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2008 Human Rights Reports: Kiribati


Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Report
February 25, 2009

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Kiribati is a constitutional multiparty republic with a population of approximately 92,500. The president exercises executive authority and is popularly elected for a four-year term. The legislative assembly nominates at least three, and no more than four, presidential candidates from among its members. Parliamentary and presidential elections held in 2007 were considered generally free and fair. Anote Tong of the Boutokaan Te Koaua party was reelected president. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

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. Violence and discrimination against women, child abuse, and commercial sexual exploitation of children were problems.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Traditional village practice permits corporal punishment for criminal acts and other transgressions.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards, and the government permitted visits by family members, church representatives, and diplomats. There was no separate facility for juvenile offenders, but children under age 16 usually were not incarcerated. Juveniles ages 16 to 17 generally may be detained no longer than a month in the adult facility; however, for more serious offenses, such as murder, juveniles over age 16 can be held in custody for more than a month and can be sentenced to longer terms. Pretrial detainees accused of serious offenses who did not meet bail were held with convicted prisoners. Persons charged with minor offenses normally were released on their own recognizance pending trial.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police force, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Arrest and Detention

In some cases magistrates issued warrants before an arrest was made. Persons taken into custody without a warrant must be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours or within a reasonable amount of time when arrested in remote locations. These requirements were generally respected in practice. Many individuals were released on their own recognizance pending trial, and bail was granted routinely for many offenses. The law requires that arrested individuals be informed of their rights, which include the right to legal counsel during questioning and the right not to incriminate themselves. Two police officers must be present at all times during questioning of detainees, who also are provided the option of writing and reviewing statements given to police. Detainees were allowed prompt access to legal counsel. Public defenders, known as "people's lawyers," were available free of charge for arrested persons and others who needed legal advice.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. There is no trial by jury. An accused person must be informed of the charges and be provided adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also provides for the right to confront witnesses, present evidence, and appeal convictions. Defendants facing serious criminal charges are entitled to free legal representation. Procedural safeguards are based on British common law and include the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

Extrajudicial traditional communal justice, in which village elders decide cases and mete out punishment, remained a part of village life, especially on remote outer islands. However, the incidence of communal justice was declining under pressure from the codified national law.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, as well as access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but there were some concerns about government control of the media.

Individuals generally could criticize the government publicly or privately without fear of reprisal.

The government Broadcasting and Publications Authority (BPA) operated Radio Kiribati, the dominant news source in the country, and published a twice-weekly newspaper. A board of directors appointed by the government oversees BPA operations.

A media company owned by a member of parliament affiliated with the governing party operated the country's other radio station and published a weekly newspaper. Several other organizations, such as the Kiribati Protestant Church, also published weekly newspapers.

International media were allowed to operate freely. Under the Newspaper Registration Act, newspapers are required to register with the government, but there were no reports that the government denied registration to any publication.

 Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. While generally available and accessible on South Tarawa, public access to the Internet elsewhere in the country was limited by lack of infrastructure.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination against religious groups, including anti-Semitic acts. There was no known Jewish community in the country.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/j/drl/irf/rpt.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. Although the law prohibits government restrictions on citizens' freedom of movement, it does not restrict such actions by traditional village councils.

The occasion did not arise during the year for government cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The law provides for the forced expulsion from the country of a convicted person if "in the interests of" defense, public safety, order, morality, health, or environmental conservation. The government did not use forced exile. On rare occasions traditional village councils have banished persons from a specific island within the country, usually for a fixed period of time, but there were no reports of such banishments during the year.

Protection of Refugees

The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. During the year there were no applications for refugee resettlement, asylum, or protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

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

The constitution provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

The legislature has 45 members: 43 are elected by universal adult suffrage, the Rabi Island Council of I-Kiribati (persons of Kiribati ancestry) in Fiji selects one, and the attorney general is an ex officio member. The most recent parliamentary elections were held in August 2007. In October 2007 the legislature elected Anote Tong of the Boutokaan Te Koaua party to a second term as president. The elections were considered generally free and fair. There were no government restrictions on political opponents. Elected village councils run local governments in consultation with traditional village elders.

There were two women in the 45-member legislature. Several permanent secretaries were women.

The president and several members of the legislature were of mixed descent.

Government Corruption and Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not always implement the law effectively. Government officials have sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, but there were no specific reports of government corruption during the year.

Nepotism, based on tribal, church, and family ties, was prevalent. Public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws. The auditor general is responsible for oversight of government expenditures. In reality the auditor general lacked sufficient resources, and findings of misappropriations and unaccounted for funds were generally ignored, or the investigations were inconclusive.

