Political Rights: 2
Civil Liberties: 2
Life Expectancy: 69
Religious Groups: Christian (99.7 percent), other (0.3 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Polynesian (93 percent), Euronesian [mixed] (7 percent)
In 2003, the Samoan government took steps to curb the power of traditional chiefs as the public became more concerned about abuse of power issues and whether some of the chiefs' decisions violate constitutional rights and freedoms. On the international front, the government's decision to reject a bilateral treaty with the United States cost it $150,000 in military assistance.
The islands then known as Western Samoa were controlled by Germany between 1899 and World War I. New Zealand occupied and subsequently administered the islands under a League of Nations mandate and then as a trust territory until Western Samoa became independent in 1962. In 1998, the country changed its name to Samoa. Samoa is not to be confused with American Samoa, which consists of the eastern group of these Polynesian islands located between New Zealand and Hawaii.
The centrist Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has dominated the country's political process, winning six consecutive elections since 1982. Tofilau Eti Alesana, who became prime minister in 1982, resigned in 1998 for health reasons. He was replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegoai, who led the HRPP to another victory in March 2001 by winning 30 of the 49 parliamentary seats.
In August 2003, the number of government departments and ministries was reduced from 27 to 14, mainly through mergers and appointments of new executive heads, in order to streamline the government. The government also announced increased police efforts to battle growing youth crime, particularly drug use and violence.
The government established a new Law Reform Commission to address conflicts between traditional customs and Christianity. Traditional village chiefs exercise considerable power, particularly in villages where the government's reach is limited, and people defer in many matters to traditional leaders. However, the powers of these traditional leaders have come under question in recent years. In April, the Supreme Court ruled that the village chief's decision to banish nine people from the village of Falealup in 2002 for joining new churches was unconstitutional and violated freedom of religion.
Samoa decided to forgo $150,000 in annual military aid from the United States when it refused to sign a bilateral treaty with Washington by a July deadline. The treaty would have granted exemptions from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to U.S. citizens who are alleged to have committed an international offense and currently live in Samoa. Samoa can ill afford to lose this money, as its economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid and remittances from more than 100,000 Samoan citizens living and working outside of the country.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Samoans can change their government democratically. Executive authority is vested in the head of state. The 90-year-old Malietoa Tanumafili II holds this position for life; his successor will be elected for five-year terms by the Legislative Assembly. The head of state appoints the prime minister, who is the head of government and chooses the 12-member cabinet. All laws passed by the 49-member unicameral legislature also need approval from the head of state to take effect. Tofilau Eti Alesana, who became prime minister in 1982, introduced universal suffrage; previously, only the matai (family chiefs) could vote. In 2003, there were five political parties, two of which were represented in the legislature. Although candidates are free to propose themselves for electoral office, approval of the matai is essential.
The government generally respects freedom of speech and the press. Two English-language and many Samoan newspapers are printed regularly. Journalists are legally required to reveal their sources in the event of a defamation suit against them, although no court case has invoked this law. The government operates the sole television station. There are four major private radio stations, and a satellite cable system is available in parts of the capital. Internet use is growing rapidly.
The government respects freedom of religion in practice, and relations among religions are generally amicable. There were no reports of restrictions on academic freedom.
Freedom of assembly and association are respected in practice. Human rights groups operate freely, and about 20 percent of wage earners belong to trade unions. More than 60 percent of adults work in subsistence agriculture.
The judiciary is independent and upholds the right to a fair trial. The Supreme Court is the highest court with full jurisdiction on civil, criminal, and constitutional matters. The head of state, on the recommendation of the prime minister, appoints the chief justice. The country has no armed forces; the small police force is under civilian control, but has little impact beyond the capital. Most internal disputes are settled by the fono (Council of Chiefs) in each village. Punishments imposed by the fono usually involve fines, while banishment from the village is reserved for more serious offenses. Fono vary considerably in their decision-making style and in the number of matai involved in decisions. The 1990 Village Fono Act gives legal recognition to fono decisions.
Abuses by some fono officials have caused the public to question the legitimacy of their actions and the limits of their authority. Such actions include home searches or seizure of property without a warrant. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that the Village Fono Act could not be used to infringe on villagers' freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and association. This ruling followed a fono decision in the village of Saluilua that banished a Bible study group after calling it illegal.
Freedom of movement within the country, as well as the freedom to pursue foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation are guaranteed in the constitution and respected in practice.
Discrimination and violence against women are widespread, and violence against children is growing. Domestic abuses typically go unreported; the police and village fono consider these private affairs and rarely intervene. Spousal rape is not illegal.
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