U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Micronesia

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.


The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is composed of 607 small islands extending over a large area of the central Pacific. Four states--Chuuk (formerly Truk), Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap--make up the federation. The population is estimated at 106,000, mostly of Micronesian origin. The four states were part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands and were administered by the United States from 1947 to 1986 pursuant to an agreement with the United Nations. Political legitimacy rests on the popular will expressed by a majority vote through elections in accordance with the Constitution. There are three branches of government: An executive branch led by a president who also serves as head of state, a unicameral legislature elected from the four constituent states, and a judicial system that applies criminal and civil laws and procedures closely paralleling those of the United States. Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States is responsible for defense. The FSM has no security forces of its own, aside from local police and other law enforcement officers, all of whom are firmly under the control of the civil authorities. The economy depends heavily on transfer payments from the United States, fishing, tourism, and subsistence agriculture. The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens. However, The Government's actions during the year called into question its support for freedom of the press. Traditional customs sustain a value system that distinguishes between people on the basis of social status and sex. There is evidence of some increase in both spousal abuse and child neglect. So far neither the Government nor other organizations have successfully filled the role of the traditional extended family in protecting and supporting its members.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There was no known incidence of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Prison conditions meet minimum international standards. There are no local organizations concerning themselves solely with human rights, and the question of visits by human rights monitors has not arisen.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Legal procedures, for the most part patterned after U.S. law, provide for due process, which is carefully observed. There is no governmental use of exile for political purposes.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and it is independent in practice. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Congress. Public trial is provided for in the Bill of Rights, and trials are conducted fairly. Juveniles may have closed hearings. Despite these provisions, cultural resistance to litigation and incarceration as methods of maintaining public order have allowed some to act with impunity. Serious cases of sexual and other assault and even murder have not gone to trial, and suspects are routinely released indefinitely. There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such arbitrary interference, and in practice there is none.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for these rights. A recent major test of their application, however, called into question the Government's concrete support for those rights, and whether they cover all--or only noncontroversial and nonadversarial--speech and publishing. In recent years the FSM's only regular nongovernment printed news source has been the FSM News, edited and written by Canadian citizen Sherry O'Sullivan. The monthly was primarily noted for its reporting on alleged instances of government malfeasance. In March the Congress unanimously passed a resolution that O'Sullivan be declared an undesirable alien; she was later fired from her editorial position, and subsequently brought suit against her former business partners and several government representatives for libel. In accordance with the law, which requires departure when work contracts end, O'Sullivan left the country, but asked to return in order to continue publishing with new backers. This permission was refused by the President, who cited her alleged violation of immigration regulations as the reason for the decision. The Supreme Court later denied the application for even limited entry in connection with her pending lawsuit. The decisions of the Government to remove O'Sullivan and subsequently deny her reentry appeared directly linked to her publishing activities, and aimed at stifling investigation and criticism of government activities and figures. Each of the four state governments controls a radio station broadcasting primarily in the local language. Local television programming in some states shows videotaped and occasionally live coverage of local sports and political and cultural events. Subscription cable television, showing major U.S. programming, is available in Chuuk and Pohnpei. Religious groups operate private radio stations. The national Government and the four states publish newsletters. Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Bill of Rights provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the Government respects these in practice. During political campaigns, citizens often question candidates at public meetings. Formal associations are uncommon in Micronesia, but student organizations exist.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Bill of Rights forbids establishment of a state religion and governmental restrictions on freedom of religion. The Government respects this freedom in practice; it is hospitable to diverse religions, and missionaries of many faiths work within the nation.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution has specific provisions for freedom of movement within the FSM. It is silent on foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but in practice none of these is restricted. There have been no refugees or asylum seekers in the FSM, and the Government has not formulated a policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Congress is elected by popular vote from each state; the Congress then chooses the President and Vice President from among its four at-large senators by majority vote. State governors, state legislators, and municipal governments are all elected by direct popular vote. Political campaigning is unrestricted, and, as there are no established political parties, political support is generally courted from among family and allied clan groupings. Although there are no restrictions on the formation of political groups, there have been no significant efforts to form political parties. Cultural factors in the male-dominated society have limited women's representation in government and politics. Although women are represented in mid-level positions at both the federal and state level, there are no women in leadership roles at the highest government levels.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There were no known requests for investigations of alleged human rights violations. While there are no official restrictions, there are no local groups exclusively concerned with human rights. There are, however, women's groups which concern themselves with rights for women and children.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Although the Constitution provides explicit protection against discrimination based on race, sex, language, or religion, there is extensive societal discrimination, notably discrimination and violence against women. Government enforcement of these constitutional protections is weak.


