In a historic move, the Ombudsman of Samoa undertook a national inquiry into family violence – the first of its kind in the Pacific – that revealed extremely high levels of violence against women and girls in the country, while also exploring ways to tackle the scourge.
The inquiry, which started in 2017, benefitted from financial and technical support from several partners, including the Commonwealth Secretariat.
The report of the inquiry was launched on 12 September in Apia, in the presence of senior government officials, members of parliament, community leaders, the diplomatic corps, donors, civil society, and survivors of violence.
Opening the event, Samoan Prime Minister Susuga Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, said: “Family violence has gravely impacted the lives of women and girls, and has contributed negatively to the upbringing of our children.”
“For the sake of the future, it is up to us and especially, those in positions in all levels of our society to stand up and be counted – to demonstrate our dedication to the fa’a-Samoa and Christian values upon which this country is founded.”
The report indicates that family violence is affecting almost all families in Samoa, with extremely high numbers of people experiencing extreme violence in their lifetime.
Almost 9 in 10 women consulted during the inquiry said that they had experienced physical or emotional violence at the hands of family members who are supposed to be their protectors, with 6 out of 10 experiencing intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
Taking the form of a ‘national conversation’, the inquiry included public and private hearings, as well as consultations with villages and relevant NGOs and government departments.
The ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, welcomed the Commonwealth Secretariat’s financial support, which helped his office conduct public hearings and public affairs campaigns, while also contributing to the report launch and awareness-raising materials.
“We thank our partners, without whom the Inquiry and Report would not have been made possible. Their support and technical assistance throughout this project further reaffirms their commitment to the protection of women, girls and children of Samoa from family violence and promotion of their human rights,” he said.
Following the launch, the Secretariat delivered capacity-building training on stakeholder advocacy for key staff at the ombudsman’s office from 13 to 14 September.
Sessions focused on influencing and engaging stakeholders on the report’s recommendations, including training in communications, awareness raising, and designing a follow-up and monitoring strategy for implementation of the proposals.
The team was joined by Lord Fusitu’a, Member of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, Commissioner George Morara Monyoncho, Vice Chair of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, and Lenny Lebon, former member of the National Assembly of the Seychelles, who provided their expertise across the two days.
“The Ombudsman of Samoa has been blazing a pioneering trail among small states in the Pacific in regard to the protection and promotion of human rights. We will remain a partner of the Ombudsman to support the next phases of advocacy, implementation and measuring of impact,” said Ms McKenzie.
These interventions are part of the Secretariat’s ongoing support to facilitate Commonwealth member countries with the establishment of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), in compliance with the Paris Principles.