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Fiji

Executive Summary

Fiji is a constitutional republic. In 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 is responsible for external security but may also have some domestic security responsibilities in specific circumstances. Both report to the Ministry of Defense, National Security, and Policing. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, in some cases leading to death; 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 continued to use broad provisions in this law to restrict freedom of expression.

Freedom of Speech: 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.

In late April police arrested opposition Member of Parliament and National Federation Party leader Pio Tikoduadua after he posted allegations that police had thrown a man off a bridge in Naqia village (see section 1.c.). He was quickly released, and the public prosecutions office announced there was insufficient evidence to charge Tikoduadua.

Freedom of 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. The law on media prohibits “irresponsible reporting” and provides for government censorship of media. The opposition and other critics of the government accused the government of using state power to silence critics.

Unlike in previous years, there were no known cases of legal action directed at media.

Violence and Harassment: Unlike in previous years, there were no known cases of harassment directed at media.

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 publicly held media firms must be citizens and permanently reside in the country. The Media Industry Development Authority is responsible for enforcing these provisions and has the power to investigate media outlets for alleged violations and to search facilities and seize equipment.

A media code of ethics established in law requires that media publish and television broadcast 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.

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 by media. By law some of these conditions also apply to the internet.

In July lawyer Aman Ravindra Singh, sued for defamation by the prime minister and attorney general in 2018, was ordered to pay damages of almost Fiji $150,000 ($74,000) plus court costs. The court found Singh made unsubstantiated online allegations about the prime minister’s and attorney general’s involvement in the 2000 coup.

A second lawsuit by the supervisor of elections, also dating to 2018, charging opposition critics with posting defamatory remarks on social media, remained pending at year’s end.

On October 13, a court rejected a defamation case brought by state broadcaster, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited, against opposition member of parliament Niko Nawaikula for defamatory comments against it on social media. The court also denied the broadcaster’s request for a permanent injunction restricting Nawaikula from further posting, circulating, or distributing statements about it or its chief executive officer.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; unlike in previous years, there were no reports the government monitored private online communications without legal authority.

The law on online safety penalizes offenders with a substantial maximum fine and a maximum five years’ imprisonment for posting an electronic communication that causes harm to a person. Critics, including rights groups and youth and women’s organizations, maintain the law is a potential Trojan horse for internet censorship and punishment of online dissent.

After enacting the law in 2018, the government filed several defamation lawsuits (although none during the year) against political opponents for posting comments critical of the government on social media.

In many cases, authorities used the POA to charge critics and “rumormongers” in the days before the government released the COVID-19 budget on March 27. Eight persons, including opposition member of parliament Lynda Tabuya, were arrested for “spreading fake news or reports to create public anxiety” about COVID-19. Tabuya was arrested on March 26 for Facebook posts about COVID-19 that allegedly breached the POA, as “malicious writings of false news or reports tending to create or foster public alarm and anxiety.” Tabuya was detained for four days and appeared in court on March 30 charged with one count of a malicious act contrary to the POA. The court ordered that she surrender travel documents, report weekly to a local police station, and deactivate her Facebook account for the duration of her court case. The case ended on August 17 when the prosecution withdrew the charges against her.

Others arrested on similar charges included: three women arrested on March 26 for their Facebook posts about the virus; Nemani Bainivalu, a former Fiji First Party candidate, arrested on March 27 and released on bail two days later; and a 24-year-old female radio announcer from Fiji Broadcasting charged on April 11 with one count of a malicious act for social media posts that called on individuals to stone vehicles during curfew hours.

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 moderate maximum fine on providers who continued to provide services to unregistered users and a substantial maximum fine 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 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. The government may prescribe eligibility requirements for voters, candidates, political party officials, and holders of public office. A requirement that new political parties present signatures from 5,000 paid-up members across the country’s four divisions was a potentially burdensome hurdle. Civil service members and trade union officials are required to resign their offices if they seek to run for political office. The law allows deregistration of political parties for any election offense.

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

The electoral law restricts any person, entity, or organization from receiving funding from foreign governments, government-recognized intergovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and forbids multilateral agencies such as the World Bank 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 substantial fine, or both. The law allows universities to hold panel discussions and organize inclusive public forums.

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

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.

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

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

In August the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions charged Talib Khan, director of the police internal affairs division, with abuse of office. Khan allegedly directed the unlawful arrest of an unnamed person in 2017. In June a policewoman was charged with witness tampering in the case of the four officers suspected of throwing a curfew violator from a bridge (see section 1.c.).

