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2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Micronesia, Federated States of

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 - Micronesia, Federated States of, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47d92c2fb9.html [accessed 20 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
March 11, 2008

The Federated States of Micronesia is a constitutional republic composed of four states: Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap. Its population was approximately 107,000. The popularly elected unicameral legislature selects the president from among its four at-large senators (one from each state). There were no formal political parties. The most recent general elections for Congress, held on March 6, were considered generally free and fair despite technical problems and some allegations of fraud in Chuuk. On May 11, Congress chose Emanuel Mori as president. Individual states enjoyed significant autonomy, and traditional leaders retained considerable influence in Pohnpei and Yap. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. Reported human rights problems included judicial delays, government corruption, discrimination against women, domestic violence, and child neglect.

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.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed torture; however, there were occasional reports of physical abuse by police.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards; however, the underfunded corrections divisions of the Pohnpei and Chuuk State Public Safety Departments failed to provide nutritionally adequate meals to prisoners.

There were no designated juvenile detention facilities; however, juvenile crime was rare, and the states seldom incarcerated juvenile offenders. Pretrial detainees usually were held together with convicted prisoners.

The government permits prison visits by human rights observers, but the question of such visits 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.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

Each state has a Department of Public Safety composed of police, corrections, fire, and emergency response functions. There is a small national police force under the Department of Justice. Some municipalities also have small police forces. Many citizens preferred to rely on customary and traditional remedies to resolve criminal and civil matters.

Despite some improvement after Chuuk State's governor introduced measures in 2006 to reform the state's underqualified and politicized police force, the force remained politicized. In July the public safety director resigned his position in response to political pressure brought upon him by Chuuk's Senate president, who introduced a resolution of censure against the director in apparent reprisal for the arrests of the Senate president's brother and son for armed robbery and assault.

In Pohnpei the Department of Public Safety dismissed a police officer for carrying a handgun while off duty and illegally discharging it during an altercation outside a night club. A youth was grazed by a ricocheting bullet.

Arrest and Detention

Warrants are required for arrests, and detainees were promptly advised of the charges against them. Detainees must be brought before a judge for a hearing within 24 hours of arrest, and this requirement was generally observed in practice. Most arrested persons were released on bail, which usually was set at low levels except in cases involving flight risk. Detainees had prompt access to family members and lawyers. 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.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice. The president, with the advice and consent of the legislature, appoints justices to fill vacancies on the three-member Supreme Court. Each state also has a supreme court, and some municipalities have local 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.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials are public, although juveniles are allowed closed hearings. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts; there are no juries. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to counsel, to question witnesses, to access government-held evidence, and to appeal convictions. There is a national public defender system with an office in each state. 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 did not go 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.

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. The Supreme Court is responsible for hearing lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. There were no nonjudicial administrative remedies available.

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

The constitution contains an express right to privacy that 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 "expression" but not specifically of "speech" or of "the press"; however, the government generally respected each of these rights in practice.

Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal. The number of independent media outlets was very small but growing, with the addition of two religiously affiliated radio stations during the year, one in Pohnpei and one in Yap. There was a lack of consistently reliable access to broadcast media, although this improved greatly during the year. The government radio stations on Yap, Chuuk, and Pohnpei resumed operations, although Chuuk's station operated only four hours a day due to a limited power supply.

Internet Freedom

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. Cost and lack of infrastructure limited public Internet access on the outlying islands in each state. On the four principal islands, infrastructure was adequate, but cost still limited access. However, each state telecommunications office had Internet work stations available to the public 24 hours a day for reasonable hourly fees.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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.

c. Freedom of Religion

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

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 constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country. It does not address foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation, but in practice none of these rights was restricted.

The law does 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.

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. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum, and there were no requests for refugee status or asylum during the year. In practice the government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where there is reason to believe they feared persecution. The government cooperated 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 constitution and law provide 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 March 6 general elections were generally free and fair; however, there were serious discrepancies between national and state voter registries in Chuuk State that disenfranchised perhaps hundreds of voters. The reasons for the discrepancies appeared primarily technical, although there were some allegations of fraud. Voting in Chuuk was marred by violence in the past, but none was reported during the March elections.

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 were no significant efforts to form organized political parties, and none existed. Candidates generally sought political support from family and allied clan groupings and from religious groups.

Cultural factors in the male-dominated society limited women's representation in government and politics. Women were well represented in the middle and lower ranks of government at both the federal and state level, and women held the federal cabinet-level positions of attorney general and public defender.

There was one woman in the 23-seat Pohnpei State legislature and no women in the other state legislatures or in the 14-member national legislature.

The country is a multicultural federation, and both the legislature and the government included persons from various cultural backgrounds.

Government Corruption and Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively; however, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Government corruption was a problem, particularly in Chuuk State. In May a former ambassador was charged with criminal conspiracy and violation of financial management regulations in connection with an alleged passport fraud scheme. At year's end he was free on bail, and the case was pending. A member of Congress indicted in 2004 for corruption retained his seat in the March elections. The judge initially appointed to hear the case recused himself, and at year's end the chief justice had not assigned a new judge to hear the case.

