Freedom in the World
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Prime Minister Tuila’epa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi and his Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) won a majority in the April 2006 general elections. In May, the government banned the commercial screening and rental of the movie The Da Vinci Code after religious leaders voiced objections to it . Separately, the attorney general resigned in August, reportedly under government pressure stemming from an election fraud case.
Germany controlled this group of Pacific islands between 1899 and World War I. New Zealand then administered the islands under a League of Nations mandate and, after World War II, a United Nations mandate. The country became independent in 1962 and changed its name from Western Samoa to Samoa in 1988. Samoa depends heavily on remittances from more than 100,000 Samoans working overseas.
The centrist Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has dominated politics since independence. Tofilau Eti Alesana, who became prime minister in 1982, resigned in 1998 for health reasons. He was replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Tuila’epa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, who led the HRPP to another victory in March 2001 by winning 30 of the 49 parliamentary seats. The main opposition party, the Samoa Democratic United Party (SDUP), chose Valasi Tafito as its new leader after its former secretary, Tofa S’a Atonio Lemi, was killed by an assailant in Auckland, New Zealand, in October 2005.
In the April 2006 general elections, the HRPP won 35 of the 49 seats and secured a second full term for Tuila’epa. The opposition SDUP took 10 seats and independents took 4 seats. Violence occurred in some parts of Samoa where local populations were unhappy with the results, but disturbances were generally minor, and the elections were considered open and fair.
Political and public debates continued during the year over the role and powers of village chiefs in Samoa. Matai , or chiefs of extended families, control local government and churches through the village fono , or legislature, which is open only to them. While many serve their communities well in solving conflicts and providing leadership, there have been cases of abuse of power in recent years. For example, families have been banished from villages and their homes burned down because they belonged to churches other than those recognized by the government.
In May 2006, the government banned the commercial screening and rental of the film The Da Vinci Code . Church and traditional leaders—both highly influential—opposed the showing of the movie on the grounds that it went against Christian teachings.
The attorney general resigned in August, reportedly under intense pressure from the government over her handling of a case involving an election fraud charge against a former government minister. The reason behind the attorney general’s resignation was not made public, and the government asked her to stay until her replacement was found. In November, the government selected her replacement from a field of 10 applicants.
Samoa is an electoral democracy. The 2006 legislative elections were deemed free and fair. Universal suffrage was implemented in 1990, before which only the matai could vote. Executive authority is vested in the chief of state. The 93-year-old Chief Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili II holds this title for life, but the Legislative Assembly will elect his successor for five-year terms. The chief of state appoints the prime minister, who heads the government and names his own cabinet. In 2003, the number of ministries was reduced from 27 to 14 through mergers designed to streamline the government. All laws passed by the 49-member unicameral legislature must receive approval from the chief of state to take effect. Although candidates are free to propose themselves for electoral office, approval of the matai is essential. Two Parliament seats are reserved for “at large” voters, mostly citizens of mixed or non-Samoan heritage who have no village ties. All of the lawmakers serve five-year terms. The main political parties are the long-ruling HRPP and the opposition SDUP.
Official corruption and abuses do not appear as widespread or serious as in some other states in the region. Nevertheless, there have been allegations of corruption over the years. Samoa was not ranked in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech and the press is generally respected. The government operates one of the country’s three television stations. The other two were both launched in 2006. There are three English-language and several Samoan newspapers. Journalists are legally required to reveal their sources in defamation suits against them, but this law has not been tested in court. In 2004, publishers, journalists, and civil society groups called on the government to abolish the Printers and Publishers Act of 1982 and the Law of Criminal Libel. Opponents claim the statutes make it easier for government officials to sue them. There are several internet service providers, and internet use is growing rapidly. The government plans to issue a second telecommunications license to increase competition and improve service.
The government respects freedom of religion in practice, and relations among religious groups are generally amicable. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1990 Village Fono (Council of Chiefs) Act, which gives legal recognition to fono decisions, could not be used to infringe on villagers’ freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and association. This ruling followed a fono decision in the village of Saluilua to banish members of a Bible study group that the fono regarded as illegal. Similar rulings by the Supreme Court followed in 2003 and 2004. The government appointed the Law Reform Commission in 2003 to address conflicts between traditional customs and Christianity. There have been no recent reports of restrictions on academic freedom.
Freedom of assembly and association are respected in practice, and human rights groups operate freely. More than 60 percent of adults work in subsistence agriculture, and about 20 percent of wage earners belong to trade unions. Workers have the legal right to bargain collectively, and government workers can strike. Samoa joined the International Labor Organization in 2005. Publicly employed doctors went on strike in September 2005 for better working conditions and higher pay. The government ordered the striking doctors to return to work, and those who had received government scholarships were threatened with legal action and barred from leaving Samoa. In the end, the government accepted most of the strikers’ demands, except an increase in pay for new doctors. The strike, which lasted several months, severely hampered the delivery of health services.
The judiciary is independent and upholds the right to a fair trial. The Supreme Court is the highest court, with full jurisdiction over civil, criminal, and constitutional matters. The chief of state, on the recommendation of the prime minister, appoints the chief justice. Prisons meet basic international standards, and there have been no recent reports of prisoner abuse or corruption in adjudication.
Samoa has no armed forces; the small police force is under civilian control. The police have little impact in the villages, where most disputes are settled by the fono, and punishments usually involve fines in cash or kind. Banishment from the village is reserved for serious offenses. Fono vary considerably in their decision-making styles and in the number of matai involved, and abuses by some fono officials have caused the public to question the legitimacy of their actions.
Freedom of movement is generally respected. A new permanent resident permit was introduced in 2004 as part of the Immigration Act of that year. The cabinet is required to determine annually the eligibility and residency requirements for permanent resident permits.
Domestic violence against women and children is common and reported to be increasing. Spousal rape is not illegal. Domestic abuse typically goes unreported because of social pressure and fear of reprisal. Sexual abuse of young girls and illegal drug use are both increasing. In November, the prime minister accepted an invitation to serve as patron of the first citizen group to support fa’afafine , males who take on female roles in society.