US Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
The Marshall Islands Human Rights Practices 1993
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.

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.




Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of such killings.

b. Disappearance

No politically motivated disappearances or abductions were reported.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution expressly forbids torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; the prohibition is observed in practice.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution contains safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention, and no such incidents were reported.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence.

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

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 country.

The Government publishes a monthly gazette with official news and notices only.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of peaceful assembly and association is provided for in the Constitution and observed in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

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.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

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 descent.


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 of women.


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 the disabled.


Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

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.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

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.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution specifically prohibits involuntary servitude, and there is no evidence of its practice.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

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 enforcement impossible.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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 force.

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 on Sundays.

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.

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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 1994
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