The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001.  Please see for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date.  This site is not updated so external links may no longer function.  Contact us with any questions about finding information.

NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

Department Seal


TITLE:  VANUATU HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993                            
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994


Vanuatu, a South Pacific island nation with a population of 
170,000, became independent in 1980 after many years of joint 
British-French rule.  It has a parliamentary system of 
government with a prime minister and a 46-member parliament.  
The President has largely ceremonial powers, except when acting 
on the advice of the Council of Ministers.  Vanuatu's citizens 
are divided by a variety of languages, by the nation's 
separation into more than 80 islands, and by their colonial 
experience.  Over time Vanuatu has largely overcome this 
difference to forge a strong sense of nationhood.  Political 
legitimacy is based on majority rule, supported by both 
Melanesian and Western tradition.

The civilian authorities control the small police and 
paramilitary mobile forces.

Because the Vanuatu economy is dependent on international 
trade, it is vulnerable to shifts in world market prices.  
Growth in tourism and Vanuatu's offshore banking center were 
expected once again to lead other sectors of the economy in 

Restrictions on freedom of speech and press, together with the 
treatment of women, remain the major human rights problems.


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

No political or other extrajudicial killings by the Government 
or any organized group were reported.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

Constitutional provisions against torture and cruel, inhuman, 
or degrading treatment are observed in practice and enforced by 
the courts.  While the law provides that prisoners shall have 
recourse to an ombudsman, that position has never been filled.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

There were no reports of arbitrary arrests.  Arrest is by 
warrant.  The constitutional provision that suspects must be 
informed of charges and given a speedy hearing before a judge 
is observed in practice.  There is no exile.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The courts uphold constitutional provisions for a fair public 
trial, presumption of innocence until guilt is proven, 
prohibition against double jeopardy, the right of habeas 
corpus, and appeal to the Supreme Court.  The courts are free 
of military or executive interference.  There were no reports 
of arbitrary or unfair exercise of judicial authority in 1993.

There were no political prisoners.

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

There was no arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, 
or correspondence.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Vanuatu's record of respect for the independence of opinion and 
of the media is poor, and 1993 proved no exception.  Although 
the Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, the 
Government controls the national newspaper, radio stations, and 
television company.

An independent newspaper, Vanuascope, opened in 1992 and 
enjoyed relative freedom until August 1993, when the Government 
banned media coverage of any statements by Father Walter Lini's 
political faction, which was challenging the Government's 
control over Parliament.  When Vanuascope defied the ban, the 
Government discussed revoking the editor's work permit and the 
newspaper's publishing license.  With the collapse of Lini's 
challenge, the overt pressure on the newspaper relaxed but 
remained behind the scenes.

Although strict controls over the media remain in place, the 
Government has permitted more balanced coverage of significant 
issues than was the case previously.  Even so, the Government 
continues to manipulate the media when it suits its political 
advantage and to react harshly to any criticism.  The political 
opposition often encounters difficulty in getting its press 
statements broadcast and published in the state-controlled 
media, and coverage of opposition statements has sometimes been 
delayed until the Government has prepared its response.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Permits must be obtained to hold public demonstrations and 
rallies.  The Government reportedly denied the National 
Teachers Union permission to demonstrate during its June 
strike.  Nevertheless, the teachers marched on Parliament.  
Several union leaders, including some who had not participated 
in the march, were arrested.  They were released after 2 days 
in custody, and the court ultimately dismissed charges that 
they had created a public disturbance.  Twenty striking members 
of the Vanuatu Public Service Association were arrested in 
early December for involvement in a protest outside 
Parliament.  The public prosecutor released the group without 
charge after approximately 1 hour.

