Micronesia | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2007

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In 2006, the government of the Federated States of Micronesia developed justice guidelines and a training handbook for law enforcement personnel to use in protecting the rights of juveniles. Officials also continued efforts to improve the country’s education system.

The United States administered Micronesia, which included the Marshall Islands and other Pacific island groups, between 1947 and 1979 as a UN Trusteeship Territory. In 1970, the Northern Marianas, Marshall Islands, and Palau demanded separate status from Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Yap; these latter four territories, representing 607 islands, became the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The FSM adopted a constitution and became self-governing in 1979 as the trusteeship expired and status negotiations with the United States continued.

In 1986, the independent FSM signed its first Compact of Free Association with the United States, acquiring U.S. economic assistance and external defense and granting the United States the right to establish military bases in the islands. A new compact extending the same core commitment for another 20 years came into effect in December 2003. In the first three years of the new pact, the FSM received $76 million in economic assistance for education, health, the environment, capacity building, infrastructure, and private sector development; another $16 million goes to a trust fund that is overseen by a joint board of U.S. and FSM trustees. Beginning in the fourth year, an annual decrement of $800,000 from sectoral grants will be reallocated to the trust fund until 2023. FSM citizens will also continue to enjoy visa-free entry to the United States, access to health services and education, and the ability to work without employment visas in the United States.

Compact funds represent one-third of the country’s national income, and the division of those funds has been a source of serious tension in federal-state relations. In 2003, the people of Faichuk island in the state of Chuuk threatened to leave the federation and seek a separate bilateral treaty with the United States unless Chuuk received a larger share of the compact funds; Faichuk is home to 30 percent of Chuuk’s population. Other states soon followed with similar demands. In response, the federal government agreed to increase the share of compact funds provided to the four states.

In May 2003, the legislature elected Joseph Urusemal, a former governor of Yap, over former president Leo Falcam to be the sixth president of the FSM. Redley Killion, who had been vice president in Falcam’s administration, was again chosen as vice president. In the March 2005 congressional elections, most incumbents were reelected. Proposed constitutional amendments to allow direct election of the president and vice president obtained support from more than 50 percent of the voters but fell short of the three-quarters majority required to pass.

The Department of Justice in 2006 developed guidelines and a training workbook to aid law enforcement personnel in protecting the rights of young people. The government also continued to struggle with limited resources to improve the delivery of education and other public services. The need to improve education and training was particularly emphasized, since foreign workers are imported when the native population is unprepared to take advantage of job opportunities, and unemployment among the native population creates tension with the foreign workers.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The FSM is an electoral democracy. The unicameral, 14-member legislature has one representative from each of the four constituent states, directly elected for four-year terms, and 10 representatives from single-member districts, directly elected for two-year terms. Holding nearly half of the country’s population, Chuuk has the largest number of congressional seats, a fact that has been a source of resentment among the three smaller states. The president and vice president are chosen from among the four state representatives in the legislature to serve four-year terms. By informal agreement, these two top offices are rotated among the representatives of the four states. Each state has its own constitution, elected legislature, and governor. State governments have considerable power, particularly in budgetary matters. Traditional leaders and institutions exercise significant influence in society, especially at the village level. There are no formal political parties, although there are no restrictions on their formation.

Political corruption and abuse of office are serious problems and a source of voter discontent. The FSM was not ranked in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The news media operate freely. In addition to government-published newsletters, there are several small private weekly and monthly newspapers. Television stations operate in three of the four states. Each state government runs its own radio station, and the Baptist church runs a fifth station. Cable television is available in Pohnpei and Chuuk. Satellite television is increasingly common. While the low levels of internet use are growing, the country’s small population and limited income makes it difficult for service providers to expand coverage and bandwidth.

Religious freedom is respected in this mainly Christian country. There are no reports of restrictions on academic freedom, but a lack of resources impedes efforts to upgrade access to and quality in education.

Citizens are free to organize civic groups, and there are a few student and women’s organizations. No labor unions exist, but there are no laws against their formation. The economy is dependent on fishing, tourism, assistance from the United States, and subsistence agriculture. No specific laws regulate work hours, recognize the right to strike and bargain collectively, or set workplace health and safety standards.

The judiciary is independent, but a lack of funds hinders improvements in the functioning of the courts. Cultural resistance to using the courts, particularly for sex crimes, results in many offenders not being brought to justice. In April 2006, the Justice Department completed guidelines and a training workbook for the police in dealing with juvenile offenders and victims. The action was meant to support implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the FSM is a party.

Women hold equal rights under the law, including those regarding property ownership and employment. Women generally receive equal pay for equal work and are well represented in the lower and middle ranks of the state and federal government. However, social and economic discrimination against women persists in the male-dominated culture of these islands. Domestic violence is common, and cases often go unreported because of family pressure, fear of reprisal, or an expectation of inaction by the authorities. Offenders rarely go to trial, and those found guilty usually receive light sentences.