Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 23, 2000

Kiribati is a constitutional republic with a popularly elected president and a legislative assembly 40 members of which are elected by universal adult suffrage, and 2 of whom are members by virtue of their office. The country has a population of 78,400, who occupy 33 small islands widely scattered across 1.365 million square miles of the central Pacific. The population is primarily Micronesian, with a significant component of Polynesian origin. The judiciary is independent.

A police force of about 250 personnel is controlled effectively 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.

The Government generally respected citizens' human rights; however, in the traditional culture, women occupy a subordinate role and have 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 seek 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 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 these prohibitions.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent and free of governmental interference.

The judiciary consists of a high court, magistrate courts, a court of appeal, and land courts. Litigants also have the right of appeal to the Privy Council in London.

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 provided for in law. Procedural safeguards are based on English common law.

There were no reports of 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 of the press, and the Government respects these rights in practice; however, there were some instances in which the Government limited these rights.

The radio station and the only newspaper are government owned. An opposition leader recently tried to open a private radio station before the national elections in November 1998, but the Government closed it, citing the need to comply with licensing regulations prior to broadcasting. The station remained closed throughout the year, pending litigation of the issue. In addition, in August the Cabinet declared a foreign journalist a prohibited immigrant and precluded his return to the country, after the journalist published articles that "gave a bad impression of the country," according to Cabinet officials. 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

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

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

Citizens choose the Government in periodic free and open elections. The President, who is elected for a 4-year term, exercises executive authority. 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.

Voters reelected President Teburoro Tito to a second term in November 1998, with 52.3 percent of the votes. Most of President Tito's cabinet ministers have served in the previous cabinet.

Women are underrepresented in politics and government. Two women hold permanent secretary positions, and one is a 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 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.

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. Society is fundamentally egalitarian and has no privileged chiefly class. Women

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 of women. However, women may not work at night except under specified circumstances (generally in service jobs such as hotel clerks). 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. Women have full and equal access to education.


Within its limited financial resources, the Government makes adequate expenditures for child welfare. Primary education is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 12 years. Following a national examination, about 40 percent of primary school graduates qualify to attend secondary school.

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 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 law provides for the right to strike. However, strikes are rare, the last one having taken place in 1980.

Unions are free to affiliate internationally. The KTUC is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

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, individual employees also may negotiate wages with employers. Negotiations are generally nonconfrontational, in keeping with 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. The prohibition does not specifically mention children, but forced and bonded labor by children does not occur.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14. Primary education is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 12. 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 rarely are employed outside the traditional economy. Although not prohibited specifically, forced and bonded labor by children does not occur (see Section 6.c.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government has taken no concrete action to implement longstanding legislation authorizing the 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. Workers can remove themselves from hazardous work sites but they risk loss of employment if they do not first obtain approval from their employers.

f. Trafficking in Persons

The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons; however, there were no reports that persons were trafficked in, to, or from the country.

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