Corruption cases often proceeded slowly. In June the appeals 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. The prosecution appealed his 2019 acquittal.

Financial Disclosure: No law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials. The law, however, requires financial disclosure by party officials and candidates running for office.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Persons with Disabilities

Discrimination against persons with disabilities is illegal. The Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons, a government-funded statutory body, worked to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The constitution or laws address the right of persons with disabilities to reasonable access to all places, public transport, and information, as well as the rights to use braille or sign language and to reasonable access to accommodations, including materials and devices related to the disability. The constitution, however, provides that the law may limit these rights “as necessary,” and the law does not define “reasonable.” Public health regulations provide penalties for noncompliance, but there was minimal enabling legislation on accessibility, and there was little or no enforcement of laws protecting persons with disabilities.

Building regulations require new public buildings to be accessible to all, but only a few met this requirement.

Persons with disabilities continued to face employment discrimination (see section 7.d.).

There were no government programs to improve access to information and communications for persons with disabilities, in particular the deaf and blind. Parliament televised its sessions in sign language to improve access for the deaf.

There were a number of separate public schools offering primary education for persons with physical, intellectual, and sensory disabilities; however, cost and location limited access. Some students attended mainstream primary schools, and the nongovernmental Early Intervention Center monitored them. Opportunities were very limited for secondary school or higher education for persons with disabilities.

The law stipulates that the community, public health, and general health systems treat persons with mental and intellectual disabilities, although families generally supported such persons at home. Institutionalization of persons with more significant mental disabilities was in a single, underfunded public facility in Suva.

The Fijian Elections Office continued to maintain a website accessible to the disability community, including text-to-speech capability, large type, and an inverted color scheme. The office implemented new procedures to facilitate the voting process for the November 2018 election for voters with disabilities.

Marshall Islands

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a constitutional republic led by President David Kabua. On January 6, the Nitijela, the country’s parliament, elected Kabua following free and fair multiparty parliamentary elections in November 2019.

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. Members of the security forces are not known to have committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: serious restrictions on freedom of movement related to the COVID-19 pandemic; corruption; and trafficking in persons.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit 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.

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 in November 2019 and were generally regarded as free and fair, although a lawsuit was filed in one electoral district alleging vote buying and fraud. The case was awaiting the lifting of the travel ban to proceed.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process; 6 percent of members of the legislature were women. During the previous election cycle, women held 9 percent of legislative seats. Traditional attitudes of male dominance (men generally preferred to women as candidates), women’s cultural responsibilities and traditionally passive roles, and the generally early age of pregnancies 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. Freedom House reported that corruption was a chronic problem, particularly in foreign aid allocation, government procurement, and transfers, and that high-ranking public officials were rarely prosecuted for corruption.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office issued three indictments of public officials for corruption and dismissed the chief of immigration who was under investigation. Credible evidence suggested problems with government officials colluding in goods being smuggled into the country.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are required to report any gifts in excess of $100; there are no other financial disclosure requirements.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states no person may be treated in a discriminatory manner under law or by public officials, but it does not include disability in its listing of specific prohibited grounds of discrimination. Relevant law is designed to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and gives persons with disabilities equal rights under the law.

Persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced difficulties in obtaining employment and accessing health care and other state services.

There were no specific psychiatric facilities in the country or community-based supports for persons with mental disabilities, although the Ministry of Health provided short-term care at the Majuro hospital or facilities off-island.

The Ministry of Health addresses the health needs of persons with mental and physical disabilities. The public school system is responsible for supporting special education for children with disabilities and continued to incorporate awareness programs for students with disabilities, in particular those with hearing disabilities.

There were no reports of violence against persons with disabilities.

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. In March 2019 national elections were held for the 14-seat unicameral Congress; 10 senators 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 jurisdiction of the director of public safety for each state. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over national and state police forces. Members of the security forces were not reported to have committed abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government sometimes took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and 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 2019 election for 14 congressional legislators to 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 Members of Minority Groups: 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 a woman held one of nine cabinet-level department head positions (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, an increase from the previous election cycle. No women were elected in the March 2019 congressional election, and there were no female members in 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 effectively, 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.

