Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2001 - Kiribati

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 4 March 2002
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2001 - Kiribati , 4 March 2002, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
Comments The report entitled "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with sections 116(d) and 502(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, and section 504 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. The law provides that the Secretary of State shall transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, by February 25 "a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights, within the meaning of subsection (A) in countries that receive assistance under this part, and (B) in all other foreign countries which are members of the United Nations and which are not otherwise the subject of a human rights report under this Act." We have also included reports on several countries that do not fall into the categories established by these statutes and that thus are not covered by the congressional requirement.
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.

Kiribati is a constitutional republic that occupies 33 small islands widely scattered across 1.365 million square miles of the central Pacific Ocean. The country has a popularly elected president and a legislative assembly of 42 members; 40 are elected by universal adult suffrage, the Rabi Island Council in Fiji nominates 1, and the Attorney General holds an ex-officio position. The judiciary is independent.

A police force of about 250 personnel is controlled effectively by the civilian authorities.

The country has a population of over 90,000 that is primarily Micronesian, with a significant component of Polynesian origin. 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. The per capita GDP is approximately $500 (AUS$950).

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse; however, the Government placed some limits on freedom of the press. In this traditional culture, women occupy a subordinate role and have limited job opportunities. Violence against women and child abuse in urban areas were problems.


1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports of the arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; however, traditional practice permits corporal punishment 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.

Prison conditions generally meet international standards. There are separate facilities for men and women. Family members and church representatives are allowed access to prisoners. Both diplomats and senior judicial officials have visited the prison and reported no problems. The question of monitoring prison conditions by local human rights groups has not arisen, and no policy concerning such monitoring has been formulated. There were no known requests by nonresident international human rights monitors to visit the prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observes these prohibitions.

The Government does not use forced exile; however, on rare occasions village maneabas (councils) have used this punishment.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respects this provision in practice.

The judiciary consists of a high court, magistrate courts, a court of appeal, and land courts. Litigants also have the right of appeal to the Privy Council in London. The right to a fair public trial is provided by law and observed in practice. The Constitution provides that an accused person be informed of the nature of the offense with 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 provided for in law. Procedural safeguards are based on English common law.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the Government generally respects these prohibitions in practice.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice; however, the Government limited these rights in some instances.

In May 2000, a former president established the country's first private newspaper, which enabled the opposition to present views divergent from those in the government-owned newspaper.

The sole AM and sole FM radio stations in Tarawa are government owned; they broadcast Radio Australia and Voice of America programming regularly. The country also has a government-supported radio station. An opposition attempt to operate a private radio station was blocked in 1999 when the Government closed the station and fined the owners for attempting to import broadcasting equipment without a license. A foreign journalist remains barred from entering the country after cabinet officials stated in 1999 that the journalist's articles "gave a bad impression of the country." The journalist did not attempt to reenter the country during the year. Churches published newsletters and other periodicals. High costs limited the availability of foreign print media and Internet access, but there were no Government-imposed limitations.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice. Permits are required for public gatherings, but these are granted routinely.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

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

The law provides for these rights, and the Government generally respects them in practice.

There were no reports of refugees. There is no national legislation implementing the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, and the Government has not formulated a policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum. During the year, Australia inquired informally about the Government acting to protect refugees; however, no formal requests were made.

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

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. The President exercises executive authority and is elected for a 4-year term. No fewer 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. In free and fair elections, voters reelected President Teburoro Tito to a second term in November 1998, with 52.3 percent of the votes. Most of President Tito's cabinet ministers have served in the previous cabinet. The next legislative election is scheduled for the latter part of 2002.

The percentage of women in government and politics does not correspond to their percentage of the population. Two women hold permanent secretary positions, and there are 2 women in the 42-member Parliament

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

There are no restrictions on the formation of local human rights nongovernmental organizations, but none have been formed. There are no restrictions on operations by international human rights groups. There have been no reported allegations of human rights abuses by the Government and no known requests for investigations.

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 the Government observed these prohibitions in practice; however, only native-born I-Kiribati may own land. Society is fundamentally egalitarian and has no privileged class.


Spousal abuse and other forms of violence against women are a significant problem in Tarawa and the outer islands. Frequently, alcohol abuse is a factor in attacks on women. The law does not address specifically domestic violence, but general common law and criminal law make assault in all forms illegal. Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime, and the law is enforced when charges are brought to court, although it is suspected that prosecutions are relatively infrequent.