There were no restrictions on the forming of political parties 
or other groups.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is protected by law and has been generally 
respected in practice.  Missionaries of various Christian 
denominations work without restrictions.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

All citizens are free to travel internally and externally and 
to return from abroad without restrictions.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Citizens have the right freely to change the government through 
periodic multiparty elections.  The Constitution provides for 
parliamentary elections every 4 years.  The Government of Prime 
Minister Maxime Carlot Korman is comprised of the Prime 
Minister's Francophone Union of Moderate Parties and the Deputy 
Prime Minister's faction of the Anglophone National United 
Party.  In opposition are the Vanua'aku Party and four others.  
Campaigns and voting are considered by outside observers to be 
fair although government restrictions and pressure on the media 
inhibit the ability of opposition parties to publicize their 
views (see Section 2.a.).  Elections to provincial and local 
councils have also been freely contested and fair.  There were 
reports of discrimination in hiring and provision of services 
against both persons and communities suspected of or known to 
be supporting opposition political candidates.  The Government 
has also been charged with unfairly dismissing civil servants 
for political reasons (see Section 6.a.).

In Vanuatu's traditional society, males are dominant and women 
are frequently limited to customary family roles.  This has 
hampered women from taking a more active role in economic and 
political life.  There is only one female Member of Parliament. 
She served as Minister of Health for part of the year.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

Although there are no restrictions on the formation of local 
nongovernmental human rights organizations, none has been 
founded to date.  A nongovernmental organization to promote and 
protect the rights of women, the Committee on Violence against 
Women, was formed in 1993.  There were no requests for 
investigation by outside human rights organizations.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status


While women have equal rights under the law, they are only 
slowly emerging from a traditional culture characterized by 
male dominance, a general reluctance to educate women, and a 
widespread belief that women should devote themselves primarily 
to childbearing.  Members of the National Council of Women 
(NCW) view village chiefs as a primary obstacle to the 
attainment of social, political, and economic rights by women.  
There are no women serving as leaders in Vanuatu's municipal or 
village councils, churches, or chambers of commerce.

While no accurate data are available, violence against women, 
particularly wife beating, is reportedly common.  However, very 
few cases of wife beating are brought to the attention of the 
authorities, and even fewer are prosecuted.  Usually the cases 
are dropped by the women involved before going to court.  The 
police are reluctant to intervene in what are considered purely 
domestic matters.  Although there are no specific laws against 
spouse beating, the courts have at times dealt severely with 
such cases, using common law assault as a basis for imposing 
punishment.  Several cases have been reported in which victims 
have died.  In one case, the husband was tried and sentenced to 
15 years in prison.  In another, the family ultimately withdrew 
the charges and the husband remains at liberty.

The majority of women enter into marriage through "bride price 
payment".  On those islands where the custom of paying "bride 
price" is observed, the woman is regarded as the property of 
the husband and may be dealt with as he chooses.


Children are loved and protected within the traditional 
extended-family system, in accordance with the family's 
financial resources and access to services.  Members of the 
extended family, particularly paternal uncles, play an active 
role in a child's development.  As a result, virtually no 
children are homeless or abandoned.  Though cases of child 
abuse are sometimes reported, there is no pattern of societal 
abuse.  Although the present Government has made education a 
priority, access is limited and school attendance is not 
compulsory.  Within the limits of its resources, the Government 
is committed to the welfare, and the protection of the rights, 
of children.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Most of the population is comprised of Melanesians whose 
ancestors probably originated in New Guinea.  Small minorities 
of Chinese, Fijians, Vietnamese, Tongans, and Europeans are 
generally concentrated in two towns and on a few plantations 
and experience some discrimination with regard to land 
ownership.  Although there have been allegations of corrupt 
practices by members of the Government, there is no evidence to 
suggest a pattern of ethnic discrimination in the provision of 
basic services.

     People with Disabilities

There is no known governmental or national policy on the 
disabled.  Their protection and care is left to the traditional 
extended family and voluntary nongovernmental organizations.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Vanuatu's workers have the right to organize unions.  Unions 
may not affiliate with international labor federations without 
government permission.  The fundamental legislation 
establishing the right to organize unions, setting out the 
scope of union activity, and providing for the arbitration and 
conciliation of labor disputes consists of the Trade Union Act 
of 1983 and the Trade Disputes Act of 1983.  Complaints of 
antiunion discrimination are referred to the Commissioner of 

There are 5 trade unions with over 4,000 members in the private 
and public sectors.  The high percentage of the population 
still engaged in subsistence agriculture and fishing serves as 
a deterrent to extensive union activity.  The unions are 
grouped under an umbrella organization, the Vanuatu National 
Committee of Unions, which is a member of the International 
Confederation of Free Trade Unions.  The trade unions are 
independent of the Government.

