Apia, 1 April March 2021: The Office of the Ombudsman also the National Human Rights Institution of Samoa in collaboration with the Samoa Police and Prisons Service and the Office of the Regulator are spearheading efforts to raise community awareness in selected villages on freedom of speech and opinion.
Key messages include the exercise of freedom of speech and opinions, its limitations and the promotion of the safe use of technology and social media.
The program is also an opportunity for consultations that can inform Samoa’s State of Human Rights Report 2021.
The community awareness program is being rolled out in the 6 villages. Three in Savaii being Saleia, Taga and Asau, and three in Upolu – Vaiee, Lotopue, and Lalovi Mulifanua. They were also part of the Village Family Safety Committee Pilot Project initiated by the Office of the Ombudsman as a response to Recommendation 20 of its National Inquiry into Family Violence Report 2018, that suggested the creation of credible village-based mechanisms to assist Village Councils in their efforts to lead family violence prevention and address the prevalent issue of family violence in their respective villages.
The program kick-starts a series of activities led by the 6 village committees, aimed at delivering what they had set out in their family safety committee workplans, launched last year with the assistance of the Office and its partners.
One of the contributing factors or triggers of family violence commonly identified by the 6 Committees was the misuse of technology particularly social media to exercise the freedom of speech and opinion. They shared how instances and examples would negatively impact relationships and disrupt the harmony within families, often exposing young people to violent behaviour and attitudes.
The villagers identified and referred to a series of real-life scenarios of family violence matters that have been brought before their Village Fono where the underlying origin of the violence built up as a result of the incorrect exercise of the freedom of speech and opinion to launch verbal insults, defaming others, threatening words amongst individuals and groups, through Facebook and other social sites, causing conflicts within families, villages and even church communities.
It was important for the program to firstly address the misunderstanding that exists in being unable to distinguish between causes and triggers of the issue.
“Such distinctions are not often made but it is crucial to do so because when we classify triggers as causes, we then often shift responsibility away from the perpetrator, which contributes to the continuation of violence,” said Samoa’s Director of Human Rights, Loukinikini Vili-Lewaravu.
“Secondly, it was important to drive home the key message that freedom of speech and opinion is not an absolute right as many have come to believe,” she stressed.
“The programme highlights that limitations of this freedom are clearly set out in Samoa’s national laws, in order to promote public order and harmonious societies;
Vili-Lewaravu added, “it was important for people to understand that freedom of speech and opinion is freedom of an individual or a community that is utmost to our daily lives and our interaction with others, however, we all have a responsibility to each other in the way they are exercised and technology should not be used as a medium to wrongly exercise this freedom to spread misinformation with the intention to insult, threaten or defame another person”.
The Ministry of Police and Prisons represented by Detective Inspector Viiga Sio touched on important aspects of the legal limitations of such freedom including the laws relating to the misuse of such freedom and its associated penalties.
The Office of the Regulator represented by Principal Legal Officer Angeline Seiuli shed light on the overall positive impacts of social media and technology, as well as its negative impacts which are determined by how people use it.
Technical methods and tips were shared with participants to ensure safe online use and access for young people, as well as the role of parents to ensure that children are being monitored and protected from indecent and harmful online materials and predators online.
“This Pilot Project is a joint partnership with relevant agencies to assist these villages to deliver awareness workshops to address issues they raised that are contributing factors to violence in their homes,” explained Ms. Lewaravu-Vili.
The first awareness workshops of activities commenced this week with Lalovi Mulifanua, Vaie’e, and Lotopue Aleipata in Upolu and will continue to Asau, Taga and Saleia villages in Savaii next month.