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SAMOA’S FA’AFAFINE DECRY UN SHIFT ON RIGHTS Resolution excludes sexual discrimination in rights abuse

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Nov. 25, 2010) – A local fafafine group has slammed the United Nation’s decision to remove a reference to sexual orientation from a resolution on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

[PIR editor’s note: Fa’afafini in Samoa means "in the way of woman," a reference to a distinct third gender which is neither man nor woman. Biologically male, fa’afafine demonstrate strong female orientation at an early age and are encouraged in Samoan society to assume the distinct role of a heterosexual fa’afafine. Similar references in Polynesia include the Tongan fakafefine (also fakaleiti), the Maori whakawahine, the Cook Islands Maori akava'ine and the Hawaiian mahu.]

The resolution urges States to protect the right to life of all people by calling on states to investigate killings based on discriminatory grounds.

For the past 10 years, the resolution has included sexual orientation on the list of discriminatory grounds on which killings are often based.

The Samoa Fa’afafine Association Inc. (SFA) says they are deeply disappointed with this decision to remove the reference to sexual orientation.

President Roger Tootooalii Stanley is saddened by these events.

He says the removal was sponsored by Benin on behalf of the African Group in the UN General Assembly, 9 of the Pacific Nations either abstained or were absent.

"The results are disturbing, and disappointing to say the least," says President Stanley.

"We lost by 7 votes and 9 Pacific Island neighbours either abstained or were absent yet the 3rd gender’s roles in the Pacific are so entrenched and deeply connected to its local communities, like faafafine in Samoa and fakaleiti in Tonga.

"There are so many great things coming out of the United Nations on equality and human rights like an increased recognition of the need for protection from discrimination regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity."

He says at a September 2010 panel held in conjunction with a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon unequivoc

ally recognised: "the particular vulnerability of individuals who face criminal sanctions, including imprisonment and in some cases the death penalty, on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

He says the removed reference was originally contained in a non-exhaustive list in the resolution highlighting the many groups of people that are particularly targeted by killings, including persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, persons acting as human rights defenders (such as lawyers, journalists or demonstrators) as well as street children and members of indigenous communities.

"Mentioning sexual orientation as a basis on which people are targeted for killing highlights a situation in which particular vigilance is required in order for all people to be afforded equal protection," he says.

He says sixty-eight countries have also signed a joint statement in the UN General Assembly on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity which calls for an end for: "human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity … in particular the use of the death penalty on this ground [and] extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

"We are very committed to issues of sexual orientation and human rights here in Samoa and we are indebted to the vote for the inclusion by our UN Representatives."

SFA inc. urge all Pacific Island States, regardless of their vote on this amendment, to sign the UNGA joint statement affirming support of the human rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity and to continue in efforts to decriminalise same-sex conduct and to end other discrimination, including violence, on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

"We have a lot of positive initiatives like our forthcoming FIVA (Fa’afafine Industry Variety Awards) which is giving back to the employers and local business community for all the support they give to fa’afafine irrespective of their sexual orientation," says President Stanley.

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