Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is responding to media reports and public inquiries regarding a US State Department report on human rights in the Independent State of Samoa which has caused some sharp exchanges between Prime Minister Tuilaepa and members of the Fono.
“Since 1977, as required by Congress, the US State Department has been mandated to submit an annual report on human rights issues on countries throughout the world. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued the 2006 annual report, whereby an assessment was made of 196 countries, which included the Independent of Samoa,” Faleomavaega said.
The State Department report stated that the government of Samoa “generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, the following human rights problems were reported: deteriorated prison conditions for male inmates, unfair parliamentary proceedings, violence against women and children, and discrimination against women and non-matai.”
Regarding Tonga, the report lists the following problems: “inability of citizens to change their government, lack of government response to petitions and requests for a popularly elected parliament, restrictions on freedom of speech, unfair benefits for businesses associated with royal family members, domestic violence and discrimination against women, inability of women to own or inherit land, lack of regulations concerning the right of workers to form unions or to strike.”
The report also raises concerns about the deep divisions between indigenous Fijians. According to the report, this division continues to influence all aspects of the nation’s politics and the following human rights problems were reported: “poor prison conditions, including serious overcrowding, increased attacks against religious facilities, particularly Hindu temples, government corruption, violence and discrimination against women, increased commercial sexual exploitation of children, discrimination against persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities, and employer intimidation of union organizers and workers.”
“While this document was put together to be used as a resource, the countries mentioned in the report could take offense to its allegations,” Faleomavaega said. “If there were serious concerns that the State Department had with the Government of Samoa, for example, the matter could have been conveyed through the US Ambassador who is posted in Wellington and who is accredited to both the governments of New Zealand and Samoa.”
“A local newspaper recently published an article which stated that even the Police Commissioner of Samoa was never notified by any official of the US government concerning prison conditions in Samoa. It is also likely that there were no consultations made with other officials of the Samoan government.”
“For these reasons, I can appreciate Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s concerns, especially when a government like the US would issue such claims in a public document without so much as a response or consultation with officials of Tuilaepa’s government. This is like saying cut off my legs first and then ask me later if it hurts,” Faleomavaega added.
“While this matter is between two sovereign governments, i.e. the United States and the Independent State of Samoa, I am reminded of what the Frenchman Voltaire said, ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it’ and Prime Minister Tuilaepa had the perfect right to respond to the State Departments allegations and its report of human rights issues,” Faleomavaega concluded.