Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
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 government officials normally employed them. There were allegations of abuses by some police officials, such as the use of physical violence against detainees.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh due to inadequate food, potable water, overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.
Physical Conditions: The Tafaigata men’s prison was overcrowded with more than 300 inmates in a facility with an official capacity of 260. Pretrial detainees were held together with convicts. Authorities made only basic provision for food, water (including potable water), and sanitation. Ventilation and cell lighting remained poor, and lights remained on all night.
Physical conditions in the separate Tafaigata women’s prison, including ventilation and sanitation, generally were better than in the men’s prison.
Authorities housed juveniles (prisoners younger than age 26) at the Olomanu Juvenile Center, where physical conditions generally were better than in adult facilities.
Police held overnight detainees in two cells at police headquarters in Apia and one cell at Tuasivi.
An inquest into the August 2017 death of a male prisoner continued as of November 2018. Prison officials ruled the death a suicide by hanging, a claim the family disputed.
Administration: The prison system could not account for or effectively supervise all inmates. This was evident in the recurring prison escapes and delays in recapturing escapees.
Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities and request investigation of alleged problematic conditions. Authorities investigated such allegations, documented them, and made the results publicly accessible. The government generally investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, including UN organizations and diplomatic missions.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Samoa Police Department, under the Ministry of Police and Prison Services, maintains internal security. Local councils enforce rules and security within each village. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving police. Insufficient capacity limited police effectiveness.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The Supreme Court issues arrest warrants based on compelling evidence. The law provides for the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, and authorities generally respected this right. Officials informed detainees within 24 hours of the charges against them or else released them. There was a functioning bail system. The government allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice. The government provided indigent detainees with a lawyer upon request. The government did not hold suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. A trial judge examines evidence and determines if there are grounds to proceed. Under the law defendants are presumed innocent and may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Trials are public except for trials of juveniles, which only immediate family members may attend. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial; have timely consultation with an attorney; receive prompt and detailed information of the charges, including interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, access government-held evidence, and appeal a verdict. The law extends these rights to all defendants.
Village councils handled many civil and criminal matters, but the councils varied considerably in decision-making styles and the number of matai involved in decisions. The law recognizes the decisions of the local council and provides for limited appeal to the Lands and Titles Court and the Supreme Court. The nature and severity of a dispute determines which court receives an appeal. Defendants may make a further appeal to the Court of Appeal. A Supreme Court ruling stipulates that local councils may not infringe upon villagers’ freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or association. Village councils, however, consistently ignored this ruling.
A January 2017 amendment to the law on village councils sought to ensure that the powers exercised by the village council comply with the constitution. The amendment provides more detail on what is a punishable offense and steps to be taken to carry out a punishment. Because of a strong cultural focus on village authority, the effect of the amendment remains uncertain.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through the courts.
The laws prohibit such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. There was little privacy in villages, where there could be substantial societal pressure on residents to grant village officials access to their homes without a warrant. There were reports some village councils banished individuals or families from villages.
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 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.
After abolishing it in 2013, parliament reinstated the Criminal Libel Act in December 2017, making defamation a criminal offense. The bill was rushed through parliament, passing its first, second, and third readings in less than one hour, and there was no public consultation on the bill. This move was largely in response to an increase in social media bloggers posting defamatory allegations, often about government leaders. Local media protested the law, calling it an obstacle to press freedom and questioned the need for it, since libel is already handled as a civil matter.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law authorizes the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA) to file suit against any person who publishes information about the tourism industry that it deems prejudicial to the public perception of the country. Violators are subject to a fine or maximum imprisonment of three months if they fail to retract the information or to publish a correction when ordered to do so by the STA. The STA did not exercise this authority in the year to October.
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. Internet access was widely available in most of the country via cellular technology, but the high cost limited internet access for much of the population outside the capital. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 30 percent of the population had access to the internet.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution 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 granting refugee status, but the government has not yet established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no requests for asylum or refugee status.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: Observers considered the Office of the Ombudsman generally effective and able to operate free from government or political party interference. The government usually adopted its recommendations. The Office of the Ombudsman also houses the National Human Rights Institute, which in September published the 2018 National State of Human Rights Report comprised entirely of a 300-page National Public Inquiry into Family Violence. The report revealed widespread verbal and physical abuse within families.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law protects the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, to conduct legal strikes, and to bargain collectively. There are certain restrictions on the right to strike for government workers, imposed principally for reasons of public safety. The law states that a public sector employee who engages in a strike or any other industrial action is considered “dismissed from…employment.” The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, such as contract conditions that restrict free association. The law addresses a range of fundamental rights and includes the establishment of a national tripartite forum that serves as the governing body for labor and employment matters in the country.
