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2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Federated States of Micronesia

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 25 February 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Federated States of Micronesia, 25 February 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49a8f18ec.html [accessed 25 October 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.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2009

The Federated States of Micronesia is a constitutional republic composed of four states: Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap. Its population was approximately 108,000. 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 in March 2007, were considered generally free and fair, despite technical problems and some allegations of fraud in Chuuk. In May 2007 Congress chose Emanuel Mori as president. Individual states enjoyed significant autonomy, and traditional leaders retained considerable influence in Pohnpei and Yap. 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 the government generally respected these provisions; however, there were occasional reports of physical abuse by police or prison officials. In October authorities concluded an investigation, begun in 2007, of a corrections officer for sexual assault of an inmate. The officer was fired, but no criminal charges were filed. In another case police officers refused a detainee access to the toilet. After his release a court awarded the victim $4,000 (the U. S. dollar is the national currency) in a civil suit against the police. There were some other private lawsuits alleging police abuse during the year, but there were no reports that abusive behavior was systemic.

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 with convicted prisoners.

The government permits prison visits by human rights observers, but none occurred 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

Despite some improvement after Chuuk State's governor introduced measures in 2006 to reform the state's underqualified and politicized police force, law enforcement agencies in Chuuk remained staffed with friends and relatives of powerful individuals. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national, state, and local police forces, however, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the police forces during the year.

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. 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 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. The law extends these rights to all citizens. 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.

Underfunding of the court system and delays in most states in judicial appointments significantly impaired the judiciary's ability to function efficiently. The chief justice of Chuuk State estimated the state had a backlog of some 3,000 cases. Only Yap State reported no delays in its proceedings for criminal and civil cases. No state had case tracking or record-keeping systems in place at the courts. Consequently, some courts lost documents; this prevented cases from moving forward.

The National Court also lacked sufficient funding and staffing to adequately uphold standards for the Bar. Two members of the Bar were convicted felons, who nevertheless represented persons in court.

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.

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 remained small, however, and there was a lack of consistently reliable access to broadcast media.

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 any religious groups. There were no known Jewish communities in the country and no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 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. Foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation are addressed in other areas of the law. In practice none of these rights were restricted. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

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. There were no formal requests for refugee status or asylum during the year. In practice the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

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 last general elections were held in March 2007 and 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.

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, religious groups, and expatriate citizen communities.

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 but were scarcer in the upper ranks, although a woman held the cabinet-level position of secretary of health services. More women ran for elective office in 2007 than in previous elections. One woman retained her seat in the Pohnpei State legislature. Another won the primary election for Pohnpei lieutenant governor but lost in the general election.

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 sometimes implemented these laws effectively; however, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Government corruption was a serious problem, particularly in Chuuk State. In May 2007 a former ambassador was charged with criminal conspiracy and violation of financial management regulations in connection with a passport fraud scheme at the country's embassy in the United States. His case was still pending at year's end, and he remained free on bail.

A senator indicted in 2004 for corruption retained his seat in the March 2007 elections. However, in March 2008 he was convicted of felonious embezzlement of government funds. The constitution prohibits a felon from serving in Congress, and in April Congress accordingly expelled the senator.

Public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws. The Office of the Attorney General has primary responsibility for combating government corruption; however, during the year, the new attorney general, appointed in February, remained suspended from practice before the national Bar due to allegations of improper practices prior to assuming the position of attorney general. (His suspension dated from 1999.)

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 delayed by the loss or mishandling of records and the need for lower level administrative personnel to verify that their release 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. Several groups addressed problems concerning the rights of women and children, and the government often 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. There is no specific law against spousal rape. 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. If neither a dangerous weapon nor serious harm is involved, the assault is punishable in all states by up to five years' imprisonment or a fine. Few cases were reported or prosecuted, however. It was believed that such crimes were underreported due to social stigma. During the year new programs took place to train police officers to recognize the problem. 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 against a family member 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 uncommon, although the police reported that a small number of prostitutes were available to fishermen temporarily docked in Pohnpei. National and state law enforcement authorities began an investigation into the problem as some local women, in addition to women from other Asian countries, reportedly engaged in prostitution; the investigation was ongoing at year's end.

The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and anecdotal reports suggested that it was pervasive.

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. Societal discrimination against women continued, however, and cultural mores encouraged differential treatment for women. For example, in Yap State women are prohibited from entering a meeting hall during men's meetings. In Chuuk State women must bow in the presence of men during formal meetings. Nonetheless, 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 and Social Services 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, but these programs were inadequate to meet the needs of the population. The problem was exacerbated in an environment in which the traditional extended family unit was losing its importance.

Although a compulsory education law requires all children to begin school at age six, not all did so. A shortage of qualified teachers and lack of textbooks hampered progress. Children were permitted to leave school when they reached the age of 14 or after completing the eighth grade.

Child abuse is against the law, although the constitution provides for a right of parental discipline. Crime statistics indicated no complaints of, or arrests for, child abuse during the year, but cultural attitudes regarding parental discipline limited the reporting of abuse. There were some anecdotal reports of child abuse and neglect.

Trafficking in Persons

National and state laws do not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons. During the year a court in Guam convicted the owners of a local bar and their Chuukese accomplices for conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and enticement to travel for the purpose of prostitution. The bar owners admitted that they had recruited at least nine women from Chuuk to work as prostitutes from 2005 to 2007. Most local law enforcement officials believed that the case was isolated, reflecting economic problems in Chuuk, and that trafficking was not endemic in 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. The national Health Services Department is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Due to a 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 state health departments provided medications.

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. 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 persons with HIV/AIDS.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Although the law does not specifically provide for the right of workers to join a union, 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. No workers, including foreign workers, were prohibited from joining unions, but 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 no unions.

There is no specific right to strike, but no law prohibits strikes.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

No law deals specifically with trade unions or with the right to collective bargaining. Since there were no unions, 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 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. The law does not specifically prohibit 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, but children often assisted their families in subsistence farming and in family-owned shops.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum hourly wage for employment with the national government was $2.64. All states had a minimum hourly wage for government workers: $2.00 in Pohnpei, $1.25 in Chuuk, $1.49 in Kosrae, and $1.60 in Yap. Only Pohnpei had a minimum wage for private sector workers: $1.35 per hour. 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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