The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001.  Please see www.state.gov 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

flag
bar

TITLE:  VAUATU HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995










                            VANUATU


Vanuatu, a small South Pacific island nation which became 
independent in 1980, has a parliamentary form of government 
with a 46-member Parliament, including a Prime Minister, and a 
President.  The latter's powers are largely ceremonial, except 
when acting on the advice of the Council of Ministers.  
Political legitimacy is based on majority rule.

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 again to lead other sectors of the economy in 1994.

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

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial  
killings.

     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.  The law provides that prisoners shall have 
recourse to the Ombudsman, a constitutional position filled for 
the first time in July.  Laws and regulations governing the 
office are still to be defined.

     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 the 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 judicial 
determination of the validity of arrest or detention, and 
appeal to the Supreme Court.  The courts are free of military 
or executive interference.

There were no political prisoners.

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

There were no reports of arbitrary interference with privacy, 
family, home, or correspondence.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the Constitution provides for freedom of speech and 
press, the Government does not fully respect this in practice 
and frequently uses its control over access to the media to 
prevent opposition viewpoints from reaching the general 
public.  In 1993 the Government threatened to revoke the 
editor's work permit and the publication license of Vanuascope, 
an independent newspaper, because it defied a government ban on 
covering the statements of an opposition political party.  With 
the demise of Vanuascope early in 1994 due to financial losses, 
the Government controls all of the nation's domestic media.  In 
December the Prime Minister's Office instructed the 
government-run Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation 
to submit stories on political events for approval, ostensibly 
to ensure their accuracy.

A Pacific regional news agency (PACNEWS) was permitted to move 
its headquarters to Vanuatu in January 1994 and has continued 
to enjoy freedom to transmit its stories throughout the region, 
even when they include criticism of political leaders in the 
country.  Correspondents for international media are also 
allowed to report from Vanuatu without interference; they write 
largely for external audiences.  Even so, the Government 
continues to manipulate the media to its advantage.  The 
political opposition and trade unionists often encounter 
difficulty in getting press statements broadcast and published 
in state-controlled media.  The national court tends either to 
uphold the Government's ban on access to media or to refuse to 
hear such cases.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Permits must be obtained to hold public demonstrations and 
rallies.  In response to a general strike (see Section 6.a.), 
the Government in February obtained a court order prohibiting 
picketing on government property.

The Government did not restrict the forming of political 
parties or other groups.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion and the Government 
generally respected it 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.  In the wake of an 
extended strike (see Section 6.a.), the Government stopped an 
athlete from leaving the country to compete in regional 
championships.

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 is a 
coalition of Prime Minister Maxime Carlot Korman's Francophone 
Union of Moderate Parties and the Deputy Prime Minister's 
People's Democratic Party, which broke from the Anglophone 
National United Party in midyear.  In opposition are the 
Vanua'aku Party, National United Party, and three others.  
Outside observers generally consider campaigns and voting 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.).

There were reports of government discrimination in the 
provision of services to persons and communities suspected of 
or known to be supporting opposition political candidates.  The 
Government has also been charged with politically biased 
employment practices (see Section 6.a.).

In Vanuatu's traditional society, males are dominant and women 
are frequently limited to customary family roles.  These 
traditional attitudes have hampered those women who have sought 
to take more active roles in economic and political life.  
There is only one female member of Parliament.

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

There are no restrictions on the formation of local 
nongovernmental human rights organizations (NGO's).  Vanuatu's 
first such NGO, Human Rights Forum, was founded in late 1994.  
An NGO to promote and protect the rights of women, The Women's 
Center (formerly Committee on Violence Against Women), provides 
counseling and conducts workshops to improve the status of 
women.

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.  There are no women serving as leaders in 
Vanuatu's municipal or village councils, churches, or chambers 
of commerce.  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.

While no accurate data are available, violence against women, 
particularly wife beating, is reportedly common and on the 
rise.  However, very few cases of wife beating are brought to 
the attention of the authorities, and even fewer are 
prosecuted.  Usually the women involved drop the cases before 
trial.  In villages, where custom is strong, women who have 
been beaten, abused, or raped frequently suffer greater 
punishment than their abusers.  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.  At a 
conference on violence sponsored by the Women's Center, a 
senior government minister said that traditional village 
societies had dealt effectively with women's issues for 
thousands of years and cautioned against "inappropriate" 
Western notions of equality.  The Government has refused the 
Center's application to establish a women's refuge, ostensibly 
because of fears that it would encourage the breakup of 
families.

