Tuvalu | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2010

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Global climate change remained a key issue for Tuvalu’s government in 2009, as rising sea levels continue to threaten the island’s existence. In January, Tuvalu received a $2 million grant from the Asian Development Bank to advance public financial management and governance systems.

The Gilbert and Ellice Islands, situated in the central South Pacific Ocean, became a British protectorate in 1892 and a British colony in 1916. Polynesian Ellice Islanders voted to separate themselves from the Micronesian Gilbertese in 1974. In 1978, the Ellice Islands became independent under the name of Tuvalu, while the Gilbert Islands become part of Kiribati.
The country has had several changes of government since 2001 due to intense personal and political rivalries and the frequent use of no-confidence votes. Individual and tribal loyalties rather than formal party affiliations drive political alliances, and elected representatives frequently change sides while in office. This situation has sustained a decade-long debate over proposals to introduce direct popular elections for prime minister.
Disappointment with incumbent lawmakers prompted a large voter turnout—some 6,000 out of a population of 10,000—in the 2006 general elections, and newcomers took 7 of the 15 seats in Parliament. Apisai Ielemia, a former civil servant, was chosen as prime minister.
Global climate change and rising sea levels pose significant challenges to Tuvalu and other low-lying island states. The premier of Niue, a small island off the coast of New Zealand, offered refuge to Tuvaluans in August 2008, and many have accepted the invitation and migrated to the island.
In January 2009, the Asian Development Bank awarded Tuvalu a $2 million grant to support its public financial management and governance systems. Tuvalu’s other aid providers, including the United Nations and New Zealand, have stressed the necessity of improving governance, fiscal management, and transparency.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Tuvalu is an electoral democracy. The 2006 elections were free and fair. The head of state, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, is represented by a governor-general who must be a citizen of Tuvalu. The prime minister, chosen by Parliament, leads the government. The unicameral, 15-member Parliament is elected to four-year terms. A six-person council administers each of the country’s nine atolls. Council members are chosen by universal suffrage for four-year terms.
There are no formal political parties, although there are no laws against their formation. Political allegiances revolve around geography and personalities.
Tuvalu is one of the few places in the Pacific Islands where corruption is not a serious problem. The country was not ranked in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The constitution provides for freedoms of speech and the press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. The semipublic Tuvalu Media Corporation (TMC) operates the country’s sole radio station, television station, the biweekly newspaper Tuvalu Echoes, and the government newsletter Sikuelo o Tuvalu. Human rights groups have criticized the TMC for limited coverage of politics and human rights issues, but there have been no allegations of censorship or imbalances in reporting. Many residents use satellite dishes to access foreign programming. Internet access is largely limited to the capital because of cost and connectivity challenges, but authorities do not restrict access.
Religious freedom is generally respected. Religion is a major part of life in this overwhelmingly Christian country, and Sunday service is typically considered the most important weekly event. Academic freedom is also generally respected.
The constitution provides for freedoms of association and assembly, and the government upholds these rights. Public demonstrations are permitted, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provide a variety of health, education, and other services for women, youth, and the population at large. In 2007, Parliament approved a bill allowing the incorporation of NGOs, strengthening legal protection for civil society groups. Workers have the right to strike and can freely organize unions and choose their own representatives for collective bargaining. Public sector employees, numbering fewer than 1,000, are members of professional associations that do not have union status. With two-thirds of the population engaged in subsistence farming and fishing, Tuvalu has only one registered trade union—the Tuvalu Seaman’s Union—with about 600 members who work on foreign merchant vessels.
The judiciary is independent and provides fair trials. Tuvalu has a two-tier judicial system. The higher courts include the Privy Council in London, the court of appeal, and the high court. The lower courts consist of senior and resident magistrates, the island courts, and the land courts. The chief justice, who is also the chief justice of Tonga, sits on the high court about once a year. A civilian-controlled constabulary force maintains internal order. Prisons are basic, but there have been no reports of abuse.
Major sources of revenue for the state include the sale of coins and stamps, sale of tuna-fishing licenses to foreign fleets, and leasing of the country’s internet domain name, “.tv,” to foreign firms. Copra and handicrafts are Tuvalu’s main exports. About 10 percent of the annual budget is derived from the Tuvalu Trust Fund, a well-run overseas investment fund set up by Britain, Australia, and South Korea in 1987 to provide development assistance.

Traditional customs and social norms condone discrimination against women and limit their role in society. Women enjoy equal access to education, but they remain underrepresented in positions of leadership in business and government. There are currently no women in Parliament.Violence against women is rare. Rape is a crime punishable by law, but spousal rape is not included in the definition. No law specifically targets sexual harassment.