Upholding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Rights in Samoa
“Cultural mindsets are the biggest barriers to progress. We need to remind people that human rights are universal and apply to everyone regardless. Everyone should be treated with respect and equality.”
Narrated by the UN Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, CFNHRI has produced ‘Beyond Tolerance’, an animated film about upholding the human rights of people who face discrimination or violence because of their sexual orientation or gender expression across the globe.
Alongside this we are highlighting the work being carried out by National Human Rights Institutions across the Commonwealth to uphold the rights of LGBTI people in their countries.
Charles Dean is the legal and investigation officer on human rights for the Nation Human Rights Commission of Samoa. In Samoa there is social acceptance of Fa’afafine: biological males who behave in a range of feminine-gendered ways. They have been an integrated part of Samoan communities for centuries. However, sodomy is still a crime in Samoa.
Charles explains how the NHRI Samoa addresses the promotion of human rights inclusive of sexual minorities:
“Sexual minority groups are often marginalised and vulnerable, faced with prejudice, stigma, discrimination and violence in society from the majority population. As the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) we recognised that it is important to raise the voices of these groups as they too are also part of our society. In the past NHRI’s work has been on promoting and protecting the rights of women and girls, persons with disabilities and sexual minority groups require a voice as well.
“The NHRI has been working with sexual minority groups to ensure that their rights are also protected in Samoa. It is not merely recreating new rights, but to ensure that the promotion of rights for all are inclusive of our sexual minority groups. We recognised that there are certain barriers that hinders the full enjoyment of certain rights by our sexual minority groups and so the NHRI works alongside them to ensure that those barriers are addressed. The Fa’afafine community is visible but other sexual minority groups are a lot less visible so the NHRI has had to work to get to know these groups and gain trust.
“The issue of differing sexual and gender identities in Samoa is challenging. Fa’afafine have a lot of respect in the Samoan culture, but do not want to be identified under the LGBTI label. They prefer the term Fa’afafine because it is a cultural identity and so contextually appropriate. Fa’afafine have been part of Samoan society for a long time and are generally tolerated in families and society, but still face discrimination in various areas including health, education, employment and law enforcement. However, other sexual minority groups are quite hidden because of cultural and religious belief.
“A focus of the work has been around law enforcement, both educating sexual minority groups on rights if they get arrested and working with the police to reduce harassment and intimidation.
“It’s really important to build partnerships, with community groups and with organisations. Cultural mindsets are the biggest barriers to progress. We need to remind people that human rights are universal and apply to everyone regardless. Everyone should be treated with respect and equality.”