Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2018, 13:56 GMT

Freedom in the World 2011 - Palau

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 15 July 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Palau, 15 July 2011, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
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.

Capital: Melekeok
Population: 21,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free


In September, Palau signed a new compact agreement with the United States, guaranteeing the transfer of a total of $250 million in assistance through 2024. President Johnson Toribiong faced allegations of receiving $200,000 from a Kuala Lumpur-based investment company in exchange for an investment license, though no investigation had been launched by year's end. To cope with economic difficulties, the government in July introduced new taxes on foreign residents to increase state revenue.

The United States administered Palau, consisting of eight main islands and more than 250 smaller islands, as a UN Trust Territory from 1947 until 1981, when it became a self-governing territory. Palau gained full independence in 1994 under a Compact of Free Association with the United States, which stipulated that the United States would grant Palau $442 million in economic aid between 1994 and 2009; allow Palauan citizens to reside, work, and study in the United States and its territories; give Palauans access to various federal government programs; and defend Palau in exchange for U.S. military access to the archipelago until 2044.

Johnson Toribiong was elected president in the 2008 elections. Parliamentary elections were held the same month, with all candidates running as independents. Securing U.S. aid beyond 2009 was the central issue of the elections. A new compact, under which the United States would provide a total of $250 million in assistance through 2024, was signed in September 2010.

In 2009, Palau accepted six Chinese Uighur Muslims who had been detained at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Palauan government denied claims that acceptance of the Uighurs was tied to the compact deal. By July 2010, all six had applied for resettlement in Australia. While the Palauan government backed their petition, Australia had not rendered a decision by year's end.

As of July 2010, all foreign residents – except diplomats, their dependents, and tourists – must register with the state within the first seven days of arrival and pay a registration fee of $25 per person. The government argued that it needed to record incoming persons to battle illegal migration and increase state income. In other efforts to generate revenue, casinos were legalized and the civil service was downsized, while new taxes on wages, scuba diving, and hotel lodging were also proposed.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Palau is an electoral democracy. The 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections were considered free and fair. The bicameral legislature, the Olbiil Era Kelulau, consists of the 9-member Senate and the 16-member House of Delegates. Legislators are elected to four-year terms by popular vote, as are the president and vice president. The president may serve only two consecutive terms. The country is organized into 16 states; each is headed by a governor, and each has a seat in the House of Delegates. Every state is also allowed to formulate its own constitutional convention and elect a legislature and head of state.

There are no political parties, though no laws prevent their formation. The current system of loose political alliances that quickly form and dismantle has had a destabilizing effect on governance.

Official corruption and abuse are serious problems. Several high-ranking public officials have faced charges in recent years. The speaker of the Koror state government, the governor of Melekeok state, and former president Tommy Remengesau were all convicted of misconduct in 2009. In January 2010, President Johnson Toribiong ordered the special prosecutor to take legal action against Senate president Mlib Tmetuchl and his brother, Lucius Malsol, for allegedly laundering $22.5 billion; the attorney general's office dismissed the charges against them in March, citing lack of evidence. While new measures to combat money laundering were introduced in 2007, evaluations have found significant deficiencies in due diligence, record keeping, and monitoring, and the attorney general's office generally lacks the resources to oversee implementation of these measures. In September 2010, Toribiong was accused of receiving $200,000 from a Kuala Lumpur-based investment company in exchange for an investment license. No investigation into the allegations had been launched by year's end.

Freedoms of speech and the press are respected. There are several print publications, five privately owned radio stations, and one privately owned television station. Cable television provides rebroadcasts of U.S. and other foreign programs. The government does not impede internet access, but high cost and a lack of connectivity outside the main islands limit diffusion.

Citizens of Palau enjoy freedom of religion. Although religious organizations are required to register with the government, applications have never been denied. There have been no reports of restrictions on academic freedom, and the government provides well-funded basic education for all.

Freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Many nongovernmental groups represent youth, health, and women's issues. Workers can freely organize unions and bargain collectively, though the economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture and is heavily dependent on U.S. aid and rent payments, as well as remittances from Palauans working overseas.

The judiciary is independent, and trials are generally fair. A 300-member police and first-response force maintains internal order. Palau has no military. There have been no reports of prisoner abuse, though overcrowding is a problem in the country's only prison.

Foreign workers account for about one-third of the population and 75 percent of the workforce.There have been reports of discrimination against and abuse of foreign workers, who cannot legally change employers once they arrive in Palau and are paid far lower wages than Palauans. Foreigners are said to use fake marriages to exploit immigration privileges to the United States under the compact, making Palau a transit point for human trafficking from China, the Philippines, and Taiwan to the United States. In response to social tensions and a slower economy, the government in 2009 decided to limit the number of foreign workers present in the country at any time to 6,000.

Women are highly regarded in this matrilineal society, in which land rights and familial descent are traced through women. Many women are active in traditional and modern sectors of the economy and in politics, though there are no women in the legislature. The number of domestic violence and child abuse cases remains small.Sexual harassment and rape, including spousal rape, are illegal.

* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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