The Republic of the Marshall Islands, a self-governing nation
under the Compact of Free Association with the United States,
is composed of 29 small, coral atolls and 5 islands scattered
over a large area of the central Pacific, comprising a total
land area of about 70 square miles. The population, of
Micronesian origin, is approximately 50,000 and concentrated
primarily on Majuro and Kwajalein atolls.
US Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
The Marshall Islands Human Rights Practices 1993
Political legitimacy in the Marshall Islands rests on the
popular will expressed by majority vote in accordance with a
constitution blending British and American precepts, including
a strong, American-style bill of rights. The legislature
consists of the Parliament, known as the Nitijela, with 33
members and a Council of Chiefs (Iroij), the latter serving a
largely consultative function on matters dealing with custom
and traditional practice.
The executive branch of the Government consists of the
President and his appointed Cabinet, all of whom are elected
members of the Nitijela. The President is elected by majority
vote from among the membership of the Nitijela. The
Constitution calls for an independent judiciary.
Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States is
responsible for defense and national security. Consequently,
the Marshall Islands has no security forces of its own, aside
from national and local police forces, that are firmly under
the control of the civil authorities.
The economy depends mainly on transfer payments from the United
States. Coconut oil and copra exports, a small amount of
tourism, and the fishing industry generate limited revenues.
Human rights abuses are rare, but there was one incident of
attempted press intimidation in 1993.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
- There were no reports of such killings.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
- No politically motivated disappearances or abductions were
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
- The Constitution expressly forbids torture and other cruel,
inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; the prohibition
is observed in practice.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
- The Constitution contains safeguards against arbitrary arrest
and detention, and no such incidents were reported.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
- The right to a fair public trial is expressly provided for in
the Constitution and observed in practice. There were no
reported denials of fair public trial.
- The privacy of the home is protected by law and respected by
the Government. There was no known instance of arbitrary
intrusion by the State into the private life of the individual.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
- The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and
it has generally been accorded in practice. There are four
operating radio stations, one government owned and three
privately owned, including one owned by a prominent member of
the opposition. There is one television station, operated by
the National Museum, and a cable television company which shows
U.S. programming only.
- A U.S. citizen long resident in the Marshall Islands operates
the country's sole privately owned newspaper. The editor and
two reporters are U.S. citizens as well. In March the Minister
of Justice informed one of the reporters in writing that an
article he had published about the prevalence of sexually
transmitted diseases in the Marshall Islands was "alarming and
unbalanced." The Minister wrote that, if the reporter
continued to write similar articles, he would be asked to leave
- The Government publishes a monthly gazette with official news
and notices only.
c. Freedom of Religion
- Freedom of peaceful assembly and association is provided for in
the Constitution and observed in practice.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
- Free exercise of religion is provided for in the Constitution
and observed in practice. There is no state religion.
Missionaries are free to seek converts.
- Citizens are free to travel within the country and abroad.
There are no restrictions on emigration or repatriation.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
- The Government is chosen by secret ballot in free and open
elections every 4 years. Suffrage is universal for men and
women 18 years of age and older. There are no restrictions on
the formation of political parties, although political activity
by aliens is prohibited.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
- While there are no official restrictions, no local
nongovernmental organizations that concern themselves with
human rights have been formed.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Disability, Language, or Social Status
- The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex,
race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion,
national or social origin, place of birth, family status, or
- Inheritance of property and of traditional rank is matrilineal,
with women occupying positions of importance within the
traditional system. No instances of unequal pay for equal work
or sex-related job discrimination were reported.
- Public allegations of violence against women are rare and
relate mainly to domestic abuse. No reliable information about
the extent of this problem is available. Assault is a criminal
offense, but women are reluctant to prosecute their spouses.
Women's groups have held infrequent meetings to publicize
women's issues and to create a greater awareness of the rights
- Much of the Government's expenditures on children's welfare is
in areas of health and education, which make up the largest
percentage of its budget. However, this has not been adequate
to meet the needs of its sharply increasing population. The
current birthrate is over 4 per cent. The Nitijela passed the
Domestic Relations Amendment of 1993, which defines child abuse
and neglect, and makes the two criminal offenses. Earlier
legislation requires teachers, care givers, and other persons
to report instances of child abuse and exempts them from civil
or criminal liability. Cultural preferences for large families
and the lack of educational facilities and teachers pose
special challenges for parents.
People with Disabilities
- There is no legislation specifically prohibiting discrimination
based on disability. There are no building codes, and,
therefore, no legislation requiring access for the disabled.
There have been no reported instances of discrimination against
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
- The Constitution provides for the right of free association in
general, and the Attorney General interprets this right as
allowing the existence of labor unions, although to date there
have been no initiatives to form any. The Constitution is
silent on the right to strike, and thus far the Government has
not addressed this issue.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
- There is no legislation concerning collective bargaining or
trade union organization. However, there are no bars to the
organization of trade unions or to collective bargaining.
There are no export processing zones. Wages in the cash
economy are determined by market factors in accordance with the
minimum wage and other laws.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
- The Constitution specifically prohibits involuntary servitude,
and there is no evidence of its practice.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
- Marshallese law contains no prohibition on the employment of
children. Children are not typically employed in the wage
economy, but some assist their families with agriculture,
fishing, and other small-scale family enterprises. Public Law
1991-125 instituted compulsory education for children aged 6 to
14; however, the lack of classrooms and teachers makes
- There is a government-specified minimum wage established by
law, and it is adequate to maintain a decent standard of living
in this subsistence economy, where extended families are
expected to help less fortunate family members. The minimum
wage for all government and private sector employees is $1.50.
(The U.S. dollar is the local currency.) The Ministry of
Resources and Development oversees minimum wage regulations.
Foreign employees and Marshallese trainees of private employers
who have invested in or established a business in the country
are exempt from minimum wage requirements. Since the majority
of foreign workers are in white-collar positions, this
exemption does not affect a significant segment of the work
- There is no legislation concerning maximum hours of work or
occupational safety and health, although Sunday is widely
considered church and family day, and most people do not work
- Legislation provided for the establishment of a Labor Board to
make recommendations to the Nitijela on minimum working
conditions, i.e., minimum wage, legal working hours and
overtime payments, and occupational health and safety standards
in accordance with International Labor Organization
conventions. The Board's meetings are public; however, there
appears to be no record of any meeting held in recent years.
There is no legislation specifically giving workers the right
to remove themselves from situations which endanger their
health or safety without jeopardy to their continued
employment, and no legislation protecting workers who file
complaints about such conditions. There were no reports of
industrial accidents in 1993.
Bibliographic citation for this document
US Department of State (1994) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The Marshall Islands Human Rights Practices. 1993. Released: January 31, 1994
Dirk H.R. Spennemann,
Institute of Land, Water and Society,
Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789,
Albury NSW 2640, Australia.
(c) US Department of State