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

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical disabilities in public service employment; no cases of such discrimination were reported. The National Disability Policy mandates accessibility to public buildings or services for persons with disabilities and provides for access to information and communications for persons with disabilities. The law protects access to health services and education for persons with disabilities.

By law students with disabilities have the right to separate education and training until they are age 21; however, there are no separate education facilities. The government provided children with disabilities, including learning disabilities, separate education in mainstream schools and instruction at home if necessary and if foreign funding was available. Separate education programs faced difficulties serving all eligible children.

Due to a lack of facilities and community-based support services for treating persons with mental disabilities, the government housed some persons with mental disabilities but no criminal background in jails. Authorities continued to provide separate rooms in jails for persons with mental disabilities, and state health departments provided medication and other treatment free to all incarcerated persons with mental disabilities.

The Department of Health and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities but did not provide significant services.

Nauru

Executive Summary

Nauru is a constitutional republic. International observers deemed the August 2019 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. Members of the security forces committed few abuses.

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. The government has mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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 some 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.

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 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 in August 2019, to be generally free and fair. There were accusations, however, that late changes to the election law by the government of then president Baron Waqa allegedly to disadvantage nongovernment candidates, that substantial payments by Waqa’s government to persons affected by the 2006 collapse of the Bank of Nauru, and that the approval of citizenship for 118 individuals in the weeks before the election, were done to improve the government’s electoral prospects.

The resulting 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.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups 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 2019 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 minority groups 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.

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

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. No legislation mandates services for persons with disabilities or access to public buildings. Although the government has installed mobility ramps in some public buildings, many buildings were not accessible. The Department of Education has a special education adviser who is responsible for education for students with disabilities and teachers provided classes for a small group of students with disabilities.

The Department of Justice is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The law grants some legal protections for persons with mental disabilities. There were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, but social stigma likely led to decreased opportunities for employment.

Palau

Executive Summary

Palau is a constitutional republic with a 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. On November 3, voters elected Surangel Whipps Jr. president 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. Members of the security forces generally did not commit abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

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: On November 3, voters elected Surangel Whipps Jr. as president in a generally free and fair election.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws prohibit or limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In the November 3 election, two women were elected–one to the 13-seat Senate, and one to the 16-seat House of Delegates.

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: The Office of the Special Prosecutor continued to receive reports of corruption and mismanagement of public funds.

On July 27, the government charged Leon Gulibert, president of the Angaur State legislature, with nine felonies and 15 misdemeanors for misconduct in office, ethics violations, assault, sexual harassment, terrorist threats, nonpayment of wages, tax violations, and filing false and fraudulent tax returns. The case has yet to go to trial.

The case of the former governor of Ngiwal State, Ellender Ngirameketii (son-in-law of former president Thomas Remengesau Sr.), who was arrested in July 2019 and charged with misconduct in office, falsifying financial disclosure statements, and understating payments for security services provided by his company to the government, continued. The trial was delayed because of travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 including precampaign statements with the Ethics Commission. These statements are available for public inspection. There are administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. The law covers persons with mental and physical disabilities, and the government enforced these acts. The law includes a provision for limited access to government buildings for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced this provision. Most public schools had programs to address the education needs of students with disabilities that included mainstreaming them with other students. Issues regarding persons with disabilities are coordinated with the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Health. Nongovernmental organizations like Omekesang and Palau Parent Network also collaborate with these ministries in providing additional assistance to persons with disabilities.

Qualified disabled adults are able to vote. An authorized representative of the voter needs to file a request by the disabled voter for an absentee ballot to enable an authorized person from the Election Commission to go to the voter’s home and take his or her vote with a witness.

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 2019 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 political and tribal 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. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police; torture by police and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; the existence of criminal defamation laws; serious acts of government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, although the law was not enforced; and extensive child labor, including the worst forms of 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, but the government did not fully respect these rights. Newspapers sometimes reported on controversial topics, although many journalists in the past have 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 Speech: There were no known instances of government restrictions on freedom of speech during the year, although this has been a problem in prior years.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Unlike in prior years, media members made no allegations of harassment or other forms of pressure during the year. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were not generally subjected to harassment, intimidation, or violence by police or supporters of parliamentarians for their reporting. In April the police minister accused two journalists with online publication Loop PNG of false reporting related to the government’s COVID-19 response and for misrepresenting a financial report issued by the treasury minister. The police minister called for the journalists to be fired. Loop PNG defended the reporters and their article, describing the minister’s accusations as inappropriate in view of the publication’s right to editorial independence. Other news outlets published pieces in support of Loop PNG.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law allows for investigation and criminal 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 penalties for conviction of violations are a maximum 25 years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine.

