U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Kiribati

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 31, 2003

Kiribati is a constitutional republic that occupies 33 small islands widely scattered across 1.365 million square miles of the central Pacific Ocean. The country has a popularly elected president and a legislative assembly of 42 members; 40 are elected by universal adult suffrage, the Rabi Island Council in Fiji nominates one, and the Attorney General holds an ex-officio assembly position. The judiciary is independent.

A police force of about 250 personnel is controlled effectively by the civilian authorities.

The country has a population of over 90,000 that is primarily Micronesian, with a significant component of Polynesian origin. Economic activity consists primarily of subsistence agriculture and fishing. The islands' isolation and meager resources, including poor soil and limited arable land, severely limit prospects for economic development. The per capita gross domestic product is approximately $500.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse; however, the Government placed some limits on freedom of the press. In this traditional culture, women occupy a subordinate role and have limited job opportunities. Violence against women and child abuse in urban areas were problems. Kiribati was invited by the Community of Democracies' (CD) Convening Group to attend the November 2002 second CD Ministerial Meeting in Seoul, Republic of Korea, as a participant.


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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports of the arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Government generally observed this prohibition; traditional practice permits corporal punishment for criminal acts and other transgressions. On some outer islands, the island councils occasionally ordered strokes with palm fronds to be administered for public drunkenness and other minor offenses, such as petty theft.

Prison conditions generally met international standards. There are separate prisons for men and women. Children under age 16 are not incarcerated. There is no separate facility for juvenile offenders aged 16 or older. Juveniles aged 16 to 17 may be detained no longer than 1 month in the adult facility. Pretrial detainees who do not meet bail are housed with convicted prisoners. Family members and church representatives are allowed access to prisoners. Both diplomats and senior judicial officials have visited the prisons, including some unannounced visits, and reported no problems. The question of monitoring prison conditions by local human rights groups did not arise, and there were no reported requests by nonresident international human rights observers to visit prisons. No policy concerning such visits has been formulated.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions.

The Constitution prohibits government restrictions on citizens' freedom of movement, but does not restrict such actions by the village councils of elders. The Government does not use forced exile; however, on rare occasions village maneabas (councils) have used this punishment. This practice has never been challenged legally.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

The judiciary consists of a High Court, magistrate courts, a Court of Appeal, and land courts. Litigants also have the right of appeal to the Privy Council in London. The right to a fair public trial is provided by law and observed in practice. The Constitution provides that an accused person be informed of the nature of the offense with which he is charged and be provided adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The right to confront witnesses, present evidence, and appeal convictions is provided for in the law. Procedural safeguards are based on English common law.

The Attorney General's office and the courts developed case backlogs during the year due to staffing shortages. This problem had been resolved by year's end, in large part by the appointment of a second High Court judge.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the Government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

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 respected these rights in practice; however, the Government limited these rights in some instances. Under the 1988 Newspaper Registration Act, newspapers are required to register with the Government. In October the legislature amended the act to give the Government the authority to deregister a newspaper if the publication was found to have published material deemed to be offensive to good taste, decency, or public feeling, or likely to encourage or incite to crime. The amendment also required newspapers to ensure that, in an article affecting the "credibility or reputation of any person," the affected individual can respond in the same article. Fines of $286 (A$500) may be assessed for each violation of these provisions. As of year's end, no publications had been deregistered or prevented from publishing. Opponents criticized the amendment as an attempt by the Government to restrict press freedom.

In 2000 a former president established the country's first private newspaper, which enabled the opposition to present views divergent from those in the government-owned newspaper.

The sole AM and sole FM radio stations in Tarawa are government-owned; Radio Kiribati (AM) broadcast live national news and entertainment as well as hourly Radio Australia and Voice of America programming. The government FM station relayed a continuous feed from BBC Radio. In 1999 an opposition attempt to operate a private radio station was blocked when the Government closed the station and fined the owners for attempting to import broadcasting equipment without a license. The station owner instituted legal action, and New Air FM was issued a government license in December. The former president owns this station and the only regularly published private newspaper. A foreign journalist was barred from entering the country in 1999 after cabinet officials criticized his articles for giving "a bad impression of the country." The journalist did not attempt to reenter the country during the year. Churches published newsletters and other periodicals. High costs limited the availability of foreign print media and Internet access, but there were no government-imposed limitations.

The Government did not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice. Permits are required for public gatherings, but these were granted routinely.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

For a more detailed discussion see the 2002 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

The law provides for these rights, and the Government generally respected them in practice.

There is no national legislation implementing the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, and the Government has not formulated a policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum. There were no applications for first asylum or refugee resettlement during the year. However, in 2001 the Government offered temporary protection on Canton Island for a group of Afghans interdicted at sea, pending formal determinations of their asylum claims by the Government of Australia. The offer was considered but not accepted. There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.

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

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. To be elected, a candidate must secure at least half the valid votes cast; if there is no first-round winner, a runoff election is held. The President exercises executive authority and is elected for a 4-year term. The elected Legislative Assembly nominates no fewer than three and no more than four presidential candidates from among its members. Under the Constitution, the President is limited to three terms. First-round legislative elections were held in November, with runoff elections in December; the elections were free and fair. President Teburoro Tito was reelected to the National Assembly; however, government candidates lost 14 seats, including 7 previously held by government ministers. A separate presidential election was scheduled for February 23, 2003. Three women held permanent secretary positions, and there were 2 women in the 42-member Parliament.

