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Fiji

Executive Summary

Fiji is a constitutional republic. In November 2018 the country held general elections, which international observers deemed free, transparent, and credible. Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama’s Fiji First party won 27 of 51 seats in parliament, and he began a second four-year term as prime minister.

The Fiji Police Force maintains internal security. The Republic of Fiji Military Force (RFMF) is responsible for external security but may also have some domestic-security responsibilities in specific circumstances. Both report to the Ministry of Defense and National Security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: restrictions on free expression, such as substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; and trafficking in persons.

The government investigated some security-force officials who committed abuses and prosecuted or punished officials who committed abuses elsewhere in the government; however, impunity was a problem in cases with political implications.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but it grants the government authority to restrict these rights for a broad array of reasons. These include preventing hate speech and insurrection; maintaining national security, public order, public safety, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections; protecting the reputation, privacy, dignity, and rights of other persons; enforcing media standards; and regulating the conduct of media organizations. The POA also gives the government power to detain persons on suspicion of “endangering public safety” and to “preserve the peace.” The authorities continue to use the wide provisions in this law to restrict freedom of expression. The law on media prohibits “irresponsible reporting” and provides for government censorship of media.

Freedom of Expression: The law includes criticism of the government in its definition of the crime of sedition. This includes statements made in other countries by any person.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were somewhat active; however, journalists practiced self-censorship on sensitive political or communal topics because of restrictions in the law and monitoring by the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA). The opposition and other critics of the government accused the government of using state power to silence critics.

In July the appellate court reviewed an appeal brought by the prosecution in the case of three staff members of the Fiji Times, including the editor in chief, who were acquitted on sedition charges in May 2018; a decision on the appeal remains pending. Despite the journalists’ acquittal, media observers and human rights activists expressed concern the long investigation and trial had served to stifle free speech. The three staff were charged with sedition for the 2016 publication of a letter to the editor in the Fiji Times indigenous-language newspaper Nai Lalakai.

Violence and Harassment: On April 3, police detained three journalists from New Zealand’s Newsroom agency who were investigating allegations of environmental damage caused by a Chinese developer, Freesoul Real Estate, on Fiji’s Malolo Island. Police released the journalists 13 hours later, without charge. Prime Minister Bainimarama personally delivered a public apology for the officers’ actions, while Commissioner of Police Sitiveni Qiliho clarified in the media that the detention was “an isolated incident by a small group of rogue police officers.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The media law authorizes the government to censor all news stories before broadcast or publication. Although the government ceased prior censorship in 2012, the law remains on the books, and journalists and media organizations continued to practice varying degrees of self-censorship citing a fear of prosecution. Despite this, media published opinion articles by academics and commentators critical of the government.

By law, directors and 90 percent of shareholders in local media must be citizens and permanently reside in the country. MIDA is responsible for enforcing these provisions and has power to investigate media outlets for alleged violations, and the power to search facilities and seize equipment.

The code of ethics in the law requires that media publish balanced material. It obligates media to give any individual or organization an opportunity to reply to comments or provide materials for publication. Journalists reported this requirement did not restrict reporting as much as in past years.

The law on television requires television station operators to conform to the media law’s code of ethics.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander and defamation are treated as civil matters under the law. The constitution, however, includes protecting the reputation of persons as a permissible limitation to freedom of expression, including of the press. Some measure of this constitutional provision was enacted via the 2018 Online Safety Act. Authorities have used this act and the commission established in January under this act to restrict public discussion, establishing a de facto form of criminal libel with imprisonment penalties (see Internet Freedom, below).

Court decisions on two separate 2018 defamation lawsuits, the first brought by the prime minister and attorney general and the second by supervisor of elections, charging opposition critics with posting defamatory remarks on social media remained pending at year’s end.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; however, there were some reports the government monitored private online communications without legal authority.

The purpose of the 2018 Online Safety Act, according to the government, is to protect minors from offensive online behavior, cybercrime, and cyber bullying. The law penalized offenders with a maximum fine of FJD 20,000 ($9,140) and a maximum five years’ imprisonment for posting an electronic communication that causes harm to a person. Critics, however, including rights groups and youth and women’s organizations, warned it was a potential “trojan horse” for internet censorship and punishment of online dissent. Critics’ fears worsened when, on January 2, the first commissioner for online safety publicly told media: “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” After enacting the law, the government filed several defamation lawsuits against political opponents for posting comments critical of the government on social media.

In May the court sentenced former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry’s son, Rajendra Chaudhry, in absentia to 15 months’ imprisonment and a FJD 50,000 ($22,900) fine for contempt of court after he failed to appear for a civil defamation case brought against him by the attorney general, who claimed Chaudhry’s 2018 Facebook posts defamed the Fiji judicial system, chief justice and chief registrar, and undermined public confidence in the administration of justice in the country.

All telephone and internet users must register their personal details with telephone and internet providers, including name, birth date, home address, left thumbprint, and photographic identification. The law imposes a maximum fine of FJD 100,000 ($45,700) on providers who continued to provide services to unregistered users and a maximum fine of FJD 10,000 ($4,570) on users who did not update their registration information as required.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and electoral law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections generally held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In November 2018 voters elected 51 members of parliament. The governing Fiji First party won 27 seats, and Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama was sworn in as prime minister for a second four-year term. In presenting its conclusions, the Australian- and Indonesian-led Multinational Observer Group stated: “Conditions supported Fijians exercising their right to vote freely. The 2018 process was transparent and credible overall, and the outcome broadly represented the will of Fijian voters.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for the right to form and join political parties, to campaign for political parties or a cause, to register as a voter, to vote by secret ballot in elections or referendums, to run for public office, and to hold that office. Nevertheless, the government may prescribe eligibility requirements for voters, candidates, political party officials, and holders of public office.

