2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Palau
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor|
|Publication Date||24 May 2012|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Palau, 24 May 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fc75a73c.html [accessed 4 March 2015]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
Palau is a constitutional republic. The president, vice president, and members of the legislature (the Olbiil Era Kelulau) are elected for four-year terms. There are no political parties. In the generally free and fair elections held in November 2008, Johnson Toribiong was elected president. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.
The most significant human rights problems in the country occurred in the areas of government corruption and discrimination and abuse of foreign workers.
Other human rights problems that occurred during the year were domestic violence and trafficking in persons.
The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. Impunity was not a problem.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in the country's sole prison, although primitive, generally met international standards. The government permits visits by independent human rights observers; however, no visits were requested or made during the year. Overcrowding remained a problem. There were 73 prisoners, including four women and four juveniles. Prisoners have access to potable water.
The few female prisoners were held in separate cells but were permitted to mingle with male inmates during daylight hours. Prison conditions for female inmates were the same as for male prisoners.
Prisoners had access to visitors and held religious observance. They were permitted to file complaints, and authorities investigated allegations of mistreatment. Authorities also monitored prison conditions.
The government does not have an ombudsman. Officials took measures to alleviate overcrowding through a work-release program and other programs allowing prisoners to take academic courses at a local community college; provided separate confinement for juveniles; and had established procedures for recordkeeping. Prisoners and detainees could raise problems through private attorneys or court-appointed attorneys.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police and marine police in Koror and Peleliu states, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
The law requires warrants for arrests. Warrants are prepared by the Office of the Attorney General and signed by a judge. The law provides for a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, and this was observed in practice. Detainees were informed promptly of the charges against them and had prompt access to family members and lawyers. If a detainee could not afford a lawyer, the public defender or a court-appointed lawyer was available. There was a functioning system of bail.
A person arrested has the right to remain silent and to speak to and be visited by counsel, a family member or his employer. Those arrested must be released or charged within 24 hours, and must be informed of the preceding rights.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice.
The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The government has an independent public defender system.
Trials are public and are conducted by judges; certain crimes warrant jury trial. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, the right of appeal and the right to consult with an attorney. They can question witnesses, present evidence on their own behalf, and access government-held evidence in their cases. The law extends these rights to all defendants.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters for lawsuits involving allegations of human rights violations.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Status of Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech including for members of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and of the press.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State's 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. The 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.
Protection of Refugees
Access to asylum: The country's laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Durable Solutions: During the year the government provided temporary protection to one refugee from Ethiopia.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The law provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In November 2008 voters elected a new congress, Johnson Toribiong as president, and Kerai Mariur as vice president. The president, vice president, and congress serve four-year terms. The Council of Chiefs, consisting of the highest traditional chiefs from each state, advises the president on traditional laws and customs. Although there have been political parties in the past, there were none during the year.
Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no legal impediments to women's participation in government and politics. Two women were elected to the Senate in the November 2008 general elections. Women constituted 16 percent of state legislators. Five women served as state governors during the year. Three female associate justices served in the Supreme Court, and five of the country's nine judges were women. A woman was appointed to serve as the attorney general.
There were two members of minorities in the House of Delegates.
Section 4. Official Corruption and Government Transparency
Government corruption was a problem, which the government took some steps to address. The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Public officials are required to file annual financial disclosure statements with the Ethics Commission. The Office of the Special Prosecutor and the Office of the Public Auditor are responsible for combating government corruption. The Office of the Special Prosecutor has been vacant since March 2010.
In June the chief of the Division of Fish and Wildlife was sentenced to five years imprisonment and fined $5,000 (the U.S. dollar is the official currency) for five criminal counts: misconduct in public office, obstruction of justice, violation of the Code of Ethics, conversion of public funds and aiding and abetting forgery. The five-year imprisonment sentence was suspended.
