Tuvalu is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Observers judged that parliamentary elections held in 2015 were free and fair, with three new members elected to the 15-member parliament. There are no formal political parties. Parliament selected Enele Sopoaga for a second term as prime minister.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights abuses included criminalization of sexual activities between men, although the law was not enforced; and minimal progress in reducing the worst forms of child labor.
The government took steps to investigate human rights abuses, and impunity was not a problem.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.
The Island Courts (Amendment) Act No 5 of 2017 prohibited traditional assemblies of local hereditary elders from exercising physical punishment.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.
Administration: The ombudsperson can act on behalf of prisoners and detainees and respond to prisoner complaints. The government did not investigate or monitor prison conditions and did not receive any complaints or allegations of inhuman conditions.
Independent Monitoring: The government permits visits by independent human rights observers, but there were no reported visits during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The national police service, under the Office of the Prime Minister, maintains internal security. In addition to law enforcement, it maintains separate units for customs, immigration, maritime surveillance, and prisons. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police service, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law permits arrests without a warrant if a police officer witnesses the commission of an unlawful act or has “reasonable suspicion” an offense is about to be committed. Police estimated the majority of arrests were without warrant. Police may hold a person arrested without a warrant for a maximum of 24 hours without a hearing before a magistrate. When a court issues an arrest warrant, the warrant states the maximum permissible detention time before the court must hold a hearing, which is normally one to two weeks. Authorities did not hold suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.
Authorities generally informed arrested persons promptly of the charges against them, although bureaucratic delays sometimes occurred because persons charged with serious offenses must await trial at a semiannual session of the High Court. There was a functioning system of bail. The People’s Lawyer was available free of charge to arrested persons and for other legal advice. Persons living on the outer islands did not have rapid access to legal services because the People’s Lawyer, based on the main island of Funafuti, traveled infrequently to the outer islands. The country had only one attorney in private practice.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants have the right to be promptly informed in detail of the charges against them, including free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; consult with an attorney in a timely manner; and have access to the People’s Lawyer and adequate time and resources to prepare a defense. They also have the right to be present at their trial, confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence, and appeal any convictions. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have a right to appeal a judge’s decision. The law extends these rights to all defendants.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
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 Freedom: 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.
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 was available primarily on Funafuti, although connections were slow, expensive, and unreliable. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 49 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Although the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government allowed island chiefs to place restrictions on it.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government allows island chiefs to place restrictions on assembly for public worship (see section 2.c.).
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no reported applications for asylum or refugee status during the year.
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 in 2015 was generally considered free and fair, with three new members elected to the 15-member parliament. Parliament selected Enele Sopoaga for a second term 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 eight votes 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. The 15-member parliament included one woman, who was also a cabinet minister. Nonetheless, participation by women in government and politics was limited. 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 that officials engaged in corrupt practices 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.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
No nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) focused entirely on human rights, although no known barriers existed to the establishment of human rights groups. Some human rights advocates, such as the Tuvalu National Council of Women, operated under the auspices of the Tuvalu Association of NGOs, composed primarily of faith-based organizations. The few other local organizations involved in human rights issues generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Nonetheless, the lack of local print and electronic media limited opportunities to publicize such information locally. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to local organizations’ views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The government launched its Human Rights National Action Plan to implement its international human rights commitments and passed the National Human Rights Institution Act in 2017. The law expands the powers of the Office of the Ombudsman to include a national human rights institution, to promote and protect human rights in the country.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime punishable by a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, but spousal rape is not included in the legal definition of this offense. The law recognizes domestic violence as a criminal offense. Under the law domestic violence offenses are punishable by a maximum five years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of Australian dollars (AUD) 1,000 ($720), or both. Under the assault provisions of the penal code, the maximum penalty for common assault is six months’ imprisonment, and for assault with actual bodily harm, five years.
Police have a Domestic Violence Unit, a “no-drop” evidence-based prosecution policy in cases of violence against women, and operate a 24-hour emergency telephone line for victims of domestic violence. The law recognizes the existence of domestic violence and gives explicit powers for police involvement and intervention, including the power to enter private property. Police may also issue orders for a person who has committed an act of domestic violence to vacate property, whether or not that individual has rights to that property, if another person at risk of further violence occupies it. The Women’s Crisis Center provided counseling services, but there were no shelters for abused women. Cases of rape and domestic violence often went unreported due to lack of awareness of women’s rights and traditional and cultural pressures on victims.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment but prohibits indecent behavior, including lewd touching. The Tuvalu Study on People with Disability report, released by the government in July, found that women with disabilities were subject to abuse and harassment, including sexual abuse.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Aspects of the law contribute to an unequal status for women, for example in land inheritance and child custody rights. No law prevents employment discrimination based on gender or requires equal pay for equal work, and such discrimination occurred. Nonetheless, women increasingly held positions in the health and education sectors and headed a number of NGOs.
Birth Registration: A child derives citizenship at birth, whether born in the country or abroad, if either parent is a citizen. The law requires registration of births within 10 days, a practice generally observed.
Education: Education is compulsory until age 15 years. No law specifically mandates free basic education, but government policy generally provides free basic education for all.
