Cablegate: 2003 Human Rights Report for the Republic Of
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1. (U) Sensitive but Unclassified entire text.
2. (U) Following is the 2003 Country Human Rights
report for the Republic of Maldives.
3. (U) The Republic of Maldives, which is made up of
1,190 islands, less than 200 of which are inhabited, has
a parliamentary style of government with a strong
executive. The President appoints the Cabinet, members
of the judiciary, and one-sixth of the Parliament. The
President derives additional influence from his
constitutional role as the "Supreme authority to
propagate the tenets of Islam." Candidates for the
unicameral legislature, the People's Majlis, run as
individuals. The Majlis selects a single presidential
nominee who is approved or rejected in a national
referendum. President Gayoom was approved for a fifth
5-year term in 1998 and is widely expected to win re-
election in 2003. (Note: To be updated following
October 2003 elections.) The Majlis must approve all
legislation and is empowered to enact legislation
without presidential approval. Civil law is subordinate
to Shari'a (Islamic law), but civil law generally is
applied in criminal and civil cases. The judiciary is
subject to executive influence.
The National Security Service (NSS) performs under
effective civilian control. The NSS includes the armed
forces and police. The Director of the NSS reports to
the Minister of Defense, a cabinet portfolio which is
one of several held by the President. The police
division investigates crimes, collects intelligence,
makes arrests, and enforces house arrest.
The population was approximately 270,000. Tourism and
fishing provided employment for more than one-half of
the work force. Tourism accounted for 30 percent of
government revenues and roughly 70 percent of foreign
exchange receipts. Agriculture and manufacturing
continue to play a minor role in the economy, which was
constrained by a severe shortage of labor and lack of
arable land. The per capita gross domestic product
(GDP) in 2002 was $2,200 (27,918 Rufiyaa) and the GDP
growth rate was approximately 5 percent.
The Government generally respected the human rights of
its citizens; however, there were shortcomings in some
areas. The President's power to appoint a significant
portion of the Parliament constrains citizens' ability
to change their government. The Government continues to
impose constraints on freedom of the press.
The Government limits freedom of assembly and
association, and acts to prevent the formation of
political parties. There were significant restrictions
on the freedom of religion. Although the Government has
undertaken a number of programs addressing women's
issues, women faced a variety of legal and social
disadvantages. The Government also restricted certain
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person,
Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports of the arbitrary or unlawful
deprivation of life committed by the Government or its
There were no reports of politically motivated
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices and there were no
reports that government officials employed them. There
were unconfirmed reports of beatings or other
mistreatment of persons in police custody during the
year (see Section 1.d.). There were reports of public
floggings (which are allowed under Shari'a as
interpreted in the country). In one case in July 2003,
five women imprisoned on drug charges were sentenced to
10 lashes each. In another case in October 2002, a
couple accused of an extramarital affair was sentenced
to 15 lashes each. Punishments were generally limited
to fines, compensatory payment, house arrest,
imprisonment, or banishment to a remote atoll. The
Government generally permitted those who were banished
to receive visits by family members.
There were three major prisons in the Maldives, with
fluctuating populations of approximately 300 inmates at
the country's main facility.
Prison conditions at the existing facilities, including
food and housing, were adequate. Prisoners were allowed
to work and were given the opportunity for regular
exercise and recreation. Spouses were allowed privacy
during visits with incarcerated partners. The
Government has surveyed prison facilities in other
countries to incorporate international standards and
improvements in the reconstruction of the prison.
Persons arrested for drug use were sent to a "drug
rehabilitation center" (on a space available basis).
The Government has permitted prison visits by foreign
diplomats. The issue of visits by human rights groups
was not known to have arisen during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The 1997 Constitution states that no person shall be
arrested or detained for more than 24 hours without
being informed of the grounds for arrest or detention.
Police initiate investigations based on response to
written complaints from citizens, police officers, or
government officials, or on suspicion of criminal
activity. They were not required to obtain warrants for
arrests. The Attorney General referred cases to the
appropriate court based on the results of police
investigations. The authorities generally kept the
details of a case confidential until they were confident
that the charges were likely to be upheld. In the past,
persons have been held for long periods without charge,
but there were no reports of such occurrences during
A suspect may be detained in prison, remain free, or be
placed under house arrest for 15 days during
investigations, depending upon the charges. In most
cases the suspect is released if not brought to trial
within 15 days, but the President may extend pretrial
detention for an additional 30 days. Those who are
released pending trial may not leave a specific atoll.
