From left: Rebecca Minty (Adviser, Convention Against Torture Initiative), Carsten Staur (Danish Ambassador to the United Nations and head of delegation), Maiava Iulai Toma (Ombudsman of Samoa), Marc Limon (Director, Universal Rights Group), Loukinikini Vili (Director of Human Rights, Office of the Ombudsman), Ashley Bowe (Human Rights Consultant, Office of the Ombudsman).

16 October, 2017. Samoa – The Ombudsman has called for Samoa to take a stand against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in our prison and places of detention, by ratifying the Convention against Torture.

Last Thursday (12 October) the Ombudsman and his team took time out of the ongoing National Public Inquiry into Family Violence to meet with the visiting delegation from the Convention Against Torture Initiative.

The delegation, headed by Danish Ambassador to the UN Carsten Staur, met with the Ombudsman and other key stakeholders to discuss the benefits to Samoa of ratifying the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol.

According to a press statement, the Ombudsman expressed support for ratification, highlighting efforts already made by his office to ensure a smooth process and how the Convention could strengthen Samoan society.

“Regardless of whether torture or ill-treatment occurs in Samoa right now, ratification of the CAT can strengthen our laws, policies and practices within places of detention and improve effective law enforcement.”

“The principles of feavaa’i (mutual respect) and fepiopuia’i (mutual protection) are central to our society. The CAT and its Optional Protocol provide a framework which we can use in our national context to ensure these principles are met when people are in the care of our law enforcement officers and help to protect against abuse of power in the future.”

The Ombudsman continued, “since the establishment of my office as the National Human Rights Institution we have been building our capacity to monitor places of detention to the standard required by the CAT Optional Protocol.”

“We now have the necessary knowledge and experience to undertake this role if called upon to act as the National Preventive Mechanism for Samoa. We would endeavour to work in partnership with our law enforcement agencies to ensure our places of detention meet our cultural protocols to treat people with dignity and respect at all times.”

The Convention Against Torture stands apart from other international human rights treaties as it contains practical steps to prevent torture and ill-treatment or punishment and these can be adapted to the national context.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention requires the establishment of a ‘National Preventive Mechanism’ responsible for monitoring all places of detention to ensure the principles of CAT are being met.

In conclusion the Ombudsman issued a rallying call to the Government to ratify the Convention as soon as practicable, stating “Samoa is currently leading the way in many respects with regards to human rights initiatives in the region, being the only Small Island State in the region to have an accredited National Human Rights Institution and the most advanced National Mechanism for Human Rights Implementation and Reporting. With the double ratification of CAT and the OPCAT the Government can once again lead the way in demonstrating our firm commitment to the protection of dignity, respect and freedoms within the Pacific context.”

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