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

There were no restrictions on the formation of local human rights nongovernmental organizations, but none have been formed. There were no restrictions on operations by international human rights groups. There were no reported allegations of human rights abuses by the Government during the year, and no known requests for investigations.

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

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, national origin, or sex, and the Government observed these prohibitions in practice; however, only native-born I-Kiribati may own land. Society is fundamentally egalitarian and has no privileged class.


Spousal abuse and other forms of violence against women were a significant problem. Frequently, alcohol abuse was a factor in attacks on women. The law does not specifically address domestic violence, but general common law and criminal law make assault in all forms illegal. Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime, and the law was enforced when charges were brought to court. However, it is believed that such prosecutions are relatively infrequent.

Prostitution is not illegal, but it was not common; procuring sex and managing brothels are illegal. The law does not specifically prohibit sex tourism; however, there were no reports of such activity. Obscene or indecent behavior is banned.

The law does not prohibit sexual harassment; however, it generally was not regarded as a problem.

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex; however, the traditional culture, in which men are dominant, has impeded a more active role for women in the economy. Nevertheless, women are slowly finding work in unskilled and semiskilled occupations. The Government increased its hiring and promotions of women to some extent. Section 77 of the Employment Ordinance prohibits "night work" by women except in seven exempt occupations including health worker, hotel, bar, and restaurant worker, and business manager. However, this ordinance was little known, and there were no reported prosecutions based on its provisions. Statistics on the participation of women in the work force and on comparative wages were unavailable, and statistics were generally not well collected in the country. Women have full rights of ownership and inheritance of property as well as full and equal access to education.


Within its limited financial resources, the Government made adequate expenditures for child welfare. Primary education is compulsory, free, and universal for children between the ages of 6 and 14 years. In practice, the Government did not enforce primary school attendance. Unofficial estimates indicated that over 50 percent of all children attended school with no significant gender discrimination. The approximately 40 percent of primary school graduates who pass a national examination qualify for 3 additional years of subsidized junior secondary and 4 years of subsidized senior secondary education; a small fee was charged to other students who wished to matriculate at these levels.

The Government provided free national medical service; however, there were no doctors on the outer islands. The central hospital in Tarawa provided basic medical services, but not intensive care facilities. There were no reports of gender bias in the provision of health services.

Child abuse was a growing problem, particularly on South Tarawa.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit specifically discrimination against persons with disabilities; however, there were no complaints of discrimination in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services for persons with mental or physical disabilities. Accessibility for persons with disabilities has not been mandated; accommodations for persons with disabilities were basically nonexistent.

The central hospital on Tarawa has a wing for persons with mental disabilities. There was a foreign national psychiatrist working in Tarawa. Foreign-based aid workers and the World Health Organization cooperated with the Ministry of Health to conduct outer island workshops for health workers.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Freedom of association is provided for in the Constitution, and workers are free to join and organize unions. Over

90 percent of the work force were occupied in fishing or subsistence farming, but the small wage sector had a relatively strong and effective trade union force. An estimated 10 percent of wage-earning workers were union members. In 1982 seven registered trade unions merged to form the Kiribati Trade Union Congress (KTUC), which has approximately 2,500 members. There are no official public sector trade unions; however, public sector nurses and teachers belonged to voluntary employee associations similar to unions and were approximately 30 to 40 percent of total union and association membership.

Unions are free to affiliate internationally. The KTUC is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law protects workers from employer interference in their right to organize and administer unions. The Government did not control or restrict union activities; however, unions must register with the Government. Collective bargaining is provided for under the Industrial Relations Code. The Government sets wages in the large public sector. However, in a few statutory bodies and government-owned companies, employees could negotiate wages and other conditions. In the private sector, individual employees also could negotiate wages with employers. In keeping with tradition, negotiations generally were nonconfrontational. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination, and there were mechanisms to resolve any complaints that might arise.

The law provides for the right to strike. However, strikes are rare; the last one took place in 1980.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or bonded labor, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.

The prohibition does not mention specifically forced and bonded labor by children; however, there were no reports that such practices occurred.

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

The law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14. Children through the age of 15 are prohibited from industrial employment and employment aboard ships. Labor officers from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Employment generally enforced these laws effectively, given the rudimentary conditions of the economy. Children rarely were employed outside the traditional economy.

The Government has not ratified ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no minimum wage. There is provision for a minimum wage at ministerial discretion, but it has never been implemented. Income tended to be pooled within the extended family, and the standard income appeared adequate to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. There is no legislatively prescribed workweek. Workers in the public sector (80 percent of the wage-earning work force) worked 36¼ hours per week, with overtime pay for additional hours.

Employment laws provide rudimentary health and safety standards for the workplace. For example, employers had to provide an adequate supply of clean water for workers and ensure the existence of sanitary toilet facilities. Employers were liable for the expenses of workers injured on the job. However, the Government's ability to enforce employment laws was hampered by a lack of qualified personnel. Workers did not have the right to remove themselves from hazardous work sites without risking loss of employment.

There are no laws specifically to protect foreign workers; however, there were no significant numbers of foreign workers and no reports of mistreatment. Some foreign volunteers and missionaries worked in the schools.

f. Trafficking in Persons

The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons; however, there have been no confirmed reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.


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.