- There were no reported cases of COVID-19 in Tuvalu. Other than the closure of borders in mid-March virus-related lockdown measures were minimal, as no wave of infections arrived to disrupt everyday life and business. The government implemented a strict, 14-day quarantine protocol for repatriation of citizens abroad and similarly careful measures for repatriation of foreign citizens in Tuvalu. Commercial flights to the islands remained suspended at year’s end.
- The pandemic drew attention to the islands’ vulnerabilities, with government officials and others remarking that an outbreak could have had alarming effects due to the country’s geographic isolation and reliance on imports. In June, Prime Minister Kausea Natano, in his role as Pacific Island Forum chair, called for sustainable international assistance for Tuvalu and other fragile regional economies to recover from economic struggles related to the pandemic, as well as to protect against natural disasters and the impact of climate change.
- Cyclone Tino struck the country in January, causing extensive property damage and prompting concerns about food insecurity. A state of emergency was declared, and the World Bank granted the country $6 million to aid recovery efforts.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
A governor general represents the British monarch as ceremonial head of state. The prime minister, chosen by Parliament, leads the government, thus the legitimacy of the presidential election depends in part on the conduct of parliamentary elections. Independent candidate Kausea Natano became prime minister after the September 2019 elections, which were considered free and fair. He defeated another independent, Enele Sopoaga, in a secret ballot, receiving 10 of the 16 ministers’ votes.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The unicameral House of Assembly has 16 members who are directly elected through contests in eight geographical constituencies, each of which are represented by two members. The attorney general has an advisory role and does not vote. In the September 2019 elections, all candidates ran as independents. Two women ran for seats in Parliament, though only the incumbent Puakena Boreham was elected. Each of the main inhabited islands in Tuvalu is also governed by an elected local council.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Tuvalu’s legal framework provides for democratic elections, and the laws are fairly and impartially implemented. An appointed secretary to the government is responsible for the supervision of elections and maintenance of voter rolls. Local polling officers are authorized to adjudicate election-related disputes in their districts, and there is a mechanism through which appeals may be filed. The September 2019 elections were accepted by all relevant stakeholders and constituencies.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
There are no formal political parties, though no law bars their formation. Candidates typically run as independents and form loose, frequently shifting alliances once in office.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Tuvalu has an established pattern of democratic transfers of power. Individual prime ministers and governments have seldom lasted a full term in office in recent decades, with intense political rivalries sometimes prompting no-confidence votes in Parliament.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
Traditional elders and the main Protestant church play an influential role in society, but they do not exercise undue control over the political choices of voters and candidates.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
All Tuvaluans aged 18 and over who are present in the country on polling day but not imprisoned are eligible to vote. Politics are generally dominated by older, well-educated men. While women formally have full political rights, in practice their participation is somewhat inhibited by discriminatory and widespread biases. Two women ran in the 2019 parliamentary elections, and one of them (an incumbent) won a seat. A move to add two reserved seats for women was considered as part of a constitutional review process in 2018. No action appears to have been taken as of the end of 2019.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Tuvalu’s elected officials are able to develop and implement government policies and legislation without improper interference from any unelected entity. The country often receives funding from other countries and international entities to implement policies and programs. The Asian Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank, and partner countries provide the country with grants, but there have been no reported concerns of undue influence on government.
In August 2019, the Tuvalu government reaffirmed its commitment to its relationship with Taiwan, which precludes any diplomatic ties with China, and thus any influence China might have on Tuvalu’s government. China’s influence has grown in the Pacific, which has raised concerns of undue influence on the independence of policymaking in several other countries in the region.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Corruption is not a severe problem in Tuvalu, and the country’s independent auditing and law enforcement bodies are generally effective in combating graft, though there have been some corruption scandals in recent years.
Tuvalu is among the countries included in a new initiative, led by New Zealand in cooperation with the United Nations, to strengthen anticorruption laws in the Pacific Island region.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
Government operations and legislative processes are generally transparent, though there is no freedom of information law to guarantee and regulate public access to official records. While officials are legally obliged to disclose their assets and income, the rules are not consistently enforced, according to the US State Department.
