Freedom in the World
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Samoa officially joined the World Trade Organization in May 2012. Protests over land rights turned violent in August, resulting in one police officer being injured. In November, Samoa launched the first internet-based television station in the Pacific Islands.
Germany controlled what is now Samoa between 1899 and World War I. New Zealand administered the islands under a UN mandate after World War II. The country gained independence in 1962.
The centrist Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has dominated politics since independence. Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi of the HRPP secured a second term as prime minister in the 2006 legislative elections, in which the HRPP captured the most seats. Former prime minister Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi was elected head of state by the legislature in June 2007.
In the March 2011 parliamentary elections, the HRPP took 36 seats, while the Tautua Somoa Party (TSP) captured the remaining 13. The elections were generally regarded as fair and open, though the electoral court found four lawmakers from both the HRPP and the TSP guilty of bribing voters, and stripped them of their seats. Special by-elections were held in July 2012 to fill the four seats; the HRPP captured all of them, boosting its majority to 40 seats. Prime Minister Tuilaepa was elected to a third term.
In April 2012, the Supreme Court rejected claims from villagers from Satapuala over 8,000 acres of land near the airport that they claimed was unlawfully taken from them by colonial authorities and kept by subsequent governments on the grounds that the villagers had accepted new land for resettlement. About 200 villagers protested at the prime minister’s office in July. Demonstrations continued into August, turning violent when police attempted to remove a roadblock set up by villagers to block traffic to and from the airport. Witnesses reported gunshots, and a police officer was injured. In November, a member of parliament from Satapuala and 17 matai from the village pleaded not guilty to charges including obstruction and unlawful assembly. The hearing was adjourned until 2013.
Samoa depends heavily on tourism and remittances from Samoans living abroad, both of which have fallen in recent year. Samoa has been forging closer ties with China, including through the sale of fishing licenses—an important local source of employment—though the rapid expansion of China’s presence in the local economy has local business leaders warning of rising social tensions. Samoa formally joined the World Trade Organization in May 2012.
In December, Cyclone Evan—the worst cyclone to hit Samoa in two decades—caused widespread damage to crops and infrastructure, and resulted in more than a dozen fatalities.
Samoa is an electoral democracy. The head of state, who is elected by the 49-member Legislative Assembly, appoints the prime minister. 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.
Matai, or chiefs of extended families, control local government and churches through the village fono, or legislature, which is open only to them. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the village fono could not infringe on freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, or association. Nevertheless, entire families have been forced to leave their villages for allegedly insulting a matai, embracing a different religion, or voting for political candidates not endorsed by the matai. Approval of the matai is essential for most candidates for elected office.
Official corruption and abuses are a source of increasing public discontent. In September 2012, local media published an anonymous letter to the prime minister alleging widespread corruption in the police force, conflicts of interest, and immoral behavioral among senior officers. The police launched an internal investigation, though no progress on the investigation had been reported at year’s end.
Freedoms of speech and the press are generally respected. The government operates one of three television stations, and there are several English-language and Samoan newspapers. In September 2012, the Samoan Reform Commission recommended the creation of a self-regulating media council to set standards for fairness, accuracy, and balance in the news media. It also suggested repealing legislation requiring journalists to reveal their sources in court. No actions were taken on these recommendations by year’s end. In 2011, the government ended its monopoly on telephone and internet services. In November 2012, Bluesky Samoa launched Moana TV, the first internet-based station in the South Pacific.
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, and human rights groups operate freely. Workers, including civil servants, can strike and bargain collectively. Approximately 60 percent of adults work in subsistence agriculture, and about 20 percent of wage earners belong to trade unions.
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 minimum international standards.
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; serious offenses result in banishment from the village.
Domestic violence against women and children is widespread. Spousal rape is not illegal, and social pressure and fear of reprisal inhibit reporting of domestic abuse. In 2011, the government rejected a call by the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality, arguing that it was contrary to Samoan culture and values.