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.  In some 
areas, women are still forced to marry men chosen for them.

     Children

Children are 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.  The 
Government has made education a priority, but access is limited 
and school attendance not compulsory.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Most of the population is made up of Melanesians.  Small 
minorities of Chinese, Fijians, Vietnamese, Tongans, and 
Europeans are generally concentrated in two towns and on a few 
plantations; they experience some discrimination with regard to 
land ownership.  Although there have been allegations of 
corrupt practices by a member 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, and no legislation mandates access for the disabled.  
Their protection and care is left to the traditional extended 
family and to voluntary nongovernmental organizations.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

The law provides workers with the right to organize unions.  
Unions may not affiliate with international labor federations 
without government permission.

There are 5 trade unions, with a combined membership of more 
than 4,000, in the private and public sectors.  The high 
percentage of the population still engaged in subsistence 
agriculture and fishing deters extensive union activity.  The 
unions are grouped under an umbrella organization, the Vanuatu 
National Council of Trade Unions (VCTU), a member of the 
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.  The trade 
unions are independent of the Government.

Strikes are generally uncommon, due in part to high rates of 
unemployment.  The union movement declared the country's first 
general strike in February in support of the long-running 
public servants' strike begun in November 1993 over wages.  The 
Vanuatu Teachers Union (VTU) and private sector Vanuatu 
National Union of Labor (NUL) joined the Vanuatu Public 
Servants Union (VPSA) in a 24-hour strike in February.  During 
the general strike, there were reports of isolated violence, 
some allegedly instigated by a government minister.  
Approximately 50 strikers were arrested, and 4 were convicted 
of contempt of court for defying a court order against 
picketing on government property.  They were sentenced to 6 
months' imprisonment, later suspended.  Private sector 
employers fired at least 20 private sector strikers as a result 
of the general strike.  The Government also suspended about 170 
teachers who had joined the strike, although approximately 90 
percent have been reinstated.  In March the Chief Justice 
restrained the VCTU and three of its leaders from claiming or 
alleging to have legal authority to represent their members in 
relation to the strike.  In June the Government formally 
dismissed two VTU leaders from their teaching positions for 
advising members to join the February general strike.

The long-running public servants' strike affected postal, 
health, and agricultural sectors badly.  In January the 
Government dismissed all daily rate workers and suspended all 
strikers, approximately 1,200, and reportedly prohibited 
state-owned media from airing union views.  At the end of 
February, the Supreme Court ruled that the VPSA had not 
complied with its own rules when it undertook strike action, 
and it declared the strike illegal, without addressing the 
legality of the Government's subsequent suspensions.  (Public 
service rules require a hearing before dismissal.  No strikers 
were granted such a hearing.)  The Government formally 
dismissed all strikers in March.  Of the approximately 400 
full-time public servants dismissed, 100 reportedly applied for 
reinstatement.  Only 15 have been rehired, with loss of 
seniority and rank, amid credible allegations that the 
Government's decisions were politically influenced.  In a test 
case, the court ruled in November that the Public Service 
Commission should conduct a hearing on the dismissal of a 
medical doctor.  At year's end, the hearing had not yet been 
held.  Public services are gradually returning to normal, but 
some offices are still understaffed.  The law prohibits 
retribution if the strike is legal.  In the case of private 
sector employees, violations would be referred to the Labor 
Department for conciliation and arbitration.  In the public 
sector, violations would be handled by the Public Service 
Commission.

In the wake of the strike, in February the Government 
reportedly stopped a local athlete from leaving the country to 
compete in championship games in New Zealand because he had 
participated in strike action.  The Government also reportedly 
canceled previously approved overseas scholarships for public 
servants involved in the strike.

     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.  Complaints 
of antiunion discrimination are referred to the Commissioner of 
Labor.  While the law does not require union recognition, once 
a union is recognized, it does prohibit antiunion 
discrimination.  In the private sector, violations are referred 
to the Labor Department for conciliation and arbitration; in 
the public sector, to the Public Service Commission.  There are 
no known instances of such complaints.

There are no export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there have 
been no reports that either is practiced.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law prohibits children under 12 years of age from working 
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 Labor Department 
effectively enforces these laws.  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 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, with at least one 24-hour rest 
period.  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, and the single inspector attached to the Labor 
Department is hard pressed to enforce the Act fully.  Workers 
do have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work 
situations.

(###)


[end of document]

flag
bar

Department Seal

Return to 1994 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.