Why the Chairman of National Council of Churches is wrong about human rights

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 19 December 2018, 12:00AM

Last month, the Chairman of the National Council of Churches, Deacon Kasiano Leaupepe, blamed human rights for the deteriorating state of violence in Samoa.

He did not stop there. He also criticised the existence of the co-education school system, saying boys and girls should be educated in separate schools and went on to say that the scourge of domestic violence is Samoa’s punishment for disobeying God.

“What has happened to Samoa and her people is because we have violated God’s ordinances. We have destroyed and ignored God’s laws, we place more emphasis on worldly laws,” he said.

 “The commandment says that thou shall respect (ava) your parents so you can live longer. This has been violated, it has been destroyed. How? When human right was born, it demolished this ordinance.”

Now that’s an interesting statement. When human right was born and how it demolished God’s ordinances, Deacon Leaupepe did not say. He also did not say which worldly laws he was referring to.

But he did point to one particular issue.

“There is just too much freedom (in Samoa today). Samoa has been affected by too much outside influence.”

To be sure, this is not the first time someone has blamed human rights for our problems in Samoa. We have heard it over the years in different forums. Every time we talk about the rights of children, gender equality and all sorts of basic human rights, we have often heard this argument that human rights are to be blamed for all our problems.

Is it correct? Is that accurate? 

Well, let’s just say that we live in a free world where people are entitled to their opinion. As a very senior official of the Catholic Church, and in this case the National Council of Churches, Deacon Leaupepe has a right to his opinion as anyone else. 

But it’s important that such opinions are informed and constructive, especially coming from people whom this country looks up to. It goes without saying that such opinions, if they are not explained and qualified properly, can do more harm than good. 

In other words, it is such attitudes that are contributing to the slow progress we are making in addressing some of these perennial issues like violence. Which means we have to be very careful that we don’t misconstrue these things.

We accept that when it comes to the issue of human rights, it is a sensitive one in some corners of Samoa. The term is frowned upon by some people, who argue that it contradicts our values, cultural and religious beliefs. 

A few years ago during the celebration of National Human Rights Day, there was a discussion on the topic of “Fa’asamoa and Human Right.”

The reality in Samoa is that most people have some sort of idea about what human rights entail. But how they apply that knowledge when it comes to sensitive issues—especially within the village, family and church setting—is where we often find the problems. And we’ve seen plenty of problems.

In 2015, the Ombudsman’s Office launched Samoa’s first State of Human Rights Report. With the theme “For Samoa by Samoa”, the Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma made some excellent observations worth revisiting today.

 “Human rights are not merely foreign ideals as many wish to see them, but they have roots within Samoan culture also,” Maiava said. “A take home point from this Report is that the weaving together of Fa’asamoa and human rights principles will make a stronger and more harmonious society.”

We said at the time that we couldn’t agree more with Maiava. 

We still feel the same. We believe human rights and the Fa’asamoa can coexist perfectly to create a harmonious and peaceful society. 

The Ombudsman couldn’t have worded it better when he wrote in his report then that: “When drafting the Constitution, Samoa’s forefathers incorporated fundamental human rights into the supreme law. This is testament to the appreciation Samoa’s ancestors had for the human rights of all Samoans. 

He added: “Human rights are underpinned by core values of respect, dignity, equality and security for everyone. Similarly, Fa’asamoa or the Samoan way of life holds core values that guide social interaction such as respect, dignity, love, protection, and service, which mutually reinforce human rights. 

The following are some examples of these core values:

Feavaa’i (Mutual Respect) is a core value for which Samoan culture is well known. It is demanded of all Samoans, particularly children towards their parents, brothers towards their sisters, serving members towards their chiefs, young towards the old, congregations towards their pastor and so on. Respect is shown not merely in the manner of talking, but also in the body language of the person. 

Alofa (Love) is expressed not only within the family and community but also towards guests. It includes parents caring and providing for their children, ensuring that they receive the best of everything; children caring and looking after their elderly parents; brothers and sisters looking out for each other; neighbours providing help and assistance wherever they can; the commitment and sacrifice families make towards the church; and welcoming visitors to Samoa with open arms. 

Fepuipuia’i (Mutual Protection) is demonstrated when parents care for and protect their children from harm and danger, and vice versa when roles are reversed later in life, or when the matai of the village ensures that members of the village live peacefully, and villagers uphold and protect the dignity of the matai.

So what does this all mean? It’s quite simple in our opinion. While the term human rights might sound complex, foreign to some people and complicated, at the end of the day it comes down to some very basic principles. Those principles are love and mutual respect. These principles are the basis of the Fa’asamoa, it is what we are as a people.

It’s about loving our neighbour so that no matter what, we don’t judge them. It’s also about respecting each other, so that even if we don’t agree with someone else, we would walk away, respect their space and hope they would reciprocate the favour. 

If these basic rights were respected, we cannot see how they could be blamed for the problems in Samoa today. 

But then that’s our opinion. What about you? What do you think?

Write and share your thoughts with us. Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 19 December 2018, 12:00AM

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