Tuvalu | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2011

2011 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


National elections held in September 2010 were considered free and fair, with no reported incidents of violence or fraud. Apisai Ielemia retained his parliamentary seat, but was replaced as prime minister by Maatia Toafa. In December, Toafa lost a confidence vote, and Willy Telavi was elected as Tuvalu’s new prime minister.

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.
Tuvalu saw several changes of government between 2001 and 2006, due to intense personal and political rivalries and frequent no-confidence votes. The government of Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia, elected in 2006, was relatively stable. In the September 2010 elections, 26 candidates—all independents—competed for 15 seats in Parliament. Ielemia won a second four-year parliamentary term, but was replaced as prime minister by Maatia Toafa, who had lost to Ielemia in the 2006 elections. Toafa, the leader of the opposition, won by a narrow margin—8 votes to 7—over Kausea Natano. The elections were considered free and fair, with no reported incidents of fraud or violence.
In December, Toafa was ousted in a no-confidence vote after Home Affairs Minister Willy Telavi declared that he would no longer support the prime minster. In the subsequent leadership vote, Telavi defeated Enele Sopoaga, 8 votes to 7, to claim the premiership.
Global climate change and rising sea levels pose significant challenges for Tuvalu and other low-lying island states. Tuvalu’s highest point is just five meters above sea level. Other immediate concerns for Tuvalu are high unemployment, environmental pollution, a shortage of fresh water, increasing dependence on food imports, and health problems, such as malnutrition.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Tuvalu is an electoral democracy. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, and 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, tribal loyalties, and personalities, with elected representatives frequently changing sides and building new alliances.
Tuvalu is one of the few places in the Pacific Islands where corruption is not a serious problem, though international donors have called for improvements in governance.
The constitution provides for freedoms of speech and the press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. The semi-public Tuvalu Media Corporation (TMC) operates the country’s sole radio and television stations, as well as the biweekly newspaper Tuvalu Echoes and the government newsletter Sikuelo o Tuvalu. Human rights groups have criticized the TMC for its 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 use is largely limited to the capital because of cost and connectivity challenges, but authorities do not restrict access.
Freedom of religion is upheld. In this overwhelmingly Christian country, religion is a major part of life, and Sunday service is typically considered the most important weekly event. Academic freedom is generally respected.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of association and assembly, and the government upholds these rights in practice. Public demonstrations are permitted, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provide a variety of health, education, and other services for women, youth, and the general population. A 2007 law allowing the incorporation of NGOs strengthened legal protection for civil society groups. Workers have the right to strike, 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 Overseas Seamen’s Union—with about 600 members who work on foreign merchant vessels. Remittances from these and other Tuvaluans working overseas are a major source of income for the country.
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, visits Tuvalu twice a year to preside over the High Court. A civilian-controlled constabulary force maintains internal order. Prisons are basic with no reports of abuse.
About 10 percent of Tuvalu’s 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.There have been few reports of violence against women. Rape is illegal, but spousal rape is not included in the definition. In August 2010, the police initiated an awareness campaign to encourage more women to report domestic violence. No law specifically addresses sexual harassment.