U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006 - Samoa
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor|
|Publication Date||6 March 2007|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006 - Samoa , 6 March 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f0568525.html [accessed 27 November 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 6, 2007
Samoa is a parliamentary democracy that incorporates traditional practices into its governmental system. The country has a population of approximately 177,000. Executive authority is vested in the head of state, Malietoa Tanumafili II, who holds the position for life. Parliament, elected by universal suffrage, is composed primarily of the heads of extended families, or matai. The most recent elections, held in March, were marred by charges of bribery. As a result of election challenges filed by losing candidates, the Supreme Court ordered 10 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, some human rights problems remained, including local limitations on religious freedom, discrimination against women and non-matai, and poor prison conditions.
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. In August the ombudsman's office reopened the investigation of a 2005 case in which police officer Tupou Ainu'u was found not guilty of manslaughter in the death of a man in police custody. The investigation was ongoing at year's end.
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 continued to deteriorate, especially for male inmates. Only basic provisions were provided 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. The government made efforts to improve prison conditions, including constructing 10 new cells. Juveniles were not held in separate facilities; however, during the year the government began construction on a new separate juvenile detention center.
The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers; however, there were no known requests during the year. 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 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.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence 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 $4,000 (WST$10,000) and criminal offenses 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 $4,000 (WST$10,000) and criminal offenses 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.
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 over by the president, after which appeals may be taken up to the Supreme Court and the 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 and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The Lands and Titles Court is an independent and impartial court that deals with civil matters, including human rights violations. The Lands and Titles Court hears disputes concerning the use or ownership of land and the use or ownership of a matai title. Within their jurisdictions, other courts can also provide independent and impartial means to redress human rights violations, as indicated above in this section.
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 residents 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. There were three television stations (one government-controlled) and three newspapers (also one government-controlled). The independent media were generally active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law stipulates imprisonment for any journalist who, despite court order, refuses to reveal a confidential source upon request from a member of the public. However, there has been no court case invoking this law.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chatrooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expressions of views via the Internet, including by electronic mail.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. However, under a 1998 amendment to the Films Control Act, the official government censor is required to ban any film that might hinder stability and social order. During the year, the government banned from public viewing one motion picture considered likely to promote interreligious strife.
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 their extended family. There were instances during the year where fono imposed restrictions on the introduction and practice of new religions and faiths. The courts ruled in several high-profile cases in which village fono attempted to limit religious observance to existing churches (primarily the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, the Catholic Church, and the Methodist Church). Those negatively affected by such attempts were primarily the relatively new, fast-growing evangelical and interdenominational Christian movements. In such cases, the fono allowed village persons to travel outside their village to attend religious services (see Section 2.d.).
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were no significant reports of societal religious discrimination or anti-Semitic acts. For a more detailed discussion, see the 2006 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. However, 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. During the year one person was banished from his village for attempting to establish a new church, allegedly due to a lack of advance consultation with the fono. The person affected appealed to the Lands and Titles Court, which ruled in his favor.
The law prohibits exile, and the government did not use it.
Protection of Refugees
The law provides 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, but the government has not 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, but they were marred by charges of bribery. As a result of election challenges filed by losing candidates, the Supreme Court ordered 10 by elections. By year's end, the by-elections had not all been conducted and not all results were finalized. The HRPP has dominated the political process, winning seven consecutive elections since 1982.
The law does not prohibit the formation of opposition parties, although none currently exist. In October the leader of the recognized opposition, the Samoa Democratic United Party (SDUP), resigned due to internal party conflict. His resignation, together with that of another SDUP member, reduced the SDUP below the eight members required for recognition as a party in parliament.
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 the parliament are drawn from the approximately 25,000 chiefs. Matai are selected by family agreement; there is no age qualification. Although both men and women are permitted to become matai, 95 percent of matai were men. Matai controlled local government through the village fono, which were open to them alone.
During the year the number of women matai and women participating in politics increased, with three women seated in the 13-member cabinet, two women serving as heads of constitutional offices, four women as chief executive officers of government ministries, and two women as chief executive officers of government corporations. There were five women in the 49-member Parliament.
The political rights of citizens who are not of ethnic Samoan heritage are addressed by the reservation of two parliamentary seats for "at large" members of parliament (MP). One of the at large cabinet ministers 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
There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year. During 2004 and 2005, charges were brought against several current and former employees of 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. One senior officer from the Department of Customs was charged with theft as a public servant. At year's end the trial concerning the former chief executive officer of the Ministry of Health was 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 as such members of certain families had some advantages.
The law prohibits abuse of women, but common social attitudes tolerated their physical abuse within the home, and such abuse was common. Delay in adopting amendments to the current fono law 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 (i.e. visible signs of physical abuse). Village religious leaders were also permitted to 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 common social attitudes discourage such reporting. Rape is illegal, although spousal rape is not illegal. In recent years authorities noted a considerable number of reported cases of rape, as women slowly became more forthcoming with police. Rape cases that reached the courts were treated seriously. Convicted offenders often received sentences of several years' imprisonment. During the year reporting of sexual crimes to the police reportedly improved.
Prostitution is illegal 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 numerous programs, including 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 Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development in collaboration with the ministries of Education and Health. Education is compulsory through age 14; however, the government did not enforce this law. Public education was not free, and students were required to pay some school fees. Boys and girls were treated equally and attended school in approximately equal percentages. Most children attended school through junior high school.
The Division for Women of the Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development, carried out several programs for women and young people on a range of issues, including human rights. These issues were facilitated and taught in the context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The government provided health care for children at public hospitals for minimal charge. The Ministry of Health and the Samoa Family Health Association undertook efforts to improve access to its services by women and children. Law and tradition prohibit severe abuse of children, but both tolerate corporal punishment. A recent rise in reported cases of child abuse appeared to be due to 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.
The Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration, in collaboration with nongovernmental organizations, carried out other educational activities address domestic violence and inappropriate behavior between adults and children, and to promote human rights awareness.
Trafficking in Persons
The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons. 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 ramps and 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. In September 2005 government doctors organized for more pay and better working conditions. The attorney general and the Ministry of Health deemed the strike illegal and ordered the doctors to return to work. The doctors defied the order, and a government commission was formed and tasked with investigating the doctors' complaints. The commission's report was approved by the cabinet, but the doctors on strike rejected it. At year's end few of the doctors had returned to work.
Workers in the private sector have the right to strike, but there were no private sector strikes 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 matai frequently called upon persons, including minors, to work for their villages. Most persons did so willingly; however, the matai may compel those who do not (see section 6.d.).
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 or family members, some of whom required children to work for the village, primarily on village farms. 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 2005, 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 Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor 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.
The Occupational Safety Hazard Act includes provisions covering the safety and health of workers in both the private and public sectors. The act also covers persons who are not workers but who are lawfully on the premises or within the workplace during work hours. Workplace safety and health were monitored strictly by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor through occupational safety hazard inspectors. Work accidents were investigated when reports were received.