2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
March 11, 2010
Kiribati is a constitutional multiparty republic with a population of approximately 92,500. The president exercises executive authority and is popularly elected for a four-year term. The legislative assembly nominates at least three, and no more than four, presidential candidates from among its members. Parliamentary and presidential elections held in 2007 were considered generally free and fair. Anote Tong of the Boutokaan Te Koaua party was reelected president. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse. Violence and discrimination against women, child abuse, and commercial sexual exploitation of children were problems.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them. Traditional village practice permits corporal punishment for criminal acts and other transgressions.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions generally met international standards, and the government permitted visits by family members, church representatives, and diplomats. The government also permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, but there were no such visits during the year.
At year's end the prison system held 85 inmates (84 men and one woman); approximately 3 percent of male inmates were juveniles (under age 18). There was no separate facility for juvenile offenders, but children under age 16 usually were not incarcerated. Juveniles ages 16 to 17 generally may be detained no longer than one month in the adult facility; however, for more serious offenses, such as murder, juveniles over age 16 can be held in custody for more than a month and can be sentenced to longer terms. Pretrial detainees accused of serious offenses who did not meet bail were held with convicted prisoners. Persons charged with minor offenses normally were released on their own recognizance pending trial.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police force, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
In some cases magistrates issued warrants before an arrest was made. Persons taken into custody without a warrant must be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours or within a reasonable amount of time when arrested in remote locations. These requirements were generally respected in practice. Many individuals were released on their own recognizance pending trial, and bail was granted routinely for many offenses. The law requires arrested individuals be informed of their rights, which include the right to legal counsel during questioning and the right not to incriminate themselves. Two police officers must be present at all times during questioning of detainees, who also are provided the option of writing and reviewing statements given to police. Detainees were allowed prompt access to legal counsel. Public defenders, known as "people's lawyers," were available free of charge for arrested persons and others who needed legal advice.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. There is no trial by jury. An accused person must be informed of the charges and be provided adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also provides for the right to confront witnesses, present evidence, and appeal convictions. Defendants facing serious criminal charges are entitled to free legal representation. Procedural safeguards are based on British common law and include the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The law extends these rights to all citizens.
Extrajudicial traditional communal justice, in which village elders decide cases and mete out punishment, remained a part of village life, especially on remote outer islands. Nonetheless, the incidence of communal justice was declining under pressure from the codified national law.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, as well as access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. Although there were no government restrictions, there were some concerns about the lack of local independent media.
The government Broadcasting and Publications Authority (BPA) operated Radio Kiribati, the dominant news source in the country, and published a twice-weekly newspaper. A board of directors appointed by the government oversees BPA operations.
A media company owned by a member of parliament affiliated with the governing party operated the country's other radio station and published a weekly newspaper. Several other organizations, such as the Kiribati Protestant Church, also published weekly newspapers.
International media were allowed to operate freely. The law requires newspapers to register with the government, but there were no reports the government denied registration to any publication.
There were no government restrictions on the Internet or reports the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. While generally available and accessible on South Tarawa, public access to the Internet elsewhere in the country was limited by lack of infrastructure. The International Telecommunication Union reported that approximately 2 percent of the country's inhabitants used the Internet in 2008.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were isolated reports of societal discrimination against religious groups viewed as outside the mainstream; in a few cases, traditional village leaders have prevented such groups from proselytizing or holding meetings in their villages. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. There was no known Jewish community in the country.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. Although the law prohibits government restrictions on citizens' freedom of movement, it does not restrict such actions by traditional village councils.
The occasion did not arise during the year for government cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
The law provides for the forced expulsion from the country of a convicted person if "in the interests of" defense, public safety, order, morality, health, or environmental conservation. The government did not use forced exile. On rare occasions traditional village councils and the courts have banished persons from a specific island within the country, usually for a fixed period of time, but there were no reports of such banishments during the year.
