Political Rights: 1
Civil Liberties: 1
Life Expectancy: 66
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (50 percent), Protestant (47 percent), other (3 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Micronesian, Polynesian
Micronesia's civil liberties rating improved from 2 to 1 due to a reevaluation of the scope of freedom of the media and association.
The major issue for the government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) in 2003 was the conclusion of a new Compact of Free Association with the United States. The compact provides U.S. funding to the FSM in exchange for allowing the United States to set up military bases in its territory. A new president, Joseph Urusemal, was elected in May.
FSM was administered by the United States from 1947 to 1979 as one of the U.N. Trusteeship territories. A constitution was adopted in 1979, and full independence was reached in 1984. FSM is composed of four states – Chuuk (or formerly Truk), Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap – that cover a total of 607 islands.
In 2003, a new lease agreement was concluded with the United States. The Compact of Free Association provides FSM with financial assistance representing a third of its national income and defense by the United States in exchange for allowing the United States the right to establish military bases in its territory. In May, a new $1.8 billion compact that provides $92 million a year to FSM for 20 years and allows continued access to U.S. services and programs, as well as visa-free access to the United States for FSM citizens, was signed. Many FSM citizens are worried about the lower level of funding, inflation rate adjustments, and the termination of disaster assistance from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The new compact also provides for a trust fund invested and overseen by a joint board of United States and FSM trustees in response to past mismanagement of funds.
Another major national issue was a call by the people of Faichuk in the state of Chuuk in February to withdraw from the federation. They want a greater share of compact funds, even a separate bilateral agreement with the United States, to garner more funds for their own development needs. This complaint resonated with the other states and spurred debates on federal-state relations. In November, the government announced that it would increase the share of compact funds to the four states.
A general election was held in March 2003, and President Leo Falcam was defeated. On May 11, the thirteenth congress was launched to elect a new president and vice president. Joseph Urusemal was elected the sixth president of the FSM, and Redley Killion was chosen as the vice president. Urusemal is a former governor of Yap, one of the constituent states of the federation, while Killion was vice president in Falcam's administration.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Citizens of Micronesia can change their government democratically. A unicameral, 14-member legislature is composed of 1 representative each from the four constituent states for four-year terms and 10 representatives from single-member districts for two-year terms. All representatives are popularly elected. Chuuk, the largest of the four states, holds nearly half of the country's population and a proportionate number of congressional seats, which has been a source of resentment among the three smaller states. The president and vice president are chosen from among the four state representatives in the legislature to serve four-year terms. By informal agreement, these offices are rotated among the representatives of the four states. Each state in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) has its own constitution, elected legislature, and governor. State governments have considerable power, particularly with the implementation of budgetary policies. As with many other Pacific Island states, traditional leaders and institutions exercise considerable influence in society, particularly at the village level. There are no formal political parties, although there are no restrictions against their formation.
The media are free, and media outlets consist of government newsletters, several small private papers, and television stations in three of the four states. Each state government runs its own radio station, and a religious group runs another station. Satellite television is increasingly available. There is no restriction on Internet access, but small user communities in FSM (about 1,700 users) and other Pacific Island states do not generate sufficient revenue for Internet service providers to bring down costs and expand bandwidth.
Religious freedom is respected in this mainly Christian country. There were no reports of restrictions on academic freedom.
Citizens are free to organize civic groups. There are a few student and women's groups. There are no laws against formation of trade unions, but no unions exist. No specific laws regulate work hours, recognize the right to strike and bargain collectively, or set workplace health and safety standards. Unemployment is high at 22 percent. The economy is dependent on subsistence agriculture, fishing, tourism, and U.S. assistance.
The judiciary is independent. However, cultural resistance to using the courts, particularly for sexual crimes, means many offenders are not brought to justice. Lack of funds hampers efforts to improve the functioning of the courts and prison conditions.
Women continue to suffer from social and economic discrimination in the male-dominated culture. Domestic violence is a serious problem, and cases are often not reported to the authorities because of pressure from within the family, fear of further assault, or an expectation of inaction by the authorities. Even when they were reported, offenders rarely go to trial or those found guilty usually receive light sentences. In October, the government ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, but it refused to implement certain parts, including an article requiring employers to give women full pay and social benefits when they take maternity leave.
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