US Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
The Marshall Islands Human Rights Practices 1994
The Republic of the Marshall Islands, a self-governing nation
under the Compact of Free Association with the United States,
is composed of a number of small islands in the central
Pacific, comprising a total land area of about 70 square
miles. The population of approximately 50,000 is of
Micronesian origin and concentrated primarily on Majuro and
The Constitution provides for free and fair elections,
executive and legislative branches, and an independent
judiciary. The legislature consists of the Nitijela, a
33-member Parliament, and a Council of Chiefs (Iroij), which
serves a largely consultative function dealing with custom and
traditional practice. The President is elected by majority
vote of the Nitijela, and he appoints his Cabinet from its
Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States is
responsible for defense and national security, and the Marshall
Islands has no security forces of its own. The national and
local police forces, supervised by the Ministry of Justice,
have responsibility for internal security. These agencies
observe constitutional and legal protections of civil rights in
carrying out their responsibilities.
The economy depends mainly on transfer payments from the United
States. Coconut oil and copra exports, a small amount of
tourism, and the fishing industry generate limited revenues.
Human rights abuses are rare, but government influence leads to
occasional instances of self-censorship in sensitive political
or cultural areas.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
- There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial
- There were no reports of disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
- The Constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or
degrading treatment or punishment, and there was no evidence
that it occurred.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
- The Constitution provides for safeguards against arbitrary
arrest and detention, and no such incidents were reported.
Forced exile does not occur.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
- The Constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial,
and this right is observed in practice. The Government
provides legal counsel for the indigent. There were no
reported denials of fair public trial.
- The law provides for privacy of the home. This is respected by
the Government. There was no known instance of arbitrary
intrusion by the State into the private life of the individual.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
- The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press,
and the Government generally honors these rights in practice.
However, government influence leads to occasional
self-censorship by the media in areas of political or cultural
sensitivity. There are four operating radio stations, one
government owned, and three privately owned, including one
owned by a prominent member of the opposition. A cable
television company is owned and operated by members of the
political opposition. It shows U.S. programming but
occasionally covers local events. In 1994 the Government
closed the single television station, operated by the national
museum, as a cost saving measure.
- A U.S. citizen and longtime resident operates the country's
sole newspaper. The editor and two reporters are also U.S.
- In September the Nitijela passed a resolution expressing its
displeasure over public comments attributed to a prominent U.S.
attorney that were perceived to be critical of the Government.
The resolution did not repeat what was said, nor did it state
what the Government found offensive. The resolution demanded
that the attorney express a formal apology, which he did in a
letter to the President.
- The Government publishes a monthly gazette containing official
news and notices only.
c. Freedom of Religion
- The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and
association, and this is observed in practice.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
- The Constitution provides for the free exercise of religion and
this is observed in practice.
- Citizens are free to travel within the country and abroad.
Neither emigration nor repatriation is restricted.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
- The Constitution provides citizens this right and it is
exercised in practice. The Government is chosen by secret
ballot in free and open elections every 4 years. Suffrage is
universal for those 18 years of age and older. The formation
of political parties is not restricted, although political
activity by aliens is prohibited. The Marshall Islands,
however, has had the same President since 1979, due primarily
to traditional loyalties and concentrated political influence.
- There are no legal impediments to women's participation in
government and politics. A woman currently serves as the
Minister of Education, and two women serve in deputy minister
positions. The mayor of Majuro, the country's capital and
principal urban center, also is a woman. Although women's role
in government is increasing, they remain underrepresented in
Parliament and other government positions.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
- While there are no official restrictions, no local
nongovernmental human rights organizations have been formed.
No international human rights organization has expressed
interest or concern or visited the country.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Disability, Language, or Social Status
a. The Right of Association
- Inheritance of property and of traditional rank is matrilineal,
with women occupying positions of importance within the
traditional system. No instances of unequal pay for equal work
or sex-related job discrimination were reported.
There are occasional allegations of violence against women,
mainly related to domestic abuse. According to the
Government's public health office and women's groups, only a
few such cases are reported to the authorities every year, but
many more are believed to go unreported. Although assault is a
criminal offense, women are reluctant to prosecute their
People with Disabilities
- The Government is committed to children's welfare through its
programs of health care and education, but these have not been
adequate to meet the needs of the country's sharply increasing
population. The Domestic Relations Amendment of 1993 defines
child abuse and neglect and makes them criminal offenses.
Other legislation requires teachers, caregivers, and other
persons to report instances of child abuse and exempts them
from civil or criminal liability. According to the Attorney
General's office, however, the child abuse law is vague and
difficult to apply. That office at year's end had the law
under study with a view to proposing revisions which would
make it more clear and practical. Child abuse is thought to be
relatively uncommon, and there have been no child abuse
- There is no legislation specifically prohibiting discrimination
based on disability. Until 1994 there were no building codes,
and there is still no legislation requiring access for the
disabled. There have been no reported instances of
discrimination against the disabled.
Section 6 Worker Rights
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
- The Constitution provides for the right of free association in
general, and the Government interprets this right as allowing
the existence of labor unions; however, none has been formed to
date. The Constitution does not provide for the right to
strike, and the Government has not addressed this issue.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
- There is no legislation concerning collective bargaining or
trade union organization. However, there are no impediments to
the organization of trade unions or to collective bargaining.
Wages in the cash economy are determined by market factors in
accordance with the minimum wage and other laws.
- There are no export processing zones.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
- The Constitution prohibits involuntary servitude, and there is
no evidence of its practice.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
- The law does not prohibit the employment of children. Children
are not typically employed in the wage economy, but some assist
their families with fishing, agriculture, and other small-scale
family enterprises. The law requires compulsory education for
children aged 6 to 14; but the Government does not enforce this
law due to a lack of classrooms and teachers.
- There is a government-specified minimum wage established by
law, and it is adequate to maintain a decent standard of living
in this subsistence economy, where extended families are
expected to help less fortunate family members. The minimum
hourly wage for all government and private sector employees is
$1.50. (The U.S. dollar is the local currency.) The Ministry
of Resources and Development oversees minimum wage regulations,
and its oversight has been considered adequate. Foreign
employees and Marshallese trainees of private employers who
have invested in or established a business in the country are
exempt from minimum wage requirements. This exemption does not
affect a significant segment of the work force. There is no
legislation concerning maximum hours of work or occupational
safety and health, although most businesses are closed on
Sundays. In 1994, in an attempt to cut government spending,
legislation was passed to shorten the workweek of most
- A Labor Board makes recommendations to the Nitijela on working
conditions, e.g., minimum wage, work hours, overtime payments,
and occupational health and safety standards in accordance with
International Labor Organization conventions. The Board meets
periodically and is open to the public. There is no
legislation specifically giving workers the right to remove
themselves from situations which endanger their health or
safety without jeopardy to their continued employment, and no
legislation protecting workers who file complaints about such
Bibliographic citation for this document
US Department of State (1995) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The Marshall Islands Human Rights Practices. 1994. Released February 1995
Dirk H.R. Spennemann,
Institute of Land, Water and Society,
Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789,
Albury NSW 2640, Australia.
(c) US Department of State