Within 24 hours of an arrest, an individual must be told
of the grounds for the arrest. An individual then can
be held for 7 days. If no legal proceedings have been
initiated within 7 days, the case is referred to an
anonymous 3-member civilian commission appointed by the
President that can authorize an additional 15 days of
detention. After that time, if legal proceedings still
have not been initiated, a judge must sanction the
continued detention on a monthly basis. Although there
is no right to legal counsel during police
interrogation, detainees are granted access to family
members. There is no provision for bail.
The Government may prohibit access to a telephone and
non-family visits to those under house arrest. While
there have been no reported cases of incommunicado
detention in the past few years, the law does not
provide safeguards against this abuse.
There were no reports of religious prisoners during the
year, as in past years. The law limits a citizen's
right to freedom of expression in order to protect the
"basic tenets of Islam."
Member of Parliament (M.P.) Abdullah Shakir was arrested
in July 2001 and released the following month. There
was some dispute as to why he was arrested;
international human rights groups claimed that he was
arrested for his support of a petition to form political
parties in the country (see Section 2.b.), but the
Government stated he was arrested on a purely civil
matter, which since has been resolved. In March 2002,
Shakir's appeal against the 2001 sentence was rejected
by the high court. There were no further developments
in this case during 2003 and Shakir remains free.
There were no reports of the internal exile of citizens
during the year. In the past, the Government sometimes
has banished convicted criminals to inhabited atolls
away from their home communities. M.P. Mohamed Nasheed
was arrested for theft in October of 2001, and tried and
sentenced to two years and six months of banishment. He
was also expelled from his Majlis seat. There are
differing claims as to why he was arrested, with human
rights groups claiming he was arrested to remove him
from his Majlis seat. Nasheed's sentence was
transferred from banishment to house arrest in Male',
and he was released in late August 2002.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution does not provide for an independent
judiciary, and the judiciary is subject to executive
influence. In addition to his authority to review High
Court decisions, the President influences the judiciary
through his power to appoint and dismiss judges, all of
whom serve at his pleasure and are not subject to
confirmation by the Majlis. The President also may
grant pardons and amnesties.
There are three courts: One for civil matters; one for
criminal cases; and one for family and juvenile cases.
On the recommendation of the Ministry of Justice, the
President appoints a principal judge for each court.
There is also a High Court in Male, which is independent
of the Justice Ministry and which handles a wide range
of cases, including politically sensitive ones. The
High Court also acts as court of appeals. High Court
rulings can be reviewed by a five-member advisory
council appointed by the President. The President also
has authority to affirm judgments of the High Court, to
order a second hearing, or to overturn the Court's
decision. In addition to the Male court, there ware 204
general courts on the islands.
Most trials are public and conducted by judges and
magistrates trained in Islamic, civil, and criminal law.
There are no jury trials. Magistrates usually adjudicate
cases on outer islands, but when more complex legal
questions were involved, the Justice Ministry sends more
experienced judges to handle the case.
The Constitution provides that an accused person be
presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that an
accused person has the right to defend himself "in
accordance with Shari'a." During a trial, the accused
also may call witnesses, and be assisted by a lawyer.
Courts do not provide lawyers to indigent defendants.
Judges question the concerned parties and attempt to
establish the facts of a case.
Civil law is subordinate to Shari'a, which is applied in
situations not covered by civil law as well as in
certain matters such as divorce and adultery. Courts
adjudicating matrimonial and criminal cases generally do
not allow legal counsel in court because, according to a
local interpretation of Shari'a, all answers and
submissions should come directly from the parties
involved. The High Court allowed legal counsel in all
cases, however, including those in which the rights to
counsel was denied in lower court. Under the country's
Islamic practice, the testimony of two women is required
to equal that of one man in matters involving Shari'a,
such as adultery, finance, and inheritance. In other
cases, the testimony of men and women are equivalent
(see Section 5).
There were no confirmed reports of political prisoners.
