NHRI cautions against constitutional amendment
Graphic: Maiava Iulai Toma, Ombudsman of Samoa
The NHRI said it did not support drastic amendment of the Constitution and does not consider it necessary to remedy problems experienced in the past.
The Office of the Ombudsman – Samoa's national human rights institution (NHRI) – has provided a submission in response to three Bills currently being considered by a Parliamentary Committee: the Land and Titles Bill 2020, the Constitutions Amendment Bill 2020 and the Judicature Ordinance Bill 2020.
The NHRI's submission makes clear that it supports, in general, proposals made in the Amendment Bills for the operational expansion and deepening of the Lands and Titles judicial mandate.
However, the NHRI said it did not support drastic amendment of the Constitution and does not consider this necessary to remedy problems experienced in the past.
Individual rights are intrinsic to society … It is truism therefore to say that ‘if you protect the individual, you protect society’.
"It is not clear to us how the .. highly desirable objectives are achieved in any substantive way by the Bills before the Committee," the NHRI said in its submission.
The submission examines how Courts should consider the fundamental right of an individual when it is affected by a collective decision of the Village Council.
"In no other circumstance but in religious freedom cases has the Samoan Supreme Court found itself simply compelled to rule in favour of an individual fundamental right without needing to consider arguments a Village Fono may have against it".
The NHRI submission gives specific examples of how Samoa's customs and traditions have always been considered, within reason, by the Courts.
It also states that the Constitution of Samoa is serving the nation well in its current form.
"A desirable Constitution is simply a Supreme Law that requires people to live in freedom and to conduct their affairs as they wish in accordance with law; whereunder we can do all the Samoan things, in strictly Samoan ways, and whereunder no Authority may impose any gross injustice or atrocity upon any of us," the submission said.
"It is the contention of this submission that we have such a Constitution now. To meddle with it in any drastic way could, in our humble view, result in throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water."
The full submission is available on the website of the National Human Rights Institution / Office of the Ombudsman.
Date: 20 May 2020
Source: Office of the Ombudsman
- Maiava Iulai Toma, Ombudsman of Samoa - SPC-RRRT