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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Micronesia, Federated States of

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 31 March 2003
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Micronesia, Federated States of , 31 March 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3e918c322.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
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.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 31, 2003

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), administered by the United States from 1947 to 1979 pursuant to an agreement with the United Nations, is composed of four states: Chuuk (formerly Truk), Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap. Political legitimacy rests on the popular will expressed by a majority vote through elections in accordance with the Constitution. There are three branches of government: An executive branch led by a president who also serves as head of state; a unicameral legislature elected from the four constituent states that elects the President from among its members; and an independent judicial system that applies criminal and civil laws and procedures that closely parallel those of the United States. Individual states enjoy significant autonomy and have their own constitutions and governmental systems. Traditional leaders retain considerable influence.

Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States is responsible for the islands' defense. The country has no security forces apart from national police and state public safety officers, who operated under effective civilian control.

The population was approximately 107,000 according to the 2000 census, mostly of Micronesian origin. The economy depended heavily on financial assistance from the United States, and on fishing, tourism, and subsistence agriculture.

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. Traditional customs distinguish among persons on the basis of social status and sex. Neither the Government nor other social organizations have supplanted the role of the traditional extended family in protecting and supporting its citizens. There was growing evidence of spousal abuse and child neglect, and government agencies often did not address such problems due to the constraints imposed by traditional society. Micronesia was invited by the Community of Democracies' (CD) Convening Group to attend the November 2002 second CD Ministerial Meeting in Seoul, Republic of Korea, as a participant.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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. There was a suspicious death of a prisoner in custody in 2000 (see Section 1.c.). The case remained open but was not known to be under active investigation.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. In August 2000, two off-duty policemen reportedly beat a foreign national at a bar in Pohnpei. Both officers were dismissed from the police force; however, they were not prosecuted.

Prison conditions generally met international standards. In January the family of a prisoner who died in custody in 1996 won a civil case against the Chuuk state police for violation of civil rights and wrongful death. The family was awarded $42,000. There was a suspicious death of a prisoner in 2000. The case remained open but was not known to be under active investigation. The question of prison visits by human rights observers did not arise during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions. On September 6, officials from the national Government attempted to serve a search warrant on the Mayor of Udot in Chuuk State. A crowd made up of the mayor's supporters disarmed the national officials, placed them in handcuffs, and briefly detained them. The Chuuk Director of Public Safety allegedly instructed state policemen not to assist the national officials. The Mayor and the Director of Public Safety were charged respectively with abuse of power and obstruction of justice; at year's end they were awaiting trial.

The Constitution and law do not explicitly prohibit forced exile; however, the Government did not employ it. The courts do not have the option of imposing exile. Punishments for crimes are set out specifically in statutes, which do not provide for the imposition of exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice. The President, with the advice and consent of the legislature, appoints the three justices of the Supreme Court. Each state also has a supreme court, and each municipality has a community court. Some states have established additional courts to deal with land disputes.

The Constitution provides for public trial, and trials generally were conducted fairly. Juveniles may have closed hearings. Despite these provisions, cultural resistance to litigation and incarceration as methods of maintaining public order has allowed some persons to act with impunity. Serious cases of sexual and other assault and even murder have not gone to trial, and suspects routinely were released indefinitely. Bail, even for major crimes, usually was set at low levels.

Delays in some judicial appointments and underfunding of the court system hampered the judiciary's ability to function efficiently. Shortages or unavailability of court personnel and services occasionally hampered the right to a speedy trial.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the Government generally respected 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 respected these rights in practice.

The national Government and the four states publish newsletters. A biweekly newspaper, the Kaselehlie Press (originally known as the Rohng En Pohnpei), commenced publication in November 2000. Yap also has a privately published weekly newspaper, the Yap Networker. Both newspapers have published politically sensitive stories.

