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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Kiribati

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Kiribati, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The nation of Kiribati comprises some 76,300 people occupying 33 small islands widely scattered across 3.5 million square kilometers of the central Pacific. The population is primarily Micronesian, with a significant component of Polynesian origin. Kiribati gained full independence from the United Kingdom in 1979 and became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. It has a nationally elected president and a legislative assembly with 39 members elected by universal suffrage and 2 members ex officio .

The main security apparatus is a police force of about 250 personnel, responsible to and effectively controlled by civilian authority. Economic activity consists primarily of subsistence agriculture and fishing. The islands' isolation and meager resources, including poor soil and limited arable land, severely limit prospects for economic development.

Kiribati society is egalitarian, democratic, and respectful of human rights. There were no reports of specific human rights abuses in 1994, but in the traditional culture women have occupied a subordinate role, with limits on their job opportunities.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of politically motivated or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are forbidden by the Constitution, corporal punishment is permitted under traditional mores for criminal acts and other transgressions. On some outer islands, the island councils occasionally order strokes with palm fronds to be administered for public drunkenness and other minor offenses such as petty thievery.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Constitutional safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention are observed in practice. There is no exile, internal or external.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The right to a fair public trial is assured by law and observed in practice. The Constitution provides that an accused person be informed of the nature of the offense for which he is charged and be provided adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The right to confront witnesses, present evidence, and appeal convictions is enshrined in law.

Procedural safeguards are based on English common law. The judiciary is independent and free of governmental interference. Kiribati has no political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The privacy of the home is protected in law and respected by the Government. There is no arbitrary intrusion by the State or political organizations into the private life of the individual.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech and press is provided for in the Constitution and observed in practice. Kiribati's radio station and only newspaper are government owned but offer a variety of views. Churches publish newsletters and other periodicals. Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, including the right to form or belong to associations for the advancement or protection of a group's interests. There are no significant restrictions in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion prevails. There is no state or preferred religion. Missionaries are free to seek converts.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens are free to travel within the country and abroad. There are no restrictions on repatriation. Kiribati has no refugees or displaced persons.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Government is chosen by the people in periodic free and open elections. Executive authority is exercised by the President, who is elected by the people for a 4-year term. No less than three and no more than four presidential candidates are nominated by the elected Legislative Assembly from among its members. Under the Constitution, the President is limited to three terms.

Prior to a snap general election held in August, there had been no formally organized parties, although election time did bring about coalitions of various interest groups. Since independence in 1979, the former ruling group called itself the National Progressive Party. After the Government fell in May in a no-confidence vote, the opposition forces which brought it down formed the Maneaban Te Mauri Party (MTM). In the August parliamentary election, the MTM won 19 of the 39 seats in the Assembly. An opposition leader, Teburoro Tito, was elected President in the September balloting.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no restrictions on the formation of local nongovernmental organizations that concern themselves with human rights, but to date none has been formed. There have been no reported allegations of human rights violations by the Government and no known requests for investigations. Kiribati is not a member of the United Nations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, national origin, or sex, and this prohibition is generally observed in practice. Kiribati society, fundamentally egalitarian, has no privileged chiefly class.


The traditional culture, in which males are dominant, has been an impediment to women taking a more active role in the economy. This is slowly changing, and more women are finding work in unskilled and semiskilled occupations. There are also signs of affirmative action in government hiring and promotions to redress this culturally based inequity. Recent examples of affirmative action with regard to the advancement of women include the appointment of Makurita Baaro as the nation's first female Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Furthermore, the selection of recent female participants from Kiribati in overseas training programs in the United States, Japan, and other countries reflects a firm commitment to the advancement of women. Women have full and equal access to education.

Statistics on the participation of women in the work force and comparative wages are unavailable. Women have full rights of ownership and inheritance of property. Violence against women does not appear to be a major problem in this isolated, rural society. Rape is a crime under the law, and the law is enforced when charges are brought to court. To the extent that it exists, wife beating is dealt with informally and in a traditional way; frequently, communal pressure is brought to bear.


If child abuse exists, it is rare and has not become a source of societal concern. Within the limited resources of the Government, adequate expenditures are made for child welfare.

People with Disabilities

There is no evidence or complaint of discrimination in employment, education, or provision of other state services. Accessibility for the disabled has not been mandated.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Freedom of association is provided for in the Constitution. Workers are free to organize unions and choose their own representatives. The Government does not control or restrict unions. Over 90 percent of the work force is occupied in fishing or subsistence farming, but the small wage sector has a relatively strong and effective trade union movement. In 1982 the seven trade unions registered in Kiribati merged to form the Kiribati Trade Union Congress (KTUC). It has approximately 2,500 members, mostly from the public service sector. The KTUC is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The right to strike is provided for by law. However, strikes are rare, the last one having taken place in 1980.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining is provided for under the Industrial Relations Code. Government wage setting is the rule in the large public sector. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Employment sets wages after consultations with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. However, in a few statutory bodies and government-owned companies, employees may negotiate wages and other conditions. In the private sector, employees may also negotiate wages with employers. Negotiations are generally nonconfrontational, in keeping with Kiribati tradition. There have been no reports of antiunion discrimination. However, there are mechanisms for resolving any such complaints. Kiribati has no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited under the Constitution and is not practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Kiribati law prohibits the employment of children under age 14. Children through age 15 are prohibited from industrial employment and employment aboard ships. Labor officers from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Employment normally enforce these laws effectively, given the rudimentary conditions of the economy and its industrial relations system. Children are rarely employed outside the traditional economy.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government has taken no concrete action to implement longstanding legislation authorizing establishment of minimum wages. There is no legislatively prescribed workweek. The Government is the major employer in the cash economy.

Employment laws provide rudimentary health and safety standards for the workplace. Employers must, for example, provide an adequate supply of clean water for workers and ensure the existence of sanitary toilet facilities. Employers are liable for the expenses of workers injured on the job. The Government's ability to enforce employment laws is hampered by a lack of qualified enforcement personnel. Women may not work at night except under specified circumstances (generally in service jobs such as hotel clerks).

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