Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 12:25 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Samoa

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 8 March 2006
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Samoa , 8 March 2006, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
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 8, 2006

Samoa is a parliamentary democracy that incorporates certain traditional practices into its governmental system. The country has a population of approximately 177 thousand. Executive authority is vested in the head of state, Malietoa Tanumafili II, who holds the position for life. The cabinet consists of the prime minister and 12 ministers chosen by the prime minister. Parliament, elected by universal suffrage, is composed primarily of the heads of extended families, or "matai." All laws passed by Parliament need the approval of the head of state. The most recent elections, held in March 2001, were marred by charges of bribery. As a result of election challenges filed by losing candidates, the supreme court ordered four by-elections. The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has dominated Parliament as the majority party for the past six terms. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the national police force.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, the following human rights problems were reported:

  • deteriorated prison conditions for male inmates
  • unfair parliamentary proceedings
  • violence against women and children
  • discrimination against women and non-matai


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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no politically motivated killings by the government or its agents. On February 25, police officer Tupou Ainu'u was found not guilty of manslaughter in the death of a man in police custody.

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 them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions deteriorated significantly for male inmates but remained fairly basic with respect to food, water, and sanitation. Diplomatic observers reported that each concrete cell held approximately 15 inmates. Most of the cells had gravel floors, no toilets, poor ventilation, and almost no lighting. Meals were served through the cell bars. During the year toilets and concrete floors were added to approximately 10 percent of the cells. It was unclear if all cells would receive the same refurbishment.

There were no known requests by independent human rights observers to visit prisons; however, the government indicated that it would allow such visits. The government permitted family members and church representatives to visit prisons every two weeks.

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 country has a small national police force and no external defense force. Enforcement of rules and security within individual villages is vested in the "fono" (Council of Matai). Judgments by the fono usually involved fines or, more rarely, banishment from the village.

The country's police, prison guards, and firefighters all belong to one consolidated national service. A commissioner appointed to a three-year term heads this service. He is assisted by four assistant commissioners and reports to the minister of police. Corruption and impunity were not significant problems among the police; however, a lack of resources limited police effectiveness.

Arrest and Detention

The supreme court issues arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence. The law provides for the right to a prompt judicial determination regarding the legality of detention, and the authorities generally respected this right in practice. Detainees are informed within 24 hours of the charges against them, or they are released. There was a functioning system of bail. Detainees were allowed prompt access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. If the detainee is indigent, the government provides a lawyer.

There were no reports of political detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice.

The judiciary consists of the district court, the lands and titles court, the supreme court, and the Court of Appeal. The district court has jurisdiction over matters involving values less than $4 thousand (WST$10 thousand) and criminal offences with penalties less than five years. The lands and titles court has jurisdiction over all lands and titles cases. The supreme court has jurisdiction over matters of more than $4 thousand (WST$10 thousand) and criminal offences with penalties of more than five years. The Court of Appeal is the highest court. It has appellate jurisdiction only and can review the rulings of any other court. It is composed of a panel of retired New Zealand judges and sits once a year for several weeks.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The accused person must be charged within 24 hours. A trial judge examines evidence and determines if there are grounds to proceed. Defendants have the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Trials are public, and juries are used. Defendants have the right to be present and to timely consultation with an attorney, at public expense if required. Defendants may confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence, and defendants have the right to appeal a verdict.

Many civil and criminal matters were handled by village fono, which varied considerably in their decision-making styles and the number of matai involved in the decisions. The law recognizes the decisions of the fono and provides for limited appeal to the lands and titles court and the supreme court. The nature and severity of the dispute determines which court receives an appeal. For all lands and titles appeals, the lands and titles court first uses its own appellate court presided by the president, after which appeals may be taken up to the supreme court and Court of Appeal if necessary. For other civil and criminal disputes, appeals may be taken first to the supreme court and later to the Court of Appeal if necessary. According to a 2000 supreme court ruling, fono may not infringe upon villagers' freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or association (see section 2.c.).

Political Prisoners

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. However, there is little or no privacy in villages, where there can be substantial societal pressure on the resident to grant village officials access without a warrant.

In accordance with traditional law, village fono may impose a punishment of banishment (see section 2.d.).

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 and did not restrict academic freedom or the Internet. In general the independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law stipulates imprisonment for any journalist who refuses to reveal a confidential source despite the issuance of a court order upon request from any member of the public at large. However, there has been no court case invoking this law.

