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TITLE: VANUATU HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993 DATE: JANUARY 31, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE VANUATU 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 1993. Restrictions on freedom of speech and press, together with the treatment of women, remain the major human rights problems. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 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 Punishment 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 Correspondence 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 Women 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 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 Labor. 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.
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