Each of the four state governments controls a radio station that broadcasts primarily in the local language. Credible sources reported that the Chuuk state government censored politically sensitive domestic news for its public radio station. Religious groups operate private radio stations. The populations of Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Kosrae increasingly have access to live satellite-broadcast information from around the world and tape-delayed broadcasts of programming by the major U.S. networks. Yap State planned to introduce satellite cable television, but at year's end, there was no television receiver station, and few residents had individual satellite dishes.

There was an increasing level of open public discussion of social and governmental issues on various Internet sites. The Internet played an important role in allowing citizens in the four states, as well as those residing outside the country, an opportunity to share views and opinions.

The Government did not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice.

During political campaigns, citizens often questioned candidates at public meetings and social gatherings. Formal associations were uncommon, but nongovernmental organizations increased in number, including organizations for students and women.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. Missionaries of many faiths worked in the country without hindrance.

For a more detailed discussion see the 2002 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

The Constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country. It does not address foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but in practice none of these were restricted.

The Government has not formulated a policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum. Three Vietnamese who arrived in Yap by boat in 1998 may be the first case testing political asylum rights. Efforts by the national Government in August to deport the Vietnamese as illegal immigrants faced opposition from community and traditional leaders in Yap (Yap's constitution includes the Councils of Traditional Leaders as a fourth branch of government), who argued that Yapese tradition allows for the adoption of "lost souls" who arrive on Yap's shores. The three Vietnamese were granted temporary entry permits restricting them to Yap state only.

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 exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.

The Congress is elected by popular vote from each state; the Congress then chooses the President and Vice President by majority vote from among its four at-large senators. State governors, state legislators, and municipal governments are elected by direct popular vote. Political campaigning was unrestricted. There were no restrictions on the formation of political groups, but there have been no significant efforts to form political parties, and none exist. Political support generally was sought from family and allied clan groupings, as well as religious groups.

Cultural factors in the male-dominated society have limited women's representation in government and politics. Women held midlevel positions at both the federal and state level. The first woman to hold a national government cabinet-level position was appointed in 1999; she continued to serve in that capacity as Public Defender. In 2000 a woman also was elected to serve in the Pohnpei State Legislature. There were no women in the national legislature.

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

There were no known requests for investigations of alleged human rights violations during the year; international human rights groups never have raised issues with the country. While there were no official restrictions, no local groups concerned themselves exclusively with human rights. However, there were groups that addressed problems concerning the rights of women and children, and the Government cooperated with these groups.

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

Although the Constitution provides explicit protection against discrimination based on race, sex, language, or religion, there was extensive societal discrimination, notably discrimination and violence against women. Government enforcement of these constitutional provisions was weak.

Women

Reports of spousal abuse, often severe, continued during the year. There are no laws against domestic abuse, and there were no governmental or private facilities to shelter and support women in abusive situations. Effective prosecution of such offenses was rare. In many cases, the victim decides against initiating legal charges because she is pressured by family, is fearful of further assault, or is convinced that the police will not involve themselves actively in what is seen as a private family problem. The number of reports of physical and sexual assaults against women outside the family context also grew, according to police and women's groups. Such assaults were perpetrated against both citizens and foreigners. Unmarried women sometimes were considered to have invited such violence by living or traveling alone.

In the traditional extended family unit, spouses and children were accorded strong protections from violence, abuse, and neglect. Such actions were deemed offenses against the family, not just the individuals within them, and were addressed by a complex system of familial sanctions. However, with increasing urbanization and monetization of the economy, greater emphasis has been placed on the nuclear family, and the traditional methods of coping with family discord were breaking down. No government agency, including the police, has succeeded in replacing the extended family system or in addressing the problem of family violence directly.

Prostitution is not legal, nor was it a major problem. The law does not prohibit sex tourism specifically; however, it was not a problem. The law does not prohibit sexual harassment; however, it did not appear to be a problem.

Women have equal rights under the law, and there were no institutional barriers to education and employment. Women received equal pay for equal work and were well represented in the lower and middle ranks of government. However, there was extensive societal discrimination against women. Nonetheless, women were active and increasingly successful in private business and enterprises. There was an active National Women's Advisory Council that lobbied the Government, and several small nongovernmental groups were interested in women's issues, particularly those associated with spousal and family violence and abuse.