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. Bribery, voter intimidation, and undue political and tribal influence were widespread in some parts of the country during the 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. An observer group from the Commonwealth Secretariat noted that the Electoral Commission faced funding shortages and logistical challenges that were partly to blame for significant problems with the voter registration process. In some areas voting was peaceful and followed procedure, while in other areas ballot secrecy was not respected, and group voting occurred.

In November and December 2019, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville held a nonbinding referendum on whether Bougainville should be independent or remain autonomous within the country. The referendum took place peacefully and was considered free and fair by international observers. Voters opted overwhelmingly for independence, setting the stage for negotiations and an ultimate outcome determined by a vote of the National Parliament. In August and September, Bougainville held elections to fill the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s House of Representatives (the provincial parliament) and its presidency. Despite media reports detailing allegations of tampering with ballot boxes and concerns that some candidates illegally pressured voters, the Office of the Bougainville Electoral Commission and Bougainville Police Service reported that police and elections officials investigated the allegations, determining that procedural gaps contributed to the allegations but that no criminal activity took place.

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 Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation by women or members of minority groups in the political process, but the deeply rooted patriarchal culture impeded women’s full participation in political life. No women were elected in 2017 to the 111-seat parliament despite a record number of female candidates contesting for office (167 of 3,332 candidates). 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 court and the Supreme Court out of a total of 65 judges serving on those bodies. The chief magistrate and deputy chief magistrate were women.

There were three minority (non-Melanesian) members of parliament and several others of mixed parentage. Members of minority groups 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; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. International civil society and human rights groups termed corruption “widespread” and “pervasive.” Minister for Police Bryan Kramer stated that corruption was “so deep-rooted and so entrenched in every aspect of politics and business that it is almost beyond comprehension.” There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption was so serious a problem in part due to weak public institutions and governance, lack of transparency, politicization of the bureaucracy, and the social pressure of 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 as a whole 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 May former prime minister Peter O’Neill was arrested on allegations that he illegally bypassed national public financial management laws when his government purchased two commercial turbines for PGK 50 million ($14 million) for use by the public utility PNG Power. A police statement identified the charges as “misappropriation, abuse of office, and official corruption.” In June the public prosecutor referred a case against Foreign Minister Patrick Pruaitch to the Leadership Tribunal for investigation. The foreign minister allegedly misused government office for financial gain, submitted false government vouchers, and failed to provide financial statements during previous service as cabinet minister. In October, Pruaitch pled guilty to three minor procedural charges and paid token fines, while the Leadership Tribunal dismissed the six most serious charges pertaining to corruption and abuse of office. On October 23, Pruaitch resumed his duties as foreign minister.

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.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. Nevertheless, persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced discrimination in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, and access to other state services. Most buildings and public infrastructure remained inaccessible for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities experienced an underresourced educational system and attended school in disproportionately low numbers. Those with certain types of disabilities, such as amputees, attended school with children without disabilities, while those who were blind or deaf attended segregated schools. The government endorsed sign language as a national language for all government programs, although access to interpreters was limited. Public addresses by government officials have simultaneous sign language interpretation, as do all local broadcast news programs.

Through the National Board for the Disabled, the government granted funds to a number of NGOs that provided services to persons with disabilities. The government provided free medical consultations and treatment for persons with mental disabilities, but such services were rarely available outside major cities. Most persons with disabilities did not find training or work outside the family (see section 7.d.).

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. Members of the security forces committed isolated abuses.

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 the worst forms of 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 during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel may be prosecuted as a criminal offense. Local media regarded the law as an obstacle to press freedom, and a blogger critical of the prime minister was sentenced to seven weeks’ imprisonment for libel in 2019 in addition to other criminal charges.

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.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: 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 poorly 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 Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups 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 female 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 served as deputy prime minister from 2016 to October, 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 isolated reports of government corruption. Officials infrequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. In February the Public Service Commission suspended Lefaoali’i Unutoa Auelua Fonoti, who as the head of the Office of the Regulator oversaw telecommunications, broadcasting, postal, and electricity services. An investigation led to charges of abuse of public funds and resources and failure to discharge duties, including using petty cash for personal purchases and directing staff to run personal errands. In May, Lefaoali’i resigned and issued a statement criticizing the commission for its handling of the 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 Public Service Commission. The Ombudsman’s Office and the commission 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.

