Reflections on human rights in Samoa on the occasion of Human Rights Day 2022
14 December 2022
Human Rights Day 2022 celebrated with a film, a televised panel discussion and a speech delivered by Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, Samoa's Prime Minister.
“Everyone should be equal in the enjoyment of human rights. Do not discriminate, whether it is a child or an elderly person, because we are all entitled to the same protection under the law”, said a farmer selling his produce in the centre of Apia, the capital of Samoa.
He was one of the six people interviewed in a “Vox pop” or a video featuring voice of the people, alongside a youth community worker, a general manager, a mechanic, a student, and a woman with a disability.
The video, produced by youth on the occasion of Human Rights Day with the support of the United Nations, opened the panel discussion on television featuring the UN Resident Coordinator, Dr. Simona Marinescu; Director of the Human Rights Unit of the Samoa Ombudsman’s Office, Ms. Loukinikini Vili; Disability Inclusive Officer for the Samoa Blind Persons Association, Mr. Asomualemalama Ari Hazelman; and Student Welfare Officer and Campus Life Manager of the University of South Pacific, Ms. Galumalemana Ronna Lee.
The four panelists discussed the legacy of the Universal Human Rights Declaration adopted on 10 December 1948 and human rights issues in Samoa. This included children’s rights, the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, gender-based violence and related economic and social costs, rights of person with disabilities, mis/disinformation on social media, freedom of expression and its limitations, role of civil society organizations, collective effort and resources required to realize all human rights for everyone, and the principle of equality and non-discrimination which extends to all human beings, including LGBTIQ+ persons.
“Human rights is about living a dignified life in peace and pursuing aspirations. Samoa is on the right track, with the recognition of human rights under its laws, commitment to end gender-based violence against women and girls, the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, more participation of women in Parliament, and the election of the first female Prime Minister”, said the UN Resident Coordinator.
Samoa’s commitment to peace, justice, freedom and recognition of the inherent dignity of each human person regardless of religion, country, race or gender was also stressed by the Prime Minister of Samoa, Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, in her public statement on Human Rights Day. As Samoa celebrates the 60th anniversary of its journey since independence, the Prime Minister recalled that this day also serves to remind everyone to celebrate the human rights and freedoms that are enshrined in Samoa’s Constitution. The Prime Minister also stressed that Samoan culture and tradition is based on mutual respect and reverence of one to another, which lies at the heart of human rights.
The common principle of mutual respect that underpins human rights and Samoan tradition was also emphasized by the panelists, who noted that human rights cannot be exercised at the expense of other people’s human rights.
Noting the recent incidents of fighting between students in Samoa, “we need to remember that human rights is not about doing whatever you want to do, it’s about respecting others’ rights so that everyone can enjoy their right to be free from violence”, said Ms. Loukinikini Vili of the Samoa Ombudsman’s Office. She stressed the importance of raising awareness about human rights, but also the responsibility which comes with it.
Similarly, on social media, Ms. Ronna Lee of the University of South Pacific noted that “the challenge is to help young people in Samoa express themselves in a way that is healthy and doesn’t hurt someone else’s feelings. There is a lot of misinformation too, so it’s important that the information they are sharing are informed opinions based on credible sources and not from fake news”. Ms. Lee also underscored the importance of data on human rights to inform policies and laws, as well as access to education and information by ensuring Internet access throughout the country.
Mr. Asomualemalama Ari Hazelman welcomed the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the government of Samoa in 2016 and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in consultations by the government and the United Nations. However, noting the experience shared by Ms. Luisa Saupo in the “vox pop” video about the discrimination that persons with disabilities face in the workplace, he stressed that “people’s attitudes and prejudice towards persons with disabilities also need to change”. He called on the public to “open minds and learn from one another”, which can start by talking to persons with disabilities and getting to know them personally.
Looking towards the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2023 next year, UN Resident Coordinator stressed the importance of human rights to our lives and for our common humanity.
“Human Rights Day is a celebration of life. It’s a celebration of who we are; we have human rights simply by the fact of being human and we don’t need to do anything to deserve our rights. Happy International Human Rights Day and never forget that we have a common obligation to realize everyone’s human rights”, concluded the UN Resident Coordinator.