Human rights organizations continue to allege the
existence of political prisoners; the Government
maintained that these prisoners were convicted of crimes
not related to politics, however.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Constitution prohibits security officials from
opening or reading wireless messages; letters,
telegrams, or monitoring telephone conversations,
"except as expressly provided by law." The NSS may open
the mail of private citizens and monitor telephone
conversations if authorized in the course of a criminal
Although the Constitution provides that residential
premises and dwellings should be inviolable, there is no
legal requirement for search or arrest warrants. The
Attorney General or a commanding officer of the police
must approve the search of private residences.
The government policy to encourage a concentration of
the population on the larger islands continued, and the
policy generally was successful in moving a significant
number of citizens to the larger islands. The policy
was so successful on Male, the capital city's island,
that the government has begun discouraging further
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Penal Code prohibits inciting citizens against the
Government. The law prohibits public statements that
are contrary to Islam, threaten the public order, or are
libelous. An amendment to the Penal Code decriminalized
"true account(s)" by journalists of governmental
Regulations that make publications responsible for the
content of the material that were published remain in
effect, but no legal actions against publications were
initiated during the year.
The Press Council is composed of lawyers, private and
government media representatives, and other government
officials. The Council reviews charges of journalistic
misconduct (advising the Ministry of Information, Arts,
and Culture on measures to be taken against reporters,
when appropriate) and promotes professional standards
within the media by recommending reforms and making
suggestions for improvement. Private journalists have
said that they are satisfied with the Council's
objectivity and performance. The Government agreed that
private journalists, rather than the Government, should
take responsibility for preparation of a journalistic
code of ethics. Individual newspapers and journals
established their own ethical guidelines in many cases.
Radio and television outlets were owned either by the
Government or its sympathizers. All three major
newspapers were owned by current or former ministers.
Nonetheless, these sympathetic outlets on occasion
mildly criticize the Government.
Almost 200 newspapers and periodicals were registered
with the Government, but only three dailies publish on a
regular basis: Aafathis, Haveeru and Miadhu. In 2002,
a weekly magazine, "Monday Times," that had printed
articles critical of President Gayoom's administration,
was closed down by its owners. Despite reports to the
contrary, the Government claimed that it had not banned
the publication of "Monday Times."
The Government owned and operated the only television
and radio stations. It did not interfere with foreign
broadcasts or with the sale of satellite receivers.
Reports drawn from foreign newscasts were aired on the
Government television station. Cable News Network (CNN)
was shown daily, uncensored, on local television.
In 2002, four individuals were convicted on charges
related to the publication of an internet-based
newsletter critical of the Government (see Section 2.b).
In the past year, however, there were no reports of
government censorship of electronic media.
Television news and public affairs programming routinely
discussed topics of concern and occasionally mildly
criticized government performance. Government ministers
continued to hold regular press conferences. Since it
is not clear when criticism violates the law prohibiting
public statements that were contrary to government
policy or Islam, threaten the public, or were libelous,
journalists and publishers continued to watch what they
said, particularly on political topics, to avoid censure
by the Government. In general, after an easing of
restrictions in the late 1990's, the Government has
taken a more stringent attitude toward press freedom in
There were no legal prohibitions on the import of
foreign publications except for those containing
pornography or material otherwise deemed objectionable
to Islamic values. No seizures of foreign publications
were reported during the year.
The Government was the major shareholder in the sole
Internet service provider (ISP), although a license had
been granted to a second, and private ISP. There were
no government attempts, other than blocking pornographic
material, to interfere with the use of the Internet.
The Government did not restrict academic freedom.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly
"peaceably and in a manner that does not contravene the
law;" however, the Government imposes limits on this
right in practice. The Home Ministry permits public
political meetings during electoral campaigns, but
limited them to small gatherings on private premises.
The Government imposes some limits on freedom of
association. The Government registers clubs and other
private associations if they did not contravene Islamic
or civil law. While not forbidden by law, the President
officially discouraged political parties on the grounds
that they were inappropriate to the homogeneous nature
of society. In February of 2001, a group of 42 people
petitioned the Minister of Home Affairs requesting
permission to set up the Maldivian Democratic Party. One
signatory to the petition, M.P. Abdullah Shakir,
subsequently was arrested, but was released soon
thereafter. Some observers believed his arrest was
connected to his support for the creation of political
parties in the country, but the Government maintained
that he was arrested in connection with a civil matter
(see Section 1.e.). There were unconfirmed reports that
the Government harassed other individuals who signed the
petition to form political parties.
