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Changing community perceptions on human rights

Graphic: Representatives from the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission

A major barrier when discussing human rights in the Pacific is the attitude it is at odds with cultural values, participants told a workshop in Fiji.


One of the greatest barriers when discussing human rights in the Pacific is the community attitude it is a 'foreign' concept at odds with traditional cultural values, participants told a workshop in Fiji.

The three-day workshop was an opportunity for participants to share examples of effective human rights communication and education initiatives in the Pacific, as well as develop skills and strategies to build community engagement on human rights issues.

What emerged was an understanding that human rights and Pacific cultural values share far more in common than their differences and that when these shared values are communicated effectively, understanding and enjoyment of rights can increase substantially.


In this short video, Maiava Lulai Toma, Ombudsman of Samoa, explains how human rights link to the traditional Samoan values and Christian faith.

The video is one of a series produced as part of the Commonwealth Equality Project, which is implemented by the Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) of the Pacific Community.


A common theme throughout the discussions was the importance of using stories that connect human rights with the cultural values that are meaningful to people in different parts of the Pacific.

The workshop brought together representatives from the three national human rights institutions in the Pacific – Samoa, Fiji and Tuvalu – as well as from government agencies and civil society organisations from the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Tonga.

Practical exercises encouraged participants to consider human rights from the perspective of different audiences, to 'translate' human rights into day-to-day concepts and to discuss how they could 'reframe' difficult conversations.


Graphic: Norleen Oliver, workshop participant from the Federated States of Micronesia


They also began planning a communications or education program they would like to run in their respective countries.

Some of the practical ideas discussed by participants included:

  • Developing human rights content for an induction program for public servants
  • Preparing an engaging program on human rights and the work of parliamentarians for incoming MPs
  • Providing human rights information for detainees in prisons and other places of detention
  • Integrating songs, stories and proverbs with linkages to human rights values into the school curriculum
  • Working with village councils to promote human rights values in the development of by-laws
  • Developing media guidelines on how to report on persons with disabilities.

The workshop, held from 8-10 April, was organised by the Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) of the Pacific Community, in partnership with the APF.

James Iliffe, APF Communications Consultant, led the sessions on human rights communication, while Dr Frances Cresantia Koya, from the University of the South Pacific, led the sessions on human rights education.

Date: 15 April 2019


Image credits

  1. Representatives from the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission - APF
  2. Norleen Oliver, workshop participant from the Federated States of Micronesia - RRRT