Samoa doesn’t operate in a vacuum, standing in the international community matters
The perils of three highly controversial bills currently before Parliament, threatening to redefine the Judiciary and democracy in Samoa, have been well chronicled on the pages of this newspaper and other media organisations.
Since the Government and Parliament pulled this latest stunt on the nation a day before Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi declared a State of Emergency lockdown, the negative impacts of these bills on Samoans have become the topic of much debate and discussion. Not many issues have galvanized such outrage and negative reactions from Samoans, who are otherwise usually submissive with a higher threshold to absorb rubbish from the authorities.
But times have changed and perhaps people have had enough. And rightly so.
These bills threaten the core of our measina we have inherited from our forefathers including lands, titles, families, language, fundamental rights and freedoms, Constitutional rights, concept of separation of powers and a lot, lot more.
These issues are bigger than you, us, Government or anyone else. This is why so many brave individuals and organisations have stepped up to vocalise their opposition and they continue to do so with the faint hope that the Government would reconsider.
What has not been talked about enough, however, is what implications the passing of the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, the Lands and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020, will have on Samoa in the eyes of the international community.
It’s true that Samoa is a sovereign country, and having been politically independent since 1962, it has every right to decide its own destiny or fate. But like our reliance on foreign aid and remittances, this country does not operate in a vacuum. In the words of John Donne, ‘no man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent…”
Which means that what is happening in Samoa is being monitored closely not just by our brothers, sisters and cousins in the Pacific region but also by interested observers from around the world. They must be wondering what on earth is going on.
The open letter from the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (I.B.A.H.R.I.) to Prime Minister Tuilaepa urging the Government to reconsider the proposed legislations is a classic example. Signed by the highly decorated former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, and the Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Jur dr hc, the letter comes with the endorsement of the “world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies” which has 80,000 individual lawyers, and 190 bar associations and law societies, spanning over 160 countries.
The message is quite implicit with regards to the implications of the bills on the Judiciary.
“This would undermine the primacy of the Supreme Court by removing the Land and Titles Court from its scrutiny,” the letter reads. “The I.B.A.H.R.I. maintains that every court, government department, officeholder and person exercising governmental power must be subject to the scrutiny of the general court system - ultimately the Supreme Court - so that governmental power can be constantly checked and scrutinised against the Constitution and other laws of the land.
“The I.B.A.H.R.I. is concerned that such a move away from the rule of law could pave the way for further serious derogations from international human rights law in the future; it is a dangerous and undesirable precedent.”
But the L.T.C. bills have implications that go far beyond the Judiciary and legal minds, I.B.A.H.R.I. has warned.
“As a member of the Commonwealth, Samoa is committed to upholding the shared values in the Commonwealth Charter,” the letter continues. “Paragraph VI secures nations’ commitment to guaranteeing the separation of powers and paragraph VII secures their commitment to upholding the rule of law as ‘an essential protection for the people of the Commonwealth’.
“A failure to uphold the values of this Charter could imperil Samoa’s reputation and its 50-year membership of the Commonwealth. Further to this, the I.B.A.H.R.I. would like to remind you of Your Excellency’s duty to defend judicial independence in Samoa.”
Now what will Prime Minister Tuilaepa say about this? We ask this because the thought of Samoa being ousted from the Commonwealth for failing to uphold the rule of law is quite disturbing. Should this happen, Samoa will join a group of countries - including our neighbour Fiji – whom Tuilaepa often enjoys poking fun at for violating democratic freedoms.
The point is that as part of the international community, what is happening cannot be good for Samoa’s standing. Which is a pity, isn’t it? Think of all the hard work done by Tuilaepa, the H.R.P.P. Government and Samoans over the years to build Samoa’s reputation as a respectable member of the international community?
Think of how far this nation has come in its journey as a nation and a democracy, all that now on the verge of being thrown away by such recklessly written and flawed pieces of legislations?
But then we hardly needed the I.B.A.H.R.I. to remind us about Samoa’s commitment to these international treaties and conventions.
Among other highly qualified Samoans, Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma, has already condemned the bills saying they violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which as a member, Samoa has an obligation to enforce.
Did the Government even consider this when they came up with these laws? We doubt it. But that’s what happens when you don’t consult members of the public and the relevant stakeholders, especially the legal fraternity.
At best the Government risks attracting such a strong wave of opposition from Samoa and abroad pointing out its flaws. At worst, Samoa becomes an embarrassment in the eyes of the international community.
Let’s hope Tuilaepa doesn’t respond to I.B.A.H.R.I, using the same childish and unprofessional tactic he deployed when a proud Samoan woman, Tiana Epati, raised similar concerns in her capacity as the President of the New Zealand Law Society. Stay tuned!