Samoa celebrates 70th Anniversary of Human Rights Declaration

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written and adopted by the United Nations in 1948, exactly seventy years ago this week.

It outlines thirty basic human rights, which according to article two of the declaration are an entitlement of all people, “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

On Monday evening, a crowd gathered at Apia’s Apollo Cinema to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the declaration (U.D.H.R), and hear reflections on the hard-won rights it enshrines.

Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa gave the keynote address, where she announced Samoa is looking at becoming a party to the United Nations convention against torture.

“We are committed to monitoring human rights, to make a safer, more democratic Samoa,” Fiame said.

“Human rights are often perceived as contrary to the fa’asamoa, but the values of mutual respect, freedom, dignity, equality and security are all present in the fa’asamoa too.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), headed by Ms Nisha hosted the event, where they invited a panel of speakers to precede a film screening.

The film Waru is a New Zealand work, created by eight female Maori directors who filmed a single 10-minute shot each of the film, one of whom, Paula Jones, was chaired the panel and introduced her work.

Waru tells the story of an eight-year-old boy’s funeral, and his death at the hands of his caregiver. The story of domestic violence and abuse is not unfamiliar to New Zealand, nor to Samoa.

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Samoa Observer Editor Mata’afa Keni Lesa, Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma and UNESCO representative to the Pacific Ms Nisha each offered their unique thoughts on the 70 year anniversary.

Speaking on Samoa’s relative peacefulness, Maiava said there are no horrendous human rights violations here.

“We have no ethnic tensions leading to mistreatment of large sections of the population… no political or military power grabs pitting sector against sector of our people in brutal confrontations. 

“Harm we experience as human being in this very lucky country come from within our own kinship and communal space. We are our own enemy in this respect. That is the sad fact,” he said.

Mata’afa focused on Article 19 of the UDHR, the right to freedom of expression, and how that right comes with a weight of responsibility.

“Freedom of expression is one thing, abusing people and making unfounded allegations under the guise of freedom of expression, especially when the writer is faceless, is something else,” he said.

“Whereas freedom of expression is a fundamental human right… the latter is damaging and must never be tolerated. It eventually makes a mockery of the very freedom our forebears shed their blood and tears over so we can live and enjoy such fantastic freedom today.”

The event was formally opened by the chairperson of Samoa’s Human Rights Commission, Minister for Education Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio.

To close the panel, Ms Nisha said as long as somewhere in the world, human rights are being violated, there will not be peace in the world. 

She also honoured human rights champions in Samoa, like Siliniu Lina Chang from Samoa Victims Support Group, Gabrielle Apelu promoting female leadership in sport and Dr Mercy Ah Siu Maliko for her work on violence against women.

“This list is not exhaustive, but it is a chance to say thank you,” Ms Nisha said.

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