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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 2019 the Congress selected the new president, David Panuelo, to serve a four-year term. In March national elections were held for two-year term congressional seats, in which all 10 members retained their seats. Observers considered the March elections generally free and fair, and the seating of the new Congress was uneventful.

The national police are responsible for enforcing national laws, and the Department of Justice oversees them. On September 13, the government established the Cyber Security and Intelligence Bureau, a new division in the Department of Justice. State police forces are responsible for law enforcement in their respective states and are under the jurisdiction of each state’s director of public safety. 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 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

As of October, the case against two local men (one a former police officer) charged with the October 2019 murder of Rachelle Bergeron, a foreign national who was the acting attorney general for Yap State, was still pending trial. The public-health emergency declared in January 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 delayed the case pending the opening of borders to allow the entry of witnesses from abroad. Observers believed the killing may have been related to Bergeron’s work as acting attorney general.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: Authorities usually held pretrial detainees in the same facilities but in separate areas from convicted prisoners. Due to a lack of medical facilities or community-based support services for persons with mental disabilities, the government used separate jail cells to house persons with mental disabilities who had no criminal background.

There are no separate juvenile detention facilities, but two of the four states have designated cells for juveniles. The states seldom incarcerated juvenile offenders.

Administration: There was no prison ombudsman to respond to complaints. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but they rarely investigated such allegations.

Independent Monitoring: The government is obliged to investigate and monitor prison and detention center conditions and confirmed that an inspection of the Kosrae detention center occurred during the year. The government permits visits by independent human rights observers, but there was no information publicly available on whether independent monitoring occurred during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Warrants are required for arrests, and authorities advised detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities generally observed the requirement to bring detainees before a judge for a hearing within 24 hours of arrest. Courts released most arrested persons on bail or after they relinquished their passports. Detainees generally had prompt access to family members and lawyers. Not all detainees who requested help from the public defender’s office received adequate legal assistance due to an insufficient number of trained lawyers.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Authorities allowed closed hearings for cases involving juveniles. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants are presumed innocent, have the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, have the right to be present at their trial, and cannot be forced to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to counsel of their choice, or have counsel provided at public expense, subject to availability of trained lawyers, and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges; receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, present witnesses and evidence, confront witnesses against them, not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal. The law extends these rights to all persons. In some cases, however, state governments attempted to deport foreign workers who were victims of a crime before their cases came to trial.

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. The Supreme Court is responsible for hearing lawsuits seeking damages for, or the cessation of, human rights abuses.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful 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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government implemented very strict travel protocols, temporarily closing the borders starting in January 2020. On May 13, the government began repatriating citizens under strict procedures to avoid the introduction of COVID-19 into the country. Between 400 and 500 citizens remained unable to return to the country due to limited repatriation flights and government quarantine facilities, with some of those stranded abroad alleging the travel limitations infringed on their human rights.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no cases in which the government had to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other organizations regarding treatment of internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons.

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: In 2019 the Congress selected the new president, David Panuelo, to serve a four-year term. The March election for 10 congressional legislators to serve two-year terms was generally free and fair, and seating of the new Congress was uneventful.

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 historically marginalized or minority groups 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 women held two of nine cabinet-level positions (postmaster general and secretary of education), and two women led diplomatic missions as consul general in Guam, and as the country’s first female ambassador, serving as the permanent representative to the United Nations, respectively. There was one female associate justice on the national Supreme Court and one female associate justice on the Pohnpei State Supreme Court. There were four elected women in the Pohnpei State legislature, an increase from the previous election cycle. No women were elected in the March congressional election; however, a woman won a congressional special election in November, the first woman ever elected to the National Congress.

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; in September the government enhanced its Transnational Crime Unit (which investigates corruption) with additional personnel including a cybersecurity position. The public auditor referred some corruption cases to the Department of Justice during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Although there are no official restrictions, no local groups concerned themselves exclusively with human rights. Several groups addressed problems concerning the rights of women and children, and there were active women’s associations throughout the country. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Sexual assault of women or men, including rape, is a crime. There is no specific law against spousal rape. Sexual assault involving a dangerous weapon or serious physical or psychological harm to the victim is punishable by a maximum nine years’ imprisonment in Chuuk and 10 years’ imprisonment in the other three states, and a fine. If neither a dangerous weapon nor serious physical harm is involved, the assault is punishable in all states by a maximum five years’ imprisonment and a fine. Due in part to social stigma, family pressure, fear of further assault, or the belief that police would not involve themselves in what is often seen as a private family matter, such crimes were underreported, and authorities prosecuted few cases. According to police and women’s groups, there were several reports of physical and sexual assaults against women, both citizens and foreigners, outside the family context.

Reports of domestic violence, often severe, continued during the year. Although assault is a crime, effective prosecution of offenses was rare. Pohnpei State police stated they would not arrest anyone in a domestic violence scenario if the parents of both individuals involved in the altercation were present. The traditional extended family unit deemed violence, abuse, and neglect directed against spouses or children as offenses against the entire family, not just the individual victims, and addressed them by a complex system of culturally defined familial sanctions. Traditional methods of coping with family discord were breaking down with increasing urbanization, monetization of the economy, and greater emphasis on the nuclear family in which victims were isolated from traditional family support. No institution, including police, has succeeded in replacing the extended family system or in addressing directly the problem of family violence.

The national government operated shelters in Chuuk and Pohnpei that were available to all victims of sexual, domestic, and human trafficking crimes. The Pohnpei Department of Public Safety’s program against domestic violence included a hotline to handle domestic violence cases. The national government hotline to handle possible cases of human trafficking also reported receiving domestic and sexual assault calls.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and anecdotal reports suggested it occurred.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The government provided support to survivors of sexual violence in the form of counseling and legal and medical assistance, including emergency contraception, in partnership with nongovernmental organizations.

