Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 4, 2002

Samoa is a parliamentary democracy that incorporates certain traditional practices into its legislative system. The Constitution 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. Allegations of bribery and abuse of the electoral rolls resulted in court challenges following the March parliamentary elections. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ordered four by-elections. In November the Human Rights Protection Party won all four elections to bring its total to 30 of the 49 parliamentary seats. 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 it 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's population of approximately 180,000 is poor, with a market-based economy in which more than 60 percent of the workforce are employed in the agricultural sector. Fish, kava, and coconut products are the principal exports. The small industrial sector is dominated by a foreign factory that assembles automotive electrical parts for export. The Government continued 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 citizens living overseas.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. There were some restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and religion. Political discrimination against women and non-matai, and violence against women and children were problems. 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.


Section 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.

The former Minister of Women's Affairs Leafa Vitale; his son, Eletise Leafa Vitale; and the former Minister of Telecommunications, Toi Aokuso Cain, who were convicted in March 2000 of the July 1999 murder of the Minister of Public Works Luaglau Levaula Kamu, remain in prison serving life sentences.

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 government officials employed them.

Jail conditions generally appear to meet international standards although they are fairly basic with respect to food and sanitation. The question of monitoring prison conditions by human rights groups has not arisen. Prison visits by family members and church representatives are permitted.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observes these prohibitions. The law provides for issuance by the High Court of an arrest warrant based on sufficient evidence, and the Government adheres to this provision in practice. The law provides for the right to a prompt judicial determination regarding the legality of detention, and the authorities respect this right in practice. Detainees are informed within 24 hours of the charges against them, or they are released. Detainees are allowed prompt access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. If the detainee is indigent, the Government provides a lawyer. There is a functioning system of bail.

Villages are governed by traditional law, and the fono may mete out banishment, one of the harshest forms of punishment in this collective society. In some cases, civil courts have overruled banishment orders. In July 2000, 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.), and they have reoccupied their previous residences.

The Government does not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

The judiciary consists of magistrates' courts, coroners' courts, and the Lands and Titles Court, with the High or Supreme Court acting as the court of final appeal.

The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforces this right. However, many civil and criminal matters are handled 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 appeal to the Lands and Titles Courts and to the Supreme Court. In July 2000, 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.).

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The law provides substantive and procedural safeguards against 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.

In January the village council of Falealupo on the neighboring island of Savaii banned Aeau Peniamina Leavai, former parliamentarian and former Speaker of Parliament, and his family from entering their village, reportedly because of his candidacy in the March parliamentary elections (see Section 3). Falealupo has 1,600 registered voters and has instituted controversial bannings in previous years. In 2000 approximately 60 members of a Bible study group were jailed when they did not adhere to a ban by the village on conducting a religious class.

Section 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 2000, 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 2000, 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.).

On August 6, Attorney General Brenda Heather-Latu formally warned local media that comments about the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice, and judges breached the laws of contempt of court and libel. The Attorney General said that even in a free society, the media did not have the right to make defamatory comments about the court. The statement resulted from publication of a private citizen's letter on July 28 in the independent newspaper The Samoa Observer. The letter attacked the independence of the Supreme Court and questioned the integrity of the justices. The Samoa Observer published an apology to the Court on August 9, noting that the editorial board recognized the difference between fair comment about the court system and the "defamatory and contemptuous comments" published in the letter. No legal action was taken against the person who wrote the letter.

Two English-language newspapers and a number of Samoan-language newspapers are printed regularly. The law requires journalists to reveal their sources in the event of a defamation suit against them. There has been no court case invoking this law.

In February 2000, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition brought by government-owned Polynesian Airlines against the independent newspaper The Samoa Observer, which requested 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. No further legal action was taken during the year.

The Government operates the sole television station. There are four private radio stations (one AM and three FM), and a satellite-cable system is 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.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice. In July 2000, 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.).

On January 31, protesters from Siumu, a village about 10 miles from Apia, closed a major roadway. The action reportedly was a protest against the sale by the Government of approximately 1,400 acres of land that the village claimed was owned communally. The Government took no action against the protesters until February 7, when the Siumu District Council agreed to negotiate with the Government to resolve the dispute. At year's end, the issue was not resolved; however, the roadblock had not resumed.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

The Constitution acknowledges "an Independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions." Nevertheless, although Christianity is favored constitutionally, there is no official or state denomination. There are no requirements for the recognition of a religious group or for licenses or registration.

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). In recent years, despite the constitutional protection, village councils--in the name of maintaining social harmony within the village--sometimes banished or punished families that did not adhere to the prevailing religious belief in the village. However, during the year, there were no new cases of individuals being banished by villages due to their practicing religion differently from that practiced by the village majority.

In July 2000, 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 Supreme Court also ordered the reinstatement of 32 persons who had been banished from a village for practicing a religion other than that traditionally practiced in the village. 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.

