Last Updated 15 December 2021

Samoa, officially the Independent State of Samoa, is a very small Oceanianic country of about 200,000 thousand inhabitants. It maintains a single-party parliamentary democracy, in principle. However, only the matai (clan chiefs, or heads of extended families) are eligible to run as candidates.1

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The Constitution2 protects the rights to freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly and association.

Article 11 of the constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change the religion of one’s choice. Clause 1 states:

“Every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his or her religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in a community with others, and, in public or private, to manifest and propagate his or her religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”3

However, in June 2017, the parliament passed the Constitution Amendment Bill, which shifted references to Samoa being a Christian nation from the preamble of the Constitution to the body. The following clause was added to the first article of the Constitution: “Samoa is a Christian nation founded on God The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Moving this phrasing from the preamble to the body of the Constitution means that now the text can potentially be used in legal action.4; Par 26,

Public ceremonies typically begin with a Christian prayer.5

Religious or belief groups are not required to register with the State, however, unregistered religious groups may not formally buy property or pay employees.6 Registration is free of cost and entitles groups to be granted legal status and tax exemption status.

During the 2016 Universal Periodic Review, the following was stated by Samoa concerning discrimination issues in its laws and society:

“Samoa emphasized that much work had been done to increase awareness of human rights among the population, bearing in mind that certain issues, such as discriminatory practices on sexual matters, were especially difficult to face, as they involved cultural and religious sensitivities.”7

In 2020, the government passed reforms to the judicial system under wide condemnation. The reform was seen to undermine the independence of the judiciary by giving the executive branch the ability to dismiss and discipline judicial officers. The reform also weakened the rule of law in matters related to land and titles.8;; Par 21, 23

The Constitution of Samoa recognizes custom as a source of law through the matai (chief) and fono (village council). Samoan courts are required to take into account to mitigate a sentence, the punishment imposed by a village fono9Par 40, Fono punishments conflict with the formal justice system and in practice impose significant disadvantage against certain groups, namely women and girls.10Par 41

Education and children’s rights

Article 12 of the Constitution provides freedom from unwanted religious education in schools and grants all religious groups the right to establish their own schools. Nevertheless, an education policy from 2009 makes Christian instruction compulsory in public primary schools and secondary schools.11 Most children of other religions attend private schools.12

There is a lack of comprehensive sexuality education in the country, which causes significant issues. Adolescents are at high risk of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.13par 71,

Family, community and society

There is reportedly strong societal pressure at the local level—including from village councils—to participate in the activities and services of the local church and to contribute large proportions of household income (in some cases totaling more than 30 percent of family income) to support Church leaders and projects.14;

Despite a duty prescribed by legislation to maintain harmony within the village,15 the traditional governing body of villages – the matai councils – reportedly undermines the freedoms of the residents in terms of religion or belief. According to the US State Department report on International Religious Freedom in 2019, these village leaders “resisted attempts by new religious groups to establish themselves in village communities, forbade individuals to belong to churches outside their village, and did not permit individuals to refrain from participating in worship service.”16 Additionally, “villagers in violation of such rules faced fines, banishment from the village, or both.”17

Discrimination against women

In some villages where women hold matai titles, women are not allowed to participate in the village council, and other villages do not recognise titles bestowed upon women by their families.18 par54,

The International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination Chappaqua has reported that, a number of women ae treated unqueally, both in the public and private sphere in Samoa. It observed that discriminatory treatment occurrs “because of entrenched cultural, religious, and patriarchal traditions” and that Samoan men can be perceived as superior to their wives and the head of households. IThe Center also notes that “unequal gender roles in Samoa were widely enforced and domestic and sexual violence by men against women were a reflection of gender-based power and control.”19Par 75,;;

Articles 112-115 of the Crimes Act20;; criminalizes Abortion, and make it punishable by up to seven years imprisonment for both the woman concerned and the person performing the procedure. Abortion is allowed in cases where there is a serious danger to the life, physical or mental health of the woman.

LGBTI+ rights

Articles 67 and 68 of the Crimes Act21 outlaw consensual same-sex relationships, and those who provide accommodation for such relations, and allows for a seven-year term in prison. However, in practice, the law is not enforced on cases of consensual relationships.22Par 30,31;

Whilst the Labour and Employment Relations Act 2013 provides some protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, there is no comprehensive anti-discrimination law.23par 25,

Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values

The law allows for the imprisonment of any journalist who, despite a court order, refuses to reveal a confidential source upon request.24 Libel laws also form an obstacle to journalists’ free expression. A critic of the prime minister was sentenced to seven weeks’ imprisonment for libel in 2019.25

In March 2021, journalists from the Samoa Observer were looking into a potential conflict of interest case involving the government and the law firm where the attorney general used to be a partner and is currently owned by her husband. The Office of the Attorney General of Samoa threatened the journalists and their sources with legal action.26

In 2020, Judicial reforms were passed despite significant criticism from many national and international actors. Local lawyers reported receiving threats and being intimated for speaking out on law reforms.27


2, 3
4; Par 26,
5, 6, 12, 25
8;; Par 21, 23
9 Par 40,
10 Par 41
13 par 71,
16, 17
18 par54,
19 Par 75,;;
22 Par 30,31;
23 par 25,

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