The POA requires permits for political meetings in both public and private venues, and these were granted in an open, nonpartisan, fair way.

The law requires that parties submit applications, which must include 5,000 members’ signatures, for registration. The law allows deregistration of political parties for any election offense and requires trade union leaders to resign their positions before running as candidates.

The electoral law restricts any person, entity, or organization from receiving funding from foreign governments, intergovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and forbids multilateral agencies from conducting or participating in any campaign, including meetings, debates, panel discussions, interviews, publication of materials, or any public forum discussing the elections. Maximum penalties for violations of the law include 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of JD 50,000 ($22,900), or both. The law allows universities to hold panel discussions and organize inclusive public forums.

The law also reduces the opposition’s power and ability to introduce petitions in parliament. Any petition tabled in parliament requires the support of a minimum of 20 parliamentarians (40 percent) before members may present it for debate.

Opposition National Federation Party parliamentarian Pio Tikoduadua claimed the prime minister had assaulted him on August 9 outside parliament. Video footage of the incident, widely viewed on the internet, showed Prime Minister Bainimarama briefly grabbing Tikoduadua by the lapel and shoving him. A parliamentary privileges committee cleared the prime minister of assault in September but found that the two men breached parliamentary rules by insulting each other and ordered they apologize or face a six-month suspension from parliament. Prime Minister Bainimarama apologized, but Tikoduadua refused and was suspended from parliament for six months on September 6. A police investigation into the alleged assault by the prime minister continued at year’s end.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural attitudes about gender roles restricted political participation by most indigenous women. Indo-Fijians, who accounted for 36 percent of the population, were underrepresented in government and the military, although they held six of 13 cabinet minister positions and six of 10 assistant-minister positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (FICAC) reports directly to the president and investigates public agencies and officials, including police. Government measures to combat corruption within the bureaucracy, including FICAC public-service announcements encouraging citizens to report corrupt government activities, had some effect on systemic corruption. Media published articles on FICAC investigations of abuse of office, and anonymous blogs reported on some government corruption.

The government adequately funded FICAC, but some observers questioned its independence and viewed some of its high-profile prosecutions as politically motivated.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions charged two police officers with fraud.

Corruption cases often proceeded slowly. In October the trial of former corrections chief lieutenant colonel Ifereimi Vasu began. Authorities dismissed him in 2015 for abuse of office related to his alleged misuse of a prison minimart.

Financial Disclosure: No law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials. The law, however, requires financial disclosures by candidates running for election and party officials. In May 2018 FICAC charged Sitiveni Rabuka, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, with making a false declaration of his assets, income, and liabilities. The court acquitted Rabuka of all charges in October 2018. The appellate court dismissed a FICAC appeal of the ruling a week later.

Kiribati

Executive Summary

Kiribati is a constitutional multiparty republic. The president exercises executive authority. Following legislative elections, the House of Assembly nominates at least three and no more than four presidential candidates from among its members, and the public then elects the president for a four-year term. Citizens elected Taneti Maamau president in March 2016. Observers considered the election free and fair. Observers considered the two-stage parliamentary elections held in December 2015 and January 2016 to be free and fair.

The Police and Prisons Service, under the Ministry of Justice, maintains internal security. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police.

Significant human rights issues included: corruption; criminalization of consensual sexual activity between men, although the law was not enforced; and child labor.

The government took steps to investigate officials who committed human rights abuses, and impunity was not a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. There were some reports the government impeded visiting foreign journalists’ efforts to report on Kiribati, although the government said the reporters had failed to follow the proper application processes.

Press and Media, Including Online Media and Internet Freedom: Although there were no government restrictions, there were some concerns about the lack of independent local media and the lack of transparency of the registration process for media organizations. Either the government’s Broadcasting and Publications Authority or a media company owned by a member of parliament operated most locally based news media. The regional SKY Pacific paid-television channel provided news coverage in the capital, South Tarawa.

The law requires registration of newspapers and allows the government to cancel registrations or fine newspapers for certain offenses.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the presidential election held in March 2016 to be free and fair. The legislature has 45 members. Of that number, 43 are elected by universal adult suffrage; the Rabi Island Council of i-Kiribati (persons of Kiribati ancestry) in Fiji elects one; and the attorney general, as an ex officio member, occupies the remaining seat. Two-step parliamentary elections held in December 2015 and January 2016 were considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. Their participation was low, largely due to traditional perceptions of their role in society. Three women were elected to the legislature in 2016, comprising 7 percent of that body. The same year, parliament appointed the country’s first female attorney general; several women served as permanent secretaries and deputy secretaries in the administration.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but corruption by officials was common, as was impunity.

Corruption: Nepotism and favoritism based on tribal and church ties were prevalent. The auditor general is responsible for oversight of government but lacked sufficient resources to enforce the law effectively. In June the vice president was removed from office for breaching the government’s travel policy and due to concern over delays in the Bairiki sports stadium redevelopment, which the vice president was overseeing. With the support of international donors, the government consulted with, and conducted training for, parliamentarians, citizens, and community-based organizations to strengthen capacities to address corruption and to implement the 2016 Leaders Code of Conduct.

Financial Disclosure: No laws, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials.

Marshall Islands

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a constitutional republic led by President Hilda C. Heine. The Nitijela, the country’s parliament, elected Heine in early 2016 following free and fair multiparty parliamentary elections in late 2015.

