Human rights in Samoa

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Samoa, formally the Independent State of Samoa, has a population of approximately 188,000 people.[1] Samoa gained independence from New Zealand in 1962[2] and has a Westminster model of parliamentary democracy which incorporates aspects of traditional practices.[3] The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) is currently in government and has been so for over 20 years.[2]

While the Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa provides for the protection of certain fundamental human rights, there continue to be several major issues. Major areas of concern include the under-representation of women, domestic violence and poor prison conditions. Reports issued under the auspices of the United Nations have noted that societal attitudes towards human rights tend to be sceptical, this is contributed to concern that that enforcement of such rights will be at the detriment of Samoan customs and tradition.[3]

International treaty obligations[edit]

Samoa is a member of the United Nations and has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the eight fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO).[4] In 2012 Samoa ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPPED).

Due to limited resources, Samoa has previously failed to issue reports within the designated time frames of the conventions.[5] For example, Samoa submitted its initial, second and third periodic reports under CEDAW as one document in May 2003 when they were due in 1993, 1997 and 2001 respectively.[5]

Concern has been expressed in regard to Samoa’s limited incorporation of treaty obligations into its national law. For example, in 2005 CEDAW voiced concern over the lack of a time frame for reform of domestic legislation in conformity with the convention.[6]

In response to recommendations,[7] Samoa issued a standing invitation to all United Nations Special Procedures Mandate Holders in 2011.[2]

Constitutional protection[edit]

The Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa 1960 came into force in 1962[8] and provides for the protection of fundamental human rights such as:

While freedom from discrimination is provided for in regards to descent, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, social origin, place of birth and family status there is no protection from discrimination on the basis of disability or sexual orientation.[7]

A noteworthy omission from the constitution is the right to be free from torture.

The Office of the Ombudsman[edit]

Section 11 of the Komesina o Sulufaiga (Ombudsman) Act 1988 establishes the Office of the Ombudsman as an independent body authorised to investigate complaints concerning the actions of governmental authorities within the public sector.[9]

In Samoa’s 2011 Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the Samoa Umbrella for Non-Governmental Organisations (SUNGO) was concerned that the office lacked accessibility due to minimal public awareness of the office’s functions and its limitation to the public sector.[7]

National human rights mechanisms[edit]

While Samoa has no overarching human rights legislation or institution, there has been movement towards the creation of a Human Rights Commission (HRC). In 2009, a joint ‘Samoa Declaration’ was agreed upon amongst several Pacific island states.[10] The declaration emphasised the importance of national human rights institutions and encouraged states to establish such bodies. Samoa has undertaken a Law and Justice Sector Plan 2008-2012 which is intended to include the establishment of a HRC.[2] Samoa reiterated its intention to do so in the UPR in 2011 and received recommendations that it initially be established within the Office of the Ombudsman.[11] In 2013, the Parliament of Samoa passed the Ombudsman (Komesina O Sulufaiga) Act to include human rights as part of the functions of the existing Ombudsman.

Political participation[edit]

Electoral system[edit]

Universal suffrage was achieved in 1991 for all Samoan citizens aged 21 years and over.[2]

Samoan tradition is incorporated into the electoral system. Through consensus, a single person is nominated as the chief (Maitai) of each village and only those with a chieftain title may then stand for election of the 47 Samoan seats. Two seats are reserved for non-Samoans.[7]

SUNGO has recommended that the electoral system be altered so as to allow any citizen to stand for election rather than restricting to only those nominated by the village.[7]

Participation of women[edit]

An issue exists in regards to the under-representation of women in parliament. Although there are no legal barriers at the national level, in practice women rarely obtain chieftain titles.[12] Following the general election of 2006, four women became members of the 49 member parliament. This represented 8.1% of the available seats.[13]

This low representation is thought to be influenced by socio-cultural attitudes.[12] Some villages do not allow women to possess chieftain titles,[13] while others such as Malie, Letogo, Tanugamanono and Saleimoa restrict female chieftain by prohibiting their participation in village councils. This reduces their ability to obtain village consensus of their candidacy.[7]

Women’s rights[edit]

Domestic violence[edit]

Domestic violence against women remains a prominent issue in Samoa as recognised by its government[2] and CEDAW.[12] The Crimes Act 2013 criminalizes rape, including marital rape.[14]

Accurate statistics are difficult to obtain as often cases are not reported or recorded due to societal attitudes that discourage this.[1] Altering such perspectives is identified as important in combating this problem.[2] However, there has been a rise in the number of cases reported in recent years.[1] This increase has been attributed to governmental departments and non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) in implementing programmes that have created greater awareness of the issue and encouraged reporting.[2]

