Using a human rights conference to save our children

Next month Samoa will host an international conference on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and will become the first state to host a United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies session outside of Geneva.

A lot has been said in recent days about the cost of Samoa hosting such a conference and how much the country’s taxpayers get to foot.

Responding to questions posed by the Samoa Observer, the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration C.E.O., Moliei Simi Vaai revealed that the overall cost is $1 million with Samoa as host only paying $300,000 as its contribution to the overall expenses.

Most of the cost will be born by the U.N. and the Regional Rights Resource Team of the Pacific Community. 

“[An allotment of $300,000] is our contribution to the meeting as host country,” said Mrs Vaai.

The decision by the C.E.O. to take time to respond to our reporters’ queries on cost, and what the conference’s agenda and outcomes should mean for ordinary Samoans, is commendable. 

But like her, we are also keen on the ‘big picture’ stuff in terms of the conference’s objectives and outcomes, and what it will translate to for ordinary Samoans when it comes to talking about human rights.

Thankfully, Mrs Vaai highlighted some of the issues that are on the radar, in terms of human rights from the local context.

“For the children of the Pacific, this is so vital in the local context of children’s access to health, protection and a healthy living environment, to being educated, to have protection from domestic violence and sexual violation to name a few,” she said, in a statement to your newspaper. 

“These are growing issues locally as highlighted by the measles outbreak and the growing rate of sexual abuse and offending on young people in the community and in the Pacific. We all want our children to feel safe and protected in our families and community.“ 

Having covered the journey that Samoa has taken as a nation over the last 42 years, your newspaper has devoted thousands of pages over the years to human rights issues, including abuse that is reported, the crimes that are prosecuted (successfully and unsuccessfully), and the heart breaking stories of both the survivors or families who lost loved ones to crimes perpetrated against them. 

If there is a crime in the last 12 months – which has gained notoriety for its savagery due to the  perpetrator’s lack of respect for basic forms of human rights – it has to be the cases of family members such as fathers, step-fathers or even grandfathers and uncles sexually abusing their daughters, granddaughters or nieces in the sanctity of their homes. 

The increasing incidences of sexual abuse targeting our children which come to the attention of the Police and ultimately the Courts is a major cause for concern. 

We believe the $300,000 would be money well spent, if the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies session in Apia next month, can lead to the spotlight being put on sexual abuse and other crimes perpetrated against our children in Samoa.

While we acknowledge that the Pacific neighbouring states of Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Tuvalu and Kiribati are due to appear before the Committee on the Rights of the Child to give their progress reports when it convenes next month, this should not stop Samoa from giving a progress report on the work it has done to date to address this scourge.

The efforts of the Government over the last two years to address human rights challenges in Samoa deserves a mention, and we are cognizant of the work of the Office of the Ombudsman/National Human Rights Institution and its release of its 51-page National Inquiry Report into Family Violence in September 2018.

But from where we stand, the incidences of sexual violence targeting women and children does not appear to be dissipating, and this calls for urgency on the part of the Samoa Government to revisit the Inquiry Report and start implementing its recommendations for the benefit of all citizens.

The inquiry’s findings were comprehensive and are an indictment of the failure by the authorities to address the issue over the years. 

Now we have a report compiled over a two-year period by an organisation, which is charged with the responsibility to promote and protect human rights in Samoa. Let us not be afraid and embrace the opportunity to bring change to save our children.

Have a wonderful Monday Samoa and God bless. 

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