Human Rights report on Samoa cites 2 main issues
The U.S. Department of State’s Human Rights Report for 2011 on Samoa says that the “principal human rights problems” in the independent South Pacific island nation last year “were poor prison conditions and domestic violence against women”.
The federal agency released last week its annual human rights report on all world countries, including Samoa, a nation of 194,000 people, which concluded marking its 50th year of Independence this week.
According to the report, Samoa’s constitution prohibits abuse of women, “but common societal attitudes tolerated their physical abuse within the home” and such “abuse was common and typically went unreported due to social pressure and fear of reprisal.”
Village fono typically punished domestic violence offenders, but only if the abuse was considered extreme — that is, if there were visible signs of physical abuse, according to the report, which made similar comments in 2010.
Village religious leaders also were permitted to intervene in domestic disputes, it says.
“The government did not keep statistics specifically on domestic abuse but acknowledged the problem as one of considerable concern,” according to the federal report.
In its 2010 report on Samoa released in April last year, the federal government says Samoa’s “prison and detention center conditions... remained poor” and some prison facilities were nearly a century old, but efforts were being made to upgrade them.
For the 2011 report, the State Department said: “Prison conditions improved but overall remained below international standards. Although the government built new facilities and improved cell conditions, these actions were insufficient to provide for the increasing prison population.”
Last year, the country’s prison system — including the main Tafaigata men’s prison, which is described as the “most congested” in Samoa — had 427 inmates and this included 28 women and 37 juveniles.
“Other human rights problems included police abuse, abuse of children, and discrimination against women and non-matai,” said the report, which were the same problems cited in past reports, including the year 2010.
Among the allegations of police abuse cited in the report is the case of two police officers who were charged with inflicting bodily harm after a woman claimed she was assaulted and beaten with a stick by female officers while being questioned in January. In November the two officers were convicted.
In another incident, the Supreme Court last August ordered the Samoa government to pay restitution and damages of about US$46,000 to a Nigerian national in a lawsuit claiming compensation for assault, battery, and false imprisonment that occurred in January.
Regarding child abuse, the report says law and tradition prohibit the severe abuse of children, but both tolerate corporal punishment.
“Although there were no official statistics available, press reports indicated a rise in reported cases of child abuse, especially incest and indecent assault cases, which appeared to be due to citizens’ increased awareness of the need to report physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children,” the report says. “The government aggressively prosecuted such cases.”
The issues regarding “discrimination against women and non-matai” have been raised for several years by the State Department.
According to the report, while the country’s constitution gives all citizens above age 21 the right to vote and run for office, by social custom candidates for 47 of the 49 seats in parliament are drawn from the approximately 30,000 matai, who are selected by family agreement.
“Although both men and women may become matai, only 8 percent were women,” it says. “Matai control local governments through the village fono, and their titles are determined by appointment rather than direct election.”
It also says that despite various government and nongovernmental organizations, and political party initiatives to increase female candidate participation in the general elections, only two women were elected last year to the 49-member parliament.
The reports on Samoa and other world countries are all publicly available on the State Department website: www.state.gov
In April of this year, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupe Soliai Sailele Malielegaoi in his keynote address for the opening of the local office for the Samoa Victim Support Group American Samoa (SVSG-AS), a non-profit organization, originating from independent Samoa, said a request was made from American Samoa last year August to have a local branch of the SVSG, offering the same services as the office in Samoa, and the local office would offer assistance to any victim of abuse, especially Samoa nationals.
He added this will also allow American Samoa to have a close relationship with the SVSG Office in New Zealand, with another office to be opened in Australia in the near future.
The Prime Minister said the Samoa government would be handing $40,000 WST to the office in Australia to assist with the launch of that office.
He said that with the opening of this office, some will ask — why have another association to assist victims, although there are church pastors, chiefs (matai) within families, village councils, and the government police force?
“This is the same question which was asked when the SVSG was first opened in Samoa” he said, “However it’s obvious that these cannot withstand the devil’s work.”
“Our tradition and culture allows us to protect the reputations of families, however the chiefs (matai) of the families have secretly kept in-house the fathers of families who have abused their young children”, said the Prime Minister.
He added that SVSG is the only organization in Samoa that assists families whose perpetrators have been prosecuted in court and were sent to jail, because they had abused their wives and children.
In celebration of its 50 years of Independence, le afioga i le Tama Aiga ia Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi (Head of State of Samoa) announced that 35 prisoners would be pardoned and released from the prison at Tafaigata— which houses men, women and juveniles. However, no names have been revealed, nor the exact date(s) this is set to take place.