Standing Up for Human Rights - A Year of Initiatives in the Pacific

Sigatoka residents at a human trafficking workshop in Fiji.

Journalists attend a workshop on the role of the media in democracy.

Tongan Member of Parliament Lord Vaea gives the keynote address at the roundtable.

Chair of Samoa’s National Human Rights Institution, Maiva Iulai Toma, delivers remarks.

Members of the Sigatoka police force take part in training.

The promotion of human rights and democratic values has long been an integral part of Canada’s foreign policy. Canada helps to advance these priorities in the South Pacific by partnering with governments, human rights defenders and local communities. For several years, the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) has been used to advance human rights and development in the South Pacific. CFLI provides support to small scale, short-term projects in the Pacific by working with local, national and international NGOs and other organizations.

In 2014-2015, the High Commission of Canada in New Zealand supported a dozen initiatives across Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa and Tonga, including the production of a path breaking documentary film on violence against women and girls in Samoa, a series of workshops on human trafficking in Fiji, and a roundtable on the role of media in democracy in the Kingdom of Tonga.

Gender Equality in Samoa

On International Women’s Day in March 2015, the High Commission in New Zealand participated in the first public screening of the documentary Exploring Gender Equality Issues in Samoa in the local village of Poutasi, Samoa. Local filmmakers, through CFLI funds, studied how interpretations of culture and religion are creating barriers to gender equality in Samoa. Following the launch of the documentary, local community members participated in a roundtable to exchange views on issues related to domestic violence.

“We need to work together to change behaviour in order to help end violence against women and girls,” said Steven Percival, the documentary filmmaker. His motivation for making the film came from his view that a generational change in Samoan culture will end such violence.

Screening the documentary has helped raise awareness in Samoa about women’s rights, and the importance of empowering women to take on active and equitable roles in society. 

Workshops to end human trafficking in Fiji

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and is a horrific abuse of the human rights of the most vulnerable groups of society. Victims are often trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labour. Human trafficking occurs in developed and developing countries alike, but Pacific Island Countries are often ill-equipped to address this growing problem.

To raise awareness against this terrible crime, the High Commission of Canada in New Zealand partnered with Pacific Dialogue, an NGO devoted to human rights advocacy in Fiji and the Pacific, to host workshops across seventeen villages in the Sigatoka region.

According to Patricia Kailola of Pacific Dialogue, “Our main target right now is to raise awareness because the key thing about human traffickers is that they target areas that have a lot of poverty and unemployment.”

During the workshops, participants learned about tools for identifying instances of trafficking and the importance of being vigilant when using social media, which is often a platform for luring young people into trafficking. Students were encouraged to report suspicious behaviour and parents were provided with advice on prevention. Local police also participated in a specially designed workshop to learn about how to appropriately manage human trafficking cases.

Roundtable to promote media freedom in Tonga

Canada has a strong interest in the democratic development of Pacific Island nations. In the Kingdom of Tonga, the High Commission partnered with the Tonga Media Council on a roundtable with journalists to promote the role of the media in democracy. During the event, Tongan journalists heard from Lord ‘Alipate Tu’ivanuavou Vaea, a prominent reformist politician, on the importance of accurate reporting, given Tonga’s strong oral tradition. Journalists were reminded that proper management of archival material is essential in a democracy and that using the Tongan language in their work helps to preserve it. In a separate segment, attendees asked questions about journalism ethics of prominent international journalists via video link.

Canada will continue to support projects that promote human rights and democracy, to help ensure safe and secure futures for all people in the South Pacific region.