The national police, local police forces, and the Sea Patrol (maritime police) maintain internal security. The national police and Sea Patrol report to the Ministry of Justice; local police report to their respective local government councils. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over national police, local police, and maritime police.

Significant human rights issues included corruption and trafficking in persons.

The government did not initiate or conclude investigations or prosecutions of officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to provide for freedom of expression, including for the press.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government, including their representatives in the Nitijela, in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The constitution also recognizes the hereditary Council of Iroij’s right to decide on issues of custom and tradition, including land tenure. The council consists of 12 traditional clan chiefs.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national legislative elections took place on November 18 and were generally regarded as free and fair, although a lawsuit was filed in one electoral district alleging vote-buying and fraud. In September the Supreme Court ruled that, although a 2016 law banning postal ballots unconstitutionally disenfranchised overseas voters, the government would have insufficient time to institute a new system before the November elections, and thus delayed implementation of the order.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and 9 percent of members of the legislature, including the president, were women. Traditional attitudes of male dominance, women’s cultural responsibilities and traditionally passive roles, and the generally early age of pregnancies, however, created hurdles for women to obtain political qualifications or experience.

There were few minorities in the country and none in the legislature.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and although the government generally implemented the law effectively, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The fiscal year 2018 (October 1, 2017-September 30, 2018) audit of the national government listed several deficiencies and material weaknesses in fighting corruption.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office did not pursue any cases, and there were no indictments or notable corruption cases during the year, but credible evidence suggested problems with government officials colluding in goods being smuggled into the country.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws.

Micronesia

Executive Summary

The Federated States of Micronesia is a constitutional republic composed of four states: Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap. Individual states enjoy significant autonomy, and their traditional leaders retain considerable influence, especially in Pohnpei and Yap. On March 5, national elections were held for the 14-seat unicameral Congress; 10 were elected in single-seat constituencies to two-year terms, and four (one per state) to four-year terms. Following the election, the Congress selected the new president, David W. Panuelo. Observers considered the election generally free and fair, and the transfer of power was uneventful.

The national police are responsible for enforcing national laws, and the Department of Justice oversees them. The four state police forces are responsible for law enforcement in their respective states and are under the control of the director of public safety for each state. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over national and state police forces.

Significant human rights issues included corruption in the government.

The government sometimes took steps to punish officials, but impunity was a problem, particularly for corruption.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but does not refer specifically to speech or the press; however, the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The March 5 election for 14 congressional legislators who serve either four- (the at-large member from each of the four states) or two-year terms was generally free and fair. Following the election, Congress selected David W. Panuelo as president from among the four at-large members who were eligible to serve as president.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There are no restrictions on the formation of political groups, but there were no significant efforts to organize political parties, and none existed. Candidates generally sought political support from family, allied clan groupings, and religious groups.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process; however, cultural factors in the male-dominated society limited women’s representation in government and politics. Women were well represented in the middle and lower ranks of government at both the federal and state level, but they were notably few in the upper ranks. At year’s end one woman held a cabinet-level position (postmaster general) and another woman served as consul general at the country’s consulate in Guam. There was one female associate justice on the national Supreme Court and one female associate justice on the Pohnpei State Supreme Court. The country’s first female ambassador served as permanent representative to the United Nations. There were four elected women in the Pohnpei State legislature. No women were elected in the March congressional election, and there were no female members of the other state legislatures.

The country is a multicultural federation, and both Congress and the executive branch included persons from various cultural backgrounds.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law, but some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous anecdotal reports of corruption.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office within the Department of Justice has primary responsibility for combating government corruption, including investigation and prosecution of individual cases. It operated somewhat independently. The office had sufficient resources, but observers said it allowed the Transnational Crime Unit (which investigates corruption) to deteriorate. The public auditor referred some corruption cases to the Department of Justice during the year.

On July 29, Master Halbert, an official in the Department of Transportation, Communications and Infrastructure (and the son-in-law of former president Peter Christian), was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a foreign court for his role in a money-laundering scheme involving bribes from a U.S. company to secure engineering and project management contracts from the Micronesian federal government. As of November the country itself, however, had not charged anybody involved in the scheme.

Financial Disclosure: No laws, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by public officials.

Nauru

Executive Summary

Nauru is a constitutional republic. International observers deemed the August 24 parliamentary election to be generally free and fair. Parliament elected Lionel Aingimea, a former human rights lawyer and second-term member of parliament, as president.

The police force, under the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, maintains internal security and, as necessary, external security. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included censorship and criminal libel laws, although there were no such cases during the year.

There were no reports that government officials committed egregious human rights abuses, and impunity was not a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, the government owned all media and exercised editorial control over content.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government owned all media, giving it significant control over published and broadcast content.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law “unlawful vilification” and “criminal defamation” are punishable by a maximum three years’ imprisonment. There were no reports of arrests for breach of the law, although critics contended these offenses could inhibit free speech.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. In January 2018 the government lifted restrictions it had used previously to block Facebook.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International observers considered the most recent parliamentary election, held August 24, to be generally free and fair. Opposition figures alleged, however, that some changes made to the election law prior to the polls disadvantaged nongovernment candidates. The opposition also criticized President Baron Waqa for his announcement, on the eve of the election, of payouts of up to 10,000 Australian dollars ($6,700) to 734 Nauruans impacted by the collapse of the Bank of Nauru in 2006. The opposition claimed this was designed to shore up support for Waqa in the election. Critics also accused the Waqa government of misconduct after it approved citizenship for 118 people weeks before the election, automatically qualifying the new citizens to vote.

