Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The legal status of gambling remained a controversial issue in Palau in 2013. In May, President Tommy Remengesau rejected a bill that would have legalized casinos, citing a 2011 referendum in which 75 percent of voters rejected legalizing the practice.
In March, Remengesau proposed banning commercial fishing and turning Palau’s waters into a marine sanctuary to attract more tourists. A law passed in 2011 allowed for the exploitation of oil and gas resources in Palau’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
Political Rights: 37 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12
Palau’s bicameral National Congress or Olbiil Era Kelulau consists of the 9-member Senate and the 16-member House of Delegates. Legislators are elected to four-year terms by popular vote, as are the president and vice president. The president may serve only two consecutive terms. In 2012, Remengesau—who served as president from 2001 to 2009—defeated incumbent Johnson Toribiong with 58 percent of the vote. In concurrent parliamentary elections, all candidates ran as independents.
Palau is organized into 16 states, each of which is headed by a governor and has a seat in the House of Delegates. Every state is also allowed its own constitutional convention and to elect a legislature and head of state.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 15 / 16
There are no political parties, though no laws prevent their formation. The current system of loose political alliances that can quickly form and dismantle has had a destabilizing effect on governance.
A Compact of Free Association with the United States provides economic assistance in exchange for U.S. military access to the archipelago. In addition, citizens enjoy visa-free travel to the United States and can reside, study, and work there, as well as access to U.S. federal government programs. The compact runs through 2044. Palau’s leaders have continued to lobby hard for the ratification of a 2010 financial agreement to increase total U.S. assistance, though the U.S. Congress has claimed its budget deficit is too large to justify further aid.
C. Functioning of Government: 10 / 12
Government corruption and abuse are problems, with several high-ranking public officials having faced charges in recent years. Anti-money laundering measures have been in place since 2007, but the general attorney’s office lacks resources to implement them. In August 2013, the House of Delegates adopted a resolution asking the president to review all executive branch positions in order to avoid redundancy. Senate approval is needed for the resolution to take effect.
Civil Liberties: 55 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16
Freedoms of speech and the press are respected. There are several print publications, five privately owned radio stations, and one privately owned television station. Cable television rebroadcasts U.S. and other foreign programs. Internet access is limited by high cost and lack of connectivity outside the main islands.
Freedom of religion is respected. Although religious organizations are required to register with the government, applications have never been denied. There have been no reports of restrictions on academic freedom, and the government provides well-funded basic education for all. A December 2012 law requires Palauan language instruction in all primary and secondary schools chartered in Palau or receiving public funds.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 11 / 12
Freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Many nongovernmental groups represent youth, health, and women’s issues. Workers can freely organize unions and bargain collectively. Union membership and activity are low, however, in an economy largely based on subsistence agriculture.
F. Rule of Law: 15 / 16
The judiciary is independent, and trials are generally fair. Palau had its first jury trial in 2012. In June 2013, Senator Hokkons Baules, who had been on probation for assault charges, was sentenced to 30 days in prison for attacking a patient at the Bureau of Behavioral Health with a chair; Baules was reportedly defending himself.
A 300-member police and first-response force maintains internal order. Palau has no military. There have been no reports of prisoner abuse, though overcrowding is a problem. The government announced in August 2013 it would build a new prison outside the capital after an escaped prisoner entered a hotel and robbed and injured a tourist.
In March 2013, Remengesau called on the United States to resettle six Uighur Chinese who had been transferred to Palau in 2009 from the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The United States had paid Palau $600,000 to temporarily house the Uighurs; Palau says the funds have been exhausted.
Foreign workers account for about one-third of the population and 75 percent of the workforce. There have been reports of discrimination against and abuse of such workers, who cannot legally change employers once they arrive. In 2009, the government set the total number of foreign workers in the country at any time to 6,000.
In 2011, Palau pledged to end discrimination against gay men and lesbians following a UN audit of human rights. However, Palau continues to maintain laws that criminalize consensual sexual activity between same-sex adults.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 13 / 16
Palauans enjoy freedom of travel, choice of residence, employment and institution of higher learning. There are also no restrictions on property ownership or businesses for Palauans, but bureaucratic red-tape and official corruption are frequent complaints.
Women are highly regarded in this matrilineal society; land rights and familial descent are traced through women. Women are active in the economy and politics. The number of domestic violence and child abuse cases is small. Sexual harassment and rape, including spousal rape, are illegal.
Palau has been cited in multiple annual U.S. State Department Human Trafficking Reports as a destination country for forced prostitution (women) and labor (men and women). In 2012, police investigated several cases of forced labor and offered assistance and housing to victims, but law enforcement in general lacks training and resources to fight human trafficking.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year