Kiribati | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2015

2015 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


The island nation Kiribati, which consists of 33 atolls scattered across 811 square kilometers, continued to contend with limited opportunities for development, which is constrained by the country’s size, remote location, and lack of resources, as well as by environmental threats from climate change. The economy largely depends on interest from a trust fund built on royalties from phosphate mining, remittances from workers overseas, and foreign assistance. In 2014, the government warned that its resources are inadequate for sustaining the country’s high birth rate.

Following a number of deaths connected to domestic violence, public debate arose around the issues of legal protections against violence and the severity of punishment for individuals convicted of murder.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Political Rights: 36 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

The president of Kiribati is popularly elected in a two-step process whereby the unicameral House of Parliament nominates candidates from its own ranks and voters then choose one to be president. Forty-four representatives are popularly elected to the House of Parliament for four-year terms. The attorney general holds a seat ex officio, and the Rabi Island Council nominates one additional member. (Although Rabi Island is part of Fiji, many residents were originally from Banaba Island; British authorities forced their relocation when phosphate mining made Banaba uninhabitable.) The president, vested with executive authority by the constitution, is limited to three four-year terms.

Parliamentary elections in 2011 saw the ruling Pillars of Truth party winning 15 seats, and the opposition Karikirakean Tei-Kiribati and Maurin Kiribati parties taking 10 seats and 3 seats, respectively. Anote Tong was elected to a second term as president.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16

Citizens enjoy a high degree of political freedom. Political parties are loosely organized and generally lack fixed ideologies or formal platforms. Geography, tribal ties, and personal loyalties influence political affiliations.


C. Functioning of Government: 8 / 12

Official corruption and abuse are serious problems. International donors have demanded improvements in governance and transparency.

In 2013, two-thirds of legislators voted in approval of a bill to remove their parliamentary protection against civil and criminal liability in the course of their legislative duties. Also in 2013, two ministers resigned under pressure from lawmakers who alleged that the ministers had received a higher than normal parliament allowance.


Civil Liberties: 55 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 15 / 16

Freedom of speech is generally respected. Kiribati has one state-owned and one private radio station, but its only domestic television service, the state-owned Kiribati TV, closed in 2013 because of lack of funds. Several newspapers are published once or twice a week in print or online, including the Te Uekera (state-owned), Te Mauri (church-owned), and Kiribati Star (privately owned). The privately owned Kiribati Independent publishes once every two weeks.

In May 2014, Radio Kiribati suspended a journalist for 20 days, allegedly for refusal to obey the management of the station, after he aired a report containing quotes from an opposition legislator responding to government allegations of corruption.

There were no reports of religious oppression or restrictions on academic freedom in 2014. Lack of resources restricts access to education.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

Freedoms of assembly and association are generally respected. Many nongovernmental organizations are involved in development assistance, education, health, and advocacy for women and children. Workers have the right to organize unions, strike, and bargain collectively, though only about 10 percent of the workforce is unionized. The largest union, the Kiribati Trade Union Congress, has approximately 2,500 members. The government is the largest employer.


F. Rule of Law: 15 / 16

The judicial system is modeled on English common law and provides adequate due process rights. There is a high court, a court of appeal, and magistrates’ courts; final appeals go to the Privy Council in London. The president makes all judicial appointments. Traditional customs permit corporal punishment. Councils on some islands are used to adjudicate minor offenses and disagreements. The island’s small police force performs law enforcement and paramilitary functions. Kiribati has no military; Australia and New Zealand provide defense assistance under bilateral agreements.

Same-sex sexual activity is a crime, and there are no protections against hate crimes or discrimination based on sexual orientation.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 13 / 16

Citizens enjoy freedom of movement, though village councils have used exile as a punishment for wrongdoing.

In May 2014, Australian authorities deported a Kiribati national after he was denied refugee status based on the threat of climate change in Kiribati.

Discrimination against women is common in the traditional, male-dominated culture. Sexual harassment is illegal and not reported to be widespread. The government has voiced support for increasing women’s participation in politics, but few steps have been taken toward this goal. Tong’s proposal for a ministry for women and youths in 2012 failed to receive adequate support in the parliament.

Domestic abuse remains a serious and is often associated with alcohol abuse. In February 2014, the labor minister was charged with assaulting his former wife. The legislature passed the Family Peace Act in April, criminalizing all forms of domestic violence. The deaths of at least five women were associated with domestic violence in 2014.

Kiribati is in Tier 2 of the U.S. State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Humans Report for showing efforts to comply with standards to prevent and prosecute trafficking and assist victims in the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Kiribati is a source for human trafficking for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology