U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2000 - Samoa

Samoa is a parliamentary democracy that incorporates certain traditional practices into its legislative system. The Constitution of this Pacific island country of approximately 170,000 persons provides for a head of state; a unicameral legislature composed of family heads, or "matai," who are elected by universal suffrage; the protection of land rights and traditional titles; and other fundamental rights and freedoms. Executive authority is vested in the Head of State with the Government administered by the Cabinet, which consists of the Prime Minister and 12 ministers chosen by him. All laws passed by the Legislative Assembly need the approval of the Head of State, Malietoa Tanumafili II, who holds the position for life. The Legislative Assembly is to elect his successors for 5-year terms. The judiciary is independent.

The country does not have a defense force. The small national police force is controlled by the Government but has little effect beyond Apia, the capital city. Enforcement of rules and security within individual villages is vested in the "fono" (Council of Matai), which settles most internal disputes. Judgments by the fono usually involve fines or, more rarely, banishment from the village.

The country is poor with a market-based economy in which more than 60 percent of the work force are employed in the agricultural sector. Fish, kava, and coconut products are the principal exports. The small industrial sector is dominated by a Japanese factory that assembles automotive electrical parts for export. The Government continues an effort to promote tourism. Per capita gross domestic product is $1,100 per year. The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid and on remittances sent to family members by the more than 100,000 Samoans living overseas.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. Principal human rights abuses arise from political discrimination against women and nonmatai, and violence against women and children. Societal pressures and customary law may interfere with the ability to conduct fair trials. Those who do not conform to accepted societal values may face pressure, threats, violence, and banishment. There are some restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and religion. An August Supreme Court ruling ordered government-controlled media to allow opposition parties access, and in July the Supreme Court ruled that the Village Fono Act may not be used to infringe upon villagers' freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or association.


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.

Three persons were convicted and sentenced to death for the July 1999 murder of Minister of Public Works Luaglau Levaula Kamu: The former Minister of Women's Affairs Luagalau Levaulu Kama; his son, Eletise Leafa Vitale; and the former Minister of Telecommunications, Toi Aokuso Cain. The Head of State commuted the death sentences to life in prison for all three.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that officials practiced them.

Although jail conditions are fairly basic with respect to food and sanitation, they appear to meet minimum international standards, and there have been no reports of abuses in prisons. While there are human rights groups, the question of monitoring prison conditions by them has not arisen. Prison visits by family members and church representatives are permitted.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and the Government observes these prohibitions. However, villages are governed by customary law, and the fono may mete out banishment when deemed necessary. Banishment is one of the harshest forms of punishment in this collective society. Civil courts have overruled banishment orders. In July the Supreme Court ordered the reinstatement of 32 persons who were banished from a village for practicing a religion other than that traditionally practiced in the village (see Section 2.c.).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision in practice.

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and this is honored by the official court system. However, many civil and criminal matters are not handled by courts but by village fono, which vary considerably both in their decisionmaking style and in the number of matai involved in the decisions. The 1990 Village Fono Act gives legal recognition to the decisions of the fono and provides for limited recourse of appeal to the Lands and Titles Courts and to the Supreme Court. In July the Supreme Court ruled that the Village Fono Act may not be used to infringe upon villagers' freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or association (see Section 2.c.).

The judiciary consists of the magistrates' courts, the coroners' courts, and the Lands and Titles Court, with the High or Supreme Court at the apex of the system.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The law provides substantive and procedural safeguards from invasion of the home or seizure of property, including a requirement for search warrants, which are issued by the judicial branch. However, there is little or no privacy in villages. While village officials by law must have permission to enter homes, there can be substantial societal pressure to grant such permission.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice. In August the Supreme Court overturned a 1997 ban by the then Prime Minister on coverage of the leader of the opposition on state-run radio and television stations. In practice the Government's ban largely had been symbolic, since opposition statements received prominent coverage in the private news media. In July the Supreme Court ruled that the Village Fono Act may not be used to infringe upon villagers' freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or association (see Sections 1.e. and 2.c.).

The Newspapers and Printers Act and the Defamation Act require journalists to reveal their sources in the event of a defamation suit against them. There has been no court case requiring that these acts be invoked.

In February the Supreme Court dismissed a petition brought by government-owned Polynesian Airlines against the independent newspaper the Samoa Observer that asked the court to jail the newspaper's editors. In 1999 the Supreme Court had granted Polynesian Airlines an injunction to prevent the newspaper from publishing news about the company's expenses for senior staff, and the airline filed the petition in response to a subsequent editorial about the incident.

Two English-language newspapers and a number of Samoan-language newspapers are printed regularly. The Government operates a radio station and the sole television station. There are two private radio stations, and a satellite-cable system is now available in parts of Apia. Television from American Samoa is readily available. Internet use is expanding rapidly, both as a news source, and as a means of two-way communication; there has been no government interference with its use.

The Government respects academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. In July the Supreme Court ruled that the Village Fono Act may not be used to infringe upon villagers' freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or association (see Sections 1.e. and 2.c.).

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion along with freedom of thought and conscience, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice; however, local officials at times infringe on these rights.

The preamble to the Constitution acknowledges "an Independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions." Nevertheless, while Christianity is constitutionally favored, there is no official or state denomination.

Although the Constitution grants each person the right to change religion or belief and to worship or teach religion alone or with others, in practice the matai often choose the religious denomination of the aiga (extended family). Despite the constitutional protection, village councils – in the name of maintaining social harmony within the village – sometimes banish or punish families that do not adhere to the prevailing religious belief in the village.

In June the Supreme Court ordered the release of 42 Bible study group members, whom their village fono had ordered jailed because they violated a village law banning practice of any but the village majority's religion.

In July the Supreme Court ruled that the Village Fono Act may not be used to infringe upon villagers' freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or association. The plaintiffs had complained that the village matai in Saipipi village had prohibited them from conducting Bible classes or church services on the village's communal land and limited the number of churches allowed in the village (see Section 1.d.).

Missionaries operate freely, either as part of one of the established churches, or by conducting independent revival meetings. The major denominations (for example, Congregational, Methodist, Catholic, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) that are present in the country also have missionaries. There is an independent Christian radio and television station.

The Constitution provides freedom from unwanted religious indoctrination in schools but gives each denomination or religion the right to establish its own schools; these provisions are adhered to in practice. There are both religious and public schools; the public schools do not have religious instruction as part of their curriculum. There are pastoral schools in most villages to provide religious instruction following school hours.

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

The Constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, but in practice some citizens have been banished either from village activities or completely from their villages. The Government actively supports emigration as a "safety valve" for pressures of a growing population, especially for potentially rebellious youths, and because it generates foreign income through remittances. There are an estimated 100,000 Samoans living abroad and their remittances make an important contribution to the national economy. The Government does not restrict foreign travel arbitrarily or the right of citizens to return from abroad.

Samoa has not had any refugees or asylum seekers. It is a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; however, the Government has not enacted enabling legislation or formulated a policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum. However, the authorities have indicated that they would conform to international norms if such cases should arise.

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

Citizens have the right to change their government through direct, multiparty elections; however, women's political rights are restricted by the fact that few of them are matai. While all citizens above the age of 21 may vote, the right to run for 47 of the 49 seats in the Legislative Assembly remains the prerogative of the approximately 25,000 matai, 95 percent of whom are men. The remaining two seats are reserved for citizens not of Samoan heritage. Matai continue to control local government through the village fono, which are open to them alone.

The political process is more a function of personal leadership characteristics than of party. The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has dominated the political process, winning five consecutive elections since 1982. The 1996 general elections again gave the HRPP a majority, but in 1998 ill health forced then-Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana to resign. The HRPP caucus selected former Deputy Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi as Acting Prime Minister. Tofilau died in March 1999, and Tuilaepa became Prime Minister. Although candidates are free to propose themselves for electoral office, in practice they require the approval of the village high chiefs. Those who ran in the 1996 elections despite fono objections faced ostracism and even banishment from their village. Following the 1996 elections, there were multiple charges of fraud and bribery. Four elections subsequently were overturned by the Supreme Court, and by-elections were held.

Elections are scheduled for April 2001, and Parliament is considering an amendment to the Elections Law, which would require anyone planning to run to have resided in the country continuously for 3 years.

There are no prohibitions on the formation of opposition parties, and there are a total of five political parties, two of which are represented in Parliament.

Women are underrepresented in government and politics; however, they occasionally reach high public office. The 12-member Cabinet has 1 female member, and women hold 3 of the 49 seats in the Legislative Assembly.

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

A number of human rights groups operated without government restriction. Government officials usually are cooperative.

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

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status. Society is homogeneous with no significant ethnic minorities. Politics and culture are the product of a heritage of chiefly privilege and power, and members of certain families have some advantages. While there is discrimination against women and nonmatai who only occasionally may reach high office, women (and particularly female matai) play an important role in society.


While the law prohibits the abuse of women, social custom tolerates their physical abuse within the home. The role and rights of the village fono and tradition prevent police from interfering in instances of domestic violence, unless there is a complaint from the victim – which village custom strongly discourages. While police receive some complaints from abused women, domestic violence offenders typically are punished by village councils, but only if the abuse is considered extreme (i.e., visible signs of physical abuse). The village religious leader also may intervene in domestic disputes.

