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2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Samoa

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 25 February 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Samoa, 25 February 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49a8f15ac.html [accessed 17 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

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

Samoa is a constitutional parliamentary democracy that incorporates traditional practices into its governmental system. Its population was approximately 188,000. Executive authority is vested in Head of State Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, elected by parliament in 2007. The unicameral parliament, elected by universal suffrage, is composed primarily of the heads of extended families, or matai. The most recent parliamentary elections, held in 2006, were marred by charges of bribery. All 10 by-elections subsequently ordered by the Supreme Court were concluded by February 2007 and considered generally free and fair. The ruling Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) increased its majority and continued to be the only officially recognized party in parliament. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. Some problems remained, however, including poor prison conditions, local limitations on religious freedom, domestic violence, and discrimination against women and non-matai.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution prohibits such practices, and the government generally observed these prohibitions in practice. Tafaigata Prison's former "Cell Nine," in which inmates previously had been held with no lights, bedding, or sanitary facilities, was renovated to hold new inmates.

During the year a nongovernmental organization (NGO) brought to light a complaint from a former inmate at the Oloamanu Juvenile Center alleging that a senior police officer forced him into an unwanted sexual relationship in 2007. At year's end the Professional Standards Unit of the Ministry of Police was investigating the allegation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained poor, especially for male inmates. Some prison facilities were nearly a century old. Only basic provisions were made with respect to food, water, and sanitation. Diplomatic observers reported that each concrete cell held 10 to 15 inmates. Most cells had gravel floors, no toilets, poor ventilation, and almost no lighting. Some juveniles were held with adults. At year's end construction work continued on parts of a new separate facility for juveniles, the Oloamanu Juvenile Center, although the facility held a limited number of juveniles. Physical conditions at the juvenile center were generally better than those for adults, but there were unconfirmed reports of problems with food, clothing, and the water supply.

Inmates were employed in various activities outside prisons, including work in government officials' private residences and companies. Because the government regarded this work as a form of rehabilitation and preferable for the inmates to confinement in prison, the prisoners were not always paid for this work. The assignments reportedly were voluntary and periodically inspected by prison staff.

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 constitution 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. Enforcement of rules and security within individual villages is vested in the fono (Council of Matai).

A commissioner for police and prisons administration is appointed to a three-year term and reports to the minister of police. Corruption and impunity were not significant problems among the police, although there were credible reports of minor instances of bribery, such as bribes to avoid traffic citations. A lack of resources limited police effectiveness.

In September a special commission of inquiry was set up to investigate alleged involvement of the police commissioner in the smuggling of three firearms onboard the police patrol boat; at year's end the inquiry was ongoing.

The 2007 case of an assistant police commissioner accused of indecent assault against two female police officers went to trial during the year but was delayed due to absence on maternity leave of one of the witnesses; the trial was expected to resume in 2009.

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 constitution 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 Court of Appeal, the highest court, 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.

Due to staff shortages, some Supreme Court and district court judges faced a backlog of pending cases. Of particular concern were postponements of rulings on constitutional cases that in some cases dated back years.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. A trial judge examines evidence and determines if there are grounds to proceed. Defendants have the presumption of innocence. 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. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

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 Village Fono Act 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 determine which court receives an appeal. A further appeal may be made 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.

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, including access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

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

The laws prohibit 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.

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.

The independent media were generally active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. However, the government imposed restrictions on media reporting with regard to a commission of inquiry investigation into an alleged gun-smuggling incident involving the police commissioner. Although members of the media were allowed to be present at commission hearings, they were instructed to report only on daily media briefings prepared by the Office of the Attorney General; reporting of any information not included in the briefings was prohibited. At year's end the inquiry was ongoing, and media were still restricted in reporting on it.

The law stipulates imprisonment for any journalist who, despite a 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.

Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. Although for financial reasons private ownership of computers was relatively uncommon, access to the Internet through Internet cafes was generally available and widely used.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice. 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.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no significant reports of societal religious discrimination. There was no organized Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report.

d. Freedom of Movement, Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights 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. Cases of village banishment are rarely made public. Of those cases that became known during the year, reasons for banishment included murder, rape, adultery, and unauthorized claims to land and matai title. In some cases civil courts have overruled banishment orders. Some banished persons were accepted back into the village after performing a traditional apology ceremony called "ifoga."

The government was willing to cooperate 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, but the need did not arise during the year.

The law prohibits forced 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 received no requests during the year for refugee status, asylum, or protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The constitution 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

The most recent elections, held in 2006, were marred by charges of bribery. As a result of election challenges filed by losing candidates, the Supreme Court ordered 10 by elections. All the mandated by-elections were conducted and generally considered free and fair.

The law does not prohibit the formation of opposition parties, but there were no officially recognized opposition parties. Two members of parliament (MPs) from the ruling HRPP resigned in disapproval of government legislation to switch the driving side of the road; in May they joined 10 other independent MPs to form the Tautua Samoa Party. The former Samoa Democratic United Party disbanded, with most members joining the new party. The new party was not officially recognized, however, as parliamentary standing orders dictate that parties must be registered before the general election to receive recognition. In October organizers of protests against the driving switch (none of whom were MPs) announced the formation of another new political party, the People's Party. At year's end the HRPP remained the only recognized party, with 35 parliamentary seats; independents, including those affiliated with Tautua Samoa, held 14 seats.

