Samoa | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2010

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Village chiefs continued to deliver harsh sentences in 2009, ruling in March to banish a family from the village of Vaimoso. The September tsunami that struck Samoa and neighboring islands cost the country $58 million in damages. In June, the parliamentary speaker failed in his attempt to remove nine members of parliament for allegedly violating the Electoral Act.

Germany controlled what is now Samoa between 1899 and World War I. New Zealand then administered the islands under a League of Nations mandate; after World War II, a UN mandate. The country became independent in 1962 and changed its name from Western Samoa to Samoa in 1988.
The centrist Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has dominated politics since independence. Tuila’epa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi secured a second term as prime minister in the 2006 general elections, with the HRPP winning 35 of the 49 legislative seats. The main opposition party, the Samoa Democratic United Party (SDUP), captured 10 seats, and independents took the remainder.
In May 2007, Samoa’s head of state, Malietoa Tanumafili II, died at age 94, after serving for 45 years; he had been appointed for life at independence. The legislature in June elected former prime minister Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi to serve a five-year term as the new head of state.
The role and powers of village chiefs continue to be source of controversy. Matai, or chiefs of extended families, control local government and churches through the village fono, or legislature, which is open only to them. Many provide leadership and help their communities to solve conflicts, but abuse of power and excessive punishment also occur. In February 2009, six matai were charged with arson for destroying a banished family’s home in 2005. In a separate case that attracted national attention in March, the matai of the village of Vaimoso banished Vaiotu Mulitalo, a former cabinet minister, along with his wife and children, for bestowing three chiefly titles without approval from the matai and for other actions that allegedly insulted the dignity of the village; the matai rejected the family’s plea for forgiveness and request to return. The family took the case to the land and titles court, which ruled in the matai’s favor.
The parliamentary speaker disqualified and removed nine members of parliament in June, alleging they had violated the Electoral Act by joining the new Tautua Samoa Party midterm. The accused parliamentarians argued that they had created the party, but were not members, and the Supreme Court ruled in July that they should return to their seats.
In September, a massive tsunami hit Samoa and neighboring islands, killing more than 170 Samoans and causing $58 million in damages. This disaster caused further economic hardships for Samoa despite a rapid inflow of aid from the United States and other countries.        

The switch to driving on the right side of the road in Septemberstirred a great deal of public debate in 2009, as citizens questioned the purpose of the change and the costs of buying new road signs and remodeling vehicles to comply with safety regulations.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Samoa is an electoral democracy. The 2006 legislative elections were deemed free and fair. Executive authority is vested in the head of state, who is elected for five-year terms by the Legislative Assembly. The head of state appoints the prime minister, who leads the government and names his own cabinet. All laws passed by the 49-member, unicameral Legislative Assembly must receive approval from the head of state to take effect. Although candidates are free to propose themselves for electoral office, the approval of the matai is essential. Two legislative seats are reserved for at-large voters, mostly citizens of mixed or non-Samoan heritage who have no ties to the 47 village-based constituencies. All lawmakers serve five-year terms. The main political parties are the HRPP and the SDUP.
Official corruption and abuses do not appear as widespread or serious as in some other states in the region. Samoa was ranked 56 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedoms of speech and the press are generally respected. Despite continued criticism of the Printers and Publishers Act of 1982 and the Law of Criminal Libel, there have been no reports of intimidation or law suits against journalists in recent years. Journalists are legally required to reveal their sources in defamation suits against them, but this law has not been tested in court. The government operates one of three television stations and there are several English-language and Samoan newspapers. A state monopoly provides telephone and internet services, though internet access is not restricted by the government.The government continues to ban movies deemed contradictory to Christian beliefs and values, including Milk and Angels and Demons in 2009.
The government respects freedom of religion in practice, and relations among religious groups are generally amicable. There were no reports of restrictions on academic freedom.
Freedoms of assembly and association are respected in practice, and human rights groups operate freely. Approximately 60 percent of adults work in subsistence agriculture, and about 20 percent of wage earners belong to trade unions. Workers, including civil servants, have the legal right to strike and bargain collectively. Samoa depends heavily on remittances from some 100,000 Samoans living abroad.
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 head of state, on the recommendation of the prime minister, appoints the chief justice. Prisons generally meet international standards. A special program allows prisoners to return home on weekends to help them reintegrate with society. However, a January 2009 attack on a taxi driver by a parolee has strengthened critics’ arguments for discontinuing the program.
Samoa has no military, and the small police force has little impact in the villages, where the fono settles most disputes. The councils vary considerably in their decision-making styles and in the number of matai involved. Light offenses are usually punished with fines in cash or kind; serious offenses result in banishment from the village. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the 1990 Village Fono Act, which gives legal recognition to village fono decisions, could not be used to infringe on villagers’ freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and association. Similar Supreme Court rulings followed in 2003 and 2004.
Domestic violence against women and children is common. Spousal rape is not illegal, and social pressure and fear of reprisal inhibit reporting of domestic abuse. Sexual abuse of young girls and illegal drug use are both increasing.