Children

The Government was committed to children's welfare through its programs of health care and education; however, these programs were inadequate to meet the needs of the country's growing population, particularly in an environment in which the extended family is breaking down. Health officials and religious leaders started peer support and family care groups to address the factors that may be leading to an increase in youth suicides; although there were a number of suicides during the year, there were no comprehensive statistics.

A compulsory education law requires that all children begin school at the age of 6. Education was free, and there was no difference between the education of boys and girls. Education levels differed among the states, but on average 75 percent of children finish 8th grade, 55 percent finish 9th grade, and 35 percent finish high school. Children may leave school when they reach the age of 14 or after completing the 8th grade, whichever comes first.

The Government administered an immunization program throughout the country and provided some vitamin supplements.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination in public service employment against persons with disabilities. Children with physical or mental disabilities were provided with special education, including instruction at home if necessary. There were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities; however, they usually did not seek employment outside the home.

Neither laws nor regulations mandate accessibility to public buildings and services for persons with disabilities. Some private businesses provided special parking spaces and wheelchair ramps for persons with disabilities. The school system has established special education classes to address problems encountered by those who exhibit learning disabilities, although such classes were completely dependent on foreign government funding.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits noncitizens from purchasing land, and the national Congress grants citizenship to non-Micronesians only in rare cases (an authority that last was exercised during 1998, for the first time in almost 20 years). There is no permanent residency status. However, for the most part, noncitizens shared fully in the social and cultural life of the country.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Under the law, citizens have the right to form or join associations, and national government employees by law may form associations to "present their views" to the Government without coercion, discrimination, or reprisals; however, they have not formed any such associations. For a variety of reasons, including the fact that most private-sector employment was in small-scale, family-owned business and that citizens are not accustomed to collective action, there were neither associations nor trade unions. The country is not a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

No law deals specifically with trade unions or with the right to collective bargaining. Individual employers, the largest of which are the national and state governments, set wages. There is no specific right to strike. There were no reports of strikes or collective bargaining agreements during the year. A dispute between management and Chinese citizen employees of a Chinese fishing firm active in Yap State led to the dismissal of several of the employees and their removal to China in October.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor

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

There is no law establishing a minimum age for employment of children. In practice there was no employment of children for wages; however, they often assisted their families in subsistence farming activities. The Government has not ratified ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The four state governments have established minimum wage rates for government workers. Pohnpei has a minimum hourly wage rate of $2.00 for government and $1.35 for private workers. The other three states have established minimum hourly rates only for government workers: $1.25 for Chuuk; $1.49 for Kosrae; and $0.80 for Yap. The minimum hourly wage for employment with the national Government is $1.68. The U.S. dollar is the country's legal currency. These minimum wage structures and the wages customarily paid to skilled workers were sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The minimum wage was enforced through the tax system, and this mechanism was believed to be effective.

There are no laws regulating hours of work (although a 40-hour workweek is standard practice) or prescribing standards of occupational safety and health. A federal regulation requires that employers provide a safe workplace. The Department of Health has no enforcement capability; working conditions varied in practice.

There is no law for either the public or private sector that would permit workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their continued employment.

Two states permitted foreign laborers to work in garment manufacturing enterprises. The foreign laborers were paid at a lower rate than citizens who worked at the factories, worked longer hours per day, and worked a 6-day week in contrast to the 5-day week for citizens. However, working and living conditions generally were regarded as good, and workers were not subjected to abuse or deported without cause; they have the right to a hearing under such circumstances. Foreign workers have the right to form unions; however, they have not done so.

f. Trafficking in Persons

The law does not address specifically the subject of trafficking in persons. A series of articles in the U.S. press in September alleged abusive labor situations for some Micronesian workers recruited for low-wage jobs in the United States. The Government introduced draft legislation in the October/November session of Congress to regulate foreign labor recruiters as part of a strategy to control abusive recruitment practices; the legislation still was pending at year's end.

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