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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2003 - Micronesia, Federated States of

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 25 February 2004
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2003 - Micronesia, Federated States of , 25 February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/403f57ba10.html [accessed 26 December 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
February 25, 2004

The Federated States of Micronesia, 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. Elections for Congress were held in March; they were generally considered to be free and fair, and resulted in a major changeover in the government. The incumbent President and Speaker of Congress both were defeated. Senator Joseph J. Urusemal was chosen as President in May. 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 country's external defense. The country has no security forces apart from national police and state public safety officers, who operated under effective civilian control. There were a few reports of human rights abuses by the police.

The economy is market based, but dominated by the large governmental sector. 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. Fishing, tourism, and subsistence agriculture, the major investment sectors, totaled only 5 percent of economic activity. Real economic growth was negative 0.1 percent during the year, after growing 0.9 percent in 2002. The real value of wages and benefits declined 1.7 percent in 2002 and again during the year.

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, there were problems in some areas. 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 continued evidence of spousal abuse and child neglect, and government efforts to address such problems were constrained by traditional society.

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.

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 torture; however, there were occasional reports of physical abuse by police.

Prison conditions generally met international standards; however, during the year, Pohnpei and Chuuk States' underfunded Corrections Divisions failed to provide nutritionally adequate meals to inmates. On September 5, during a raid of the state jail to search for drugs and weapons, Pohnpei State police struck one inmate and pointing loaded weapons at others, including incarcerated mentally ill patients.

Each of the four state jails includes a separate cell for female prisoners. Since women rarely were detained, these cells typically were used to separate disruptive male prisoners from the general population of detainees. There are no designated juvenile detention facilities; however, juvenile crime was rare, and the states typically have decided against incarceration of juveniles. Pretrial detainees usually were housed together with convicted prisoners. All four states used jail cells to house persons with mental illnesses but no criminal background (see Section 5).

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.

Each state has a Department of Public Safety comprising police, corrections, fire, and emergency response functions. The directors of public safety are state cabinet-level positions. The Government has a small national police force reporting to the Department of Justice. Some municipalities also have small local police forces. In Chuuk State, political considerations influenced some police hiring, leading to an oversized and underqualified force. There were reports of police showing favoritism toward relatives and occasional reports of physical abuse by the police. Many citizens preferred to rely on customary and traditional remedies to resolve criminal and civil matters.

Laws governing arrests, warrants, access to counsel, and bail are patterned on U.S. law. All defendants have the right to counsel; however, the Public Defenders Office was underfunded, and not all defendants received adequate legal assistance in practice. Bail usually is set at low levels except in cases involving flight risk.

In 2002, national government officials attempted to serve a search warrant on the Mayor of Udot in Chuuk State. A crowd made up of the Mayor's supporters, including local police, disarmed the national officials and briefly detained them. The Mayor and the Director of Public Safety were charged, respectively, with abuse of power and obstruction of justice; court proceedings still were pending at year's end. In August, the suspended Director of Public Safety was appointed Director of Public Affairs and began collecting a state salary again.

The Constitution and law do not explicitly prohibit forced exile; however, the Government did not employ it. 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 additional courts to deal with land disputes.

The Constitution provides for public trials, 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 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. One appeal of a felony conviction in Pohnpei has been pending since 2000 awaiting the finalization of the court transcript.

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 maintained public information offices. There was a biweekly national newspaper, the Kaselehlie Press. Yap also had a privately published weekly newspaper, the Yap Networker. Both newspapers have published politically sensitive stories.

Each of the four state governments controlled a radio station that broadcast 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 operated private radio stations. The populations of Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Kosrae increasingly had access to live satellite-broadcast information from around the world and tape-delayed broadcasts of programming by the major U.S. networks.

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 Internet access.

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 2003 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 law does not include provisions for the granting of refugee status or asylum in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The Government has not formulated a policy regarding refugees or asylum; however, there were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. Three Vietnamese who arrived in Yap by boat in 1998 were granted temporary entry permits restricting them to Yap State only. At year's end, their status still had not been resolved. In December, the Government conducted a hearing on the matter in Yap; however, the Supreme Court issued an injunction prohibiting the Government from removing the three from the country pending further legal review of their cases.

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 14-member Congress is elected by popular vote from each state; the Congress then chooses the President and Vice President from among its 4 at-large senators by majority vote. Elections for Congress were held in March; the President and Vice President were selected in May; and the two vacated congressional seats were filled in a July by-election. The election cycle resulted in a new President and Speaker and a substantial turnover in Congress. The elections were generally free and fair; however, the national Attorney General filed charges against one election worker in Chuuk State who had withheld a ballot from a voter in the March election. The case remained pending at year's end.