Strikes seldom occurred in the past, due in part to high rates 
of unemployment.  In 1993 an important strike took place when 
over three-quarters of Vanuatu's teachers walked off the job, 
demanding a 25 percent increase in their salaries.  Although 
the 3-week strike was ultimately settled when the Government 
granted the teachers a 5 percent salary increase, the 
Government failed to handle the matter within the established 
framework of the country's labor laws.  The strike was resolved 
after civil servants threatened to generalize the strike.  In 
the wake of the teachers' strike, the Government refused to 
allow two officials of the South Pacific Council of Trade 
Unions to enter the country, resulting in the cancellation of 
the council's triennial conference, scheduled to be held in 
Port Vila.  In late November, the Vanuatu public service union 
went on strike seeking a 16-percent pay raise to compensate for 
inflation.  At year's end the strike continued.  The courts 
declined the union's mid-December request that a conciliator be 
appointed and ordered the opposing parties to engage in 
face-to-face negotiation.

Unrelated to the strikes discussed above, and ignoring legal 
requirements for notification, the Government summarily 
dismissed a number of civil servants.  Critics contend that the 
Government's motivations are political.  Several of the people 
dismissed have successfully fought their dismissals through 
appeal to the Vanuatu national court system.  Others are 
expected to appeal.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Unions exercise the right to organize and bargain 
collectively.  Labor unions negotiate wages and conditions 
directly with management.  If the two sides cannot agree, the 
matter is referred to a three-member Arbitration Board 
appointed by the Minister of Home Affairs.  The board consists 
of one representative from organized labor, one from 
management, and the senior magistrate of the magistrate's 
court.  While a dispute is before the board, labor may not 
strike and management may not dismiss union employees.  Unions 
and management, however, generally reach agreement on wages 
without having to refer the matter to arbitration.

There are no export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law, and there have 
been no reports that either is practiced.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Children under 12 years of age are not permitted to work 
outside of family owned agriculture, where many children assist 
their parents.  Employment of children from 12 to 18 years of 
age is restricted by occupational category and conditions of 
labor--for example, restrictions on employment in the shipping 
industry and nighttime employment.  The laws are effectively 
enforced by the Labor Department.  The high level of 
unemployment discourages the use of child labor.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

Vanuatu has a legislated minimum wage, effectively enforced by 
the Labor Department.  Minimum wage rates were last raised in 
November 1991 to $107 monthly for urban workers and $93 monthly 
for rural workers (13,200 and 11,440 vatu, respectively).  
Agricultural workers' minimum wages are tied to the market 
prices for copra and cocoa.  Most workers are not in the wage 
economy and are thus outside the scope of the minimum wage 
laws.  For those covered by them, the wages provide an adequate 
standard of living within the local context.

Various laws regulate the rights to sick leave, annual 
vacations, and other conditions of employment, including a 
44-hour maximum workweek.  Vanuatu's Employment Act, enforced 
by the Labor Department, includes provisions for safety 
standards.  However, the 1987 safety and health legislation is 
inadequate to protect workers engaged in logging, agriculture, 
construction, and manufacturing.  It lacks provisions for 
sanitation and protection against substandard electrical 
wiring, machinery, and exposure to agricultural and industrial 
chemicals.  Even so, the single inspector attached to the Labor 
Department is hard pressed to enforce the Act fully.  After 
visits by International Labor Organization consultants, a new 
occupational health and safety act and an industrial relations 
act have been drafted.  It is expected that they will be 
submitted to the Parliament in 1994.

[end of document]


Department Seal

Return to 1993 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.