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 constitution acknowledges an "independent state based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions"; however, there is no official or state denomination. The law grants each person the right to change religion or belief and to worship or teach religion alone or with others, but in practice the matai often choose the religious denomination of the extended family. During the year there were no cases of individuals being banished by villages due to their practicing religion differently from that practiced by village majority.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no documented statistics of a Jewish population in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2005 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice. Nevertheless, traditional law governs villages, and village fono regularly banned citizens from village activities or banished citizens from the village for failing to conform to village laws or obey fono rulings. In some cases civil courts have overruled banishment orders (see section 1.e.).

The law prohibits exile, and the government did not use it.

Protection of Refugees

The country is a signatory of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol; however, the government has not enacted enabling legislation or established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government was prepared to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, but the need did not arise during the year.

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 held on the basis of universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

The most recent elections were in March 2001, but they were marred by charges of bribery. As a result of election challenges filed by losing candidates, the supreme court ordered four by-elections; the HRPP won all four. The HRPP has dominated the political process, winning six consecutive elections since 1982.

The law does not prohibit the formation of opposition parties, and there were a few such parties; however, in April the country became a one-party state when the Speaker of the House ruled that the Samoa Democratic United Party (SDUP) could not be recognized as a political party, due to a 1997 standing order that members of Parliament (MPs) are required to remain members of the same party throughout their parliamentary term and that new political parties are not allowed to form between an old political party and other independent members. The SDUP deputy leader, who had been leading a campaign against the HRPP, was suspended from Parliament for four months. The opposition lodged a report with the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) addressing these alleged unfair practices, and the IPU submitted a report to the government providing recommendations for better parliamentary practices. The government condemned the IPU report.

While the constitution gives all citizens above the age of 21 the right to vote and run for office, by social custom candidates for 47 of the 49 seats in Parliament are drawn from the approximately 25 thousand matai. Matai are selected by family agreement; there is no age qualification. Although women sometimes are selected, 95 percent of matai were men. Matai control local government through the village fono, which are open to them alone.

There were 3 women in the 49-member Parliament and 1 in the 13-member cabinet.

The political rights of citizens who are not of ethnic Samoan heritage are addressed by the reservation of two parliamentary seats for "at large" voters. One cabinet minister was an at large MP of mixed European-Samoan heritage. Citizens of mixed European-Samoan or Chinese-Samoan heritage were well represented in the civil service.

Government Corruption and Transparency

Government corruption was not widespread, although there were some instances of corrupt practices involving misuse of public funds. During 2004 and 2005, charges were brought against several current and former employees from the Ministry of Health and the Department of Customs for theft of government funds, and the chief executive officer of the Ministry of Health was suspended. At year's end the cases were pending.

The law provides for an ombudsman to investigate complaints against government agencies, officials, or employees, including allegations of corruption. The ombudsman may require the government to provide information relating to a complaint.

Under the law, government information is subject to disclosure in civil proceedings involving the government, unless the information is considered privileged or its disclosure would harm the public interest.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally respected this in practice. However, politics and culture reflected a heritage of matai privilege and power, and members of certain families had some advantages. While there was discrimination against women and non-matai, who only occasionally reached high office, women (and particularly the few female matai) played an important role in society.


The law prohibits abuse of women, but social custom tolerated their physical abuse within the home, and such abuse was common. The role and rights of the village fono and tradition prevented police from interfering in domestic violence. Domestic abuses typically went unreported due to social pressure and fear of reprisal. Village fono typically punished domestic violence offenders, but only if the abuse was considered extreme (that is, there are visible signs of physical abuse). Village religious leaders also may intervene in domestic disputes. When police received complaints from abused women, the government punished the offender, including by imprisonment. The government did not keep statistics on domestic abuse cases but acknowledged the problem to be one of considerable concern.

Many cases of rape went unreported because tradition and custom discourage such reporting; spousal rape is not illegal. Nonetheless, in recent years the authorities noted a considerable number of reported cases of rape, as women slowly became more forthcoming with the police. Rape cases that reached the courts were treated seriously. Convicted offenders often received sentences of several years' imprisonment.

Prostitution is illegal, and it existed but was not a major problem. The law does not address sex tourism specifically; however, it was not a problem. The law prohibits sexual harassment; it was not a widespread problem but was believed to be underreported.

Women have equal rights under the constitution and statutory law, and the traditional subordinate role of women is changing, albeit slowly, particularly in the more conservative parts of society. The Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development oversees and helps secure the rights of women. To integrate women into the economic mainstream, the government sponsored literacy programs and training programs for those who did not complete high school.


