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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Micronesia, Federated States of

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 - Micronesia, Federated States of , 8 March 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4418219125.html [accessed 18 September 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 8, 2006

The Federated States of Micronesia is a constitutional republic composed of four states: Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap. Its population was approximately 107 thousand. There are three branches of government: an executive branch led by a president who also serves as head of state; a unicameral legislature elected from the four constituent states that elects the president from among its members for a four-year term; and an independent judiciary. There were no political parties. Congress chose Joseph J. Urusemal as president in May 2003. The most recent elections for Congress, held in March, generally were considered free and fair. Individual states enjoy significant autonomy, and traditional leaders retain considerable influence in some states. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse; however, there were problems in some areas. Government efforts to address societal problems such as family violence were constrained by traditional society. The following human rights problems were reported:

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards; however, during the year Pohnpei and Chuuk States' underfunded corrections divisions failed to provide nutritionally adequate meals to prisoners.

Each of the four state jails included a separate cell for female prisoners. Since women rarely were detained, these cells typically were used to separate disruptive male prisoners from the general prison population. There were no designated juvenile detention facilities; however, juvenile crime was rare, and the states typically have decided against incarceration of juveniles. Pretrial detainees usually were held together with convicted prisoners. All four states used jail cells to house persons with mental illnesses but no criminal background (see section 5).

The question of prison visits by human rights observers did not arise during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

Each state has a department of public safety composed of police, corrections, fire, and emergency response functions. The directors of public safety are state cabinet-level positions. There is a small national police force under the Department of Justice. Some municipalities also have small police forces. In March voters in Chuuk State elected a new governor, who acted to reform the state's politicized, oversized, and underqualified force. There were reports of police favoritism toward relatives and occasional reports of physical abuse by the police. Many citizens preferred to rely on customary and traditional remedies to resolve criminal and civil matters.

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.

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 president, with the advice and consent of the legislature, appoints the three justices of the Supreme Court. Each state also has a supreme court, and some municipalities have community courts. Some states have additional courts to deal with land disputes. The formal legal system coexists with traditional, mediation-based mechanisms for resolving disputes and dealing with offenders at the local level.

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 may have 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. Despite these provisions cultural resistance to litigation and incarceration as methods of maintaining public order allowed some persons to act with impunity. Serious cases of sexual and other assault and even murder have not gone to trial, and suspects routinely were released indefinitely. Bail, even for major crimes, usually was set at low levels (see section 1.d.).

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

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and 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.

The number of independent media outlets was small. There was a biweekly national newspaper, the Kaselehlie Press. Yap also had a privately published newspaper, the Yap Networker, and Kosrae's Sinlaku Sun Times/Alliance continued to appear irregularly. On Pohnpei a new newspaper, Da Rohng, began publishing detailed articles on controversial subjects. Newspapers have published politically sensitive stories.

Each of the four state governments controlled a radio station that broadcast primarily in the local language. The government AM stations on Yap and Chuuk were off the air throughout the year, the former due to typhoon-related damage and the latter due to technical problems. Religious groups operated private radio stations. The populations of Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap, and Kosrae increasingly had access to live international satellite broadcasts, but tape-delayed broadcasts of programming by the major US networks ended due to licensing problems.

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.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There was no known Jewish community, 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 freedom of movement within the country. It does not address foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation, but in practice none of these were 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. However, in November Congress introduced comprehensive legislation to establish a system for providing protection to refugees in accordance with the 1951 convention and 1967 protocol. The legislation was pending at year's end. In practice the government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where 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 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 14-member Congress is elected by popular vote from each state. The Congress then chooses the president and vice president from among its four at-large senators by majority vote. Elections for Congress were held in March. Two incumbent senators, one of whom had introduced an unsuccessful bill that would have granted amnesty to government officials who had misused government funds, were defeated.

