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Kiribati Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997.



Kiribati comprises some 78,400 people occupying 33 small islands widely scattered across 3.5 million square kilometers of the central Pacific. The population is primarily Micronesian, with a significant component of Polynesian origin. Kiribati gained full independence from the United Kingdom in 1979 and became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. It has a popularly elected president and a legislative assembly with 39 members elected by universal adult suffrage, and 2 who are members by virtue of their office.

A police force of about 250 personnel is effectively controlled by civilian authority.

Economic activity consists primarily of subsistence agriculture and fishing. The islands' isolation and meager resources, including poor soil and limited arable land, severely limit prospects for economic development.

Society is egalitarian, democratic, and respectful of human rights. There were no reports of specific human rights abuses, but in the traditional culture women occupy a subordinate role with limited job opportunities.


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 Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are forbidden by the Constitution, corporal punishment is permitted under traditional mores for criminal acts and other transgressions. On some outer islands, the island councils occasionally order strokes with palm fronds to be administered for public drunkenness and other minor offenses such as petty thievery.

The authorities strive to meet minimum international standards for prisons but have limited financial resources. Food and sanitation are limited. Family members and church representatives are allowed access to prisoners. The question of monitoring of prison conditions by local human rights groups has not arisen, and no policy concerning such monitoring has been formulated.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and the Government observes this prohibition.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent and free of governmental interference. The right to a fair public trial is provided by law and observed in practice. The Constitution provides that an accused person be informed of the nature of the offense for which he is charged and be provided adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The right to confront witnesses, present evidence, and appeal convictions is enshrined in law. Procedural safeguards are based on English common law.

There are no political prisoners.

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

The law prohibits such practices. Government authorities respect these provisions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanctions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government respects this right in practice. The radio station and the only newspaper are government owned but offer a variety of views. Churches publish newsletters and other periodicals. Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, including the right to form or belong to associations for the advancement or protection of a group's

interests, and the Government does not impose any significant restrictions in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion prevails. There is no state or preferred religion. Missionaries are free to seek converts.

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

The law provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. There were no reports of refugees. The Government has not formulated a policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum.

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

The Government is chosen by the people in periodic free and open elections. Executive authority is exercised by the President, who is elected for a 4-year term. No less than three and no more than four presidential candidates are nominated by the elected Legislative Assembly from among its members. Under the Constitution the President is limited to three terms.

The snap general election of August 1994 saw the formation of Kiribati's first real political party, the Maneaban Te Mauri Party (MTM), as opposition forces united to bring down the National Progressive Party (NPP). (The NPP, the group which had led Kiribati since independence in 1979, has never been organized as a political party.) In those elections, the MTM won 19 of the 39 seats (2 more are ex officio), and an MTM leader, Teburoro Tito, was elected President.

Women are underrepresented in politics and government. No women hold ministerial or permanent secretarial positions, and none hold national elective office.

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 organizations that concern themselves with human rights, but to date none has been formed. There have been no reported allegations of human rights violations by the Government and no known requests for investigations. Kiribati is not a member of the United Nations.

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

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, national origin, or sex, and the Government generally observed this prohibition in practice. Kiribati society, fundamentally egalitarian, has no privileged chiefly class.


Violence against women does not appear to be a major problem in this isolated, rural society. Rape is a crime under the law, and the law is enforced when charges are brought to court. To the extent that it exists, wife beating is dealt with informally and in a traditional way; frequently, communal pressure is brought to bear.

The traditional culture in which men are dominant has been an impediment to women taking a more active role in the economy. This is slowly changing, and more women are finding work in unskilled and semiskilled occupations. There are also signs of increased government hiring and promotions to redress this culturally based inequity. Women have full and equal access to education.

Statistics on the participation of women in the work force and on comparative wages are unavailable. Women have full rights of ownership and inheritance of property.


Within the limited resources of the Government, adequate expenditures are made for child welfare. If child abuse exists, it is rare and has not become a source of societal concern.

People with Disabilities

There is no evidence or complaint of discrimination in employment, education, or provision of other state services. Accessibility for the disabled has not been mandated.

Section 6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Freedom of association is provided for in the Constitution. Workers are free to organize unions and choose their own representatives. The Government does not control or restrict unions. Over 90 percent of the work force is occupied in fishing or subsistence farming, but the small wage sector has a relatively strong and effective trade union movement. In 1982 the seven registered trade unions merged to form the Kiribati Trade Union Congress (KTUC). It has approximately 2,500 members, mostly from the public service sector. The KTUC is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The law provides for the right to strike. However, strikes are rare, the last one having taken place in 1980.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining is provided for under the Industrial Relations Code. The Government sets wages in the large public sector. However, in a few statutory bodies and government-owned companies, employees may negotiate wages and other conditions. In the private sector employees may also negotiate wages with employers. Negotiations are generally nonconfrontational, in keeping with Kiribati tradition. There have been no reports of antiunion discrimination. However, mechanisms exist for resolving any such complaints.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and it is not practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14. Children through the age of 15 are prohibited from industrial employment and employment aboard ships. Labor officers from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Employment normally enforce these laws effectively, given the rudimentary conditions of the economy and its industrial relations system. Children are rarely employed outside the traditional economy.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government has taken no concrete action to implement longstanding legislation authorizing establishment of minimum wages. There is no legislatively prescribed workweek. The Government is the major employer in the cash economy.

Employment laws provide rudimentary health and safety standards for the workplace. Employers must, for example, provide an adequate supply of clean water for workers and ensure the existence of sanitary toilet facilities. Employers are liable for the expenses of workers injured on the job. The Government's ability to enforce employment laws is hampered by a lack of qualified personnel. Women may not work at night except under specified circumstances (generally in service jobs such as hotel clerks).

[end of document]


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