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 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) that are present in the country all 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 these rights, and the Government generally respects them in practice; however, in practice some citizens either have been banned from village activities or banished completely from their villages. In January the elders of a village banned a former parliamentarian and his family from entering their village (see Sections 1.f. and 3).

The Government actively supports emigration as a "safety valve" for the pressures of a growing population, especially for potentially rebellious youths, and because it generates foreign income through remittances. There are an estimated 100,000 citizens living abroad, and their remittances make a significant contribution to the national economy.

The country is a signatory of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol; however, the Government has not enacted enabling legislation or formulated a policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum. Nevertheless, the authorities have indicated that they would conform to international norms if such cases should arise. The issue of the provision of first asylum has never arisen. The Government is prepared to cooperate with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees; however, the need did not arise during the year.

Section 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 held on the basis of universal suffrage; 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. Matai are selected by family agreement; there is no age qualification. Matai control local government through the village fono, which are open to them alone. The remaining two seats are reserved for citizens not of Samoan heritage.

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 six consecutive elections since 1982. Although candidates are free to propose themselves for electoral office, in practice they require the approval of the village high chiefs.

In elections on March 2, the HRPP won 23 seats and declared victory 2 weeks later when 5 opposition party members switched to the HRPP; the opposition Samoa National Development Party holds 13 seats, and there are 8 United Independents. The election was marred by charges of bribery, and 10 losing candidates initially filed election challenges. Following a series of trials from May through September, the Supreme Court in September ordered four

by-elections. On August 16, the Attorney General ordered the High Court to consider no further challenges and thereby prevented as many as 40 additional challenges from being filed. In November the HRPP won all 4 court-ordered by-elections to bring its total to 30 of 49 parliamentary seats.

Retaliation was directed against witnesses who testified regarding bribery. In March the Afega village council banished 10 persons and their families for giving evidence in a bribery case; however, in June the High Court overturned the village court order, and the persons returned to their village. Other candidates who ran against the wishes of their village councils were banished. For example, in January Aeau Peniamina Leavai, former parliamentarian and former Speaker of Parliament, and his family were banned from entering his village of Falealupo, reportedly because he ran for Parliament against the wishes of the village council (see Section 1.f.).

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.

The percentage of women in government and politics does not correspond to their percentage of the population; 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.

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

A number of human rights groups generally operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 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. There are no significant ethnic minorities. Politics and culture reflect 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; abuse is common. 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 (that is, visible signs of physical abuse). The village religious leader also may intervene in domestic disputes. The Government punishes persons responsible for extreme assault cases, including by imprisonment.

Many cases of rape still go unreported because tradition and custom discourage such reporting; spousal rape is not illegal. Despite such discouragement, the authorities note an increasing 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.

Prostitution is illegal, and it is becoming a problem; the law prohibits sex tourism. Sexual harassment is prohibited by law; it is not a widespread problem but believed to be underreported.

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; during the year, it was increasingly active on the problem of domestic violence. In order to integrate women into the economic mainstream, the Government sponsors literacy programs and training programs for those not completing high school.


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. Boys and girls are treated equally and attend school in approximately equal percentages, and the average educational level reached by most children is junior high school. The Government provides health care for children at public hospitals for minimal charge. 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 is attributed to citizens becoming more aware of the need to report the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children. There are no reports of child prostitution.

There is one behavior modification camp for foreign children with emotional or behavioral problems. A second camp closed during the year following allegations of mistreatment of some of the children in their care.

Persons with Disabilities

The Government has passed no legislation pertaining to the status of persons with disabilities or regarding accessibility for them. Tradition dictates that families care for persons with disabilities, and this custom is observed widely in practice. There are no reports of societal discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers legally have unrestricted rights to establish and join organizations of their own choosing. There are no practical limitations to union membership, and approximately 20 percent of the workforce are unionized. 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. The Public Service Association, which represents government workers (an increasingly important sector of the work force), also functions as a union. 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 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. 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 sole export processing zone are the same as in the rest of the country.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor; 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 law, 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; however, no cases were prosecuted during the year. Children frequently are seen vending goods and food on Apia street corners. Although the practice constitutes a violation of the law, local officials mostly tolerate and overlook it. There are no reports of bonded labor by children; however, the law 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.).

The country is not a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has not ratified ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes for the private sector a 40-hour workweek and an hourly minimum wage of $0.47 (WS$1.40). 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. 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 law provides that no worker should be required to work for more than 40 hours in any week.

The law 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 protected inadequately from pesticides and other dangers to health. Government education programs are addressing these concerns. The law does not apply to service rendered to the matai. While the law does not address specifically 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.

Foreign workers are protected by law; minimum wage and working conditions standards apply equally to them. There are very few foreign workers in the country due to the high unemployment rate. Most foreign workers are educated professionals in technical and health services fields.

f. Trafficking in Persons

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