Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma - Standing up for Human Rights

This September, anyone doubting the existence, and prevalence of family violence in Samoa was proved wrong.

A ground-breaking, 300-page report packed with first person evidence and nearly 40 recommendations on ending the violence, was released by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Led by Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma, the small team from Samoa’s National Human Right Institution (a Pacific first) conducted a national inquiry into the “social ill that is family violence.”

Designed to be the beginning and not the end of what will undoubtedly be a long road to liberty from a problem affecting 9 out of 10 Samoans, Maiava wrote in his foreword to the report how the goal was to begin a national conversation “like never before”.

“We endeavour to accurately reflect the conversations, opinions, submissions and debates which took place in the course of this Inquiry.

“I have absolutely no doubt in my mind or heart that if the findings and recommendations of this Report are universally accepted (not just among the political powers, traditional and religious leaders, but among every one of us) then we can not only defeat family violence and violence as a whole, but we can also strengthen and reaffirm our cultural beliefs and Faith,” he wrote.

And by facilitating, and reporting on this national conversation, the Office of the Ombudsman has indeed begun the work of ending family violence.

Just this month, the Ending Violence in Samoa roundtable meeting addressed the role of the church in this task, leading to lively debate about how much responsibility lies on the shoulders of pastors, priests and reverends.

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The inquiry suggested the church, as well as village councils need to shoulder this burden for real change to happen.

One inquiry finding reads: “The church is generally failing in its role to prevent family violence and is reinforcing the patriarchal framework which underpins family violence. The church contributes to the impunity of perpetrators and allows perpetrators within its ministry.”

Another, on village councils says: “In failing to adopt any formal measures to address family violence, Village Fonos are generally complicit in its prevalence.”

The inquiry report will be the foundation on which all action against family violence is built. But it is not all the office has been busy with in 2018.

This year, Maiava and his team have been weighing in on issues of corporal punishment in schools, an investigation into a hiring matter at the Samoa National Provident Fund, supported the signing into law of the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2017 and this year, his calls to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture have been answered. 

As Samoa’s Human Rights Institution, Maiava’s office is responsible for ensuring citizens live according to the U.N Human Rights Declaration, which Samoa has obligations to uphold.

Samoa ratified the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in September 1992, the convention on the rights of the child in November 1994, the international covenant on civil and political rights in February 2008, the convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance in November 2012 and the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities in December 2016. 

All in all, Samoa’s human rights situation is “pretty good,” Maiava said earlier this month.

But family violence remains Samoa’s biggest problem, encroaching on the individuals’ rights to live out their full potential, unhindered by assault, trauma, or death at the hands of their family members.

“How we treat each other and how weaker members of society are disadvantaged in the way they are treated, it’s something that has been below the surface for a long time,” said Maiava.

“Now, people not only want to talk about it, they want to do something about it.”

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