No specific law provides for citizen or media access to government information. In practice the government was fairly responsive to individual requests for information.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, or color, and the government observed these prohibitions in practice; however, only native I-Kiribati may own land.

Women

Spousal abuse and other forms of violence against women were significant problems. Alcohol abuse frequently was a factor in attacks on women. Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, but sentences were typically much shorter. The law does not address domestic violence specifically, but general common law and criminal law make assault in all forms illegal. The law provides for penalties of up to six months' imprisonment for common assault and up to five years' imprisonment for assault involving bodily harm. Prosecutions for rape and domestic assault were infrequent, largely due to cultural taboos on reporting such crimes and police attitudes encouraging reconciliation over prosecution.

Prostitution is not illegal; however, procuring sex and managing brothels are illegal. The lack of a law against prostitution hindered the ability of the police to restrict these activities.

The law does not specifically prohibit sex tourism. There were reports of foreign fishermen engaging in commercial sexual acts with minors. Obscene or indecent behavior is banned.

The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which sometimes occurred but generally was not regarded as a major problem.

The law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, and the traditional culture, in which men are dominant, impeded a more active role for women in the economy. Women filled many government office and teaching positions. Statistics generally were not well collected in the country, and data on the participation of women in the work force and on comparative wages were unavailable. Women have full rights of ownership and inheritance of property as well as full and equal access to education.

Children

Within its limited financial resources, the government made adequate expenditures for child welfare.

Chronic alcohol abuse leading to child abuse (physical and occasionally sexual) and neglect continued to be a serious problem. There is a police unit specifically focused on child and family violence.

Crewmembers of foreign fishing vessels that stopped in Kiribati engaged in commercial sexual exploitation of women, some of whom were underage. Research conducted in South Tarawa indicated there were fewer than 20 girls under the age of 18 engaged in such prostitution. Some of the girls worked as prostitutes in bars frequented by crewmembers, and local I-Kiribati, sometimes including family members, acted as facilitators, delivering girls to the boats. The girls generally received cash, food, or goods in exchange for sexual services. The lack of a legal ban on prostitution, and the fact that the legal age of consent is 15, hindered police efforts to stem the practice.

Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits trafficking in persons, and there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or through the country. There were incidences of commercial sexual exploitation of underage girls within the country.

The State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at www.state.gov/j/tip.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities; however, there were no formal complaints of discrimination in employment, education, or the provision of other state services for persons with mental or physical disabilities. Accessibility of buildings for persons with disabilities has not been mandated, and there were no special accommodations for persons with disabilities. The central hospital on Tarawa had a wing for persons with mental disabilities, and there was a psychiatrist working on Tarawa.

There was no government agency specifically responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Sodomy and acts of "gross indecency" between males are illegal, but there were no reports of prosecutions under these provisions. Societal discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation were not significant problems.

Societal discrimination and violence against persons with HIV/AIDS were not significant problems. A government-run HIV/AIDS taskforce coordinated outreach and education activities concerning HIV/AIDS.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and workers are free to join and organize unions; workers exercised these rights in practice.

More than 80 percent of the adult workforce was occupied in fishing or subsistence farming. An estimated 10 percent of wage-earning workers were union members. There were no official public-sector trade unions, but nurses and teachers belonged to voluntary employee associations similar to unions and constituted approximately 30 to 40 percent of total union and association membership.

The law provides for the right to strike, but no strikes have taken place since 1980.

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. The law provides for collective bargaining. The government sets wages in the large public sector. In a few statutory bodies and government-owned companies, however, 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 non-confrontational. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination, and there were mechanisms to resolve any complaints that might arise.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children under age 14. Children through the age of 15 are prohibited from industrial employment and employment aboard ships. Labor officers from the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources Development generally enforced these laws effectively. Children rarely were employed outside the traditional economy.

Underage girls were solicited for commercial sex.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The wage-earning workforce consisted of approximately 8,000 persons, mostly employed on the main atoll of Tarawa, the political and commercial capital. The remainder of the working population worked within a subsistence economy. There is no official minimum wage, but the Labor Ministry estimated the "non-legislated" minimum to be between A$1.60 and A$1.70 (approximately $1.10 and $1.15) per hour. There is provision for a minimum wage at ministerial discretion, but it has never been implemented. The standard wage income provided a marginally 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 workforce) worked 36.25 hours per week, with overtime pay for additional hours.

Employment laws provide rudimentary health and safety standards for the workplace, which the Labor Ministry is responsible for enforcing. Employers are liable for the expenses of workers injured on the job, but a lack of qualified personnel hampered the government's ability to enforce employment laws, and no workplace inspections were conducted during the year. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from hazardous work sites without risking loss of employment.



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