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TITLE:  WESTERN SAMOA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993                         
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

                    WESTERN SAMOA


Western Samoa is a small Pacific island country located 1,600 
miles northeast of New Zealand with a population of 
approximately 160,000.  It is a parliamentary democracy with 
certain concessions to Samoan cultural practices.  The 
Constitution provides for a Samoan head of state, a unicameral 
legislature of matai (family heads) elected by universal 
suffrage, an independent judiciary, protection of Samoan land 
and traditional titles, and guarantees of fundamental rights 
and freedoms.  Executive authority is vested in the Head of 
State, with the Government administered by the Cabinet, 
consisting of the Prime Minister and 12 ministers chosen by 
him.  All laws passed by the Legislative Assembly need the 
approval of the Head of State.  The present one, Malietoa 
Tanumafili II, holds the position for life.  His successors 
will be elected by the Legislative Assembly for 5-year terms.

The culture of Western Samoa is essentially Polynesian but 
uniquely Samoan.  Traditional authority is vested in the matai 
who are appointed by a consensus of the aiga (extended family) 
or by decision of the fono (council of matai).  Ownership of 
land is legally vested in the matai who has the responsibility 
to direct the economic, social, and political affairs of the 
aiga.  Western Samoa has 362 villages with over 25,000 matai.  
Each village is governed by a fono, which can fine or otherwise 
punish offenses against village rules.

Western Samoa does not have a defense force.  The small 
national police force is firmly under the control of the 
Government but has little impact beyond the capital city.

The economy is primarily agricultural and is susceptible to 
shifts in world prices for its export commodities, such as 
coconut products.  In recent years, tourism and light industry 
have become increasingly important foreign exchange earners.  
Western Samoa is heavily dependent on foreign aid and on 
remittances sent to family members by more than 100,000 Samoans 
living abroad in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

Western Samoan society is based on a collective value system in 
which obligations and responsibilities to the aiga are often 
given precedence over individual rights.  Most disagreements 
are settled by decision of the fono.  Judgments usually involve 
fines or, more rarely, banishment from the village.

Principal human rights problems arise out of discrimination and 
violence against women.  Societal pressures may interfere with 
the ability to conduct fair trials.  A government-established 
public defender's office and an ombudsman's office help Samoans 
in their dealings with the courts and the Government.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Such killings are not known to occur.

     b.  Disappearance

There have been no reports of politically motivated 
disappearance.

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

Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or 
punishment are prohibited by law, and there have been no 
reports of such practices by police or other government 
authorities.  However, villages are controlled by customary 
law, and the fonos may mete out banishment as punishment when 
deemed necessary.  This is one of the harshest forms of 
punishment in this collective society.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law contains safeguards against arbitrary arrest and 
preventive detention, and these are widely observed.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

Western Samoan law assures the right to a fair public trial, 
which is honored by the official court system, modeled on the 
British system.  However, many civil and criminal matters are 
not handled by Western-style courts but by village fonos, which 
differ considerably both in their decisionmaking style and in 
the number of matai involved in the decisions.  The Village 
Fono Law of 1990 gives legal recognition to the decisions of 
the fono and provides for limited recourse of appeal to the 
Lands and Titles Courts and to the Supreme Court.  No appeals 
have yet been made to the Supreme Court.