In November 2019, the Tuvalu Parliament livestreamed government proceedings on social media for the first time. Information about changes in policy or circumstance in Tuvalu can take days to reach the body of the population, as well as the rest of the world; livestreaming parliamentary sessions sought to ameliorate these challenges.
In December 2020, the government announced plans to become a “paperless society,” by using blockchain technology to create a national digital ledger in which all public data would be stored.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides for freedom of the press, and there are no reported restrictions on this right, though the small media market does not support independent domestic news outlets. The government operates a radio station and a national newspaper. Many residents use satellite dishes to access foreign programming. Internet coverage has grown somewhat in recent years, though access is largely limited to the main island, and is expensive, inconsistent, and limited everywhere else.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution and laws provide for freedom of religion, and this right is generally respected in practice. A Protestant church, the Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu, has official status under the law, and about 97 percent of the population belongs to it. Cultural leaders are empowered to regulate local religious activities, and on smaller islands they sometimes discourage minority groups from proselytizing or holding public events.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
There are no significant restrictions on freedom of expression. The government does not improperly monitor personal communications or social media activity.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government typically upholds this right in practice.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of association is respected. Nongovernmental organizations operate without interference, providing a variety of health, education, and other services.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Workers in the private sector have the right to organize unions, bargain collectively, and strike. Public-sector employees can join professional associations and engage in collective bargaining, but they are not permitted to strike. Most labor disputes are resolved through negotiations in practice. The only registered union represents seafarers.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary is independent. The chief justice is appointed by the head of state on the advice of the cabinet, and other judges are appointed in the same manner after consultation with the chief justice. Judges cannot be removed arbitrarily.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
The authorities generally uphold due process during arrests, detentions, and trials. A public defense lawyer is available to detainees and defendants. However, the limited capacity of the legal system can lead to delays in court proceedings and access to counsel.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
There were no reports of physical abuse by police or in the prison system during the year. Criminal activity does not pose a major threat to physical security.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
While women generally enjoy equality before the law, discriminatory biases and social norms limit women’s role in society, and there are no specific legal protections against gender discrimination in employment.
Same-sex sexual activity is illegal and can be punished with imprisonment, though the law is not actively enforced. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not specifically banned.
There is no national legal framework for providing refuge to asylum seekers, nor were there any such applications reported in 2020.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Tuvaluans are free to travel within the country and abroad, and to relocate for purposes including employment and education. The country’s borders were closed to international travel in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government implemented a strict, 14-day quarantine protocol for repatriation of citizens abroad, and similarly careful measures for repatriation of foreign citizens in Tuvalu. Commercial flights to the islands remained suspended at year’s end.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
Tuvalu’s legal framework and government policies are generally supportive of property rights and private-business activity. However, laws and practices surrounding land ownership and inheritance favor men over women.
In June and July 2019, a dispute over a leasing agreement for the island’s airport escalated between landowners on the island Funafuti and the government. The landowners believed that the lease had expired after 25 years—in 2017—while the government claimed the original lease for the airport was set for 99 years. After landowners blockaded the runway, and the two parties went into negotiations, a case for the incident and dispute was filed in the High Court, which determined that the landowners had violated their lease agreement. Police were ordered to arrest anyone who interfered with flights, as the blockade was deemed to pose a “significant sovereign risk.”
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
Although personal social freedoms are generally respected, domestic violence often goes unreported because it is viewed as a private matter. There are no specific laws against spousal rape.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Forced labor is prohibited, and the government mandates basic protections against exploitative or dangerous working conditions, though enforcement is not proactive or consistent. Most of the labor force works in the informal sector or in small-scale fishing and agriculture. No law addresses forms of harmful or hazardous child labor, and the US State Department’s 2019 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, the most recent available, stated that there was evidence of child labor in the fishing industry and among domestic workers.
In 2018, Tuvalu created its first national human rights institution (NHRI) and will give the country’s ombudsman additional powers to promote and protect human rights on the island. The new NHRI was created to be aligned with the Paris Principles for independent and effective human rights institutions.
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