2014 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst): 2.0
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst): 2
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst): 2


In February, despite criticisms from gambling opponents, the Samoan government authorized licenses for the construction of two casinos in an effort to boost tourism. One of the licenses, granted to a Chinese firm, was canceled in August after the Chinese government arrested the owner of the company on corruption charges.

The new Crime Act went into effect in May. It increases penalties for many crimes and added others to the books, while dropping libel as a criminal offense.


Political Rights: 32 / 40

A. Electoral Process: 9 / 12

Samoa is an electoral democracy. The 49-member legislature elects the head of state, who appoints the prime minister. 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.

In the March 2011 parliamentary elections, the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) took 36 seats, while the Tautua Somoa Party (TSP) captured the remaining 13. The elections were generally regarded as fair and open, though the electoral court found four lawmakers from both parties guilty of bribing voters and stripped them of their seats. Special by-elections were held in July 2012 to fill the seats; the HRPP captured all four, boosting its majority to 40 seats. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi was elected to a third term.

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 13 / 16

The centrist HRPP has dominated politics since Samoa gained independence in 1962. Prospective office holders seek endorsement by matai, traditional chiefs of extended families, as the latter are very influential in mobilizing their villagers to vote for their preferred candidates.

C. Functioning of Government: 10 / 12

Official corruption and abuse are a source of increasing public discontent. In June, the Samoan Customs Department launched an investigation into fraud within the agency that an opposition lawmakers say could have cost the government significant losses in revenue. The probe was ongoing at year's end.

Civil Liberties: 49 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16

Freedoms of speech and the press are generally respected. Several publicly and privately owned newspapers, radio, and television stations operate in Samoa. Moana TV, the first internet-based station in the South Pacific, was launched in 2012. Construction of a new broadband network to expand internet access is under way.

The Samoan media have made intermittent attempts over the past decade to create a self-regulating council to set standards for fairness, accuracy, and balance in news reporting, though little progress was made by the end of 2013. The Samoa Law Reform Commission recommended in its June 2012 report that the media industry be given two years to establish its own council. Samoa Observer, the leading newspaper, opposes such a body on the grounds that government supporters would dominate it.

The Newspaper and Printers Act of 1992 directs publishers and editors to reveal sources of information in cases of defamation claims by the prime minister, cabinet members, and heads of departments. As the 2013 crime law removes libel as a criminal offense, the attorney general said his office will review the 1992 law but made no promise to repeal it.

In May, the police department announced it was taking the prime minister's advice to end its weekly media briefs, replacing them with press releases and written responses. This policy change, made in the midst of investigations of several cases of police misconduct, spurred strong criticism from the media and the public. The following month, the prime minister reversed his position in the interest of more openness and transparency. In July, the government asserted that, under a 2012 law intended to bolster tourism, it has the power to prosecute anyone who makes false statements about Samoa that threaten to harm the country's tourism industry.

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 in 2013.

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 10 / 12

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

F. Rule of Law: 13 / 16

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. In August, the government adopted a new legal framework to help parties mediate disputes without going to court; it swore in 23 mediators to facilitate the process.

Prisons generally meet minimum international standards. In August, the police commissioner and several assistants were temporarily suspended in response to allegations of corruption and prisoner abuse.

A new crime law took effect on May 1. The law added new offenses, including computer-related crimes, human smuggling and trafficking, the distribution of sexual materials using mobile devices, and invasion of privacy. It also increased penalties for sex-related offenses, making sexual conduct with minors punishable by life in prison. In August, the government announced it would launch a National Human Rights Institution in the Ombudsman's Office to increase public awareness and public education on human rights.

Samoa has no military, and the small police force has little impact in the villages. Matai control local government and churches through the village fono, or legislature, which is open only to them. 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; serious offenses result in banishment from the village. Individuals and entire families have been forced to leave villages for allegedly insulting a matai, embracing a different religion, or voting for political candidates not endorsed by the matai. Several controversial cases led the Supreme Court to rule in 2002 that village fono could not infringe on freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, or association.

In July 2013, eight defendants, including a lawmaker, were found guilty of blocking a road in Satapuala village the previous year; each was fined $635. The defendants had been protesting the government's claims over 8,000 acres of land near the airport, which they say were unlawfully taken from the village by colonial authorities and subsequently kept by the government without adequate compensation to the landowners.

Chinese presence in the local economy has grown rapidly in recent years, particularly in the fishing, retail, construction, and tourism industries. Business leaders have warned of rising social tensions because locals feel threatened and displaced by Chinese capital and migrants.

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 12 / 16

Domestic violence against women and children is widespread. Spousal rape is not illegal, and social pressure and fear of reprisal inhibit reporting of domestic abuse. In addition to tougher penalties under the new crime law, the parliament passed the new Family Safety Act in February to protect victims of family violence and sexual abuse by giving more power to the police, public health officials, and educators to help affected families.

In June, the legislature unanimously passed a constitutional amendment to reserve at least five seats in parliament for women in the 2016 general election. If no women are elected in the polls, the five female candidates with the highest number of votes will claim these seats; the total number of lawmakers will be raised from 49 to 54.

In 2011, the government rejected a call by the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality, arguing that it was contrary to Samoan culture and values.

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

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

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