The 19-member parliament elected Lionel Aingimea, a former human rights lawyer and second-term member of parliament, as president.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Although political parties have the legal right to operate without outside interference, there were no formal parties.

In May former president Sprent Dabwido, who was part of a group of 19 people still facing trial for their role in a 2015 political protest outside the Nauru parliament, died in Australia. Prior to this while seeking cancer treatment in Australia, Dabwido said the government withheld his passport preventing timely travel and denied him access to a government-funded overseas medical treatment program for his condition, claims the government denied.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate; however, participation by women was significantly less than by men. Two of the five women who ran in the August 24 general election were elected to the 19-person parliament.

The country has a small and almost entirely homogenous Micronesian population. There were no members of minorities in parliament or the cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials and the government generally implemented the law effectively.

Corruption: There were no new reports of government corruption, although opposition politicians said corruption remained a problem, repeating earlier allegations the government misused funds provided by a foreign government for refugee resettlement in Nauru.

Financial Disclosure: There are no income and asset disclosure laws for appointed or elected officials.

Palau

Executive Summary

Palau is a constitutional republic with the national government consisting of executive, legislative, and judicial branches that are independent of each other. Voters elect the president, vice president, and members of the legislature for four-year terms. In 2016 voters re-elected President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. for a four-year term in a generally free and fair election.

The national police and marine police are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order; both report to the Ministry of Justice. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights issues.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed abuses such as corruption.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there no credible reports that the government monitored private online communication without the appropriate legal authority.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 voters re-elected President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. as president and elected Raynold Oilouch vice president in a generally free and fair election.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws prohibit or limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process and they did participate. In 2016 two women were elected to the 13-member Senate, and two women were elected to the 16-seat House of Delegates. There were two women in the seven-member cabinet, the ministers of state and of community and cultural affairs.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Government corruption was a problem, and the government took some steps to address it. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The Office of the Special Prosecutor, an independent entity, is authorized to prosecute any corruption in the government.

Corruption: As of November the special prosecutor has three continuing investigations into cases of government corruption. In July the governor of Ngiwal State, Ellender Ngirameketii (son-in-law of former interim president Thomas Remengesau Sr.), was arrested and charged with misconduct in office and falsifying financial disclosure statements, understating payments for security services provided by his company to the government.

Financial Disclosure: The government requires elected and some appointed public officials to file annual financial disclosure statements; candidates for office must file a similar statement with the Ethics Commission. These statements are available for public inspection. There are administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance.

Papua New Guinea

Executive Summary

Papua New Guinea is a constitutional, federal, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary elections took place in 2017, and the People’s National Congress party won a majority in the 111-seat unicameral parliament, led by former prime minister Peter O’Neill. In May, O’Neill resigned, and parliament elected James Marape prime minister. In some parts of the country, electoral contests involved widespread violence, fraud, bribery, voter intimidation, and undue influence.

The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Police. The Defense Force is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities, and reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police; torture by police; acts of government corruption; the existence of criminal defamation laws; trafficking in persons; the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, although the law was not enforced; and child labor.

The government frequently failed to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was pervasive.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. Newspapers sometimes reported on controversial topics, although many journalists complained of intimidation aimed at influencing coverage by agents of members of parliament and other government figures. Self-censorship by journalists was common, especially when reporting on contentious political events.

Freedom of Expression: The government generally respected freedom of speech, although some activists reported the intimidating presence of unmarked vehicles outside of their homes. Government critics on social media reported intimidation and threats. In March 2018, acting on a complaint from a member of parliament, police arrested a man for alleging on social media that the parliamentarian paid bribes to voters during the 2017 election. The same parliamentarian supported a government proposal to ban Facebook for one month to allow the government time to investigate fake accounts. On May 28, the communications minister announced that the government would implement such a ban, but the new government dropped the proposal in June after civil society groups protested.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Media members alleged that politicians offered journalists and editors bribes with the intent of buying favorable coverage. On August 19, the president of the Media Council of Papua New Guinea (MCPNG) and the news director of government-owned television station EMTV, Neville Choi, was fired at the government’s direction after Choi allowed EMTV news to cover soldiers protesting outside of the office of the prime minister. The government later denied the link to Choi’s dismissal. On August 22, Choi was reinstated in response to public pressure on EMTV and the government.

In November 2018 EMTV suspended senior journalist Scott Waide for publishing reports that were “not favorable” to the station. EMTV claimed the decision to suspend Waide was taken by Kumul Telikom Holdings Board, which controls EMTV. After a week of national and international outcry, including from the MCPNG, Waide was reinstated later that month. Minister for Public Enterprise and State Investments William Marra Duma, however, said that an inquiry into the suspension would be launched and that Waide would be investigated for “displaying lack of news judgment.”

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to harassment, intimidation, and in some cases violence by police and supporters of parliamentarians for their reporting. Multiple media outlets asserted their journalists, photographers, and videographers experienced intimidation attempts from some parliamentarians and their associates during the year. In May police assaulted a journalist as he tried to take photos and notes at the scene of a car accident. Social media reported that the driver was someone of high standing and known to police officers. As of September no action had been taken against the officers.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law allows for investigation and prosecution of offenses including defamatory publication of material concerning another person.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet access remained limited but continued to grow through the increasing use of mobile phones. The growth of internet access resulted in increased use of social media and blogs to discuss and develop evidence of abuse of power and corruption in government.

The law prohibits using electronic systems to incite any form of unrest (called cyber-unrest). Responsibility for enforcing the law lies with police. The law calls for a maximum 25 years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 50,000 kina (PGK) ($14,700) for violations.

