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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.

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[end of document]

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