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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Micronesia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 26 February 1999
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Micronesia, 26 February 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa5718.html [accessed 11 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.
The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is composed of 607 small islands extending over a large area of the central Pacific. Four states--Chuuk (formerly Truk), Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap--make up the federation. The population is estimated at 130,000, mostly of Micronesian origin. The four states were part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands and were administered by the United States from 1947 to 1986 pursuant to an agreement with the United Nations. 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, and a judicial system that applies criminal and civil laws and procedures closely paralleling those of the United States.

Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States is responsible for defense. The FSM has no security forces of its own, aside from national police operating under the office of the Secretary of Justice and public safety officers operating under the authority of the attorneys general of the individual state governments. Members of the police committed a few human rights abuses.

The economy depends heavily on transfer payments from the United States, fishing, tourism, and subsistence agriculture.

The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens. However, in several incidents police mistreated citizens. Traditional customs sustain a value system that distinguishes between people on the basis of social status and sex. There is evidence of an increase in both spousal abuse and child neglect, and government agencies often ignore such problems due to the constraints imposed by traditional society. So far, neither the Government nor other organizations have successfully filled the role of the traditional extended family in protecting and supporting its members.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

There was no pattern of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. However, in several incidents police were found responsible for mistreatment of persons, resulting in substantial cash settlements to the victims. The officers involved in the incidents were removed from the police force.

Prison conditions meet minimum international standards.

There are no local organizations concerning themselves solely with human rights, and the question of visits by human rights monitors has not arisen.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Legal procedures, for the most part patterned after U.S. law, provide for due process, which is carefully observed. Exile is not used.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and it is independent in practice.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Congress.

Public trial is provided for in the Bill of Rights, and trials are 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 are routinely released indefinitely.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The law prohibits such arbitrary interference, and in practice there is none.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for these rights, and unlike in 1997, the Government's support for these rights was not called openly into question. The establishment of a new biweekly newspaper, the Island Tribune, was a positive development. In addition to providing general reporting on events in the FSM, the newspaper explores and addresses controversial issues. In doing so, it followed a policy of offering individuals on opposing sides of the issues the opportunity to voice their views. Although generally successful in these endeavors, the newspaper encountered barriers when it sought to obtain access to some public documents, such as Supreme Court records. Other newspapers with more limited circulations also began publishing late in the year, including the Pohnpei Business News and Micronesia Weekly. None of these newspapers covers matters in as controversial a fashion as the now defunct FSM News. This may be partially attributable to the lingering effect of the 1997 episode in which the Government refused permission to reenter the FSM to the Canadian national who was the writer and editor of the newspaper.

The national government and the four states publish newsletters. Each of the four state governments controls a radio station broadcasting primarily in the local language. One religious group operates a private radio station. The population of Pohnpei has increasing access to live satellite-televised information from around the world and tape-delayed broadcasts of programming by the major U.S. networks. However, none of the other three states has a television receiver station, and few residents have individual satellite dishes.

There is 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.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Bill of Rights provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the Government respects this right in practice. During political campaigns, citizens often question candidates at public meetings and social gatherings.

The Bill of Rights provides for freedom of association, and the Government respects this right in practice. Formal associations are uncommon, but organizations for students and women exist.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Bill of Rights forbids establishment of a state religion and governmental restrictions on freedom of religion; the Government respects this freedom in practice. It is hospitable to diverse religions, and missionaries of many faiths work within the nation.

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

The Constitution has specific provisions for freedom of movement within the country. It is silent on foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but in practice none of these is restricted.

Three Vietnamese fled a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camp in Indonesia and sailed to Yap in November. The Government sought other countries to accept these three as refugees. The Government has not formulated a policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum.

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

Citizens have the right to change their government. The Congress is elected by popular vote from each state; the Congress then chooses the President and Vice President from among its four at-large senators by majority vote. State governors, state legislators, and municipal governments are elected by direct popular vote. Political campaigning is unrestricted, and, as there are no established political parties, political support is generally courted from among family and allied clan groupings, as well as religious groups.