Media continued to report on five cases of persons charged in 2018 but not convicted because the courts, police, and relevant government agencies lacked guidance on how to implement the law. The charges related to character defamation on social media. Between June and September, three of the cases were dismissed while two of those charged were free on bail pending court interpretation. In July a senior official of a government agency was arrested and charged for cyber-harassment via WhatsApp messaging. He posted PGK 5,000 ($1,470) bail pending a court appearance. The Department of Information and Communication and the National Information and Communication Regulation Authority conducted workshops with police and courts during the year to clarify how to implement the law.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections. Citizens exercised this right through periodic but flawed elections based on universal and equal suffrage. While voting is supposed to take place by secret ballot, secrecy of the ballot was routinely compromised during elections, and assisted voting was common.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent general election occurred in 2017. Local government elections, initially scheduled for 2018 but postponed due to a lack of funding from the national government to the Electoral Commission, took place in July. There were reports of election-related deaths, violence, and polling fraud during the local-government elections. Bribery, voter intimidation, and undue influence were widespread in some parts of the country during the 2017 general election. There were also many incidents of violence and destruction of property, primarily in the Highlands, during and after the voting period, causing the deaths of at least 40 persons, including four police officers. The Electoral Commission announced in parliament the winner of the last seat (Southern Highlands), two months after voting concluded. According to media reports, the announcement of the winner set off a new wave of violence and unrest, which sent the town of Mendi into a “state of chaos” as supporters of the losing candidate destroyed and damaged local offices and businesses. In June 2018 Mendi was again in chaos after the national court dismissed an election petition from the losing candidate. His supporters burned a commercial aircraft and the national courthouse in Mendi.

An observer group from the Commonwealth Secretariat noted that the Electoral Commission faced funding shortages and logistical challenges, which were partly to blame for significant problems with the general-election voter registration process. A large number of voters’ names were missing from voter rolls, which delayed voting in multiple provinces. The campaign period was competitive and broadly peaceful, and media coverage of the election was robust and largely unrestricted. Citizens turned out in large numbers to cast their votes, although there were variations in voting practices across the country. In some areas voting was peaceful and followed procedure, while in other areas ballot secrecy was not respected, and group voting occurred. All observer groups expressed disappointment the government did not implement recommendations provided after the 2012 national elections, which included an immediate and thorough update of voter rolls.

After the general election, the national court registered 77 election petitions that alleged illegal practices. By September more than 70 had been withdrawn or completed. Four petitions resulted in court-ordered ballot recounts, of which to date only two have been conducted pending funding availability.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no restrictions on party registration, and 45 parties contested the 2017 national elections. Several parties alleged that sitting members of parliament used government resources for campaigning, although the lack of transparency in accounting for funds made such claims hard to verify. The Ombudsman Commission issued a directive to freeze public funds controlled by parliamentarians starting when the campaign officially opened in 2017. The commission reported after the election, however, that unusually large amounts of money were withdrawn from these accounts in the 30 days before the freeze went into effect.

In some areas tribal leaders determined which candidate a tribe would support and influenced the entire tribe to vote for that candidate.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits participation by women or members of minorities in the political process, but the deeply rooted patriarchal culture impeded women’s full participation in political life. No women were elected to the 111-seat parliament, and 5 percent of candidates were female (167 of 3,332). The political participation of women was often limited, since there were social expectations for them to vote along tribal and family lines. The Electoral Commission instructed polling officials to create separate lines for women in order to allow them to vote more freely. There were five female judges in the national and supreme courts, and the chief magistrate and deputy chief magistrate were women.

There were three minority (non-Melanesian) members of parliament and several others of mixed parentage. Minorities generally did not face limitations in running for office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; the government, however, did not always implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption at all levels and in all organs of government was a serious problem due to weak public institutions and governance, lack of transparency, politicization of the bureaucracy, and misuse of public resources by officials to meet traditional clan obligations. Corruption and conflicts of interest were of particular concern in extractive industries, particularly the logging sector, and in government procurement.

The Ombudsman Commission and Public Accounts Committee are key organizations responsible for combating government corruption. The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee established by the constitution with a mandate to examine and report to parliament on public accounts and national property.

The Ombudsman Commission met with civil society and at times initiated action based on input received. Although civil society organizations engaged with individual members of the Public Accounts Committee, the committee was less receptive to public input and generally did not seek to engage with civil society. The committee generally operated independently of government influence, but a lack of trained staff hindered its effectiveness. Neither body had sufficient resources to carry out its mission.

Corruption: In July the new acting deputy police commissioner, David Manning, announced he was reopening an investigation into the Manumanu land scandal, in which a company belonging to family members of a government minister received PGK 46.6 million ($13.7 million) for land that it did not legally own. In 2017 then prime minister Peter O’Neill had suspended two cabinet ministers, four department heads, the state solicitor, and other senior government executives for their involvement in this land scandal. Outcry from the general public and customary owners of the land led the prime minister to announce a commission of inquiry, but no report was released, and in August 2018 the then police commissioner announced that police were dropping an investigation into the deal, asserting they found no evidence of wrongdoing. Both ministers implicated in the scandal retained their portfolios.

The new police commissioner fired police officials at all levels, including the commissioner, two deputy commissioners, and three officers, in an effort to restore credibility and accountability. Using social media the minister urged popular and political support for a cultural change that respected due process, rule of law, and equal justice.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure law as stipulated in the leadership code of conduct. The Ombudsman Commission monitored and verified disclosures and administered the leadership code, which requires leaders to declare, within three months of assuming office (and annually thereafter), their assets, liabilities, third-party sources of income, gifts, and all beneficial interests in companies, including shares, directorships, and business transactions. The public did not have access to government declarations. Sanctions for noncompliance range from fines to imprisonment.