The government made a strong commitment to the welfare of children through the implementation of various youth programs by the Ministries of Education and Health. Education is compulsory through age 14; however, the government did not enforce this law, and the children of families that could not pay the required school fees were unable to attend. All children at every level are required to pay school fees for tuition and books. Boys and girls were treated equally and attended school in approximately equal percentages. Most children attended school through junior high school.

The government provided health care for children at public hospitals for minimal charge. Law and tradition prohibit severe abuse of children, but both tolerate corporal punishment. Police noted an increase in reported cases in 2004 of child abuse, attributing the rise to citizens' increased awareness of the need to report physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children. The government aggressively prosecuted such cases. There were no reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Trafficking in Persons

The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons. While there was no national assessment of the scope of the problem, there was one isolated incident in 2003 in which 40 women were trafficked into prostitution to American Samoa. There were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country during the year.

A transnational crimes unit monitored crimes related to trafficking in persons.

Persons with Disabilities

There is no law pertaining specifically to the status of persons with disabilities or regarding accessibility for them. Tradition dictates that families care for persons with disabilities, and this custom was observed widely in practice. There were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities in the areas of employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of other state services. Many public buildings were old, and only a few were accessible to persons with disabilities. Most new buildings provided better access, including elevators in most multistory buildings.

The Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development has responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers legally have unrestricted rights to establish and join organizations of their own choosing. There were no practical limitations to union membership, and approximately 20 percent of the private sector workforce was unionized. The Public Service Association (PSA) functioned as a union for all government workers, who comprised approximately 80 percent of the paid workforce, excluding the self-employed.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides workers with the right to organize and bargain collectively, and workers exercised this right in practice. The PSA engages in collective bargaining on behalf of government workers, including bargaining on wages. Under the law, arbitration and mediation procedures are in place to resolve labor disputes, although such disputes rarely arise.

The supreme court has upheld the right of government workers to strike, subject to certain restrictions imposed principally for reasons of public safety, and workers have exercised this right. On September 9, government doctors began a strike for more pay and better working conditions. The attorney general deemed the strike illegal, and the Ministry of Health ordered them to return to work; however, the doctors defied the order. The government set up a commission of inquiry to examine the doctors' complaints and submitted a report to the cabinet on October 28. The cabinet approved the report, but the doctors on strike rejected it, claiming that the government had not met all of their demands. At year's end only a few doctors had returned to work, and the Ministry of Health was advertising vacancies for the doctors who had left. These same doctors were offered the opportunity to reapply if they wished to return to work for the ministry.

Workers in the private sector have the right to strike, but there were no strikes in the sector during the year. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the sole export-processing zone.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, but persons, including minors, frequently were called upon to work for their villages. Most persons did so willingly; however, the matai may compel those who do not.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

It is illegal to employ children under the age of 15 except in "safe and light work." The Ministry of Labor refers complaints of illegal child labor to the attorney general for enforcement; however, no cases were prosecuted during the year. Children frequently were seen vending goods and food on Apia street corners. The government has not made a definitive determination as to whether this practice violates the country's labor laws, which cover only persons who have a place of employment. Although the practice may constitute a violation of the law, local officials mostly tolerated it. There were no reports of compulsory labor by children; however, the law does not apply to service rendered to the matai, some of whom required children to work for the village, primarily on village farms (see section 6.c.). The extent of this practice varied by village, but it generally did not significantly disrupt children's education.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes for the private sector a 40-hour workweek and an hourly minimum wage. In September the minimum wage was increased to $0.72 (WST$2.00) per hour, which did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. An advisory commission to the minister of labor sets minimum wages. Wages in the private sector are determined by competitive demand for the required skills. Minimum wage rates were sufficient only when supplemented by subsistence farming and fishing.

The law also establishes certain rudimentary safety and health standards, which the attorney general is responsible for enforcing. However, independent observers reported that safety laws were not enforced strictly, except when accidents highlighted noncompliance. Many agricultural workers, among others, were inadequately protected from pesticides and other dangers to health. Government education and awareness programs addressed these concerns by providing appropriate training and equipment to agricultural workers for adequate protection from pesticides and other dangers to health. Safety laws do not apply to agricultural service rendered to the matai. While the law does not address specifically the right of workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations, the commissioner of labor investigates such cases, without jeopardy to continued employment. Government employees are covered under different and more stringent regulations, which were enforced adequately by the Public Service Commission.

Search Refworld