In 2001, Mohammed Nasheed lost his seat in the Majlis
after he was convicted of petty theft. He was reportedly
released from internal exile in late August 2002, but
was denied his parliamentary seat. Some observers claim
that the theft charge was fabricated to punish Nasheed
for supporting a movement to form a political party and
for his criticism of President Gayoom's administration
(see Section 3).
In early 2002, four men and one woman were arrested for
circulating an internet e-mail magazine, "Sandhaanu,"
critical of the Government, which was also circulated in
Male. Mohamed Zaki, Ibrahim Luthfee, Ahmed Didi and
Fathimath Nisreen were arrested in early 2002. The four
were held in solitary confinement until their trial in
July 2002. Zaki, Luthfee, and Didi were sentenced to
life imprisonment for spreading false news and calling
for the overthrow of the Government, among other
charges. Nisreen was sentenced to 10 years'
imprisonment for charges including calling for the
overthrow of the Government and assisting "Sandhaanu"
originators. Luthfee subsequently escaped NSS custody
in May 2003.
Although not prohibited, there were no active local
human rights groups in the country. The Government has
generally been responsive to requests from foreign
governments and international organizations to examine
human rights problems (see Section 4). While the
Government also does not prohibit labor unions, it
recognizes neither the right to form them nor the right
to strike. There were no reports of efforts to form
unions or to strike during the year (see Section 6).
c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is restricted significantly. The
Constitution designates the Sunni branch of Islam as the
official state religion, and the Government interprets
this provision to impose a requirement that citizens be
Muslims. Law prohibits the practice of any religion
other than Islam. Foreign residents are allowed to
practice their religion if they do so privately and do
not encourage citizens to participate. President Gayoom
repeatedly has stated that no other religion should be
allowed in the country, and the Home Affairs Ministry
has announced special programs to safeguard and
strengthen religious unity. The President, the members
of the People's Majlis, and cabinet members must be
There were no places of worship for adherents of other
religions. The Government prohibits the import of icons
and religious statues, but it generally permits the
import of individual religious literature, such as
Bibles, for personal use. It also prohibits non-Muslim
clergy and missionaries from proselytizing and
conducting public worship services. Conversion of a
Muslim to another faith is a violation of Shari'a and
may result in punishment. In the past, would-be
converts have been detained and counseled regarding
their conversion from Islam. Foreigners have been
detained and expelled for proselytizing in the past.
Unlike previous years, there were no reports of
foreigners detained for proselytizing.
Islamic instruction is a mandatory part of the school
curriculum and the Government funds the salaries of
religious instructors. The Government has established a
Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs to provide guidance
on religious matters. The Government also sets
standards for individuals who conduct Friday services at
mosques to ensure adequate theological qualifications,
and to ensure that radicals did not dominate services.
Under the country's Islamic practice, certain legal
provisions discriminate against women (see Sections
1.e., 3, and 5).
For a more detailed discussion see the 2003
International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens are free to travel at home and abroad, to
emigrate, and to return. The government policy to
encourage a concentration of the population on the
larger islands continued. With the success of the
policy on the capital island of Male, however, the
Government has begun discouraging further migration
there. Foreign workers often were housed at their
worksites. Their ability to travel freely was
restricted, and they were not allowed to mingle with the
local population on the islands.
The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or
refugee status in accordance with the 1951 U.N.
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its
1967 Protocol. The Government has not formulated a
policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum.
The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise
during the year. The Government cooperates with the
office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
There were no reports of the forced return of persons to
a country where they feared persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of
Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens' ability to change their government is
constrained, and the strong executive exerts significant
influence over both the legislature and the judiciary.
Under the Constitution, the Majlis chooses a single
presidential nominee, who must be a Sunni Muslim male,
from a list of self-announced candidates for the
nomination. Would-be nominees for president are not
permitted to campaign for the nomination. The nominee
is then confirmed or rejected by secret ballot in a
nationwide referendum. From a field of five candidates,
President Gayoom was nominated by the Majlis and was
confirmed by referendum for a fifth 5-year term in 1998.
Observers from the South Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation (SAARC) found the referendum to be free and
fair. The next Presidential election is scheduled for
late 2003 and Gayoom is widely expected to win
reelection for a sixth term. (Note: To be updated
following October 2003 election.)
