Samoa scores poorly on rights to opinion, expression

Samoa’s Human Rights measurement scores are out.

And while the country is performing admirably on access to food and housing, data on Samoan’s rights to their opinion and expression show there is room for improvement. 

This is according the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (H.R.M.I.), an independent, global research collective, funded by grants and donations.

Across the board, Samoa scored lowest for how well the government is respecting its people’s rights to be empowered.

In this category, the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (H.R.M.I.) measured how freely Samoan people can participate in government, assemble and associate as they choose and how freely they can express their opinion.

On the first two, Samoa scores a seven and 6.9 out of 10. But when it comes to freedom of expression and opinion, the country is firmly in the ‘bad’ column with a score of 5.1. 

“Samoa's Empowerment score of 6.9 suggests that while many people are enjoying their civil liberties and political freedoms (freedom of speech, assembly and association, and democratic rights), a significant number are not,” the scorecard states.

“Compared with the other countries in the Pacific, Samoa is performing close to average on empowerment rights.”

In particular, human rights advocates, journalists, the labour union members and protestors were highlighted as likely to be penalized somehow for expressing their opinion.

Samoa scores poorly against the region, with American Samoa topping the charts at 8.2, New Zealand at 7.3 and the Cook Islands with 6.8.

It even has a poorer score than the United States of America with a score of 5.8 and Australia whose score is 5.2.

Samoa does best in the quality of life measurements, with scores of 80 per cent or higher on education, housing, work and food, and is performing higher than average in the Pacific, above Tonga, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. 

But in health, Samoa scores just 74.8 per cent, a figure the H.R.M.I. calls bad.

The scores are calculated against what a country with Samoa’s level of wealth should be able to achieve.

Under the rights of a person to be safe from their state, Samoa performs well, with a score of 7.8 out of 10, and is performing close to average.

The figure suggests a “significant number” of people are not safe from being randomly arrested, tortured, disappeared or killed in Samoa.

In particular, street children or homeless youth and immigrants were highlighted for their being especially at risk of being randomly arrested or tortured, respectively.

The H.R.M.I. was developed by an international team of researchers and published for the first time this month, is the first set of measurements tracking human rights performance.

Across the globe, countries are meant to be striving to improve access to basic services and quality of life for their citizens. 

The H.R.M.I. has measured how well countries, including Samoa, are stacking up against their obligations to their people. 

“For human rights to improve they need to be measured. We want countries to join a race to the top, where leaders call in their advisers and ask what they need to do to get their human rights scores up,” the organisation states.  

“Our goal is to measure country performance of every human right in international law. 

“We have begun with a collection of civil and political rights (Empowerment and Safety from the State rights), and a collection of economic and social rights (Quality of Life rights), each measured by a different method.”

It has also produced a Pacific Report, summarising the data for the region and highlighting a need for focus on societal violence, the climate crisis and its impacts on human rights, and cultural rights in the region.

H.R.M.I. Strategy and Communication Lead Thalia Kehoe Rowden said across the research gathered for Samoa’s scores, there were no significant data gaps stopping the researchers from calculating a full set of human rights scores.

“For our civil and political rights scores, we ask human rights experts in each country to answer a detailed online survey, anonymously,” she said, explaining where the data comes from.

“These people are usually human rights monitors with [non-government organisations], journalists, human rights lawyers, and so on.

“We would always want more respondents, but we met our minimum threshold to produce data,” Ms. Kehoe Rowden said.

“Our civil and political rights scores are displayed within uncertainty bands to be transparent about how certain we are, and the more respondents we have, the narrower the bands tend to be - so we hope in future years with more respondents our results will be a little clearer.”

The research uses a minimum of five expert respondents per country, but in some countries with too small a pool to glean information from it used three or more. 

And typically the respondents are required to be independent from their governments but in countries with populations under 120,000 that restriction was loosened, though respondents were asked to declare their connection to government if they had one.

Samoan researcher Seuta’afili Dr Patrick Thomsen and Cook Island researcher Dr Sam Manuela will continue development the Pacific research as data leads, by leading consultations, workshops and research on and with the Pacific community to grow the data bank.

This and other work to expand the Pacific research is funded the New Zealand Aid Programme. 

Explore the entire data set or Samoa’s results here: H.R.M.I. Rights Tracker.

The H.RM.I. is hosted by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research and the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia in the United States.

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