Samoa has established measures to aid in combating this problem such as:

  • A National Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women (2008–2012) which outlines a strategic approach for the advancement of women’s rights.[2]
  • The Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (MWCSD) whose mandate focuses on the social and economic development of the community with an emphasis on the role of women. The ministry also undertakes awareness programmes on issues of domestic abuse.[11]
  • The finalisation of the Family Safety Bill 2009 is intended to give greater effect to CEDAW and CRC in relation to domestic violence issues.[2] The enactment of the bill has been criticised as taking too long.[7]
  • The Domestic Violence Unit operates within the Ministry of Police and Prisons and handles issues of violence against women and children.[2]

Employment rights[edit]

While women enjoy many of the same rights as men in terms of employment opportunities, there remain areas of discrimination. In 2007 it was reported that under national legislation women were restricted from undertaking night time work or manual labour that is deemed ‘unsuited to their physical capacity.’[15] This has been seen as inconsistent with article 11 of CEDAW which prohibits discrimination in employment.[15]

Prison conditions[edit]

The prison conditions in Samoa, most notably the main prison at Tafaigata, are of low quality and the Samoan government has recognised the need to remedy the situation.[2] Prison facilities lack sufficient resources in regards to funding and the availability of trained personnel.[2] SUNGO reported that a number of prisons failed to adequately provide a sufficient quantity of basic necessities such as water, food and basic sanitation.[7] It has been noted that prison cells are holding large groups of prisoners beyond their capabilities.[1]

While the Office of the Ombudsman is authorised to receive complaints from prisoners, this avenue has not yet been utilised.[1] Under the Law and Justice Sector Plan, the government is reviewing the Prison Act 1967[2] and drafting legislation to move responsibility for the review of prisons away from the Ministry of Police and establish it within an independent authority.[11]

Disabled persons[edit]

Based on statistics from 2006, there are approximately 2100 persons living with disabilities in Samoa.[16] There is no specific legislation protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and nor is it a basis for freedom from discrimination in Samoa’s constitution.[7] Samoa is not a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) yet has indicated that they would consider acceding to it.[2]

Samoa has set up a National Disabilities Taskforce which constructs programmes that provide assistance to persons with disabilities. This is guided by the National Policy and National Plan of Action for Persons with Disabilities set up in 2009.[2]

Rights of the child[edit]

The issue of child street vendors in Samoa has been acknowledged with growing concern.[11] SUNGO submits that by allowing this issue to continue, Samoa is acting contrary its obligations under both the CRC in regards to the right to education and the convention of the ILO in regards to freedom from exploitative labour.[7]

Reports suggest that issues of poverty and hardship contribute to the existence of child street vendors.[11] Samoa has a National Policy for Children 2010-2015 which is aimed at alleviating poverty and providing protection to children through programmes and services.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e 2010 Human Rights Reports: Samoa (US State Department)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Universal Periodic Review: Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Samoa A/HRC/WG.6/11/WSM/1 (2–13 May 2011), para 2, 11-12, 43-44, 46, 49, 51-53, 57, 69, 70-71
  3. ^ a b Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Pacific Humanitarian Protection Cluster, Human Rights Monitoring of Persons Internally Displaced by the 2009 Tsunami in Samoa (2010) at p 8, 9
  4. ^ These include Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948 (No. 87); Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98); Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29); Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105); Equal Remuneration Convention, 1950 (No. 100); Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111); Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) see [1]
  5. ^ a b New Zealand Law Commission, Converging Currents: Custom and Human Rights in the Pacific (2006) at 5.35
  6. ^ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Thirty-second session 10–28 January 2005 at [19] [2]
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Universal Periodic Review: Summary of Stakeholder Submissions: Samoa A/HRC/ WG.6/11/WSM/3 (2–13 May 2011), para 7, 12-13, 15-16, 21, 27-29
  8. ^ The Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa
  9. ^ Komesina o Sulufaiga (Ombudsman) Act 1988, s 11
  10. ^ Samoa, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu
  11. ^ a b c d e f Universal Periodic Review: Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Samoa A/HRC/18/14 (2–13 May 2011), para 11, 16, 70
  12. ^ a b c Universal Periodic Review: Compilation: Samoa A/HRC/ WG.6/11/WSM/2 (2–13 May 2011), para 27, 41-41
  13. ^ a b Millennium Development Goals, Samoa’s Second Progress Report, 2010 at p 6, 28 [3]
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b UNDP Pacific/UNIFEM, Translating CEDAW Into Law, CEDAW Legislative Compliance in Nine Pacific Island Countries, Suva, Fiji, 2007, p. 302 [4]
  16. ^ Samoa National Population and Housing Census 2006

External links[edit]