Samoa

Executive Summary

Samoa is a constitutional parliamentary democracy that incorporates traditional practices into its governmental system. Although the unicameral parliament is elected by universal suffrage, only matai (heads of extended families) may be members. In 2016 voters elected a new parliament, confirming Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi in office. The elections were free and fair on the day, but the matai requirement and the questionable disqualification of candidates caused some observers to question the fairness of the outcome.

The national police, under the Ministry of Police, maintain internal security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy at the village government level; criminal libel laws; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced; and forced child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. There were no reports of impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press. The law stipulates imprisonment for any journalist who, despite a court order, refuses to reveal a confidential source upon request from a member of the public.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law authorizes the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA) to file suit against any person who publishes information about the tourism industry that it deems prejudicial to the public perception of the country. Violators are subject to a fine or maximum imprisonment of three months if they fail to retract the information or to publish a correction when ordered to do so by the STA. The STA did not exercise this authority in the year to October.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel may be prosecuted as a criminal offense. The law was enacted in late 2017 largely in response to an increase in social media bloggers posting defamatory allegations, often about government leaders. Local media regard the law as an obstacle to press freedom.

In February, Malele Paulo, an Australia-based Samoan blogger, travelled to the country to attend his mother’s funeral. Paulo was arrested and charged with criminal libel for posting accusations that the prime minister played a part in the assassination of a fellow cabinet minister in 1999, along with other accusations. In July, Paulo pled guilty to the criminal libel charges at an initial hearing, but later withdrew his plea. In October, Paulo was sentenced to 7 weeks in prison. Paulo has also been charged in an August conspiracy to assassinate the prime minister but that case had not gone to trial as of December.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government repealed the Electoral Act 1963 passing a new Electoral Act 2019. It combines all amendments to the repealed Act along with a requirement that all citizens 21 years and older register as voters and vote in national elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Electoral Act 2019 was tested in a by-election that took place in March. The Electoral Commissioner issued public notices regarding legal actions that are to be brought against those who did not register or did not vote. Observers considered the 2016 general election free and fair. The Human Rights Protection Party retained government control for a seventh consecutive term, winning 47 of 50 seats. The Tautua Samoa Party controlled three seats, not enough to form an official opposition. Following the election, plaintiffs filed six electoral petitions with the Supreme Court on grounds including cash and noncash bribery, during the campaign. Of the six, five were withdrawn and the court dismissed one for lack of evidence. Bribery, village pressure, and the threat of countersuits were reportedly cited as reasons for petition withdrawals.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution gives all citizens older than age 21 the right to vote; however, only persons with a matai title, the 17,000 chiefly leaders of extended families, may run for parliament or serve on village councils. Matai are appointed, not elected, to the councils.

In addition to the restrictions favoring matai, the 2016 election was the first to require all candidates to satisfy a three-year period of monotaga (services rendered through participation and physical contributions) in their respective village(s) to be eligible to run. The law sought to ensure that candidates fulfilled cultural and other commitments to their village and could not just use their matai status or make large, last-minute contributions to their villages to garner votes. The amendment led to a number of court petitions and the disqualification of five candidates deemed not to have met the requirement. The cases exposed deficiencies in the amendment since monotaga is ill defined and can mean different types of service (or exemption from service for certain matai) in different villages. Some saw such subjective disqualifications as human rights abuses.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Four women won seats in parliament outright in 2016. A 50th seat was added to parliament to ensure that the constitutionally mandated 10 percent female representation in parliament was observed. The seat went to the unsuccessful woman candidate with the highest percentage of votes in her constituency. Although both men and women may become matai, only 10 percent of matai were women. Of the five female members of parliament, Fiame Naomi Mataafa is deputy prime minister, a first for the country.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. The maximum penalty for corruption is 14 years’ imprisonment. There were reports of government corruption. In May the contract of the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration was terminated following his suspension in March when the Public Service Commission (PSC) filed six charges against him. One of the charges included a breach of the Public Service Act, based on an allegation that the CEO unlawfully authorized the release of original Lands and Titles Court files relating to the minister of justice. The CEO was terminated, however, not for the removal of court files, but for inappropriate behavior towards female employees and alleged misconduct in relation to other ministry employees, issues that came to light during the PSC investigation.

The law provides for an ombudsman to investigate complaints against government agencies, officials, or employees, including allegations of corruption. The ombudsman may require the government to provide information relating to a complaint. The Attorney General’s Office prosecutes criminal corruption cases on behalf of the PSC. The Ombudsman’s Office and the PSC operated effectively. The Ombudsman’s Office included academics and other members of civil society among the members of its commissions of inquiry.

Corruption: There was public discontent throughout the year at significant delays in the submission of annual audit reports to parliament and the lack of punitive action. For example, the latest publicly available report of the controller and auditor general’s reports to parliament was for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The reports for the three subsequent years were tabled in parliament in March.

Financial Disclosure: Although there are no financial disclosure laws, codes of ethics applicable to boards of directors of government owned corporations encouraged public officials to follow similar disclosure.

Solomon Islands

Executive Summary

Solomon Islands is a constitutional multiparty parliamentary democracy. Observers considered the April 3 parliamentary election generally free and fair, although there were incidents of vote buying. Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare prime minister after the election, and he formed a coalition government.

The Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) is responsible for internal and external security and reports to the Ministry of Police, National Security, and Correctional Services; Australia and New Zealand support the RSIP. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: pervasive government corruption; laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced; and child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was available and widely used in urban areas, although 78 percent of the country’s population lived in rural areas and did not have internet access.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot based on equal and universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers regarded the April 3 national parliamentary election as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying. The elections were the first since the full withdrawal of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands peacekeeping contingent. The Commonwealth Observer Group reported that members of parliament used rural constituency development funds to buy political support.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction but were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities. Electoral law requires all candidates to present party certificates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate; however, traditional male dominance limited the role of women in government. There were two women in the 50-member parliament and four female permanent secretaries in the 25 government ministries. There was one female judge on the High Court. Civil society groups such as the Young Women’s Parliamentary Group continued to advocate for more leadership positions for women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government implemented the law inconsistently, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year.

A 2018 law established an Independent Commission against Corruption tasked with preventing official corruption and provides it with investigative and prosecutorial powers. The commission is responsible for implementing the National Anticorruption Strategy, but as of September was still not operational. The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating public complaints of government maladministration. “Taskforce Janus,” operated by the RSIP and Ministry of Finance and Treasury, works to identify corruption in the civil service. Their investigations led to the arrests of 25 civil servants, including the former permanent secretary for infrastructure development.

“Taskforce Janus,” operated by the RSIP and Ministry of Finance and Treasury, works to identify corruption in the civil service. Their investigations led to the arrests of 25 civil servants, including the former permanent secretary for infrastructure development.

The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee established in the constitution with a mandate to examine public accounts and national property and to report to parliament.

Corruption: Corruption was a pervasive problem in the government, especially in the forestry and fishing sectors. In March a court sentenced Henry Murray, former permanent secretary for infrastructure and development, to four years imprisonment for corruption after he was convicted of misappropriating Solomon Islands dollars (SBD) 700,000 ($83,000) for personal use.

Police corruption was not a serious problem during the year. Observers criticized some police officers for being more loyal to their respective ethnic group or wantok (extended family) than to the country as a whole.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials were subject to financial disclosure laws under the leadership code of conduct. The Office of the Leadership Code Commission (LCC) investigates misconduct involving members of parliament or senior civil servants. If the LCC finds conclusive evidence of misconduct, it sends the matter to the Office of Public Prosecution, which may proceed with legal charges. The LCC chairperson and two part-time commissioners constitute a tribunal with power to screen certain cases of misconduct and apply maximum fines of SBD 5,000 ($593) for members of parliament or senior civil servants.

Tonga

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Tonga is a constitutional monarchy. The Legislative Assembly, a parliamentary body consisting of 17 popularly elected members and nine nobles selected by their peers, elects the prime minister. Following the November 2017 election, which international observers characterized as generally free and fair, Prime Minister Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva was returned to office for a second term. After Pohiva’s death in September, the Legislative Assembly elected Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa to replace him. While Tu’i’onetoa and his cabinet are responsible for most government functions, King Tupou VI, the nobility, and their representatives retain significant authority.

The Tonga Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Police and Fire Services. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: corruption; and a law criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults that remains on the books although it is not enforced.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. There was one case of torture, which the government took steps to address.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system generally combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, although some self-censorship occurred.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets reported on political developments and high-profile court cases, but privately owned media exercised self-censorship regarding high-profile individuals. The board of state-owned Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC) directed that board-appointed censors review all TBC programming prior to broadcast.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Workplaces and internet cafes provided internet access, but most homes did not have internet access.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot, and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held its most recent election in November 2017 after the king dissolved parliament. International observers deemed the parliamentary election to be generally free and fair. Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva was re-elected as prime minister in December 2017. After Pohiva’s death in September, the Legislative Assembly elected Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa prime minister.

Parliament has 26 elected members. Of these, citizens directly elect 17, and the 33 hereditary nobles elect nine of their peers. Parliament elects the prime minister, who appoints the cabinet. The prime minister may select up to four cabinet members from outside parliament. The law accords these cabinet members parliamentary seats for the duration of their tenure in the cabinet.

The king retains significant powers, such as to withhold his assent to laws (with no possibility of parliamentary override) and to dissolve parliament.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. A variety of institutional and cultural factors kept women’s representation low. Among these were the reservation of nine seats in parliament for nobles, all of whom are men; continuing male domination of informal local government systems, which deny women “entry-level” positions in politics; and cultural attitudes across the population about women’s proper roles and competence. The rate of registration to vote among women is the same as the rate among men, and women have the same legal rights to run for election. Voters elected two women to parliament in the November 2017 election, and several women were elected to local offices in 2016, suggesting incremental change. A woman may become queen, but the constitution forbids women from inheriting hereditary noble titles or becoming chiefs.

There were no members of minority ethnic groups in the government or parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In September the Attorney General’s Office submitted a proposal for a joint trial of former prime minister Lord Tu’ivakano, arrested in March 2018, and two others on charges including passport offenses, money laundering, and bribery in connection with the issuance of a passport to a Chinese national and possibly other matters. The defense opposed the submission by the Attorney General’s Office to include all charges in one trial. The case was pending as of year’s end.

The Office of the Auditor General reports directly to the Legislative Assembly with the aim to enhance accountability and transparency in all government activities and improve public-sector performance. The Office of the Ombudsman is empowered to investigate official corruption. Both entities actively collaborated with other government agencies but were not considered by civil society groups to be independent of political control, operationally efficient, or sufficiently resourced.

Financial Disclosure: No law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials.

