SAMOA COURT SLAMS VILLAGE MATAI FOR ABUSE

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By Terry Tavita

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Aug. 29) – A family banished from the village of Lotofaga, Safata, in Samoa has been awarded $164,900 in damages for loss of property and suffering.

The judgement is to be paid by the village council, Justice Lesatele Rapi Vaai ruled in a landmark decision in the Supreme Court.

Justice Lesatele described the village council’s decision as "arrogance and high-mindedness" superceding "logic and common sense".

Fuga Leituala, 61, a planter, of Saaga, Siumu, had sued Pitoamoe Mauga, Saseve Kilifi, Mauga Petelu, Laloava Fili, Lilo Pogai, Leifi Oto, Sao Pelo, Sao Kivi, Sautia Pauga, Lau Numia and Tuua Mani, of Lotofaga, Safata, matai. They were sued for and on behalf of the Alii and Faipule of Lotofaga.

The family, according to Justice Lesatele, was unfairly banished by the village council following a misunderstanding with the village’s Methodist minister and his wife.

One of the plaintiff’s sons, the court found, was badly beaten by the village youths following orders from the village council.

A series of events led to the banishment following a minor incident between the minister’s son and one of the plaintiff’s sons over a bycicle ride.

Evidence, Justice Vaai said, points out that the plaintiff’s son was verbally abused by the minister following complaints from his son. The court also found that the minister had also punched the plaintiff several times in a separate incident.

The minister’s wife was also found to have sworn at one of the plaintiff’s son.

The couple was described by Justice Vaai as the "puissant clergy and his foulmouthed wife".

On 10th December 2002 the council ordered the family out of the village within three hours of when the decision was made.

One of the plaintiff’s sons who was at the plantation and was unaware of the council decision, was beaten with sticks and stones by the village untitled men when he returned home later that evening.

The court could not substantiate some of the defendants’ claims, which Justice Vaai described as baseless and "hearsay".

He concluded that apart from the loss of home and property, the family had suffered "distress, anxiety and inconvenience".

Mr Leituala and his 20-member household had not committed any offence but were "discriminated against and persecuted without a word".

Justice Lesatele said young members of the banished family had become "refugees in their own country". The village council had "outrageously ignored the interests of the young innocent children" in with conduct that offends human decency, he said.

Judge Lesatele said the family’s human rights had been violated.

He awarded compensation as follows:

• Special damages - $14,900

• General damages - $100,000

• Punitive damages - $50,000

Since one of the plaintiff’s sons had to travel from overseas to give evidence, Judge Vaai ruled that the village council must also bare $8,000 in travel costs.

September 3, 2004

Samoa Observer: www.samoaobserver.ws/

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