US Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
The Marshall Islands Human Rights Practices 1995
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, with a total land area
of about 70 square miles. The approximately 56,000 inhabitants are of
Micronesian origin and concentrated primarily on Majuro and Kwajalein
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 Nitijela vote, and he appoints his Cabinet from its membership.
Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States is responsible
for defense and national security, and the Marshall Islands has no
external security force of its own. The national and local police
forces, supervised by the Ministry of Justice, have responsibility for
internal security. These agencies honor constitutional and legal civil
rights protections in executing 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
expanding fishing industry generate limited revenues.
The Government fully respects the human rights of its citizens, but its
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 Freedom
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
- There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
- There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
- The Constitution expressly forbids such practices, and there were no
reports that officials employed them. Prison conditions, while Spartan,
meet minimal international standards. The Government permits visits by
human rights monitors.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
- The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and
the Government observes this prohibition.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or
- The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the
Government respects this in practice.
- The Constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the
Government generally enforces this right. Government interest in a 1995
land-lease dispute between the country's largest private sector employer
and two traditional chiefs contributed to the failure of local police to
enforce a high court injunction against the chiefs. This unwillingness
to act resulted in the company's land-lease termination and closing of
its store, one of the country's largest, despite a valid 7-year lease.
The dispute was later settled out of court.
- There were no reports of political prisoners.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
- The Constitution provides for freedom from such practices, government
authorities respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to
effective legal sanction.
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. There is a
cable television company which normally shows U.S. programming but
occasionally covers local events. The cable company is owned and
operated by members of the political opposition.
- A U.S. citizen and longtime resident operates the country's sole
privately owned newspaper. The editor and two reporters are U.S.
citizens as well.
- The Government publishes a monthly gazette containing official news and
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 freedom of religion, and the Government
respects this right in practice.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to
Change Their Government
- The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects
them in practice.
- There are no refugees, and the Government has no formal policy about
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their
government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right through
periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal
suffrage. The Government is chosen by secret ballot in free and open
elections every 4 years. Suffrage is universal for citizens 18 years of
age and older. There are no restrictions on the formation of political
parties, although political activity by foreigners is prohibited. The
Marshall Islands has had the same President since 1979 due primarily to
traditional loyalties and concentrated political influence. In January
1996, the President was reelected by the Nitijela to a 4-year term.
There are no legal impediments to women's participation in government
and politics. A woman serves as the Minister of Education, and two hold
deputy minister positions. The mayor of Majuro, the country's capital
and principal urban center, also is a woman. Although women have an
increasing role in government, they remain underrepresented in
Parliament and other government positions.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigations 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
The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race,
color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or
social origin, place of birth, family status or descent, and the
Government respects these provisions.
- There are allegations of violence against women, mainly related to
domestic abuse. However, this is not considered to be a serious or a
widespread problem. The Government's health office advises that few
such cases are reported to the authorities, but many more are believed
to go unreported. Assault is a criminal offense, but women are
reluctant to prosecute spouses. Women's groups have been formed to
publicize women's issues and to create a greater awareness of the rights
- 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.
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. Marshall
Islands is working to incorporate the provisions of the Convention of
the Rights of the Child into law. 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 as a consequence of making such a report. Because the
Attorney General's Office considers the Child Abuse Law vague and
difficult to apply, ways to improve it are being explored. Child abuse
is thought to be relatively uncommon, and there have been few child
abuse prosecutions. The Government investigated two child sexual abuse
cases in 1995, both involving foreign offenders. The first case
resulted in a conviction on the lesser charge of assault; the second
remained under investigation at year's end.
Section 6 Worker Rights
- There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment,
education, or in the provision of other state services. Until 1994
there were no building codes, and there is still no legislation
mandating access for the disabled. There have been no reported
instances of discrimination against the disabled.
a. The Right of Association
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, although none have 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
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 domestic enterprises.
The law requires compulsory education for children 6 to 14; but the
Government does not enforce this law due to a lack of classrooms and
teachers. There is no law or regulation setting a minimum age for
employment of children.
- 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 wage for all government and private sector
employees is $2.00 per hour. (The U.S. dollar is the local currency.)
The Ministry of Resources and Development oversees minimum wage
regulations, and its oversight has been deemed 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. Most businesses are closed and people generally
refrain from work on Sunday. Although legislation was adopted in 1994
that shortened the workweek of most government employees in an attempt
to cut official spending, no changes have been implemented.
- A government labor office makes recommendations to the Nitijela on
working conditions, i.e., minimum wage, legal working hours and overtime
payments, and occupational health and safety standards in accordance
with International Labor Organization conventions. The office
periodically convenes board meetings that are 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 there is no legislation
protecting workers who file complaints about such conditions.
Bibliographic citation for this document
US Department of State (1996) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The Marshall Islands Human Rights Practices. 1995. Released March 1996
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