Child Abuse: The government does not collect or publish data on child abuse, and there were no reports of child abuse during the year. Anecdotal evidence, however, indicated child abuse occurred. The Education (Amendment) Act 2017 prohibits corporal punishment.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both girls and boys is 18 years.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent for sexual relations is 15 years. Sexual relations with a girl younger than 13 years carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Sexual relations with a girl older than 12 but younger than 15 years carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment; however, no law prohibits the use, procurement, or offering of boys from 15 through 17 years for sex. The victim’s consent is irrelevant under both these provisions; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief the victim was 15 years or older is a permissible defense. No provision of law pertains specifically to child pornography, although the penal code prohibits obscene publications in general.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
There were no confirmed reports during the year that Tuvalu was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.
Persons with Disabilities
The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Government services to address the specific needs of persons with disabilities were very limited. There were no mandated building accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities had limited access to information and communications, including participation in civic life.
The government released the findings of the Tuvalu Study on People with Disability in July. The report found that abuse and discrimination against persons with disabilities was prevalent and women with disabilities were particularly vulnerable to abuse. There were no reports of investigations or punishment by the government for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities, but societal norms may limit the reporting of such incidents particularly against women and girls with disabilities.
Children with disabilities reportedly had lower school attendance rates at all levels than other children. Some students with disabilities attended public primary schools both in Funafuti and in the outer islands. Parents decide which school a child with disabilities attends after consultation with an adviser from the Fusi Alofa Association, a disabilities-focused NGO.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits sexual conduct between men, with penalties of seven to 15 years’ imprisonment, but there were no reports the government enforced these provisions of the law. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There are no hate crime laws, nor are there criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community. There were no reports of violence against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but social stigma or intimidation may inhibit reporting of such discrimination or violence.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Persons with HIV/AIDS faced some societal and employment discrimination. The government and NGOs cooperated to inform the public regarding HIV/AIDS and to counter discrimination.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law does not permit public-sector employees such as civil servants, teachers, and nurses to form and join unions. They may join professional associations that have the right to bargain collectively but not the right to strike. No law prohibits antiunion discrimination or requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
In general the government effectively enforced these laws. By law employers who violate laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are liable to a maximum fine of AUD 100 ($72), depending on the violation, and in some cases imprisonment for a maximum of six months. These penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides for voluntary conciliation, arbitration, and settlement procedures in cases of labor disputes. In general these procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals.
Although there are provisions for collective bargaining and the right to strike, the few private-sector employers set their own wage scales. Both the private and public sectors generally used nonconfrontational deliberations to resolve labor disputes. There was only one registered trade union, the Tuvalu Overseas Seamen’s Union. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. Anyone who exacts, procures, or employs forced or compulsory labor is liable to a fine of AUD 100 ($72), which was not sufficient to deter violations. There were no reports of forced labor during the year.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits children younger than 14 years from working in the formal labor market. The law also prohibits children younger than 15 years from industrial employment and prohibits children younger than 18 years from entering into formal contracts, including work contracts. The law does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor, forced labor, or child trafficking, nor does it set a minimum age for hazardous work. A separate provision of law, however, allows children 15 years and older to enter into apprenticeships for a maximum of five years, subject to approval by the commissioner of labor. There are restrictions on the type of work a child apprentice may perform, and he or she must receive a medical examination and be determined physically and mentally fit for employment in the specified occupation. Apprentices may lawfully live away from their families; in such cases, the contract must provide for adequate food, clothing, accommodation, and medical care for the apprentice. No legal restrictions prohibit girls or boys older than 15 years from working aboard ships or during the night.
The government did not have sufficient resources to monitor or enforce child labor laws and depended instead on communities to report offenses. By law anyone found violating provisions on the employment of children is liable to an AUD 50 ($36) fine, which was not sufficient to deter violations. Children rarely engaged in formal employment but did work in subsistence fishing. The government does not collect or publish data on child labor.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, age, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status, and these persons sometimes experienced discriminatory practices. There were no reports during the year of discrimination in employment and wages. In the wage economy, men held most higher-paying positions. Nonetheless, women increasingly held senior positions in government, particularly in the health and education sectors. Few women could access credit to start businesses. Local agents of foreign companies that hired local seafarers to work abroad also barred persons with HIV/AIDS from employment.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law provides for the government to set a minimum wage, but the Department of Labor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Environment, Trade, Labor, and Tourism had not done so. The minimum annual salary in the public sector was AUD 5,266 ($3,790). Private-sector wages were reportedly somewhat lower than the minimum public-sector wage rate.
The law sets the workday at eight hours, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Environment, Trade, Labor, and Tourism may specify the days and hours of work for workers in various industries. Although the law provides for premium pay and overtime work, there are no established premium overtime rates or maximum hours of work. The law provides for rudimentary health and safety standards and requires employers to provide adequate potable water, basic sanitary facilities, and medical care. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations.
Enforcement of standards in all sectors, including the informal economy, was inconsistent. By law penalties for violations of laws related to acceptable conditions of work are liable to a maximum fine of AUD 100 ($72) depending on the violation, or a maximum six months’ imprisonment if the person failed to pay an imposed fine. These penalties were adequate to deter violations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Environment, Trade, Labor, and Tourism is responsible for enforcing wage, hour, health, and safety regulations, but the ministry did not have sufficient resources to formally and regularly conduct inspections of the laws’ application. The Department of Labor had two officers, which was not sufficient to enforce compliance. The labor officers relied on information from the community and conducted inspections when the office received complaints.
Approximately 75 percent of the working-age population lacked permanent employment and worked in the informal and subsistence economy. There was no system for reporting and publishing workplace injuries or deaths.