Most violence against women occurs in the family context. In the traditional Micronesian extended family unit, spouses and children were accorded strong protections from violence, abuse, and neglect. These were deemed offenses against the family, not just the individuals, and were dealt with by a complex system of familial sanctions. With increasing urbanization and monetarization of the FSM economy, however, more and more emphasis has been placed on the nuclear family, and the traditional methods of coping with family discord are breaking down. So far, no government agency, including the police, has been successful in replacing that extended family system or in addressing the issue of familial violence directly. Incidents of both reported and unreported spousal abuse, often of increasing severity, continue to rise. Effective prosecution of such offenses is rare. In many cases the victim is pressured by family, or fears of further assault, or is convinced that the police will not actively involve themselves in what is seen as a private, family problem, and decides against pressing legal charges. There are no laws against domestic abuse, and no governmental or private facilities to shelter and support women in abusive situations. There are also a growing number of cases of physical and sexual assaults against women outside the family context. These assaults are perpetrated against both citizens and foreigners. Unmarried women are sometimes considered to have invited such violence by living, traveling, or socializing alone. Women have equal rights under the law, and there are no cultural or institutional barriers to education and employment. Women receive equal pay for equal work; they are well-represented in the lower and middle ranks of government, although there are no women at the highest levels of government. Women are active and increasingly successful in private business and enterprise. There has been a National Women's Advisory Council in existence since 1992, and there are several small nongovernmental groups interested in women's issues, particularly ones associated with spousal and family violence and abuse.


The Government is committed to children's welfare through its programs of health care and education, but these have not been adequate to meet the needs of the country's sharply growing population in an environment in which the extended family is breaking down.

People With Disabilities

Neither laws nor regulations mandate accessibility to public buildings and services for the disabled. Schools have established special education classes to address problems encountered by those who exhibit learning disabilities, although such classes are completely dependent on outside funding sources.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The FSM prohibits non-Micronesians from purchasing land in the FSM, and the national Congress grants citizenship to non-Micronesians only by individual acts. For the most part, however, non-Micronesians share fully in the social and cultural life of the FSM.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Under the Bill of Rights, citizens have the right to form or join associations, and national government employees by law may form associations to present their views to the Government. However, as yet, neither associations nor trade unions have been formed in this largely nonindustrial society.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There is no law dealing specifically with trade unions or with the right to collective bargaining. Wages are set by individual employers, the largest of which are the national and state governments. The Government is not a member of the International Labor Organization. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution specifically prohibits involuntary servitude, and there is no evidence of its practice. Children are not specifically cited in this prohibition, but forced and bonded labor by children is not known to occur.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

Neither the Constitution nor the law specifically prohibits forced and bonded labor by children, but such practices are not known to occur (see Section 6.c.). There is no law establishing a minimum age for employment of children. While in practice there is no employment of children for wages, they often assist their families in subsistence farming activities. The FSM does have a compulsory education law which requires that all children begin school at the age of 6. Children may leave school when they reach the age of 14 or after completing the eighth grade, whichever comes first.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The four state governments have established minimum wage rates for government workers. Pohnpei has a minimum hourly wage rate of $2.00 for government and $1.35 for private workers. The other three states have established minimum hourly rates for only government workers, $1.25 for Chuuk; $1.35 for Kosrae; and $0.80 for Yap. The minimum hourly wage for employment with the national Government is $1.68. These minimum wage structures and the wages customarily paid to skilled workers are sufficient to provide an acceptable standard of living under local conditions. There are no laws regulating hours of work (although a 40-hour workweek is standard practice) or prescribing standards of occupational safety and health. A federal regulation requires that employers provide a safe place of employment. The Department of Health has no enforcement capability; working conditions vary in practice. The FSM does not have any law for either the public or private sector which would permit workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their continued employment.

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