US Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
The Marshall Islands Human Rights Practices 1994

The Republic of the Marshall Islands, a self-governing nation under the Compact of Free Association with the United States, is composed of a number of small islands in the central Pacific, comprising a total land area of about 70 square miles. The population of approximately 50,000 is of Micronesian origin and concentrated primarily on Majuro and Kwajalein atolls.

The Constitution provides for free and fair elections, executive and legislative branches, and an independent judiciary. The legislature consists of the Nitijela, a 33-member Parliament, and a Council of Chiefs (Iroij), which serves a largely consultative function dealing with custom and traditional practice. The President is elected by majority vote of the Nitijela, and he appoints his Cabinet from its membership.

Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States is responsible for defense and national security, and the Marshall Islands has no security forces of its own. The national and local police forces, supervised by the Ministry of Justice, have responsibility for internal security. These agencies observe constitutional and legal protections of civil rights in carrying out their responsibilities.

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 government influence leads to occasional instances of self-censorship in sensitive political or cultural areas.



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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and there was no evidence that it occurred.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides for safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention, and no such incidents were reported. Forced exile does not occur.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and this right is observed in practice. The Government provides legal counsel for the indigent. There were no reported denials of fair public trial.

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

The law provides for privacy of the home. This is 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, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government generally honors these rights in practice. However, government influence leads to occasional self-censorship by the media in areas of political or cultural sensitivity. There are four operating radio stations, one government owned, and three privately owned, including one owned by a prominent member of the opposition. A cable television company is owned and operated by members of the political opposition. It shows U.S. programming but occasionally covers local events. In 1994 the Government closed the single television station, operated by the national museum, as a cost saving measure.

A U.S. citizen and longtime resident operates the country's sole newspaper. The editor and two reporters are also U.S. citizens.

In September the Nitijela passed a resolution expressing its displeasure over public comments attributed to a prominent U.S. attorney that were perceived to be critical of the Government. The resolution did not repeat what was said, nor did it state what the Government found offensive. The resolution demanded that the attorney express a formal apology, which he did in a letter to the President.

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and this is observed in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for the free exercise of religion and this is observed in practice.

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

Citizens are free to travel within the country and abroad. Neither emigration nor repatriation is restricted.


Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens this right and it is exercised in practice. The Government is chosen by secret ballot in free and open elections every 4 years. Suffrage is universal for those 18 years of age and older. The formation of political parties is not restricted, although political activity by aliens is prohibited. The Marshall Islands, however, has had the same President since 1979, due primarily to traditional loyalties and concentrated political influence.

There are no legal impediments to women's participation in government and politics. A woman currently serves as the Minister of Education, and two women serve in deputy minister positions. The mayor of Majuro, the country's capital and principal urban center, also is a woman. Although women's role in government is increasing, they remain underrepresented in Parliament and other government positions.


Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

While there are no official restrictions, no local nongovernmental human rights organizations have been formed. No international human rights organization has expressed interest or concern or visited the country.


Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status


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.

There are occasional allegations of violence against women, mainly related to domestic abuse. According to the Government's public health office and women's groups, only a few such cases are reported to the authorities every year, but many more are believed to go unreported. Although assault is a criminal offense, women are reluctant to prosecute their spouses.


The Government is committed to children's welfare through its programs of health care and education, but these have not been adequate to meet the needs of the country's sharply increasing population. The Domestic Relations Amendment of 1993 defines child abuse and neglect and makes them criminal offenses. Other legislation requires teachers, caregivers, and other persons to report instances of child abuse and exempts them from civil or criminal liability. According to the Attorney General's office, however, the child abuse law is vague and difficult to apply. That office at year's end had the law under study with a view to proposing revisions which would make it more clear and practical. Child abuse is thought to be relatively uncommon, and there have been no child abuse prosecutions.

People with Disabilities

There is no legislation specifically prohibiting discrimination based on disability. Until 1994 there were no building codes, and there is still 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 Government interprets this right as allowing the existence of labor unions; however, none has been formed to date. The Constitution does not provide for the right to strike, and 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 impediments to the organization of trade unions or to collective bargaining. Wages in the cash economy are determined by market factors in accordance with the minimum wage and other laws.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law does not prohibit the employment of children. Children are not typically employed in the wage economy, but some assist their families with fishing, agriculture, and other small-scale family enterprises. The law requires compulsory education for children aged 6 to 14; but the Government does not enforce this law due to a lack of classrooms and teachers.

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 hourly 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, and its oversight has been considered adequate. 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. 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 most businesses are closed on Sundays. In 1994, in an attempt to cut government spending, legislation was passed to shorten the workweek of most government employees.

A Labor Board makes recommendations to the Nitijela on working conditions, e.g., minimum wage, work hours, overtime payments, and occupational health and safety standards in accordance with International Labor Organization conventions. The Board meets periodically and is open to the public. 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.

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Bibliographic citation for this document

US Department of State (1995) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The Marshall Islands Human Rights Practices. 1994. Released February 1995

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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