2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Palau
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor|
|Publication Date||11 March 2008|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Palau, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47d92c7ec.html [accessed 22 May 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2008
Palau is a constitutional republic with a population of approximately 20,900. The country is organized politically into 16 states. The president, the vice president, and members of the legislature (the Olbiil Era Kelulau) are elected for four-year terms. There were no political parties. In generally free and fair elections held in November 2004 President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. was reelected. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. Problems were reported in a few areas, including government corruption, domestic violence, trafficking in persons, and discrimination against, and some abuse of, foreign workers.
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 that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
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.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in the country's sole prison, although primitive, generally met international standards. Overcrowding remained a problem. The few female prisoners were held in separate cells but were permitted to mingle with male inmates during daylight hours.
No visits by independent human rights observers were requested or made during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The civilian authorities maintained effective control over the 160-officer National Police and marine police in Koror and Peleliu states. Corruption and impunity were not major problems.
Arrest and Detention
The law requires warrants for arrests. Warrants are prepared by the Office of the Attorney General and signed by a judge. The law provides for a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, and this was observed in practice. Detainees were informed promptly of the charges against them and had prompt access to family members and lawyers. If a detainee could not afford a lawyer, the public defender or a court-appointed lawyer was available. There was a functioning system of bail.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice.
The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, the Land Court, and the Court of Common Pleas. The constitution also provides for a national court, but other courts absorbed its caseload and it was inactive.
The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The government has an independent special prosecutor and an independent public defender system.
Trials are public and are conducted by judges; there are no juries. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and a right of appeal. They can question witnesses, present evidence on their own behalf, and access government-held evidence in their cases.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters for lawsuits involving allegations of human rights violations. Remedies were available and enforced.
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 law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and of the press.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
The government requires religious organizations to obtain charters as nonprofit organizations from the Office of the Attorney General. This process was not protracted, and the government did not deny charters to any groups during the year.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were no reports of societal abuse or discrimination against religious groups, including anti-Semitic acts. There was no known Jewish community.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2007 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not use it.
Protection of Refugees
The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government provided some protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where there is reason to believe they feared persecution. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum.
There were no cases during the year involving cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The law provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
The national congress consists of the nine-member Senate and the 16-member House of Delegates. Members of the congress are elected by popular vote every four years: senators on a national basis and delegates on a state basis. There is a limit of three consecutive terms for both houses. The president and vice president also are elected every four years, and there is no limit on the number of terms they may serve, except that the president may serve only two consecutive terms. Although there have been political parties in the past, there were none during the year. In November 2004 President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., was reelected. The Council of Chiefs, consisting of the highest traditional chiefs from each state, advises the president on traditional laws and customs.
There are no legal impediments to women's participation in government and politics. There were no women in the 25-member national legislature. During the year a female candidate ran in the election to fill a vacant senate seat, but she was not elected. Women constituted 14 percent of state legislators. Three women served as state governors during the year. Two of the three associate justices of the Supreme Court were women.
There were two members of minorities in the House of Delegates.
Government Corruption and Transparency
Government corruption was a problem, which the government took some steps to address. Public officials are required to file annual financial disclosure statements with the Ethics Commission.
In February the special prosecutor charged a Koror state legislator with 92 criminal counts including 43 counts of grand larceny and 43 counts of false pretense for diverting $22,000 (the U.S. dollar is the national currency ) of rent paid to lease a state building to his personal use between 2001 and 2004. At year's end the case was pending in court.
In March an officer of the Bureau of Revenue, Customs, and Taxation was accused of accepting $1,300 in bribes for not accessing import tax on cigarettes. He was convicted and sentenced to 75 days in prison and a fine of $1,300.
In April the former governor of Airai State was ordered to pay $5,542 for misuse of public funds.
In July the Office of the Special Prosecutor charged the house speaker with misuse of travel funds. During a trip abroad, the then-delegate became ill and requested the then-house speaker to authorize payment for his medical expenses of $3,790. At year's end the case remained pending in court. The then speaker was also charged but settled out of court, agreeing to pay $3,790 restitution and $3,790 civil penalty.
In August the Special Prosecutor filed charges against five senators and 12 delegates for abuse of per diem; the Senate and the House of Delegates reached settlements with the Office of the Special Prosecutor.
Also in August the Special Prosecutor filed charges against 23 former and current legislators of Kayangel State for misuse of government funds. These cases were pending.