There are no restrictions on the formation of political groups, but there have been no significant efforts to form political parties.

Cultural factors in the male-dominated society have limited women's representation in government and politics. Although women are represented in midlevel positions at both the federal and state level, very few women are found in leadership roles at the highest government levels.

Section 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. While there are no official restrictions, there are no local groups exclusively concerned with human rights. However, there are women's groups that concern themselves with rights for women and children.

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

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

Women

Most violence against women occurs in the family context. In the traditional Micronesian extended family unit, spouses and children were accorded strong protections from violence, abuse, and neglect. These were deemed offenses against the family, not just the individuals, and were dealt with by a complex system of familial sanctions. With increasing urbanization and monetarization of the economy, however, increased emphasis has been placed on the nuclear family, and the traditional methods of coping with family discord are breaking down. No government agency, including the police, has been successful in replacing that extended family system or in addressing the issue of familial violence directly.

Incidents of both reported and unreported spousal abuse, often of increasing severity, continue to rise. Effective prosecution of such offenses is rare. In many cases, the victim is pressured by family, fear of further assault, or is convinced that the police will not actively involve themselves in what is seen as a private, family problem, and decides against pressing legal charges. There are no laws against domestic abuse, and there are no governmental or private facilities to shelter and support women in abusive situations. There also are a growing number of cases of physical and sexual assaults against women outside the family context. These assaults are perpetrated against both citizens and foreigners. Unmarried women are sometimes considered to have invited such violence by living or traveling alone.

Women have equal rights under the law, and there are no cultural or institutional barriers to education and employment. Women receive equal pay for equal work and are well-represented in the lower and middle ranks of government. Women are active and increasingly successful in private business and enterprise. There has been a National Women's Advisory Council in existence since 1992, and there are several small nongovernmental groups interested in women's issues, particularly ones associated with spousal and family violence and abuse.

Children

The Government is committed to children's welfare through its programs of health care and education, but these have not been adequate to meet the needs of the country's sharply growing population in an environment in which the extended family is breaking down.

There is a compulsory education law that requires that all children begin school at the age of 6. Children may leave school when they reach the age of 14 or after completing the eighth grade, whichever comes first.

People With Disabilities

Neither laws nor regulations mandate accessibility to public buildings and services for the disabled. Schools have established special education classes to address problems encountered by those who exhibit learning disabilities, although such classes are completely dependent on outside funding sources.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits noncitizens from purchasing land, and the national Congress grants citizenship to non­Micronesians only by individual acts (an authority exercised during the year, following a lapse of almost 20 years). For the most part, however, non-citizens share fully in the social and cultural life of the country.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Under the Bill of Rights, 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. However, neither associations nor trade unions have been formed in this largely nonindustrial society.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There is no law dealing 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. The Government is not a member of the International Labor Organization.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution specifically prohibits involuntary servitude, and there is no evidence of its practice. Children are not specifically cited in this prohibition, but forced and bonded labor by children is not known to occur.

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

Neither the Constitution nor the law specifically prohibits forced and bonded labor by children, but such practices are not known to occur (see Section 6.c.). There is no law establishing a minimum age for employment of children. While in practice there is no employment of children for wages, they often assist their families in subsistence farming activities. There is a compulsory education law that requires that all children begin school at the age of 6. Children may leave school when they reach the age of 14 or after completing the eighth grade, whichever comes first.

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. These minimum wage structures and the wages customarily paid to skilled workers are sufficient to provide a decent standard of living under local conditions.

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 vary in practice.

Two states permitted foreign laborers in garment manufacturing enterprises. The foreign laborers are paid at a lower rate than citizens who work at the factories, work longer hours per day, and work a 6-day week in contrast to the 5-day week for citizens.

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.

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