Discrimination: Women have equal rights under the law, including the right to own property, and there were no institutional barriers to education or employment for women. The government enforced the law effectively. The largest employers were the national and state governments, and they paid female employees equal pay for equal work although this is not mandated by law. Societal discrimination against women continued, however, and cultural mores encouraged discriminatory treatment for women. Examples of discrimination against women included many instances of women being pressured to stop their higher educational pursuits once they become pregnant. Women were also discouraged from returning to school once the child was born.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Although the constitution provides that equal protection under the law “may not be denied or impaired on account of race or ethnicity,” there were no laws to protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination.

The national and state constitutions prohibit noncitizens from owning land, and foreign investment laws limit the types of businesses they can own and operate.

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship if at least one parent is a citizen. Individual states maintain birth records. Kosrae State requires registration within two weeks after a birth. In the other three states, registration takes place for hospital births, but on remote outer islands there are no hospitals, and authorities do not register children until and unless they come to a main island for education.

Education: By law education is free and compulsory for children from ages six through 14 or upon completion of eighth grade; however, many students left school before that.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal, although the constitution provides for a right of parental discipline. Cultural attitudes regarding parental discipline limited reporting of abuse, and there were anecdotal reports of child abuse and neglect. The government made no efforts to combat child abuse or neglect. There were no shelters for child victims of domestic abuse. Traditional mediation usually involved agreement among male elders and provided no support for child victims.

In June the government reinstated its National Advisory Council for to Children “revitalize” nationwide conversations on children’s needs and to coordinate multiagency “policies and programs for children’s rights and protections.”

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both boys and girls.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law sets a maximum penalty of 30 years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine for child trafficking. The states’ statutory rape laws apply to children age 13 or younger in Yap and Kosrae, 15 or younger in Pohnpei, and 17 or younger in Chuuk. The maximum penalty varies by state: in Chuuk and Pohnpei, it is five years’ imprisonment and a fine, while in Kosrae and Yap it is 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Only Pohnpei has a statute prohibiting child pornography. Both Chuuk and Pohnpei have provisions against filming explicit movies of underage children, but Yap and Kosrae have no such provisions. Both Chuuk and Pohnpei impose a penalty of six months’ imprisonment for violations. There were reports of children trafficked by family members for commercial sex.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is a very small Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and intellectual 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 provides for access to health services and education for persons with disabilities. The Department of Health and Social Affairs, however, which is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, did not provide significant services.

By law students with disabilities have the right to separate education and training until they are age 21; however, there were 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.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; nor does it prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons. There were no reports of violence or discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons. The culture stigmatized public acknowledgement or discussion of certain sexual matters, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Persons rarely publicly identified as LGBTQI+.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Each of the country’s four states has a different language and culture. Traditionally, Yap State had a caste-like social system with high-status villages, each of which had an affiliated low-status village. In the past those who came from low-status villages worked without pay for those with higher status in exchange for care and protection by those of higher status. The traditional hierarchical social system has largely broken down, and capable persons from low-status villages may rise to senior positions in society. Nonetheless, the traditional system affected contemporary life. Authorities sometimes continued to underserve low-status communities.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Although the law does not specifically provide for the right of workers to join a union, under the constitution citizens have the right to form or join associations, and by law government employees can form associations to “present their views” to the government without being subject to coercion, discrimination, or reprisals. Citizens did not exercise this right. No law deals specifically with trade unions, the right to collective bargaining, or antiunion discrimination. There is no specific right to strike, but no law prohibits strikes. The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

Although the law does not prohibit workers, including foreign workers, from joining unions, there were no unions and most private-sector employment was in small-scale, family-owned businesses or in subsistence farming and fishing. No nongovernmental organizations focused on unions or labor issues.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government enforced the law, although resources and inspections were minimal. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The national antitrafficking law provides for penalties that were commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping, although lenient sentences of a year or less, or those that were not served on consecutive days, created potential safety problems for trafficking victims and weakened deterrence.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

National and state laws do not establish a minimum age or prescribe limits on hours or occupations for employment of children. The law does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor. Despite the gaps in the law on child labor, the government generally enforced laws against trafficking of children. Some child labor occurred. There were no reports of employment of children for wages, but children often assisted their families in subsistence farming and family-owned shops. There were reports of children trafficked by family members for commercial sex. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, and religion. Labor law also prohibits discrimination based on race and gender. The law also provides protections for persons with disabilities, but they are limited in scope. The law does not provide for specific legal protections for age, citizenship, national origin, political opinion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or positive diagnosis of HIV/AIDS or other diseases. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for violations related to civil rights but were seldom applied.

The government did not receive reports of discrimination during the year, except with respect to persons with disabilities, who had little opportunity for gainful employment. Traditional caste statuses, specifically in Yap State, limited professional opportunities for lower-status and outer-island persons. Women were underrepresented in all areas except in the service sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum hourly wage for employment with the national government was above the official estimate for the poverty income level. There is no other minimum wage.

The law sets a standard of an eight-hour workday and a five-day workweek, with premium pay for overtime. There are no legal provisions prohibiting excessive or compulsory overtime.

Occupational Safety and Health: A federal regulation requires that employers provide a safe workplace. Occupational safety and health standards are enforced by the Public Health and Environmental Protection Agency. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Government entities generally enforced safety and health laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.

The Division of Immigration and Labor within the Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing wage and hour laws for foreign workers. The government generally effectively enforced these standards, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient, and inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. The tax system monitored the minimum wage effectively through random audits.

Informal Sector: Approximately one-half of workers were in the informal economy where the law does not apply, predominantly in subsistence agriculture and fishing.

2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Micronesia
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