The law provides for the right of citizens and noncitizens to examine government documents and observe official deliberations of any government agency, and the government generally respected this provision in practice.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international groups concerned with human rights generally operated without government restriction. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.
5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, place of origin, language, social status, or clan affiliation, and the government generally observed these provisions.
Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by a maximum of 25 years' imprisonment. There were two cases of rape during the year. One of the victims was a minor.
The Ministry of Health's Office of Victims of Crimes reported 36 cases of domestic violence involving women for fiscal year 2007. (Alcohol and drug abuse contributed to this problem.) According to the Office of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Health, and women's groups, reported cases of domestic violence represented a relatively small percentage of cases of actual abuse. Assault is a criminal offense, punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $100, and the police responded when such cases were reported; women, however, were reluctant to press charges against their spouses. The government conducted public education efforts to combat domestic violence.
Prostitution is illegal, but it was a problem. There were reports of women being trafficked to the country from China and the Philippines to work in karaoke bars as hostesses and prostitutes.
Sex tourism is illegal and was not a problem.
Sexual harassment is illegal and did not appear to be a major problem.
The inheritance of property and of traditional rank is matrilineal, with women occupying positions of importance within the traditional system. There were no reported instances of unequal pay for equal work or sex-related job discrimination.
In March local women's groups organized their 14th annual women's conference. The conference focused on women's and children's issues, including health, education, drug abuse, prostitution, and traditional customs and values. Government officials, including the president, vice president, ministers, and traditional chiefs, participated.
The government provided a well-funded system of public education for children. There was no difference in the treatment of girls and boys in educational opportunities or in the availability of scholarships to attend postsecondary education abroad. Education was free, universal, and mandatory for children from age six to 17. The rate of students who completed elementary school was 95.5 percent and the high school graduation rate was 98.6 percent.
Girls and boys received equal treatment in health care services.
The Office of Victims of Crimes reported the following cases involving minors 18 years and younger for fiscal year 2007: eight cases of physical abuse, one case of emotional abuse, and five cases of neglect. During the same period there were 12 cases of sexual abuse involving minors 16 years and younger. The Office of the Attorney General prosecuted such cases successfully. In April a woman and her live-in boyfriend were convicted of molesting her 10-year-old niece. They were sentenced to four year and three year prison terms respectively. In June a man was charged for repeatedly raping his 15-year-old stepdaughter. The case was pending in court.
Children's rights generally were respected, although there were isolated reports of child neglect. Commercial sexual exploitation of children was not accepted within society and was not practiced.
Trafficking in Persons
An antitrafficking law prohibits such practices, with penalties of up to 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $50,000 for exploiting or otherwise profiting from a trafficked person; up to 25 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000 for trafficking involving force, fraud, or deception; and up to 50 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $500,000 for trafficking involving a child "by any means for the purpose of exploitation." There are also laws against slavery, fraud, and prostitution. There were reports of women and some men being trafficked to the country from China and the Philippines to work in karaoke bars as hostesses and prostitutes, in private homes as domestics, and on construction sites.
In May a Chinese couple and two Filipinas along with their Palauan businesswoman partner were convicted of human trafficking and advancing prostitution. The group operated a restaurant/karaoke club and employed 10 waitresses – seven Filipinas and three Chinese. The waitresses claimed they were forced to have sex with customers. If they refused up to $100 was deducted from their $250 monthly salary. The Chinese couple were each sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment and fined $50,000, they were also ordered to pay $18,000 in restitution and airfare to repatriate the victims. One Filipina was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $5,000; the other was sentenced to one year in prison and fined $5,000. All are subject to deportation after serving a third of their terms and paying all fines. The Palauan businesswoman partner, in a plea agreement, had her 15 year prison term dismissed and $100,000 fine reduced to $20,000. The woman was also ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution.
The divisions of Immigration and Labor and the Office of the Attorney General are responsible for combating trafficking; however, the government lacked the resources and expertise to address the problem in practice. There was no formal assistance available for victims, and victims normally were detained, jailed, or deported if they committed a crime such as prostitution. No nongovernmental organizations specifically addressed trafficking.
