2014 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst): 1.0
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst): 1
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst): 1


In June 2013, the government of Kiribati purchased 6,000 acres of land in Fiji to help prepare for damage caused by climate change; the land is intended to be used for farming in the event that rising sea levels damage Kiribati's farmland. Kiribati, which consists of 33 atolls scattered across 811 square kilometers, faces an existential threat from climate change

Kiribati's size, remote location, and lack of resources seriously limit economic development options. The economy largely depends on interest from a trust fund built on royalties from phosphate mining, remittances from workers overseas, and foreign assistance. In September 2013, Kiribati and the United States signed a maritime boundary treaty to formalize jurisdiction over ocean resources. The treaty must be ratified by both countries before it comes into effect.


Political Rights: 36 / 40

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

The president of Kiribati is popularly elected in a two-step process whereby the unicameral House of Parliament nominates candidates from its own ranks and voters then choose one to be president. Forty-four representatives are popularly elected to the House of Parliament for four-year terms. The attorney general holds a seat ex officio, and the Rabi Island Council nominates one additional member. (Although Rabi Island is part of Fiji, many residents were originally from Banaba Island; British authorities forced their relocation when phosphate mining made Banaba uninhabitable.) The president, vested with executive authority by the constitution, is limited to three four-year terms.

Parliamentary elections took place over two rounds in 2011. The ruling Pillars of Truth party won 15 seats, and the opposition Karikirakean Tei-Kiribati and Maurin Kiribati parties took 10 seats and 3 seats, respectively. Tong, who took office in 2003, was elected for another term in the January 2012 presidential elections.

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16

Citizens enjoy a high degree of political freedom. Political parties are loosely organized and generally lack fixed ideologies or formal platforms. Geography, tribal ties, and personal loyalties influence political affiliations.

C. Functioning of Government: 8 / 12

Official corruption and abuse are serious problems. International donors have demanded improvements in governance and transparency. In March 2013, Tong addressed a scandal in which Kiribati passports were allegedly sold to a firm that was reportedly a front for illegal arms shipping; Tong insisted that illegal passport sales had ended in 2004.

In August 2013, two-thirds of parliament members passed a bill to remove their parliamentary protection against civil and criminal liability for actions done or statements made in the course of their legislative duties. In September, nine lawmakers called on the president to dismiss two cabinet members for misconduct. They alleged that Teberannang Timeon, the minister for communication, transport and tourism, had received a sitting allowance of $924, which is much higher than normal, and that Kirabuke Teiaua, Minister for Energy, endorsed it. In October, both Timeon and Teiaua resigned after nine legislators called for their resignation in September. Within days, replacements were appointed and Tangariki Reete jointed the cabinet as the new Minister of Women, Youth, and Social Affairs.

Civil Liberties: 55 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 15 / 16

Freedom of speech is generally respected. Several newspapers are published once or twice a week in print or online, including the Te Ukera (state-owned), Te Mauri (church-owned), and Kiribati Star (privately owned). The privately owned Kiribati Independent publishes once every two weeks, and resumed publication in January 2013 at the advice of its attorney. The government had ordered its closure in June 2012, alleging improper registration. No charges were ever filed and the government had not reported progress on its investigation. In March, poor management and financial problems forced the closure of the state-owned television station Kiribati TV, meaning there is no domestic television service. Kiribati has one state-owned and one private radio station.

There have been no reports of religious oppression or restrictions on academic freedom. Access to and the quality of education at all levels, however, is seriously restricted by a lack of resources, and secondary education is not available on all islands.

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

Freedoms of assembly and association are generally respected. Many nongovernmental organizations are involved in development assistance, education, health, and advocacy for women and children. Workers have the right to organize unions, strike, and bargain collectively, though only about 10 percent of the workforce is unionized. The largest union, the Kiribati Trade Union Congress, has approximately 2,500 members. The government is the largest employer.

F. Rule of Law: 15 / 16

The judicial system is modeled on English common law and provides adequate due process rights. There is a High Court, a Court of Appeal, and magistrates' courts; final appeals go to the Privy Council in London. The president makes all judicial appointments. Traditional customs permit corporal punishment. Councils on some outer islands are used to adjudicate petty theft and other minor offenses. A 260-person police force performs law enforcement and paramilitary functions. Kiribati has no military; Australia and New Zealand provide defense assistance under bilateral agreements.

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 13 / 16

Citizens enjoy freedom of movement, though village councils have used exile as a punishment. Discrimination against women is common in the traditional, male-dominated culture. Sexual harassment is illegal and not reported to be widespread. Spousal abuse and other forms of violence against women and children are often associated with alcohol abuse. Despite domestic and international calls for greater female participation in politics, Tong has resisted efforts to reserve a set amount of seats in parliament for female lawmakers. Tong's proposal for a ministry for women and youths in 2012 failed to receive adequate support in parliament. Kiribati is a source for sex trafficking, with girls reportedly prostituted for crew aboard foreign fishing vessels in the country's territorial waters.

Homosexuality is punishable by law and there are no protections against discrimination or hate crimes.

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

This 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.