Tuvalu

Executive Summary

Tuvalu is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Observers judged that parliamentary elections held September 9 were free and fair, with seven new members elected to the 16-member parliament. There are no formal political parties. Following the elections, parliament selected Kausea Natano as prime minister.

The national police service, under the Office of the Prime Minister, maintains internal security. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights abuses included laws criminalizing sexual activities between men, although the law was not enforced.

The government took steps to investigate human rights abuses, and impunity was not a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An effective judiciary and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Although there were no government restrictions, the government’s Media Department controlled the country’s sole radio station. There were no local private, independent media to express a variety of views.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The parliamentary election held on September 9 was generally considered free and fair, with seven new members elected to the 16-member parliament. Following the election, parliament selected Kausea Natano as prime minister.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no formal political parties. Parliament tended to divide itself between an ad hoc faction with at least the minimum votes required to form a government and an informal opposition faction.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits participation of women in the political process, and they did participate. Nonetheless, participation by women in government and politics was limited. The 16-member parliament included one woman, who was also a cabinet minister. Women held a subordinate societal position, largely due to traditional perceptions of women’s role in society. There were no members of minorities in parliament or the cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for some forms of corruption by officials such as theft, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

The Office of the Attorney General, police force, ombudsperson, auditor general, Public Service Commission, and the Central Procurement Unit were responsible for the government’s anticorruption efforts.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by “leaders,” a term covering public servants and politicians. Enforcement of the code was weak.

Vanuatu

Executive Summary

Vanuatu is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a freely elected government. Following a snap election in 2016, which observers considered generally free and fair, parliament elected Charlot Salwai as prime minister. The president is head of state. Parliament elected Tallis Obed Moses president in July 2017.

The national police maintain internal security. The Vanuatu Mobile Force, a paramilitary police unit, is responsible for external security but also has some domestic-security responsibilities. Both agencies report to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included corruption, and minimal progress in reducing the worst forms of child labor.

The government made efforts to prosecute and punish abuses by officials, although some police impunity persisted.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and judiciary and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

Violence and Harassment: In November, Dan McGarry, a Canadian citizen, long-time resident, and the editor of the country’s largest independent newspaper, the Daily Post, told media that the government had refused to renew his work permit. According to McGarry the government claimed this was in order to fill the position by somebody from the country, but McGarry said that in July the prime minister had summoned him and berated him for “negative reporting.” McGarry believed the prime minister was specifically displeased with Daily Post reporting in July about the government’s cooperation with China to deport six Chinese nationals, four of whom had recently acquired Vanuatu citizenship through a program designed to attract Chinese investment.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Despite time and funding constraints faced by the Electoral Commission, international and domestic observers considered the 2016 snap election free and fair. Of 24 election disputes filed by unsuccessful candidates, the commission dismissed 23 for lack of evidence. One dispute necessitated a recount, which changed the result of the election for that seat. Voter rolls continued to be problematic and larger than would be expected based on population size, but this situation did not appear to affect results significantly.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction but were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities. Most of the 28 political parties that contested the 2016 election were newly formed.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process. Traditional attitudes regarding male dominance and customary familial roles, however, hampered women’s participation in political life. No women served in the 52-member parliament, although eight women contested the 2016 election. In May 2018 the Vanuatu Council of Women formed a political party aimed at achieving gender equality in parliament. In October women coordinating with Vanuatu Oxfam launched a get-out-the-vote campaign entitled “Vote for Women,” with the aim to support all women planning to contest the 2020 elections regardless of political affiliation.

The law allows municipal governments to reserve council seats for women for each ward in each municipality, and Port Vila and Luganville have done so. Port Vila has five reserved seats for women out of 14 seats in the municipal council. Luganville has four seats reserved for women out of 13 seats. In March 2018 Port Vila voters elected a woman to an open seat. Women interested in running for public office received encouragement from the Vanuatu Council of Women and the Department of Women’s Affairs, which also offered training programs.

A small number of ethnic-minority persons (non-Melanesians) served in parliament. Prime Minister Salwai is from the francophone population, a linguistic minority.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government made some efforts to implement the law. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were isolated reports of government corruption.

The Office of the Ombudsman and the Auditor General’s Office are key government agencies responsible for combating government corruption. In July, Hamlison Bulu was appointed ombudsman.

Corruption: The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law. In 2017 the Office of the Ombudsman recommended that Deputy Prime Minister Bob Loughman be prosecuted for breaching the leadership code by trying to exercise undue influence over the member selection process for the Vanuatu Institute of Teacher Education. As of November the Public Prosecutor’s Office had not acted on the recommendation.

In July an official from the Department of Strategic Planning and Policy was sentenced to eight years in prison for embezzling VUV 5.6 million ($48,200) in public funds.

Also in July an official from the Department of Education was sentenced to 14 months in prison for defrauding the state of VUV 6.88 million ($59,200) in public funds.

Financial Disclosure: Members of parliament and elected members of provincial governments are subject to a leadership code of conduct that includes financial disclosure requirements. They must submit annual financial-disclosure reports to the clerk of parliament, who then publishes a list of elected officials who did not comply. The Office of the Ombudsman, which investigates those who do not submit reports, confirmed that some officials did not comply with these requirements. Reports are not made available to the public, and the ombudsman only has access for investigative purposes.

In September 2018 Kalo Seule, a sitting member of parliament, was convicted of tax evasion for not declaring income from his personal business. Seule appealed his conviction; however, the magistrate court had no jurisdiction to hear the charges relating to a monetary claim exceeding VUV 988,000 ($8,500), so the case was transferred to the Supreme Court in October 2018.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future