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Living with a disability and human rights

A policeman’s actions last Friday to berate a person living with a disability for driving a vehicle, despite the former’s possession of a legitimate driver’s license, is bizarre and smacks of arrogance and discrimination.

An article on a policeman’s treatment of Vern Lusiano, who is from Leauva’a and lives with a disability caused by a paralysis, was published in the Wednesday, April 22, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer (Policeman disciplined for berating driver with disability).

Mr Lusiano was pulled over at a police checkpoint – while on his way to Apia with his nine-year-old son – where a policeman asked him about his condition and questioned how he was issued with a driver's license.

"He (policeman) walked over and said 'get out of the car' and I kindly told him that I can't walk and he replied, ‘are you paralyzed?’ I sat there in the car and quietly looked down to the fixed system that was installed (in the car), specifically for people of my condition to enable us to drive,” Mr Lusiano said.

"He then asked if I had a driver's license and I gave it to him. He didn't even bother to say, 'hello how are you, you know, the usual Samoan greeting. We are Samoans, at least show a bit of respect.”

"When he pulled us over, there was also a policewoman. She walked over and said, 'malo Vern' and then walked off again. When the policeman looked at my driver's license, he yelled out to the policewoman, 'I don't know how the Land Transport Authority could have issued a driver's license to a disabled man like him.’

"I asked him, 'why would you say something like that?' and he (policeman) responded, 'well because you're using those crutches to drive so you shouldn't have been issued a driver's licence at all.’”

To think that a policeman would go down to that level, to put down another member of the society who lives with a disability and in full view of his nine-year-old son, is beyond comprehension. 

This is a clear case of a policeman abusing his powers and using his status as an officer of the law to bully and harass a citizen.

There is no doubt the policeman’s conduct damaged a police officer’s universal oath to not betray his or her badge, integrity, character or public trust.

The questioning of the decision by the L.T.A. to issue Mr Lusiano with a driver’s license – due to him living with a disability – also raises questions about the quality of training that rookie officers undergo and whether human rights (including the rights of a person living with a disability) is a core component of the new recruits training regime.

There is also the question of being knowledgeable of the latest developments in technology in the automotive industry, where vehicles can be modified for people with disabilities. As it appears the policeman did not know it is possible today for people living with a disability to drive, just like any other abled body person.

Nuanua o le Alofa (N.O.L.A) General Manager, Faatino Utumapu, is of the view that the actions of the policeman last Friday was a violation of Mr Lusiano’s human rights.

Police Commissioner Fuiavaili'ili Egon Keil has indicated the policeman in question has been disciplined, and this particular case will become part of the police training manual, to ensure such practices are removed from within the Police.

But are the actions of the policeman last Friday symptomatic of a society gradually losing respect for those with special needs, including men and women living with a disability? 

Do we not have empathy any more and be quick to condemn similar actions by others including those who are close to us?

It was only three years ago when Samoa ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, its signing of the international human rights treaty announced to the world our intention to protect the rights and dignity of people with a disability.

The onus is now on each and everyone one of us to take that next step to respect the rights of a person with a disability.

Having empathy and acknowledging and sharing in their hardships will also go a long way in building bridges and making our communities strong and resilient.

Stay safe Samoa and give priority to social distancing and personal hygiene.

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