Palau | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Palau

Palau

Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores

Status

Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

1.5

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

1
Overview: 


Vice President Tommy Esang Remengesau was elected president in a narrow victory over Senator Peter Sugiyama in November 2000 and took office on January 19, 2001. He listed unity and cooperation as his immediate objectives and pledged to continue expanding the domestic economy. In June, Palau took steps to combat its reputation as a money laundering haven, with the passage of several pieces of legislation designed to address the problem.

The Republic of Palau is an archipelago of more than 300 islands and islets at the western end of the Caroline Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Purchased by Germany from Spain in 1889, Palau was seized in 1914 by Japan, which administered the islands under a League of Nations mandate from 1920. In 1944, the United States occupied the islands, which became part of the U.S.-administered United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific in 1947.

In 1979, Palau adopted a constitution requiring 75 percent approval at a referendum before nuclear-related activities could occur in its territory. In 1981, Palau became self-governing, though still under U.S. control as part of the Trust Territory. Haruo Remelik became the country's first president and was reelected in November 1984 to a second four-year term. He was assassinated in 1985, and Alfonso Oiterong took over as acting president. In a special presidential election in August 1985, Oiterong was defeated by Lazarus Salii. In August 1988, President Salii was found dead in his office, an apparent suicide. Ngiratkel Etpison was elected his successor in November that year. Kuniwo Nakamura was elected president in 1992 and won his second four-year term in 1996. In October 1994, Palau gained full independence.

Between 1983 and 1990, Palau had seven plebiscites on the Compact of Free Association with the United States. None managed to cross the three-fourths majority required for approval. Several factors prevented the Compact's early adoption, including disagreements over the amount of U.S. aid commitment, concerns about the requisition of land for U.S. military purposes, and incompatibilities between provisions providing facilities for U.S. nuclear forces and Palau's nuclear-free constitution. In the presidential election in 1992, voters amended the constitution to require a simple majority for the passage of the Compact, which voters approved in 1993 with a 64 percent majority. Under the terms of the Compact, Palau has full sovereignty, but the United States takes responsibility for defense and obtains the right to maintain military facilities. In exchange, Palau is granted U.S. financial assistance over a 15-year period unBetween 1983 and 1990, Palau had seven plebiscites on the Compact of Free Association with the United States. None managed to cross the three-fourths majority required for approval. Several factors prevented the Compact's early adoption, including disagreements over the amount of U.S. aid commitment, concerns about the requisition of land for U.S. military purposes, and incompatibilities between provisions providing facilities for U.S. nuclear forces and Palau's nuclear-free constitution. In the presidential election in 1992, voters amended the constitution to require a simple majority for the passage of the Compact, which voters approved in 1993 with a 64 percent majority. Under the terms of the Compact, Palau has full sovereignty, but the United States takes responsibility for defense and obtains the right to maintain military facilities. In exchange, Palau is granted U.S. financial assistance over a 15-year period un-

Palau was accused of involvement in money laundering activities by the United States and various European countries in 1999. After four U.S. banks put a ban on the U.S. dollar trade with Palau, along with Vanuatu and Nauru, the Palau government established a banking commission and sought assistance to develop anti-money-laundering legislation. Following a favorable report from the U.S. State Department in March, several pieces of legislation designed to ensure closer supervision of financial transactions were introduced in June.

Following an exchange of formal recognition in December 1999, the first Taiwanese ambassador arrived in Palau in April 2000. In August, Palau agreed to propose a resolution in support of Taiwan's bid to participate in the UN.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Citizens of Palau can change their government democratically. The constitution vests executive power in the president, who is directly elected for a four-year term. The vice president is elected on a separate ticket. The bicameral parliament consists of a senate, whose 14 members are elected on a geographical basis, and a 16-seat house of representatives with 1 member elected from each of the 16 states. Elections are competitive and tend to revolve around personalities and issues rather than party affiliation. The 16-member Council of Chiefs advises the government on issues involving tribal laws and customs. The chiefs wield considerable traditional authority, and there are often tensions between the chiefs and political leaders. In July, President Tommy Esang Remengesau revived proposals to shift to a unicameral legislature, citing the economic and administrative benefits of a streamlined bureaucratic process.

The judiciary is independent. There is also an independent special prosecutor and an independent public defender system. Local police are under direct civilian control, but foreign residents have reported that law enforcement officials are less thorough in their investigation of crimes against non-Palauan citizens.

The government respects freedom of speech and of the press. There are government and private newspapers, but the state-run radio and television broadcast services are the primary sources of news and information. Two religious groups maintain independent radio stations. There is also a private cable television system with widespread coverage. Freedom of religion exists in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.

Freedom of association is respected. There are currently no active employee organizations, and laws regarding the right to strike or to bargain collectively do not exist. The wage-earning sector is very small.

Foreign nationals constitute a third of the population and nearly half the labor force, and they face discrimination in employment and education as well as random violence. Employers occasionally coerce foreign workers, particularly domestic or unskilled laborers, into remaining at their jobs by withholding their passports. In August, Palau imposed an official ban on the entry of Indian and Sri Lankan nationals to the country. A government minister cited an increase in the number of disputes between workers and their local employers, as well as social tension arising from religious differences--the majority of Palauans are Roman Catholic while the migrants are predominantly Muslim.

Inheritance of property and traditional rank is matrilineal, which gives women a high status in society. Nevertheless, domestic violence, often linked to alcohol or drug abuse, remains a problem, and many women are reluctant to report their spouses to law enforcement authorities. Limited opportunities and gender bias also pushed many women from Palau to seek opportunities for education and a career by enlisting in the U.S. military. Women have been underrepresented in politics and government; however, in the most recent elections, a woman was elected vice president and also holds the post of minister of administration.