Prostitution is not illegal, but it is not a problem; procuring sex and managing brothels are illegal. The law does not prohibit sex tourism specifically; however, there were no reports of such activity. Obscene or indecent behavior is banned.

The law does not prohibit sexual harassment; however, it is not regarded as a problem.

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex; however, the traditional culture, in which men are dominant, has impeded a more active role for women in the economy. Nevertheless, women slowly are finding work in unskilled and semiskilled occupations. The Government has increased its hiring and promotions of women to some extent; however, women may not work at night except under specified circumstances (generally in service jobs such as hotel clerks). Statistics on the participation of women in the work force and on comparative wages were unavailable, and statistics generally are not well collected in the country. Women have full rights of ownership and inheritance of property as well as full and equal access to education.


Within its limited financial resources, the Government makes adequate expenditures for child welfare. Primary education is compulsory, free, and universal for children between the ages of 6 and 14 years. There are no official statistics available on the percentage of children attending school, but observers estimate that over 50 percent attend; there is no gender discrimination regarding attendance. All children have free primary school education (grades one through six). The 40 percent of primary school graduates who pass a national examination qualify to attend 3 years of junior secondary school and 4 years of senior secondary school on a subsidy; a small fee is charged to other students who wish to matriculate at these levels.

The Government provides free national medical service; however, there are no doctors on the outer islands. The central hospital in Tarawa provides basic medical services, but not intensive care facilities. There are no reports of gender bias in the provision of health services.

Child abuse is a growing problem, particularly on South Tarawa. There have been no reports of child prostitution.

Persons With Disabilities

The law does not prohibit specifically discrimination against persons with disabilities; however, there were no complaints of discrimination in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services for persons with mental or physical disabilities. Accessibility for persons with disabilities has not been mandated; accommodations for persons with disabilities are basically nonexistent.

The central hospital on Tarawa has a wing for persons with mental disabilities. There is a foreign national psychiatrist working in Tarawa. Foreign-based aid workers and the World Health Organization cooperate with the Ministry of Health to conduct outer island workshops for health workers.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Freedom of association is provided for in the Constitution, and workers are free to join and organize unions. Over

90 percent of the work force are occupied in fishing or subsistence farming, but the small wage sector has a relatively strong and effective trade union force. An estimated 10 percent of the wage-earning workers are union members. In 1982 seven registered trade unions merged to form the Kiribati Trade Union Congress (KTUC), which has approximately 2,500 members. There are no official public sector trade unions; however, unionized nurses and teachers make up approximately 30-40 percent of total union membership.

The law provides for the right to strike. However, strikes are rare; the last one took place in 1980.

Unions are free to affiliate internationally. The KTUC is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law protects workers from employer interference in their right to organize and administer unions. The Government does not control or restrict union activities; however, unions must register with the Government. Collective bargaining is provided for under the Industrial Relations Code. The Government sets wages in the large public sector. However, in a few statutory bodies and government-owned companies, employees may negotiate wages and other conditions. In the private sector, individual employees also may negotiate wages with employers. In keeping with tradition, negotiations generally are nonconfrontational. There have been no reports of antiunion discrimination; however, mechanisms exist for resolving complaints were they to arise.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.

The prohibition does not mention specifically forced and bonded labor by children; however, there were no reports that such practices occurred.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14. Children through the age of 15 are prohibited from industrial employment and employment aboard ships. Labor officers from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Employment generally enforce these laws effectively, given the rudimentary conditions of the economy. Children rarely are employed outside the traditional economy. Although not prohibited specifically, forced and bonded labor by children is not known to occur (see Section 6.c.).

The Government has not ratified ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no minimum wage. There is provision for a minimum wage at ministerial discretion, but it has never been implemented. Income tends to be pooled within the extended family, and the standard income appears adequate to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. There is no legislatively prescribed workweek. Workers in the public sector (80 percent of the wage-earning work force) work 361/4 hours per week, with overtime pay for additional hours.

Employment laws provide rudimentary health and safety standards for the workplace. For example, employers must 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 personnel. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from hazardous work sites without risking loss of employment.

There are no laws specifically to protect foreign workers; however, there are no significant numbers of foreign workers and no reports of mistreatment. Some foreign volunteers and missionaries work in the schools.

f. Trafficking in Persons

The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons, and there have been no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country; however, some observers believe that trafficking occurs. Nevertheless, there is no specific evidence of trafficking.

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