Protection of Refugees
The country is not a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. Its laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. During the year there were no applications for refugee resettlement, asylum, or protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The constitution provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
The legislature has 45 members: 43 are elected by universal adult suffrage, the Rabi Island Council of I-Kiribati (persons of Kiribati ancestry) in Fiji selects one, and the attorney general is an ex officio member. The most recent parliamentary elections were held in August 2007. In October 2007 the legislature elected Anote Tong of the Boutokaan Te Koaua party to a second term as president. The elections were considered generally free and fair. There were no government restrictions on political opponents. Elected village councils run local governments in consultation with traditional village elders.
In July the traditional elders' association of Maiana Island demanded the island's elected mayor and council vacate office and a new council election be held. The council refused and took the matter to court; the High Court decided in favor of the council. However, subsequently the mayor's house was burned down, and the mayor and council members resigned in August.
There were two women in the 45-member legislature. Several permanent secretaries were women.
The president and several members of the legislature were of mixed descent.
Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not always implement the law effectively. Government officials have sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, but there were no specific reports of government corruption during the year.
Nepotism, based on tribal, church, and family ties, was prevalent. Public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws. The auditor general is responsible for oversight of government expenditures. In reality the auditor general lacked sufficient resources, and findings of misappropriations and unaccounted for funds were generally ignored, or the investigations were inconclusive.
In March, together with Nauru and Tuvalu, the country signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a subregional audit support program, a new initiative of the Pacific Association of Supreme Audit Institutions, with the goal of enabling public accounts to be audited to uniformly high standards in a timely manner.
No specific law provides for citizen or media access to government information. In practice the government was fairly responsive to individual requests for information.
Section 5 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.
The government cooperated with international governmental organizations and permitted visits by UN representatives and other organizations. There were visits from UN officials, including officials from the UN Children's Fund and the UN Development Program, during the year. In December a team from the Fiji-based Regional Resource Rights Team of the Secretariat of the South Pacific Community visited the country to consult with the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on legal reform to address violence against women.
Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, or color, and the government observed these prohibitions in practice; however, only native I-Kiribati may own land.
Spousal abuse and other forms of violence against women were significant problems. Alcohol abuse frequently was a factor in attacks on women. Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, but sentences were typically much shorter.
A Kiribati Family Health and Safety Study prepared by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community estimated approximately 75 percent of the women surveyed had been victims of domestic violence at some time in their lives. The law does not address domestic violence specifically, but general common law and criminal law make assault in all forms illegal. The law provides for penalties of up to six months' imprisonment for common assault and up to five years' imprisonment for assault involving bodily harm. Prosecutions for rape and domestic assault were infrequent, largely due to cultural taboos on reporting such crimes and police attitudes encouraging reconciliation over prosecution.
Prostitution is not illegal; however, procuring sex and managing brothels are illegal. The lack of a law against prostitution hindered the ability of the police to restrict these activities.
The law does not specifically prohibit sex tourism. There were reports of foreign fishermen engaging in commercial sexual acts with minors. Obscene or indecent behavior is banned.
The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which sometimes occurred but generally was not regarded as a major problem.
Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Access to contraception, as well as obstetric and postnatal care, was available from public health hospitals and centers. Women and men also had equal access to diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
The law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, and the traditional culture, in which men are dominant, impeded a more active role for women in the economy. Women filled many government office and teaching positions. Statistics generally were not well collected in the country, and data on the participation of women in the work force and on comparative wages were unavailable. Women have rights of ownership and inheritance of property as well as full and equal access to education. However, land inheritance laws are patrilineal, and sons are entitled to more land than are daughters.
The Citizenship Act contains some discriminatory provisions. For example, the foreign wife of a male citizen acquires Kiribati citizenship automatically through the marriage; however, the foreign husband of a female citizen does not. A man who applies for Kiribati citizenship through naturalization may include his wife and children in his application; however, a woman may not include her husband and children in her application.
Citizenship is derived by birth in the country, unless the child acquires the citizenship of another country at birth through a noncitizen parent. Citizenship is also derived through one's father.
Chronic alcohol abuse leading to child abuse (physical and occasionally sexual) and neglect continued to be a serious problem. There is a police unit specifically focused on child and family violence.