Public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws. The Office of the Attorney General has primary responsibility for combating government corruption.

There is no national law providing for public access to government information. The speaker of Congress can declare any congressional documents confidential. State laws and practices varied. Legislative hearings and deliberations generally were open to the public. In Pohnpei the state legislature's proceedings were televised, and in Yap they were broadcast on FM radio. 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, but there were only a small number of media outlets, and their reporting resources were limited.

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

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

The constitution and law provide explicit protection against discrimination based on race, sex, or language, but societal discrimination against women remained a problem.

Women

Sexual assault, including rape, is a crime. Sexual assault involving a dangerous weapon or serious physical or psychological harm to the victim is punishable by up to nine years' imprisonment in Chuuk and 10 years' imprisonment in the other three states, or a fine of up to $20,000 in Kosrae and $10,000 in the other states. (The U.S. dollar is the national currency.) If neither of these factors is involved, the assault is punishable in all states by up to five years' imprisonment or a fine. However, few cases were reported or prosecuted. There is no specific law against spousal rape. According to police and women's groups, there were a number of reports of physical and sexual assaults against women, both citizens and foreigners, outside the family context. In this traditional society, unmarried women sometimes were considered to have invited such violence by living or traveling alone.

Reports of spousal abuse, often severe, continued during the year. Although assault is a crime, there were 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 victims decided against initiating legal charges because of family pressure, fear of further assault, or belief that the police would not involve themselves actively in what is seen as a private family problem.

Within the traditional extended family unit, violence, abuse, and neglect directed against spouses or children were deemed offenses against the family, not just the individual victims, and were addressed by a complex system of familial sanctions. However, traditional methods of coping with family discord were breaking down with increasing urbanization, monetization of the economy, and greater emphasis on the nuclear family. 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 illegal and was not 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 or employment. Women received equal pay for equal work. There continued to be extensive societal discrimination against women, although women were active and increasingly successful in private business. There was an active national women's advisory council that lobbied the government. Additionally, several small NGOs were interested in women's issues, particularly those associated with family violence and abuse. The Women's Interest Section of the Department of Health, Education, and Social Affairs worked 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 ran peer-support and family-care groups to address factors that could contribute to youth suicides.

A compulsory education law requires all children to begin school at age six, but 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 eighth grade, 55 percent finished ninth grade, and 35 percent finished high school. There were not enough high schools to accommodate all students who wished to attend. Children were permitted to leave school when they reached the age of 14 or after completing the eighth grade, whichever came first.

The government administered an immunization program throughout the country and provided some vitamin supplements. Boys and girls had equal access to government-provided medical care.

There were some anecdotal reports of child abuse and neglect, but no reliable statistics were available.

Trafficking in Persons

National and state laws do not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons; however, there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.

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 in employment, access to health care, or provision of other state services; however, persons with disabilities 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.

The national Health Services Department is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Due to the lack of facilities for treating mentally ill persons, some persons with mental illnesses but no criminal background were housed in jails. The authorities provided separate rooms in jails for persons suffering from mental illness, and the state health services departments provided medications to the patients.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Each of the country's four states has a different language and culture. Traditionally the state of Yap had a caste-like social system with high-status villages, each of which had an affiliated low-status village. In the past those who came from low-status villages worked without pay for those with higher status. In exchange those with higher status offered care and protection to those subservient to them. The traditional hierarchical social system has been gradually breaking down, and capable people from low-status villages could rise to senior positions in society. Nonetheless, the traditional system continued to affect contemporary life, with individuals from low-status villages still likely to defer to those with higher status. Persons from low-status backgrounds tended to be less assertive in advocating for their communities' needs with the government. As a result, low-status communities sometimes continued to be underserved.

The national and state constitutions prohibit noncitizens from purchasing land, and a 2002 law continued to limit the occupations that noncitizens could fill. The national Congress granted citizenship to non-Micronesians only in rare cases. There is no permanent residency status. For the most part, however, noncitizens shared fully in the social and cultural life of the country.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against homosexuals or against persons with HIV/AIDS.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Under the constitution, citizens have the right to form or join associations, and national government employees by law can 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. Although foreign workers have the right to form unions, they did not do so.

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 were 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 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, but there were no reports that such practices occurred.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

National and state laws do not establish 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

Pohnpei had a minimum hourly wage rate of $2.00 for government and $1.35 for private-sector workers. The other three states had minimum hourly rates only for government workers: $1.25 for Chuuk, $1.49 for Kosrae, and $1.60 for Yap. The minimum hourly wage for employment with the national government was $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 was standard practice) or prescribing standards of occupational safety and health. A federal regulation requires that employers provide a safe workplace, but the Department of Health had no enforcement capability, and working conditions varied in practice. There is no law for either the public or private sector that permits workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their continued employment.

Foreign workers were not subjected to abuse or deported without cause. They have the right to a hearing if facing deportation.

Working conditions aboard some Chinese-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.

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