The law provides for the right of citizens and noncitizens including foreign media to examine government documents and observe official deliberations of any government agency, and the government generally respected this provision in practice.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international groups concerned with human rights generally operated without government restriction. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.
There were no visits by UN representatives or other international governmental organization. There were no reports by international groups on human rights violations.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally observed these provisions.
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by a maximum of 25 years' imprisonment. During the year there was no reported case of rape. There are no laws on domestic violence. Cases that would be characterized as domestic violence are prosecuted as assault and battery. Alcohol and drug abuse contributed to violence and crime against women and children. According to the Office of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Health, and women's groups, reported cases of women and children as victims of crimes represented a relatively small percentage of cases of actual abuse. Assault is a criminal offense, punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $100, and the police responded when such cases were reported; women, however, were reluctant to press charges against their spouses. There were no shelters for victims. The government conducted public education efforts to combat abuse against women and children.
In November the country commemorated the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children with a presidential proclamation, and government and community leaders appeared on television and radio talk shows urging better treatment of women and children and to end the vicious cycle of violence that all too often begins at home.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and did not appear to be a major problem.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, and had the information and means to do so free from discrimination. Access to information on contraception, and skilled attendance at delivery and in postpartum care, were widely available at the government's Belau National Hospital. People have access to contraceptive products available from Belau National Hospital, private clinics, and department stores. According to the government, the maternal mortality rate was reported to be at zero in 2007. Women and men were given equal access to diagnostic services and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men and enjoy those rights. The inheritance of property and of traditional rank is matrilineal, with women occupying positions of importance within the traditional system. There were no reported instances of unequal pay for equal work or gender-related job discrimination. There are laws protecting women from job discrimination and providing equal pay for equal work. The Bureau of Aging and Gender, under the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs, promotes gender workplace equality.
A local women's group held an annual conference on women's and children's issues, including health, education, drug abuse, prostitution, and traditional customs and values. Government officials, including the president, vice president, ministers, and traditional chiefs, participated.
Birth Registration: Citizenship of a child is derived from the parents. A child born to foreign national parents is registered as a citizen of those countries. Births are registered immediately, and there has not been a report of failure to register.
Child Abuse: Children's rights generally were respected, although there were isolated reports of child neglect. Law enforcement officers including the Office of Victims of Crime aggressively investigated and prosecuted cases of violence against children.
The Office of Victims of Crimes, under the Ministry of Health's Office on Social Health, deals with women, children, and men who are victims of crimes. The Office of Victims of Crimes reported that most violence or abuse against children happened in the home or place of residence and generally involved members of the family. The Office of Victims of Crimes worked closely with the law enforcement officers and the Office of the Attorney General on cases involving children.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: There were no reports of children under age 18 engaging in prostitution. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is not a problem, and there were no reported cases. There are no laws on commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The age of consensual sex is 16, and the penalty for statutory rape is not more than five years' jail term. The law does not specifically address child pornography.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State's 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. The Disabled Persons' Anti-discrimination Act and the Programs and Services for Handicapped Children Act cover both persons with mental disabilities and persons with physical disabilities, and the government enforced the provisions of these acts. No discrimination was reported against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The government provides a monthly stipend of $50 for persons with disabilities. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions in practice. Public schools had special education programs to address problems encountered by persons with disabilities.
The government agency Ngak Mak Tang (Everyone Matters) is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
The law prohibits noncitizens from purchasing land or obtaining citizenship. The only legal mechanism to obtain a citizenship is by blood, meaning that one of the parents must be Palauan. Children born to noncitizens inherit their parents' citizenship. Foreign workers constituted approximately 55 percent of the workforce. A majority of citizens viewed the recent rapid increase in foreign workers negatively. Foreign workers and their dependents, both documented and undocumented, accounted for nearly a third of the population. Foreign residents were subject to discrimination and were targets of petty and sometimes violent crimes, as well as other harmful acts against the persons and property. Foreign residents made credible complaints that the authorities did not pursue or prosecute crimes committed against noncitizens with the same vigor as crimes against citizens.