The State punishes persons responsible for extreme assault cases, including by imprisonment.

Many cases of rape still go unreported because tradition and custom discourage such reporting. Despite such discouragement, the authorities note a greater number of reported cases of rape, as women slowly become more forthcoming with the police. Rape cases that reach the courts are treated seriously. Convicted offenders often are given relatively stiff sentences of several years' imprisonment.

The traditional subordinate role of women is changing, albeit slowly, especially in the more conservative parts of society. The Ministry of Women's Affairs oversees and helps secure the rights of women.


The Government has made a strong commitment to the welfare of children through the implementation of various youth programs by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health. Education is free and compulsory through age 16. Law and tradition prohibit severe abuse of children, but tradition tolerates corporal punishment. The police have noted an increase in reported cases of child abuse, which was attributed to citizens becoming more aware of the need to report physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children.

Three behavior modification camps for expatriate children with emotional or behavior problems exist in the country. They are not supervised closely, but are not known to be abusive to the children in their care.

People With Disabilities

The Government has passed no legislation pertaining to the status of disabled persons or regarding accessibility for the disabled. Tradition dictates that the family cares for a disabled person, and this custom is observed widely in practice.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers legally have unrestricted rights to establish and join organizations of their own choosing. There are two trade unions in the country. The Samoa National Union, organized in 1994, is a six-member association that includes workers from the three major banks. A second union represents members at the sole factory in the country. Both unions are independent of the Government and political parties. There are no laws specific to union activity. The Commissioner of Labor adjudicates any cases of retribution against strikers or union leaders on a case-by-case basis.

The Public Service Association, which represents government workers (an increasingly important sector of the work force), also functions as a union. The Supreme Court has upheld the right of government workers to strike, subject to certain restrictions imposed principally for reasons of public safety. Workers in the private sector have the right to strike, but there were no strikes during the year. The Public Service Association freely maintains relations with international bodies and participates in bilateral exchanges.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

While workers have the legal right to engage in collective bargaining, they seldom have practiced it, due to the novelty of union activity and the inexperience of union leaders. The Public Service Association engages in collective bargaining on behalf of government workers, including bargaining on wages. In June the Nurses Union successfully negotiated a modest pay increase.

An advisory commission to the Minister of Labor sets minimum wages. Wages in the private sector are determined by competitive demand for the required skills. Any antiunion discrimination case would be reported to and adjudicated by the Commissioner of Labor. Arbitration and mediation procedures are in place to resolve labor disputes, although such disputes rarely arise.

Labor law and practice in the one export processing zone are the same as in the rest of the country.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Compulsory labor is prohibited by law, and the Government respects this prohibition in practice; however, in this collective society persons, including minors, frequently are called upon to work for their villages. Most persons do so willingly; however, the matai may compel those who do not (see Section 6.d.).

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

Under the 1972 Labor and Employment Act (LEA), as amended, it is illegal to employ children under 15 years of age except in "safe and light work." The Commissioner of Labor refers complaints about illegal child labor to the Attorney General for enforcement. Children frequently are seen vending goods and food on Apia street corners. Although the practice constitutes a violation of the LEA, local officials mostly tolerate and overlook it. There are no reports of bonded labor by children, but the LEA does not apply to service rendered to the matai, some of whom require children to work for the village, primarily on village farms (see Section 6.c.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The LEA established for the private sector a 40-hour workweek and an hourly minimum wage of $0.47 (WS$ 1.40). This minimum wage suffices for a basic standard of living for worker and family when supplemented by the subsistence farming and fishing in which most families engage. The act provides that no worker should be required to work for more than 40 hours in any week.

The act also establishes certain rudimentary safety and health standards, which the Attorney General is responsible for enforcing. However, independent observers report that the safety laws are not enforced strictly except when accidents highlight noncompliance. Many agricultural workers, among others, are inadequately protected from pesticides and other dangers to health. Government education programs are addressing these concerns. The act does not apply to service rendered to the matai. While the act does not specifically address the right of workers to remove themselves from a dangerous work situation, a report of such a case to the Commissioner of Labor would prompt an investigation, without jeopardy to continued employment. Government employees are covered under different and more stringent regulations, which are enforced adequately by the Public Service Commission.

f. Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits trafficking in persons, and there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, within, or through the country.

This report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with sections 116(d) and 502(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, and section 504 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. The law provides that the Secretary of State shall transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, by February 25 "a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights, within the meaning of subsection (A) in countries that receive assistance under this part, and (B) in all other foreign countries which are members of the United Nations and which are not otherwise the subject of a human rights report under this Act." We have also included reports on several countries that do not fall into the categories established by these statutes and that thus are not covered by the congressional requirement.

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