The government effectively enforced laws on unionization, and the government generally respected the freedom of association. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Public Service Association functioned as a union for all government workers, who constituted approximately 25 percent of the estimated 25,000 workers in the formal economy. Unions generally conducted their activities free from government interference.
Workers exercised the right to organize and bargain collectively. The Public Service Association engaged in collective bargaining on behalf of government workers, including on wages. Arbitration and mediation procedures were in place to resolve labor disputes, although such disputes rarely arose.
There were no reports of strikes.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced such laws. There is an exception in the constitution for service required by local custom. A key feature of the matai system is that non-matai men perform work in their village in service to their families, church, or the village as a whole. Most persons did so willingly, but the matai may compel those who do not wish to work.
The law states that forced labor is punishable by imprisonment. Aside from the cultural exception noted above and street vending by children, forced labor was not considered a problem. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor received no complaints and found no violations of forced labor during inspections conducted during the year. Penalties were reportedly sufficient to deter violations.
The law prohibits employing children younger than age 15 except in “safe and light work.” The law, however, does not comprehensively specify the types of hazardous work prohibited for children and does not specify what is considered “safe and light work.” The law does not apply to service rendered to family members or the matai, some of whom required children to work for the village, primarily on family farms. The law prohibits any student from engaging in light or heavy industrial activity during school hours of 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The law restricts vending by school-aged children (younger than age 14) if it interferes with their school attendance, participation in school activities, or educational development. This law is effectively enforced in the formal economy, but only minimally enforced in the informal economy in areas such as child street vending, which takes place at all hours of the day and night.
There were no reliable statistics available on the extent of child labor, but it occurred largely in the informal sector. Children frequently sold goods and food on street corners. The government has not definitively determined whether this practice violates the country’s labor laws, which cover only persons who have a place of employment, and local officials generally tolerated it. The problem of child street vending attracted significant media coverage and public outcry.
The extent to which children had to work on village farms varied by village, although anecdotal accounts indicated the practice was common. Younger children primarily did yard work and light work such as gathering fruit, nuts, and plants. Some boys began working on plantations as teenagers, helping to gather crops such as coconuts and caring for animals. Some children reportedly had domestic service employment.
The law prohibits discrimination, direct or indirect, against an employee or an applicant for employment in any employment policies, procedures, or practices based on ethnicity, race, color, sex, gender, religion, political opinion, national extraction, sexual orientation, social origin, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibilities, real or perceived HIV status, and disability.
The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The labor ministry received one complaint regarding unfair hiring practices during the year. The hiring and recruiting process for the private sector is outside of the scope of the Labor and Employment Relations Act. No cases drew public attention.
There were separate minimum wage scales for the private and public sectors. Both minimum wages were below the official estimate of the poverty income level for a household. The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Approximately 75 percent of the working population worked in the subsistence economy and had no formal employment.
The law covers private and public sector workers differently. For the private sector, the law specifies overtime pay at time and a half, with double time for work on Sunday and public holidays. For the public sector, there is no paid overtime, but authorities give compensatory time off for overtime work.
The law establishes certain rudimentary safety and health standards for workplaces, which the labor ministry is responsible for enforcing. The law also covers non-workers who are lawfully on the premises or within the workplace during work hours. The law contains provisions for the identification and assessment of, and risk control for, workplace hazards and hazardous substances, but it does not contain a list of hazardous occupations or work.
Safety laws do not generally apply to agricultural service rendered to the matai or work in a family enterprise. Government employees have coverage under different and more stringent regulations, which the Public Service Commission enforced adequately.
Independent observers reported that the labor ministry did not strictly enforce safety laws, except when accidents highlighted noncompliance. It investigated work accidents when it received reports. The number of inspectors was generally sufficient to deter violations.
Many agricultural workers had inadequate protection from pesticides and other dangers to health. Government education and awareness programs sought to address these concerns by providing appropriate training and equipment to some agricultural workers.
The labor ministry investigates any potential labor law violations in response to complaints. The police and education ministries may assist if needed; the Public Service Commission handles all government labor matters.
The commissioner of labor investigates reported cases of hazardous workplaces. Workers are legally able to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The labor ministry received reports of 15 work related accidents during the year, five of which led to a death.