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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2004 - Micronesia, Federated States of

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 28 February 2005
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2004 - Micronesia, Federated States of , 28 February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4226d9772f.html [accessed 29 August 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 28, 2005

The Federated States of Micronesia is composed of four states: Chuuk, 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 a judiciary that applies laws and procedures that closely parallel those of the United States. Elections for Congress were held in March 2003; they generally were considered to be free and fair, and resulted in a major change in the government. The incumbent President and Speaker of Congress both were defeated. Senator Joseph J. Urusemal was chosen as President in May 2003. Individual states enjoy significant autonomy and have their own constitutions and governmental systems. Traditional leaders retain considerable influence in some states. The judiciary is independent.

The country has no security forces apart from national police and state public safety officers. Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States is responsible for the country's external defense. The civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. 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. Estimated real economic growth was 3.3 percent during the year; however, real wages declined an estimated 2.4 percent. The U.S. dollar is the national currency.

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. 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 prisoners. During the year, a former inmate in the Chuuk State jail died shortly after his release, allegedly as a result of injuries received when he was beaten by another inmate while in custody.

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 prison population. There were 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 or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions.

Each state has a Department of Public Safety composed of 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 police forces. In Chuuk State, political considerations influenced police hiring, leading to an oversized and underqualified force. There were reports of police 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 Defender's Office was underfunded, and not all defendants received adequate legal assistance in practice. Bail usually was set at low levels except in cases involving flight risk.

In 2002, when national government officials attempted to serve a search warrant on the mayor of Udot in Chuuk State, they were disarmed and briefly detained by a crowd of the mayor's supporters, including local police. The mayor and the director of public safety were charged, respectively, with abuse of power and obstruction of justice; the case still was pending at year's end.

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 some municipalities have community courts. Some states have additional courts to deal with land disputes. The formal legal system coexists with traditional, mediation-based mechanisms for resolving disputes and dealing with offenders at the local level.

The Constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials are public, although 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.

In August, the then-Speaker of Congress, Jack Fritz, was convicted on charges of misuse of public funds (see Section 3). The conviction of Fritz and his confederates was widely viewed as a victory for an independent judiciary.

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, pending since 2000, ended with the defendant's release in August and his return to the United States.

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 the Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice and did not restrict academic freedom.

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. On Kosrae, the first edition of a new newspaper, the Sinlaku Sun Times, appeared in September. 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. The station was off the air from late 2003 to October due to technical problems. 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.

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.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom 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 not common, 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.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2004 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 Constitution and law do not explicitly prohibit forced exile; however, statutes that prescribe punishments for crimes do not provide for the imposition of exile, and the Government did not employ it.

The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, and the Government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees; however, there were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. The status of three Vietnamese who arrived in Yap by boat in 1998 and were granted temporary entry permits remained unresolved at year's end.

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 2003. In May 2003, the President and Vice President were selected, and the two at large seats they vacated were filled in a July 2003 by election. In November, an election was held to replace Chuuk Senator Jack Fritz, who resigned his seat following his conviction for misuse of government funds.

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. 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.

There was a public perception that government corruption was a problem, particularly in Chuuk State. In January, following the indictments in 2003 of then-Speaker of Congress and longtime legislator from Chuuk Jack Fritz, one other Member of Congress, and two former Members on charges relating to misuse of government funds, delegates from Chuuk introduced a bill to grant amnesty to Members of Congress prosecuted or accused of such offenses retroactive to independence in 1986. The bill's first reading generated strong public opposition, and the bill died in committee. On August 3, a court convicted Fritz on four counts of misuse of government funds. His associates also were convicted. On August 20, Fritz resigned from Congress, reportedly as a condition for receiving a lighter sentence than originally recommended by the prosecution; his conviction constitutionally barred him from future public office. He was sentenced to a fine of $4,000 and a 1-year suspended prison term. On August 23, the Supreme Court upheld his conviction.

Legislative hearings and deliberations are open to the public. Information from other branches of government also was accessible; however, retrieval sometimes was complicated and delayed by the loss or mishandling of records and by the concern of lower level administrative personnel with verifying that release of the particular information requested was permissible. There were no reported cases of government denial of access to media or interested parties; however, there were only a small number of media outlets, and their reporting resources were limited.

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, and a woman held the federal cabinet-level position of Public Defender.

There was 1 woman in the 23 seat Pohnpei State legislature and no women 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 concerns about the country. Although there were no official restrictions, no local groups concerned themselves exclusively with human rights. There were groups that addressed problems concerning the rights of women and children, and the Government cooperated with these groups.

5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

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. Although assault is a crime, 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, a victim decides against initiating legal charges because she is pressured by family, fearful of further assault, or convinced that the police will not involve themselves actively in what is seen as a private family problem. Rape is a crime; however, few cases were reported or prosecuted. 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. In this traditional society, unmarried women sometimes were considered to have invited such violence by living or traveling alone.

Within the traditional extended family unit, violence, abuse, and neglect directed against spouses or children were deemed offenses against the family, not just the individuals, 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 began 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, but it was not a problem. The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which appeared to be pervasive, although seldom reported.

Women have equal rights under the law, including the right to own property, 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. The Women's Interest Section of the Department of Health, Education and Social Affairs works to protect and promote women's rights.

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 factors that may contribute to youth suicides.

A compulsory education law requires all children to begin school at age 6; however, not all did so. A shortage of qualified teachers 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.

Trafficking in Persons

The law does not prohibit specifically trafficking in persons; however, unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country. In 2003, Congress passed legislation to regulate foreign labor recruiters as part of a strategy to control abusive recruitment practices; however, the Government had not promulgated implementing regulations by year's end. The amended Compact of Free Association, which came into effect in December 2003, also mandates such regulations.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination in public service employment against persons with disabilities. Children with physical or mental disabilities, including learning disabilities, were provided with special education, including instruction at home if necessary; however, such classes were dependent on foreign funding. 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 or services for persons with disabilities. Some private businesses provided special parking spaces and wheelchair ramps.

Some persons with mental illnesses, but no criminal background, were kept in jails rather than cared for in hospitals. However, during the year, the authorities began to provide separate rooms in jails for persons suffering from mental illness.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country is made up of 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. 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. For a variety of reasons, including the fact that most private-sector employment was in small scale, family-owned businesses and citizens were not accustomed to collective bargaining, there were neither associations nor trade unions.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

No law deals specifically with trade unions or with the right to collective bargaining, and there were no reports of collective bargaining agreements during the year. Individual employers, the largest of which are the national and state governments, set wages. There is no specific right to strike.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution specifically prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there were no reports that such practices occurred. This prohibition does not mention specifically forced and compulsory labor by children; however, there were no reports that such practices occurred.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor 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 and in family owned shops.

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 sector 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 $2.64. 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. Workers were not subjected to abuse or deported without cause; they have the right to a hearing if facing deportation. 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. In October, a PRC citizen working on a Taiwan registered ship was partially paralyzed due to spinal cord injuries sustained in a fall.

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