In addition some foreign nationals experienced discrimination in employment, pay, housing, education, and access to social services, although the law prohibits such discrimination.
The Division of Labor handles cases of workplace discrimination against foreign workers.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There were no reports of cases of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were no reports of cases of violence or discrimination against person with HIV/AIDS.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of all persons to assemble peacefully and to associate with others for any lawful purpose, including the right to join and organize labor unions. However, there were no active labor unions or other employee organizations; the majority of businesses were small-scale, family-run enterprises employing relatives and friends.
The law does not provide for the right to strike, and the government has not addressed this issue. There were no workers' strikes or protests during the year.
There is no law concerning trade union organization, collective bargaining, or antiunion discrimination. Market forces determine wages in the cash economy.
There are no export processing zones.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor; however, there were reports that such practices occurred. There were also reports of foreign workers, particularly domestic helpers and unskilled laborers, forced to accept jobs different from those for which they were recruited. Employers sometimes verbally threatened or withheld passports and return tickets of foreign workers desiring to leave unfavorable work situations. The Division of Labor worked with employers and employees to address these problems.
There were no reports of forced or compulsory labor by children. Regulations require foreign workers to be at least 21 years old to obtain a work permit.
Also see the Department of State's 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law states that the government shall protect children from exploitation. The Division of Labor is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations relating to child labor. There is no minimum age for employment. Children typically were not employed in the wage economy, but some assisted their families with fishing, agriculture, and small-scale family enterprises.
By regulation no foreigner under age 21 may be admitted into the country for employment purposes, and the government generally enforced this regulation effectively.
See the Department of State's 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report.
d. Acceptable Conditions of Work
A 1999 law sets the minimum wage at $2.50 per hour, but foreign workers are not included under the minimum wage law. It generally was assumed that legislators specifically exempted foreign contract workers from the minimum wage law to ensure a continued supply of low-cost labor in industries that the legislators often controlled. The national minimum wage provided a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Anecdotal evidence indicated that unskilled workers (usually foreigners) for commercial firms were paid only $1.50 to $2.00 per hour; wages for domestic helpers employed in private households were lower still.
In addition to their wages, foreign workers usually were provided basic accommodations and food gratis or at nominal cost. The country continued to attract foreign workers from the Philippines, China, and Bangladesh. During the year there were more than 6,000 foreign nationals with work permits in the country; of these, roughly 60 percent were from the Philippines, 15 percent from China, and 10 percent from Bangladesh.
There is no legislation concerning maximum hours of work. The Division of Labor has established some regulations regarding conditions of employment for nonresident workers. The division may inspect the conditions of the workplace and employer-provided housing on the specific complaint of the employees, but enforcement was sporadic. Working conditions varied in practice.
Although there are occupational and safety standards, the law does not specifically provide workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their continued employment, and no law protects workers who file complaints about such conditions. Anecdotal evidence suggested that noncitizens would likely lose their employment if they removed themselves from situations that endangered health or safety. Since foreign workers generally are not permitted to change employers and must depart the country if their contract ends for any reason, such workers were reticent about reporting abuses. There were no reports to the government of violations of occupational health or safety standards during the year. The Division of Labor enforces safety standards and laws.
Reports of mistreatment of foreign workers by their employers continued during the year. The foreign workers most likely to be abused were those who worked under contracts as domestic helpers, farmers, waitresses, beauticians, hostesses in karaoke bars and massage parlors, construction workers, and other semiskilled workers, the majority of whom were from the Philippines, China, and Bangladesh. The most commonly reported abuses included misrepresentation of contract terms and conditions of employment, withholding of pay or benefits, and substandard food and housing. There were also complaints of physical abuse. In a number of instances local authorities took corrective action when alerted by social service and religious organizations. The Division of Labor helped to resolve disputes or complaints between employers and foreign workers.