Crewmembers of foreign fishing vessels that stopped in Kiribati engaged in commercial sexual exploitation of women, some of whom were underage. Research conducted in South Tarawa indicated there were fewer than 20 girls under the age of 18 engaged in such prostitution. Some of the girls worked as prostitutes in bars frequented by crewmembers. Local I-Kiribati, sometimes including family members, acted as facilitators, delivering girls to the boats. The girls generally received cash, food, or goods in exchange for sexual services. The lack of a legal ban on prostitution, and the fact the legal age of consent is 15, hindered police efforts to stem the practice.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Sexual relations with a girl under age 13 carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and sexual relations with a girl above age 12 but under age 15 carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. The victim's consent is not a permissible defense under either provision; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief the victim was 15 or older is a permissible defense.
The penal code has no specific provision concerning child pornography.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons, and there were no reports persons were trafficked to, from, or through the country. There were incidences of commercial sexual exploitation of underage girls within the country.
The Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at www.state.gov/g/tip/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities; however, there were no formal complaints of discrimination in employment, education, or the provision of other state services for persons with mental or physical disabilities. Accessibility of buildings for persons with disabilities has not been mandated, and there were no special accommodations for persons with disabilities. The central hospital on Tarawa had a wing for persons with mental disabilities, and there was a psychiatrist working on Tarawa.
There was no government agency specifically responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Sodomy and acts of "gross indecency between males" are illegal, with maximum penalties of seven and five years' imprisonment respectively, but there were no reports of prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons under these provisions. Societal discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity were not significant problems.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Societal discrimination and violence against persons with HIV/AIDS were not significant problems. According to Ministry of Health statistics, 20 women and 32 men had AIDS or were HIV positive. A government-run HIV/AIDS taskforce coordinated outreach and educational activities concerning HIV/AIDS.
Section 7 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The constitution provides for freedom of association, and workers are free to join and organize unions; workers exercised these rights in practice. The government did not control or restrict union activities; however, unions must register with the government.
More than 80 percent of the adult workforce was occupied in fishing or subsistence farming. An estimated 10 percent of wage-earning workers were union members. There were no official public-sector trade unions, but nurses and teachers belonged to voluntary employee associations similar to unions and constituted approximately 30 to 40 percent of total union and association membership.
The law provides for the right to strike, but no strikes have taken place since 1980. There were no instances reported during the year in which the right to strike was denied.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law protects workers from employer interference in their right to organize and administer unions, and provides for collective bargaining. The government's Public Service Office sets wages in the large public sector. In a few statutory bodies and government-owned companies, however, employees could negotiate wages and other conditions. In the private sector, individual employees also could negotiate wages with employers. In keeping with tradition, negotiations generally were nonconfrontational. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination, and there were mechanisms to resolve any complaints that might arise.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the employment of children under age 14. Children through the age of 15 are prohibited from industrial employment and employment aboard ships. Officers from the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources Development generally enforced these laws effectively. Children rarely were employed outside the traditional economy.
Underage girls were solicited for commercial sex.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The wage-earning workforce consisted of approximately 8,000 persons, mostly employed on the main atoll of Tarawa, the political and commercial capital. The remainder of the working population worked within a subsistence economy. There is no official minimum wage, but the Labor Ministry estimated the "non-legislated" minimum to be between A$1.60 and A$1.70 (approximately $1.45 and $1.50) per hour. There is provision for a minimum wage at the discretion of the Labor Ministry, but it has never been implemented. The standard wage income provided a marginally decent standard of living for a worker and family.
There is no legislatively prescribed workweek. Workers in the public sector (80 percent of the wage-earning workforce) worked 36.25 hours per week, with overtime pay for additional hours.
Employment laws provide rudimentary health and safety standards for the workplace, which the Labor Ministry is responsible for enforcing. Employers are liable for the expenses of workers injured on the job, but a lack of qualified personnel hampered the government's ability to enforce employment laws, and no workplace inspections were conducted during the year. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from hazardous work sites without risking loss of employment.