Capital: Apia
Population: 190,000

Political Rights Score: 2 *
Civil Liberties Score: 2 *
Status: Free


In October 2010, the parliament legalized the operation of casinos – which would not be open to local Samoans – at hotels in an effort to raise state revenue, despite considerable opposition from the general public and the church in particular. Revelations of high spending by members of parliament and the police led to further public discontent during the year.

Germany controlled what is now Samoa between 1899 and World War I. New Zealand then administered the islands under a League of Nations mandate, which became a UN mandate after World War II. The country gained independence in 1962.

The centrist Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has dominated politics since independence. Tuila'epa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi of the HRPP won a second term as prime minister in the 2006 general elections. The HRPP won 35 seats in the 49-member Legislative Assembly, the Samoa Democratic United Party (SDUP) captured 10, and independents took the remainder. Former prime minister Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi was elected head of state by the legislature in June 2007 to serve a five-year term. The next general elections were scheduled for March 2011.

In September 2009, Samoa was hit by a massive tsunami that killed more than 170 Samoans and caused $58 million in damages. Uncertainty over land titles hindered reconstruction efforts in 2010.

The role and powers of village chiefs continued to stir controversy in 2010. Matai, or chiefs of extended families, control local government and churches through the village fono, or legislature, which is open only to them. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the village fono may not infringe on freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or association. However, entire families have been forced to leave their villages for allegedly insulting a matai, embracing a different religion, or voting for political candidates not endorsed by the matai. In March 2010, the government formed two commissions to review freedom of religion and the awarding of matai titles, but the commissions had not completed their work by year's end.

Public discontent towards politicians deepened in May following revelations that members of parliament received inflated per diem payments and that that the police had spent $1 million in 2009 on extravagant travel expenses. In October, the parliament approved the operation of hotel casinos, which would be open only to foreigners. The government claimed the casinos would increase state revenue, while opponents – and the church in particular – argued that their operation would lead to a more corrupt society.

Samoa – which depends heavily on remittances from some 100,000 Samoans living abroad – has recently started building closer ties with China to benefit from financial aid, development loans, and the sale of fishing licenses. In January 2010, a new courthouse, financed by China, was officially opened in the capital. The United Nations continued to designate Samoa as a "least developed country," allowing Samoa to qualify for more international assistance from the United Nations, multilateral development banks, and bilateral assistance agencies.

With continuing suppression of the media by the interim government in Fiji, Pacific island journalists formed a new regional media association in Samoa in August to encourage dialogue on media issues and to advocate for journalists.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Samoa is an electoral democracy. The 2006 legislative elections were deemed free and fair. Executive authority is vested in the head of state, who is elected for five-year terms by the Legislative Assembly. The head of state appoints the prime minister, who leads the government and names his own cabinet. All laws passed by the 49-member, unicameral Legislative Assembly must receive approval from the head of state to take effect. Although candidates are free to propose themselves for electoral office, the approval of the matai is essential. Two legislative seats are reserved for at-large voters, mostly citizens of mixed or non-Samoan heritage who have no ties to the 47 village-based constituencies. All lawmakers serve five-year terms. The main political parties are the HRPP and the SDUP.

Official corruption and abuses occur but are generally not as serious as in some other states in the region. In August 2010, one member of parliament and four other people were dismissed from the board of the Red Cross over allegations of financial abuse. Samoa was ranked 62 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedoms of speech and the press are generally respected. Despite continued criticism of the 1982 Printers and Publishers Act and the Law of Criminal Libel, there have been no reports of intimidation or lawsuits against journalists in recent years. Also, while journalists are legally required to reveal their sources in defamation suits against them, none have been charged. The government operates one of three television stations, and there are several English-language and Samoan newspapers. A new newspaper, Weekender, was launched in October 2010. A state monopoly provides telephone and internet services, though the government decided in December 2010 to privatize telephone service.

The government respects freedom of religion in practice, and relations among religious groups are generally amicable. There were no reports of restrictions on academic freedom.

Freedoms of assembly and association are respected in practice, and human rights groups operate freely. Approximately 60 percent of adults work in subsistence agriculture, and about 20 percent of wage earners belong to trade unions. Workers, including civil servants, can strike and bargain collectively.

The judiciary is independent and upholds the right to a fair trial. The Supreme Court is the highest court, with full jurisdiction over civil, criminal, and constitutional matters. The head of state, on the recommendation of the prime minister, appoints the chief justice. Prisons generally meet minimum international standards.

Samoa has no military, and the small police force has little impact in the villages, where the fono settles most disputes. The councils vary considerably in their decision-making styles and in the number of matai involved. Light offenses are usually punished with fines in cash or kind; serious offenses result in banishment from the village.

Domestic violence against women and children is common. Spousal rape is not illegal, and social pressure and fear of reprisal inhibit reporting of domestic abuse. Sexual abuse of young girls and illegal drug use are both increasing.

* 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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