State governors, state legislators, and municipal governments are elected by direct popular vote. Pohnpei held statewide elections in November and December. Political campaigning was unrestricted. There are no restrictions on the formation of political groups; however, 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 limited women's representation in government and politics. Women held mid-level 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. Yap State's new governor appointed two women to his Cabinet during the year and designated one as Acting Governor for 3 weeks during his absence.

There was one woman in the Pohnpei State legislature; although the sole woman elected to that legislature in 2000 lost her bid for reelection in November, another woman won election. There were no women serving in the other state legislatures or 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 specific laws against domestic abuse, and there were no governmental or private facilities to shelter and support women in abusive situations. Effective prosecution of 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. There were a number of reports of physical and sexual assaults against women outside the family context, according to police and women's groups. Such assaults were perpetrated against both citizens and foreigners. Within this traditional society, unmarried women sometimes were considered to have invited such violence by living or traveling alone.

Within 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. In October, the Speaker of Congress publicly called on the national legislature to deal more effectively with the problem of domestic violence.

Prostitution is not legal, nor was it a major problem. The law does not prohibit sex tourism specifically; however, the Government took steps to deny visas to potential foreign prostitutes on two occasions during the year. The law does not prohibit sexual harassment; it appeared to be pervasive, although seldom reported.

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 population, particularly in an environment in which the extended family was breaking down. Health officials and religious leaders started peer support and family care groups to address the factors that may contribute to youth suicides. A number of such suicides occurred during the year, but there were no comprehensive statistics.

A compulsory education law requires all children to begin school at age 6; however, not all did so. Teacher shortages and lack of textbooks hampered progress. 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 finished 8th grade, 55 percent finished 9th grade, and 35 percent finished 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 with learning disabilities, although such classes were completely dependent on foreign government funding.

Some persons with mental illnesses but no criminal background were kept in jails rather than cared for in hospitals. This practice continued during the year despite major hospital renovations in all four states.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country is multi-ethnic, including many ethnic groups with distinct cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The Constitution prohibits noncitizens from purchasing land, and a 2002 law limits the occupations that noncitizens may fill. The national Congress grants citizenship to non-Micronesians only in rare cases (an authority that last was exercised in 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. During the year, a group of teachers employed by Kosrae State formed such an association to protest the terms of a new contract. 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 bargaining, 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.

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. There were some reports of trafficking in persons (see Section 6.f.).

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, children often assisted their families in subsistence farming activities and in family-owned shops. 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.

Yap State permitted foreign laborers to work in garment manufacturing enterprises. At the factories, the foreign laborers were paid at a lower rate than citizens, 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.

Working conditions on board some Taiwan- and People's Republic of China (PRC)-owned fishing vessels operating in the country's waters were very poor. Crewmen reported a high incidence of injuries, beatings by officers, and nonpayment of salary. Many crewmen did not complete their contracts as a result. In December, the PRC citizen crew of a Taiwanese vessel, complaining of beatings and non-payment of salaries, compelled the captain to take the vessel to Pohnpei. Several of the employees were dismissed and returned to the PRC.

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 2002 alleged abusive labor situations for some Micronesian workers recruited for low-wage jobs in the United States. During the year, Congress passed legislation to regulate foreign labor recruiters as part of a strategy to control abusive recruitment practices; however, as of year's end, the Government had not promulgated implementing regulations. The amended Compact of Free Association also mandates such regulations.

There were a small number of cases in which foreign workers were enticed to come to the country illegally by fraudulent claims about working conditions, pay, and the possibility of onward migration to the United States. These cases did not involve severe forms of trafficking and exploitation. Law enforcement officials investigated these cases as well as the few allegations of sex trafficking. In February, in one such case, the authorities deported 12 Thai citizens who had paid large fees to work in the hotel industry in Pohnpei. The victims were recruited in rural Thailand and trafficked via Manila. Although the country has no antitrafficking or alien-smuggling regulations, the Government indicted the trafficking ringleader, a Thai national, on felony conspiracy charges. Local business partners were not prosecuted. In December, the Government denied extensions of stay to five PRC citizen women who were brought to the country with false promises concerning employment opportunities and conditions. The suspected trafficker left the country under pressure from the Government and was put on an immigration watchlist.

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