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TITLE: TUVALU HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993 DATE: JANUARY 31, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE TUVALU Tuvalu, with about 9,500 people occupying a land surface area of 26 square kilometers on 9 atolls in the central South Pacific, is one of the world's smallest independent nations. The population is primarily Polynesian. Tuvalu became independent from the United Kingdom on October 1, 1978, and it is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Its Constitution provides for a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy. Tuvalu's Head of State is the British Queen, represented by the Governor-General who must be a Tuvaluan citizen. A 32-member police constabulary, the only security apparatus, is responsible to and effectively controlled by civilian authority. The economy, primarily subsistence based, relies mainly on coconuts, taro, and fishing. Tuvalu depends heavily on foreign aid, mainly from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Taiwan. In the early 1980's, with the assistance of the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, the Government established the Tuvalu Trust Fund to meet its recurrent and capital expenditures. Remittances from Tuvaluans working abroad, the sale of commemorative and thematic postage stamps and of fishing licenses to foreign vessels, provide additional sources of foreign exchange. Tuvalu's isolation and meager natural resources severely limit prospects for economic self-sufficiency. Tuvaluan society is egalitarian, democratic, and respectful of human rights. Social behavior, as determined by custom and tradition, however, is considered as important as the law and is ensured by the village elders. Land is also key to much of the structure of Tuvaluan society. There were no reports of specific human rights abuses in 1993. However, in the traditional culture of the islands, women occupy a subordinate role, with limits on their job opportunities, although recently there has been substantial effort to accord women equality in employment and decisionmaking. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were no politically motivated killings. b. Disappearance There were no disappearances, and no evidence of people being abducted for political reasons. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Torture and inhuman or degrading punishment are forbidden by the Constitution, and there were no reported instances of such practices. Local hereditary elders exercise considerable traditional authority--including the seldom invoked right to inflict corporal punishment for infringing customary rules--which can be at odds with the national law. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile Constitutional safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention are observed in practice. There is no exile. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The judicial system consists of the higher courts, namely, the Privy Council, the Court of Appeal, and the High Court; and the lower courts, i.e., those of the senior and resident magistrates, the island courts, and the land courts. The Chief Justice, who is also Chief Justice of the neighboring island nation of Nauru, sits on the High Court about once a year. The right to a fair public trial is ensured by law and observed in practice. The Constitution provides that accused persons must be informed of the nature of the offenses with which they are charged and be provided the time and facilities required to prepare a defense. An independent people's lawyer is ensured by statute. The services of this public defender are available to all Tuvaluans free of charge. The right to confront witnesses, present evidence, and appeal convictions is enshrined in law. Procedural safeguards are based on English common law. The judiciary is independent and free of governmental interference. Tuvalu has no political prisoners. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The privacy of the home is protected in law and respected by the Government. There is no arbitrary intrusion by the State or political organizations into the private life of the individual. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press Freedom of speech and press is provided for in the Constitution and observed in practice. Tuvalu has a radio station under government control. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and there are no significant restrictions in practice. c. Freedom of Religion Freedom of religion prevails in Tuvalu. The separation of church and state is respected. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation Citizens are free to travel within the country and abroad. There are no restrictions on repatriation. Tuvalu has no refugees or displaced persons. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government The people freely elect their government. Tuvalu's 12-member unicameral Parliament is elected directly by the people. A speaker elected by Members of Parliament (M.P.'s) presides over Parliament. Parliament's normal term is 4 years. The minimum voting age is 18 years. The Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister, elected by secret ballot from among the M.P.'s, and up to four other ministers, appointed and removed from office by the Governor General with the advice of the Prime Minister. There are no formal political parties in Tuvalu. The Prime Minister may be removed from office by a parliamentary vote of no confidence. Tuvalu has a 12-member Parliament. The September 1993 election resulted in a parliamentary impasse as no member secured the seven votes needed to be elected as Prime Minister. Governor-General Lauti appointed out-going Prime Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu as caretaker Prime Minister until a new election was held November 24. When the Parliament met on December 10, Kamuta Latasi, supported by his wife and fellow M.P., Naama Maheu Latasi, abandoned former Prime Minister Paeniu's team in exchange for the Prime Ministership. Naama Latasi, a former Minister of Health in the Paeniu government, and the only female among Tuvalu's 12 parliamentarians, was given no cabinet post in the new Government. Each of the islands is administered by six-person councils, also elected by universal suffrage to 4-year terms. Over the past 2 years, Tuvalu has been debating if it should become a republic, primarily as an economy measure. Former Prime Minister Paeniu called for a national referendum, and a consultative process began in mid-1992. Each island community is deliberating the issue in its respective council. Once all results have been reported to Parliament, the Government will announce its decision. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights There have been no reported allegations of human rights violations by the Government and no known requests for investigations. While no known barriers block their establishment, there are no local nongovernmental organizations that concern themselves with human rights. Tuvalu is not a member of the United Nations. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status Women The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, sex, or national origin. Women increasingly hold positions in the health and education sectors. This trend was partly due to the efforts of Prime Minister Paeniu, who was known to favor greater opportunities for women. Paeniu named women among his senior advisors, included them in his Cabinet, and encouraged increased participation by women in valuable overseas training opportunities. Violence against women is rare in Tuvalu. If wife beating occurs, it is infrequent and has not become a source of societal concern. Children There are no reports of child abuse. If it does occur, it is rare. The Government is committed to children's human rights and welfare, and provides commensurate funding for children's welfare within the context of the total resources available to the State. People with Disabilities Although there are no mandated accessibility provisions for the disabled, there are no known reports of discrimination in employment, education, or provision of other state services. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Workers are free to organize unions and choose their own labor representatives, but most of the population lacks permanent employment and is engaged in subsistence activity. The right to strike is provided for by law, but no strike has ever been recorded. In the public sector, the country's civil servants, teachers, and nurses--who, taken together, total less than 1,000 employees--are grouped into associations which do not presently have the status of unions. The only registered trade union, the Tuvalu Seamen's Union, has about 600 members, who work on foreign merchant vessels. The Seamen's Union is a member of the International Transportation Workers' Federation. In 1993 the South Pacific and Oceanic Council of Trade Unions held a seminar in Tuvalu to promote trade unionism. The attendees issued calls for the establishment of a national committee to strengthen the union movement, the setting up of a credit union facility, and a continuing program of union education. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively The Industrial Relations Code (1978) provides for conciliation, arbitration, and settlement procedures in cases of labor disputes. Although there are provisions for collective bargaining, in practice in the private sector wages are set by employers. The Minister of Labor, Works, and Communications may establish an Incomes Commission to determine appropriate levels of pay. For both the private and public sectors, the legal procedures for resolving labor disputes noted above are seldom used; instead, the two sides normally engage in nonconfrontational deliberations in the local multipurpose meeting hall. Tuvalu is not a member of the International Labor Organization. There are no export processing zones. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor Article 74 of the Tuvalu Employment Ordinance (1978) prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there have been no reports of either being practiced. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children Section 60 of the Employment Act prohibits children under the age of 14 from working. Education is compulsory for children from 6 through 13 years of age. The Employment Act also prohibits children under 15 years of age from industrial employment or work on any ship and stipulates that children under the age of 18 years are not allowed to enter into formal contracts including work contracts. Children are rarely employed outside the traditional economy. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work The modest minimum wage, set administratively by the Government, is sufficient to allow a worker and family in the wage economy to maintain a decent standard of living. The present minimum wage in the public (government) sector is $0.40 per hour ($A0.55) per hour. This rate applies for men and women, for young and old. In most cases, the private sector adopts the same minimum wage rate. The Labor Office may specify the days and hours of work for workers in various industries. The workday is legally set at 8 hours. The majority of workers are outside of the wage economy. Rudimentary health and safety standards are provided for by law. They require employers to provide an adequate portable water supply, basic sanitary arrangements, and medical care. Specific provisions of the law provide for the protection of female workers. The Ministry of Labor, Works and Communications is responsible for the enforcement of the rudimentary safety and health regulations. With the limited resources of its economy, Tuvalu can provide only a minimum of enforcement.
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