Ombudsman addresses disability discrimination

By Hyunsook Siutaia 25 April 2020, 3:00PM

The Office of the Ombudsman has issued a statement reminding of the need to treat people with disabilities with respect after an incident last Friday allegedly involved a disabled driver being berated by Police. 

Last Friday Vern Lusiano, who is from Leauva’a and lives with a disability caused by a paralysis, alleged he was “humiliated” after being pulled over at a police checkpoint and questioned how he was issued with a driver's license despite his being legally able to drive a modified car. 

His case caused public outcry about the treatment of people with disabilities.

In a statement on Friday, the Ombudsman’s Office addressed the incident by reminding the community of the need to uphold the cultural values of "va fealoa'i" (mutual respect) was highlighted in the statement. 

“It is not merely in the way of talking but also the body language of the person, the way we treat each other that is mutually reinforced to go both ways regardless of our status,” the Ombudsman said. 

The Ombudsman said Mr. Lusiano's situation was a reminder of the need to further advance public awareness-raising and education to address stereotypes, prejudices, and stigma.

The Convention on Rights of Persons with a Disability was ratified in Samoa in 2016 with the intent of enshrining their protection from discrimination in the law.

 Article 5 of the Convention states that everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law without discrimination. 

Speaking out about issues of discrimination and any discriminatory behaviour by any public servant was highly encouraged by the Office of the Ombudsman. 

The Samoa Observer spoke again to Mr. Lusiano regarding the issue and he said he had provided the Ombudsman with a statement about the incident on Monday.

"I prepared a letter for the Office of the Ombudsman together with a letter for the Ministry of Police, so I don't know if this was the Office of the Ombudsman's response to my letter," Mr Vern said

"I still haven't received a word from the Ministry of Police regarding my letter, so I'm still waiting for their response."

Mr. Lusiano expressed his gratitude about the Office of the Ombudsman’s response, but said he still awaits a response from the Ministry of Police.

By Hyunsook Siutaia 25 April 2020, 3:00PM

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