The elections were generally free and fair; however, there were serious discrepancies and evidence of fraud in two ballot boxes in Chuuk State. A court-ordered revote was held in one case, resulting in the incumbent's defeat. In the second case the director of elections determined that exclusion of the suspect ballot box's results would not affect the outcome in that electoral district. During the year no further action was taken regarding charges filed against an election worker in Chuuk State for allegedly withholding a ballot from a voter in the March 2003 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 have been no significant efforts to form political parties, and none exist. Political support generally was sought from family and allied clan groupings, as well as religious groups.

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 national legislature.

Government Corruption and Transparency

Government corruption was a problem, particularly in Chuuk State. Following the 2004 convictions of the then speaker of Congress, one other member of Congress, and two former members on charges relating to misuse of government funds, the Attorney General's Office investigated and indicted other Chuuk politicians for corrupt practices, although one indicted member of Congress retained his seat in the March elections.

There is no national law providing for public access to government information. Under rules in effect during the year, 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. The Pohnpei State legislature's proceedings were televised, and Yap's 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; however, 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 law provides explicit protection against discrimination based on race, sex, language, or religion, but the government's enforcement of these constitutional provisions often was weak.

Women

Reports of spousal abuse, often severe, continued during the year. Although assault is a crime, there are no specific laws against domestic abuse, and there were no governmental or private facilities to shelter and support women in abusive situations. Effective prosecution of offenses was rare. In many cases victims decide against initiating legal charges because of family pressure, fear of further assault, or belief that the police will not involve themselves actively in what is seen as a private family problem. Rape is a crime; however, few cases were reported or prosecuted. According to police and women's groups, there were a number of reports of physical and sexual assaults against women outside the family context. Such assaults were perpetrated against both citizens and foreigners. In this traditional society, unmarried women sometimes were considered to have invited such violence by living or traveling alone.

Within the traditional extended family unit, violence, abuse, and neglect directed against spouses or children were deemed offenses against the family, not just the individuals, and were addressed by a complex system of familial sanctions. However, traditional methods of coping with family discord have been 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. Children may leave school when they reach the age of 14 or after completing the eighth grade, whichever comes first.

The government administered an immunization program throughout the country and provided some vitamin supplements.

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

Trafficking in Persons

The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons; however, there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country. In 2003 Congress passed legislation to regulate foreign labor recruiters as part of a strategy to control abusive recruitment practices, but the government still had not promulgated implementing regulations by year's end.

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; however, they usually did not seek employment outside the home.

Neither laws nor regulations mandate accessibility to public buildings or services for persons with disabilities. Some private businesses provided special parking spaces and wheelchair ramps.

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

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

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 can 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 constitution prohibits noncitizens from purchasing land, and a 2002 law limits the occupations that noncitizens may fill. The national Congress grants citizenship to non-Micronesians only in rare cases. There is no permanent residency status. However, for the most part noncitizens shared fully in the social and cultural life of the country.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Under the law citizens have the right to form or join associations, and national government employees by law may form associations to "present their views" to the government without coercion, discrimination, or reprisals. For a variety of reasons, including the fact that most private-sector employment was in small-scale, family-owned businesses and citizens were not accustomed to collective bargaining, there were neither associations nor trade unions. Although foreign workers have the right to form unions, they have not done 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 law 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

The law does 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

The four state governments have established minimum wage rates for government workers. Pohnpei had a minimum hourly wage rate of $2.00 for government and $1.35 for private-sector workers. The other three states have established minimum hourly rates only for government workers: $1.25 for Chuuk, $1.49 for Kosrae, and $0.80 for Yap. The minimum hourly wage for employment with the national government was $2.64. (The US dollar is the national currency.) 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. The Department of Health has 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.

Yap State permitted foreign laborers to work in garment manufacturing enterprises. With the end of the international textile quota regime early in the year, these factories closed. Foreign workers at one factory were not immediately repatriated and complained that they had not been paid for several months.

Working conditions on board some Taiwan- and People's Republic of China-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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