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

Samoan law provides for protection from invasion of the home or 
seizure of property without substantive and procedural 
safeguards, including search warrants, which are issued by the 
judicial branch.  Practically, however, there is little or no 
privacy in the village.  Village officials by law must have 
permission to enter homes, but there can be substantial social 
pressure to grant such permission.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech and of the press are fundamental parts of the 
Constitution.  In 1993 the Government began printing a weekly 
paper of news and features which focuses largely on government 
activities.  The Government also passed the Newspapers and 
Printers Act and the Defamation Act in 1993, which require 
journalists to reveal their sources in the event of a 
defamation suit against them.  The two acts were strongly 
criticized by the local press.  To date no court case has 
required that these acts be invoked.  Two major newspapers, and 
many smaller ones, are printed regularly in the country.  The 
Government operates a radio station and the country's sole 
television station, and there is also a private radio station.  
Television from neighboring American Samoa is readily available 
to viewers in Western Samoa.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly 
and the right to form associations.  There are no significant 
restrictions.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is provided for in the Constitution, along 
with freedom of thought and conscience.  There is no 
government-favored religion.  Nearly 100 percent of the 
population is Christian.  While the Constitution grants each 
person the right to change religion or belief and to worship or 
teach religion alone or with others, in practice the matai 
often chooses the religious denomination of the aiga.  There is 
strong societal pressure to support church leaders and projects 
financially.  Such contributions often total more than 30 
percent of personal income.

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

The Constitution provides for freedom of internal movement and 
resettlement in Western Samoa, but in practice some citizens 
have been banished either from village activities or completely 
from the village.  Emigration is actively supported by the 
Government as a "safety valve" for pressures of a growing 
population, for potentially rebellious youths, and because it 
increases foreign income through remittances.  Foreign travel 
is not arbitrarily restricted.  The right of citizens to return 
to Western Samoa from abroad is guaranteed.

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

Samoan citizens have the right to change their government 
through direct, multiparty elections.  All citizens above the 
age of 21 may vote.  The right to run for 47 of the 49 seats in 
Legislative Assembly, however, remains the prerogative of the 
approximately 25,000 matai (virtually all of whom are men).  
The remaining two seats are reserved for citizens not of Samoan 
heritage.  While all adult Samoans may vote for the Legislative 
Assembly, matai continue to control local government through 
the village fono, which is open to them alone.  However, the 
system does permit change, and matai may be removed if they do 
not meet the responsibilities of their position.

The political process in Western Samoa is more a function of 
personality than of party.  The first party, founded in 1982, 
was the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP).  Its leader, 
Tofilau Eti Alesana, is the Prime Minister.  The HRPP holds the 
majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly.  The opposition 
party, the Samoan National Development Party, was formed in 
1988, replacing the previous Christian Democratic Party founded 
in 1985.  Unless the Government falls, the next general 
elections will not be held until 1996.

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

While there are no official restrictions against their 
formation, no official or private human rights organizations 
exist.  There are no reports of any international or 
nongovernmental requests for investigations of alleged 
violations of human rights.

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

Western Samoa is a homogeneous society with no significant 
ethnic minorities.  Samoan politics and culture are the product 
of a heritage of chiefly privilege and power, and members of 
certain families have some advantages.  While there is 
discrimination against non-matai and women, women (and 
particularly women matai) play an important role in society and 
may occasionally reach high office.  One of the 12 cabinet 
members is a woman, and there is one other female Member of 
Parliament.  The passage of universal suffrage in 1990 and the 
establishment of a Women's Affairs Ministry in 1991 provided 
substantial new rights and opportunities for women, but their 
traditional subordinate role is changing slowly in the more 
conservative parts of society.

     Women

Abuse of women and children is prohibited by law.  There is no 
history or evidence of abuse of women within the workplace, of 
any activity such as trafficking in women, or of any organized 
prostitution or related forms of exploitation.  Traditionally, 
social custom tolerates physical abuse of women within the 
home.  Most often this is limited to wife-beating.  The role 
and rights of the village fonos and tradition would prevent 
police from interfering in instances of domestic violence, 
barring a complaint from the victim.  While village custom 
discourages a victim of such abuse from seeking redress from 
the Government, the offender may be punished by the village 
council, if the abuse is considered extreme.  

It is widely assumed that many cases of rape go unreported.  
However, when such cases are brought before the courts, they 
are treated seriously.  Convicted offenders are often given 
relatively stiff sentences of several years' imprisonment.  