While the constitution gives all citizens above age 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 30,000 matai. Matai are selected by family agreement; there is no age qualification. Although both men and women are permitted to become matai, only 8 percent were women. Matai controlled local government through the village fono, which were open to them alone.

There were four women in the parliament and three women in the cabinet. Two women served as heads of constitutional offices, four women as chief executive officers of government ministries, and three women as general managers of government corporations.

The political rights of citizens who are not of ethnic Samoan heritage are addressed by the reservation of two parliamentary seats for "at-large" MPs. One at-large cabinet minister and MP was 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

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Penalties ranged from several months to several years of imprisonment if convicted. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws; however, such disclosure was encouraged by codes of ethics applicable to boards of directors of government-owned corporations. 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.

In April an account officer in the Ministry of Police and two account officers in the Ministry of Finance were charged with embezzling 350,000 tala (approximately $125,450) in police funds. The case was ongoing at year's end. In May a staff member of the former South Pacific Games Authority was convicted of embezzling 43,000 tala (approximately $15,400). In August a senior official of the Ministry of Justice was terminated after two court files went missing. However, an employment dispute tribunal subsequently found him innocent of wrongdoing and offered him reinstatement.

In May the former financial controller of the Samoa Kidney Foundation pled guilty to a 2007 charge of theft as a public servant and was awaiting sentencing at year's end.

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 constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally respected these provisions in practice. However, politics and culture reflected a heritage of matai privilege and power, and members of certain families of high traditional status had some advantages.

Women

The constitution prohibits abuse of women, but common societal attitudes tolerated their physical abuse within the home, and such abuse was common.

Rape is illegal, but there is no legal provision against spousal rape. Many cases of rape went unreported because common societal attitudes discouraged such reporting. In recent years authorities noted a rise in the number of reported cases of rape, as women slowly became more forthcoming with police. Rape cases that reached the courts were treated seriously. The penalties for rape ranged from two years' to life imprisonment, but a life sentence has never been imposed.

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. Domestic violence is charged as common criminal assault, with terms of imprisonment ranging from several months to one year. The government did not keep statistics on domestic abuse cases specifically but acknowledged the problem to be one of considerable concern.

The Ministry of Police has a 10-person Domestic Violence Unit, which received reports of domestic abuse and worked in collaboration with NGOs that combated domestic abuse. NGO services for abused women included confidential hot lines, in-person counseling, victim support, and shelters.

Prostitution is illegal but was not a major 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 was 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.

A provision of labor law prohibits employment of women between midnight and 6:00 a.m. This regulation was generally observed.

Children

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; students were required to pay some school fees.

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 citizens' increased awareness of the need to report physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children. The government aggressively prosecuted such cases.

In September a matai was convicted of having an unlawful sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy and sentenced to two-and-one-half years' imprisonment.

The Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration and the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with NGOs, carried out educational activities to 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; however, there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, through, or within the country.

There are laws against kidnapping that could be used to prosecute trafficking-related activities. The law provides a penalty of up to 10 years in prison for kidnapping any person with the intent to transport, imprison, or hold for service. Abducting or receiving a child under age 16 is punishable by up to seven years' imprisonment. A transnational crimes unit monitors 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 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.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Sodomy and "indecency between males" are illegal. However, these provisions were not actively enforced with regard to consensual homosexual acts between adults. There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against homosexuals.

There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

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.

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.

Workers in the private sector have the right to strike, but there were no private-sector strikes during the year.

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. Arbitration and mediation procedures are in place to resolve labor disputes, although such disputes rarely arose.

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.

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. The law does not apply to service rendered to family members or the matai, 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.

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.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

An advisory commission to the minister of labor sets minimum wages. There were two minimum wages: 2.00 tala (approximately $0.70) per hour for the private sector, and 2.40 tala (approximately $0.85) for the public sector. Neither provided a decent standard of living for a worker and family unless supplemented by other activities, such as subsistence farming and fishing. Wages in the private sector are determined by competitive demand for the required skills but should not be less than the minimum private-sector wage.

The provisions of the Labor Act cover only the private sector; a separate law, the Public Service Act, covers public-sector workers. Labor laws stipulate a standard work week of no more than 40 hours, or eight hours per day (excluding meal times). For the private sector, overtime pay is specified at time and a half, with double time for work on Sundays and public holidays and triple time for overtime on such days. For the public sector, there is no paid overtime, but compensatory time off is given for overtime work.

The Occupational Safety Hazard Act establishes certain rudimentary safety and health standards for workplaces, which the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor is responsible for enforcing. The law also covers persons who are not workers but who are lawfully on the premises or within the workplace during work hours. However, independent observers reported that safety laws were not enforced strictly, except when accidents highlighted noncompliance. Work accidents were investigated when reports were received. 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. 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. The government investigated several cases during the year. Government employees are covered under different and more stringent regulations, which were enforced adequately by the Public Service Commission.

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