|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.
TITLE: WESTERN SAMOA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DATE: FEBRUARY 1995 WESTERN SAMOA Western Samoa, a small Pacific island country with a population of approximately 160,000, is a parliamentary democracy but 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, Malietoa Tanumafili II, who 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 have the responsibility to direct the economic, social, and political affairs of the aiga. Western Samoa has 330 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 Apia, the capital city. The economy is primarily agricultural and is susceptible to shifts in world prices for its export commodities. 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 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. The principal human rights abuses arise out of political discrimination against women and non-matai, and violence against women. Societal pressures may interfere with the ability to conduct fair trials, and there are some restrictions on freedom of speech and press and religion. A 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 There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings. However, there was one instance of vigilante killing arising out of a decision by a village council dispensing traditional justice (see Section 1.e.). b. Disappearance There were no reports of politically motivated disappearance. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, 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. 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 Act 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. In a 1993 court case, a village fono ordered the property of a villager to be burned after he had disobeyed and flouted village rules. An angry mob killed the villager and burned all his belongings. The villager who actually shot the victim was tried in 1994 and sentenced to death by the Supreme Court. The six matai members, though originally charged by the Supreme Court with inciting murder, were subsequently only charged with willful damage and received a minimal fine and no jail sentence. Western Samoa's Attorney General has lodged an appeal on the grounds that the sentence was "inadequate and inappropriate." f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence Western 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 The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press. The Government prints a weekly newspaper containing news and features dealing largely with government activities. The Newspapers and Printers Act and the Defamation Act in 1993 require journalists to reveal their sources in the event of a defamation suit against them. To date, no court case has required that these acts be invoked. In 1994 the Prime Minister charged the local press with irresponsible journalism after one of his parliamentary speeches was reported inaccurately. He raised the possibility of legislation against what he called biased and malicious reporting, but no action has been taken. Two English-language newspapers and numerous Samoan-language newspapers are printed regularly in the country. The Government operates a radio station and the country's sole television station, and there are two private radio stations. 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. In 1994 Tumua and Pule, traditional leadership groups representing the two major islands of Upolu and Savaii, staged a major incident-free demonstration against a newly imposed value-added tax. c. Freedom of Religion The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, along with freedom of thought and conscience. Nearly 100 percent of the population is Christian. However, 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 choose 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, but in practice some citizens have been banished either from village activities or completely from the village. The Government actively supports emigration as a "safety valve" for pressures of a growing population, for potentially rebellious youths, and because it increases foreign income through remittances. The Government does not restrict foreign travel arbitrarily or the right of citizens to return from abroad. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Citizens have the right to change their government through direct, multiparty elections, but women's political rights are restricted by their lack of matai titles. While all citizens above the age of 21 may vote, the right to run for 47 of the 49 seats in the Legislative Assembly remains the prerogative of the approximately 25,000 matai, 95 percent 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 are open to them alone. The 12-member Cabinet has 1 female member, and women hold 2 of the 47 seats in Parliament. The first female judge was named in 1994. The political process in Western Samoa is more a function of personality than of party. The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) led by its leader, Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana, holds the majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Samoan National Development Party is the opposition party. 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 female matai) play an important role in society and may occasionally reach high office. Women The traditional subordinate role of women is changing, albeit slowly, especially in the more conservative parts of society. While abuse of women is prohibited by law, social custom tolerates physical abuse of women within the home. 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--which village custom strongly discourages. While police do receive some complaints from abused women, domestic violence offenders are most often punished by village councils, but only if the abuse is considered extreme. ("Extreme abuse" would be visibly evident signs of physical abuse.) The village religious leader may also intervene in domestic disputes. Many cases of rape may still go unreported because tradition and custom discourage it. In spite of this, the authorities note a greater number of reported cases of rape, as women are slowly becoming more forthcoming with the police. Rape cases that do reach the courts are treated seriously. Convicted offenders are often given relatively stiff sentences of several years' imprisonment. Children The Government's commitment to the welfare of children is reflected in legislation and in its continued efforts to strengthen the educational system. The law prohibits abuse of children, but tradition tolerates physical abuse of children within the home. People with Disabilities The Government has passed no legislation pertaining to the status of handicapped or disabled persons or regarding accessibility for the disabled. 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, two trade unions have been organized. The Western Samoa National Union, organized in 1994, is a six-member association which includes workers from the three major banks. A second union represents members at the sole large factory in the country. Both unions are independent of the Government and political parties. There are no laws specific to union activity in Western Samoa. The Commissioner of Labour would adjudicate any cases of retribution against strikers or union leaders on a case-by-case basis. The Public Service Association, representing government workers, an increasingly important sector of the work force, also 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, but in 1994 there were none. 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, they have seldom practiced it due to the newness of union activity and the inexperience of union leaders. However, the Public Service Association engages in collective bargaining on behalf of government workers, including bargaining on wages. Minimum wages are set by an advisory commission to the Minister of Labour. Wages in the private sector are determined by competitive demand for the required skills. Any antiunion discrimination case would be reported to and adjudicated by the Commissioner of Labour. 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 as amended, 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 occurs. 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 as amended established for the private sector a 40-hour workweek and a small minimum wage. The hourly minimum wage is $0.42 (Tala 1.05). This minimum wage suffices for a basic standard of living when supplemented by the subsistence farming and fishing in which most families engage. The Labour and Employment Act of 1972 provides that no worker should be required to work for more than 40 hours in any 1 week. The Act 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. Many agricultural workers, among others, are inadequately protected from pesticides and other dangers to health. Government education programs are addressing these concerns. The Act does not apply to service rendered to the matai. While the Act does not specifically address the right of workers to remove themselves from a dangerous work situation, a report of such a case to the Commissioner of Labour would prompt an investigation, without jeopardy to continued employment. Government employees are covered under different and more stringent regulations, which are adequately enforced by the Public Service Commission. (###)
[end of document]
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.