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.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Persons with Disabilities

While no law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in the provision of public services, the law does prohibit disability-based discrimination in employment.

Many public buildings were old, and only a few were accessible to persons with disabilities. Most new buildings provided better access, including ramps and elevators in most multistory buildings.

Tradition dictates that families care for persons with disabilities, and the community observed this custom widely.

Some children with disabilities attended regular public schools, while others attended one of three schools in the capital created specifically to educate students with disabilities.

Solomon Islands

Executive Summary

Solomon Islands is a constitutional multiparty parliamentary democracy. Observers considered the April 2019 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 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 police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces were not known to have committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: serious acts of corruption; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit 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 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 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 2019 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 Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups 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.

Although a 2018 law established an Independent Commission against Corruption tasked with preventing official corruption and provided it with investigative and prosecutorial powers, as of September it was still not operational. The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating public complaints of government maladministration.

Taskforce Janus, operated by the police and Ministry of Finance and Treasury, works to identify corruption in the civil service.

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

Corruption: Corruption was a pervasive problem in the government, especially in the forestry and fishing sectors. In September a senior public officer was convicted of bribing a principal internal auditor in the Ministry of Finance and Treasury to stop the audit of an oil palm project in West Are’are, Malaita Province.

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

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Persons with Disabilities

No law or national policy prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and no legislation mandates access to buildings, information, or communications for such individuals. Very few buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. The law requires electoral officials to provide special accommodation for voters with disabilities.

The country had one separate educational facility, supported almost entirely by the International Committee of the Red Cross, for children with disabilities. Children with physical disabilities could attend mainstream schools, but inaccessible facilities and a lack of resources often made it difficult for them to do so. No law requires reasonable accommodations in the workplace, and high unemployment nationwide made it difficult for persons with disabilities to find work, particularly in rural areas.

There were very limited government facilities or services for persons with mental disabilities.

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 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 2019, 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. Members of the security forces committed few abuses.

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

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit 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 generally combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, although some self-censorship occurred among journalists who feared being bankrupted by lawsuits brought by politicians.

Violence and Harassment: In January, three journalists were suspended from the Tonga Broadcasting Commission over allegations they attempted to incite distrust in the government, prompting concern that journalists would be dissuaded from questioning the government.

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) allegedly directed that board-appointed censors review all TBC programming prior to broadcast. Journalists and media watchdogs criticized the government’s May 21 regulations on unlawful publication of sensitive information, provision of false and misleading information, and noncompliance with license conditions, warning the new regulations threatened independent reporting, internet radio broadcasts, and social media websites.

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 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 2017. After Pohiva’s death in September 2019, 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 Members of Minority Groups: 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 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, and Freedom House noted that corruption and abuse of power were serious problems.

Corruption: In April the Supreme Court imposed a two-year suspended sentence on former prime minister Lord Tu’ivakano, who was arrested in 2018 with 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.

In March the high court sentenced a former police officer to three years’ imprisonment for attempted bribery of another officer in relation to the removal of evidence from the police exhibit room.

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.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution broadly prohibits discrimination based on disability, but no laws specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. There are no legally mandated services or government programs for adults with disabilities, including for building accessibility or access to communications and information.

A Ministry of Education and Training program to bring children with disabilities into primary schools continued during the year. Many school buildings, however, were not accessible to students with physical disabilities, and attendance rates of children with disabilities at all educational levels were lower than those of students without disabilities.

The National Council on Disability and the Ministry of Internal Affairs maintained a program to provide modest financial assistance to persons with disabilities.

Tuvalu

Executive Summary

Tuvalu is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Observers judged that parliamentary elections held in September 2019 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 Ministry of Justice, Communications, and Foreign Affairs, maintains internal security. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces were not reported to have committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included laws criminalizing consensual same-sex 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.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Although there were no government restrictions, the government’s Media Department controlled the country’s sole radio and television 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 in September 2019 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 Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Participation by women in politics was low, hindered largely by their subordinate societal position and by traditional perceptions of women’s role in society. Several women served in senior government positions, however, including the attorney general. The 16-member parliament included one woman. There were no members of minority groups 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.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

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.

A 2018 government 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.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future