“We are our own enemy in this respect”

Maiava Iulai Toma 

Ombudsman

Remarks at the 70th Anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights celebration 

 

I’ve been asked to shed light on the emerging challenges of Human Rights in Samoa/ and the approach of the country in addressing them/ in approximately four to five minutes. ---I know you are keen to see the movie, so I will aim for three minutes.

 I will say at the outset that Samoa is a very blessed country in almost any aspect you can think of. 

We are certainly fortunate in not having any of the horrendous violations of Human Rights that is so evident in less fortunate places around the world. 

We have no ethnic tensions leading to mistreatment of large sections of the population. We have no political or military power grabs/ pitting sector against sector of our people in brutal confrontations. We are united as a people/ of a mix we are accustomed to and pretty much comfortable with.

 Harm we experience as human beings/ 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. 

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It all arises from how we conduct our relationships within our homes. How we exercise authority and leadership in our homes. 

How men treat women, husbands their wives in our own homes; and how we raise our children in our own homes. Without intending it, the end result of what we are doing, however much we may deny it/ is that literally, we have become quite at home with violence; and we are raising our children to be violent. 

Violence is a complex evil/ that interacts with itself in its different manifestations/ to grow and insidiously to become habitual/ and self-perpetuating in the life of a society. We need to own up to the state our society may be in/ in this regard. Violence begets violence. We begin, through the way we raise our children, to invite violence into our homes; we invite it to grow there; and to flourish in our lives. The fact of the matter is, we are potentially a very violent community just below the surface of our apparent customary tranquility.

This is the inheritance we are leaving, or rather breeding into our future generations/ if we don’t come to our senses and act now to change our course 

Ironically, the solution ought to be well within our reach. We are a Christian country and proud of it. We have reaffirmed that in the modern context by recent amendment to our Constitution whereby we have brought the fact of our Christianity from the preamble into the body of the Constitution itself. Abhorrence of domestic violence might in the circumstances be expected to be in-born in us/ if there is anything at all to our Faith. 

The Chairman of the National Council of Churches has expressed the view that we are not as God fearing as we perhaps were. I don’t therefore disagree with his call for repentance. Nor do I object to his call for national expressions of such repentance/ in addition to what presumably we are doing now every Sunday. My hope is that he would not want us to stop there./// We can’t just leave it to God to fix things. We have to get on with nitty gritty measures and strategies to rescue ourselves from the free fall we are in/ as far as domestic violence is concerned. 

Right now, the Government is doing pretty much everything/ through the Courts, the Police, the Prisons and other Government agencies/ with Samoa Victims Support Group and other private efforts/ doing sterling work outside of the public budget/ to mitigate the lack of social services in crucial areas. For the most part the rest of us merely look on.

It is clear from all reports that in spite of diligent and innovative efforts by the entities I have mentioned,/ the problem grows further out of control.

To be sure, we are not the only country facing Domestic violence. It is a worrying headache to the national authorities all over the world. Countries throw huge resources at the problem through a multiplicity of programmes. I am not aware of any claim from any quarter/ that they have managed to hold domestic violence at bay.   

We in Samoa have a chance at good success/ if we treat domestic violence as an urgent/ so-ci-etal problem of national concern. We have mechanisms that function effectively at the grassroots level that we can bring to bear on the problem.

Other countries are not as fortunate. Our traditional institutions of governance of Alii and Faipule are truly governing still throughout rural Samoa. Our churches and their ministers have the ear and high esteem of the people. Surveys taken including the recently completed National Inquiry into family violence, now before Parliament with recommendations for action/ show that the people of Samoa wish these two institutions/ to be in the forefront of efforts to combat domestic violence. 

The need for action is urgent. The people of Samoa are very clearly saying: Let’s get together under the leadership of our Government, and utilizing our institutions that are already in place/ to strike an effective lasting blow on Family violence/ and violence in general in Samoa.

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