Persons with Disabilities
The Disabled Persons' Antidiscrimination Act and the Programs and Services for Handicapped Children Act cover both persons with mental disabilities and persons with physical disabilities, and the government enforced the provisions of these acts. No discrimination was reported against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The government provides a monthly stipend of $50 for persons with disabilities. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions in practice. The public schools had special education programs to address problems encountered by persons with disabilities.
The government agency Ngak Mak Tang ("Everyone Matters") has responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
The law prohibits noncitizens from purchasing land or obtaining citizenship. A majority of citizens viewed negatively the rapid increase over the past several years in foreign workers, who, according to estimates during the year, constituted more than 30 percent of the population and approximately 45 percent of the work force. Foreign residents were subjected to discrimination and were targets of petty, and sometimes violent, crimes, as well as other random acts against person and property. Foreign residents made credible complaints that the authorities did not pursue or prosecute crimes committed against noncitizens with the same vigor as crimes against citizens.
Noncitizens are officially excluded from the minimum wage law. In addition some foreign nationals experienced discrimination in employment, pay, housing, education, and access to social services, although the law prohibits such discrimination. There were anecdotal reports of abuse of foreign workers by employers.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were no reports of cases of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or against person with HIV/AIDS.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides for the right of all persons to assemble peacefully and to associate with others for any lawful purpose, including the right to join and organize labor unions. However, there were no active labor unions or other employee organizations; the majority of businesses were small-scale, family-run enterprises employing relatives and friends.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
There is no law concerning trade union organization or collective bargaining. Market forces determine wages in the cash economy.
The law does not provide for the right to strike, and the government has not addressed this issue.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits slavery or involuntary servitude except to punish crime. Although the law does not prohibit specifically forced or compulsory labor by children, there were no reports that such practices occurred.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law states that the government shall protect children from exploitation. There is no minimum age for employment. Children typically were not employed in the wage economy, but some assisted their families with fishing, agriculture, and small-scale family enterprises.
By regulation no foreigner under age 21 may be admitted into the country for employment purposes, and the government generally enforced this regulation effectively.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law sets the minimum wage at $2.50 per hour, but foreign workers are not included under the minimum wage law. It generally was assumed that legislators specifically exempted foreign contract workers from the minimum wage law to ensure a continued supply of low-cost labor in industries that the legislators often control. The national minimum wage provided a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Anecdotal evidence indicated that unskilled workers (usually foreigners) for commercial firms were paid only $1.50 to $2.00 per hour; wages for domestic helpers employed in private households were lower still. In addition to their wages foreign workers usually were provided, basic accommodations and food gratis or at nominal cost. The country continued to attract foreign workers from the Philippines, China, and Bangladesh. (Although the law prohibits importation of laborers from Bangladesh, this prohibition was not strictly enforced.) During the year there were more than 6,800 foreign nationals with work permits in the country; of these, 65 percent were from the Philippines, 15 percent from mainland China, and 8 percent from Bangladesh.
There is no legislation concerning maximum hours of work. Most businesses closed on either Saturday or Sunday. The Division of Labor has established some regulations regarding conditions of employment for nonresident workers. The division may inspect the conditions of the workplace and employer-provided housing on the specific complaint of the employees, but enforcement was sporadic. Working conditions varied in practice.
Although there are occupational and safety standards, the law does not specifically provide workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment, and no law protects workers who file complaints about such conditions. Anecdotal evidence suggested that noncitizens would likely lose their employment if they removed themselves from situations that endangered health or safety. Since foreign workers generally are not permitted to change employers and must depart the country if their contract ends for any reason, noncitizens were reticent about reporting abuses. There were no reports to the government of violations of occupational health or safety standards during the year.
Some foreign workers, particularly domestic helpers and unskilled laborers, reportedly were forced to accept jobs different from those for which they were recruited. Employers sometimes verbally threatened or withheld passports and return tickets of foreign workers desiring to leave unfavorable work situations.
Reports of mistreatment of foreign workers by their employers continued during the year. The foreign workers most likely to be abused were those who worked under contracts as domestic helpers, farmers, waitresses, beauticians, hostesses in karaoke bars and massage parlors, construction workers, and other semiskilled workers, the majority of whom were from the Philippines, China, and Bangladesh. The most commonly reported abuses included misrepresentation of contract terms and conditions of employment, withholding of pay or benefits, and substandard food and housing. There have, at times, been complaints of physical abuse. In a number of instances local authorities took corrective action when alerted by social service and religious organizations.