     Children

Abuse of children is prohibited by law, and there is no pattern 
of child labor.  Physical abuse of children is, however, 
traditionally tolerated within the home.  


The Government's commitment to the welfare of children is 
reflected not only in legislation but in its continued efforts 
to strengthen the educational system.  Approximately 10 percent 
of the Government's budget is devoted to education.  In 
addition to funding its own school system, the Government also 
provides financial support to a large number of church-related 
educational institutions in Western Samoa.  The Government does 
not provide special assistance for intellectually or physically 
handicapped children.  Schooling for such children is provided 
by private organizations.  

     National/Ethnic/Racial Minorities

The Constitution makes special provision to preserve the 
political rights of non-Samoans.  Persons of mixed ancestry who 
are culturally Samoan are fully accepted and may attain 
positions of considerable wealth and influence.  Several have 
held or hold cabinet positions and a number serve in the 
Parliament.

     People with Disabilities

There is no legislation pertaining to the status of handicapped 
or disabled persons in Western Samoa.  There are also no laws 
regarding accessibility for the disabled.  Both custom and 
practice permit such persons to play a role in society 
commensurate with their abilities.  Samoan tradition dictates 
that handicapped persons be cared for by their family, and this 
custom is widely observed in practice.  

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Western Samoan workers have legally unrestricted rights to 
establish and join organizations of their own choosing.  To 
date, only one trade union has been organized in the small 
private sector, with members coming from the sole large factory 
in the country.  A labor dispute and strike broke out in early 
1993, when management in the same factory challenged the 
legality of an unrecognized, breakaway labor group.  Government 
leaders publicly criticized the strike as counter to Samoan 
tradition.  The dispute was settled with the assistance of the 
Labor Commissioner.  The Public Service Association, 
representing government workers, an increasingly important 
sector of the work force, functions as a union.  The Supreme 
Court has upheld the right of government workers to strike, 
subject to certain restrictions imposed principally for reasons 
of public safety.  Workers in the private sector have the right 
to strike.  The Public Service Association freely maintains 
relations with international bodies and participates in 
bilateral exchanges.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

While workers have the legal right to engage in collective 
bargaining, this right seldom has been practiced due to the 
fact that unions have only recently appeared in the private 
sector.  However, the Public Service Association engages in 
collective bargaining on behalf of government workers, 
including bargaining on wages.  Arbitration and mediation 
procedures are in place to resolve labor disputes, although 
these rarely arise.  Labor law and practice in the one export 
processing zone are the same as in the rest of the country.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

While the Government does not demand compulsory labor and it is 
prohibited by law, in this collective society people are 
frequently called upon to work for their villages.  Most people 
do so willingly, but, if not, the matai can compel them to do 
so.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Under the terms of the Labor and Employment Act of 1972 and 
Regulations of 1973, it is illegal to employ children under 15 
years of age except in "safe and light work."  The Commissioner 
of Labor refers complaints about illegal child labor to the 
Attorney General for enforcement.  The Attorney General has 
received no complaints about violation of the child labor laws, 
which probably seldom occur.  The law does not apply to service 
rendered to the matai, some of whom require children to work, 
primarily on village farms.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor and Employment Act of 1972 and Regulations of 1973 
established for the private sector a 40-hour workweek and a 
small minimum wage.  The hourly minimum wage is $0.40 (one 
Tala).  This minimum wage suffices for a basic standard of 
living when supplemented by the subsistence farming and fishing 
in which most families engage.


The law also establishes certain rudimentary safety and health 
standards, which the Attorney General is responsible for 
enforcing.  Independent observers report, however, that the 
safety laws are not strictly enforced except when accidents 
highlight noncompliance.  In addition, many agricultural 
workers, among others, are inadequately protected from 
pesticides and other dangers to health.  Government education 
programs are addressing these concerns.  The law does not apply 
to service rendered to the matai.  Government employees are 
covered under different and more stringent regulations, which 
are adequately enforced by the Public Service Commission.




[end of document]

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