevalence of violence within Samoa and has implemented several laws and policies to that effect.
Examples include the establishment of the Domestic Violence Unit, the Family Court, the Family Safety Act 2013, and amendments to the Crimes Ordinance 1961. The Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development have carried out various community awareness and educational programmes with the aim of reducing of domestic violence in Samoa. With the help of the United Nations Population Fund, the Men Against Violence Advocacy Group was established to lead advocacy on this issue that target men.
Despite these initiatives, violence within the family continues to be a serious problem in Samoa.
The Government is committed to the protection of human rights in Samoa. This is reflected in the enactment of the Ombudsman (Komesina o Sulufaiga) Act 2013 giving the Office of the Ombudsman the mandate to function as Samoa’s National Human Rights Institution.
National Human Rights Institutions are independent bodies that monitor, protect and promote human rights in their respective countries.
One function of Samoa’s National Human Rights Institution is to report on the state of human rights in Samoa to the Parliament by the end of June each year. Parliament has already received two State of Human Right reports since the National Human Rights Institution’s inception.
I am proud to say the Office of the Ombudsman was graded as an ‘A’ status NHRI by the international accrediting body, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions earlier this year. This accreditation at the highest level reflects international recognition of the independence of the Office and its work.
I welcome the decision of the Ombudsman to use the power under the Ombudsman’s Act to examine violence within the family unit as its first National inquiry. Domestic violence is an ugly violation of fundamental human rights faced by many people around the world, including in Samoa, with serious repercussions for children, women, families and communities.
A national inquiry will allow survivors of family violence and anyone who is affected or interested to come forward and give evidence to the Ombudsman and his fellow Commissioners. Studies have shown that when a survivor is presented an opportunity to come forward and tell his or her story of human rights abuse to someone of authority, it helps in the long road to recovery and reconciliation.
The Inquiry will assist the government, as well as relevant non-government organisations, villages and the churches to better understand the overall situation, to see what is working well, what the gaps are in the current systems that need to be addressed, and most importantly to identify new counter measures and new participants to join the fight against violence in the Samoan home.
The Inquiry will provide a report with recommendations to the Parliament at the end of its work. I look forward to receiving that report and to using it to enable the Government and Samoan society as a whole to better protect people and to strike a telling blow to family violence.
The Inquiry will be carried out over 12 months starting January 2017. It will be steered by proficient and renowned Commissioners who are knowledgeable on the issues to help the Ombudsman. The Inquiry Commission will comprise of:
1. The Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, who is also the Chairman;
2. Hon Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Leiataua, former Parliamentarian, Speaker of Parliament and Cabinet Minister;
3. Professor Tagaloatele Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, Professor of Pacific Studies, Auckland University of Technology; and
4. Leasiolagi Professor Malama Meleisea, Director, Centre for Samoan Studies, National University of Samoa.
On behalf of the Government, I wish everyone listening a peaceful and reflective Human Rights Day. I offer the Office of the Ombudsman full support and wish the Ombudsman and his fellow Commissioners well in their arduous work ahead.