Per both law and custom, the Office of the President was
the most powerful political institution in the Maldives.
The Constitution gives Shari'a preeminence over civil
law and designates the President as the "supreme
authority to propagate the tenets" of Islam. The
President's authority to appoint one-sixth of the Majlis
members, which was one-third of the total needed for
nominating the president, provides the President with a
power base and strong political leverage. The President
also was Commander in Chief of the armed forces, the
Minister of Defense and National Security, the Minister
of Finance and Treasury, and the Governor of the
Maldivian Monetary Authority. Of the body's 50 members,
42 are elected and the President appoints 8 members.
The elected members of the Majlis, who must be Muslims,
serve 5-year terms. All citizens over 21 years of age
may vote. Individuals or groups were free to approach
members of the Majlis with grievances or opinions on
proposed legislation, and any member may introduce
legislation. There are no political parties, which were
officially discouraged (see Section 2.b.).
Relations between the Government and the Majlis have
been constructive. The Government may introduce
legislation but may not enact a bill into law without
the Majlis' approval. The Majlis may enact legislation
into law without presidential assent if the President
fails to act on the proposal within 30 days or if a bill
is repassed with a two-thirds majority. In the past few
years, the Majlis increasingly has become somewhat more
independent, sometimes gently challenging government
policies and rejecting government-proposed legislation,
though there were no reports of this happening in 2003.
For the past several years, the Majlis has held a
question period during which members may query
government ministers about public policy. Debate on the
floor since the question period was instituted has
become increasingly open.
Elections to the People's Majlis last were held in 1999,
and the next elections are expected to take place in
November 2004. According to observers from the SAARC,
the 1999 elections were generally free and fair. A by-
election was held in April 2002 following the expulsion
of M.P. Mohammed Nasheed from the Majlis, upon his
conviction for theft (see Section 2.b.). According to
observers, the election was generally free and fair.
There were 5 women in the 50-member Majlis. There was
one woman in the Cabinet. Women were not eligible to
become president but may hold other government posts.
However, for reasons of tradition and culture,
relatively few women sought or were selected for public
office. In October 2002, former Women's Affairs
Minister Rashida Yousuf was named as High Commissioner
to Sri Lanka, the first woman to hold the office. In
December 2001, the position of Atoll Chief of Felidhe
(which is located south of the capital, Male') was
awarded to a woman, Haseena Moosa, the first woman to
hold such a senior post. In order to increase
participation by women in the political process, the
Government continued an awareness campaign in the
atolls. In the November 1999 elections, six women ran
for Majlis seats and two were elected. During the 1999
elections, observers from the SAARC noted that women
participated equally in the electoral process.
Following the elections, President Gayoom appointed an
additional three women to the Majlis.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International
and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
Although not prohibited, there were no active local
human rights groups. The Government has generally been
responsive to the interest of foreign governments in
examining human rights problems. A number of
international organizations whose work includes human
rights, such as UNICEF, were present in the country.
The Government cooperated with these international
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for the equality of all
citizens before the law, but there is no specific
provision to prohibit discrimination based on race, sex,
religion, disability, or social status. Women
traditionally have been disadvantaged, particularly in
terms of the application of Shari'a, in matters such as
divorce, education, inheritance, and testimony in legal
Women's rights advocates agreed that domestic violence
and other forms of violence against women were not
widespread. There were no firm data on the extent of
violence against women because of the value attached to
privacy. Police officials reported that they received
few complaints of assaults against women. Rape and
other violent crimes against women were extremely rare.
Under Shari'a the penalty for rape is flogging,
banishment, or imprisonment for up to 5 years.
Although women traditionally have played a subordinate
role in society, they participate in public life in
growing numbers and gradually are participating at
higher levels. During the year, there was one woman
minister, the Minister of Women's Affairs and Social
Welfare, one woman nominated to the position of Atoll
Chief, and one woman ambassador (see Section 3). Women
constitute 38 percent of government employees, and
approximately 10 percent of uniformed NSS personnel.
Well-educated women maintain that cultural norms, not
the law, inhibit women's education and career choices.
During the year, the Government continued law literacy
programs and workshops on gender and political awareness
in the outer atolls to make women aware of their legal
rights. The Government also has built 15 women's
centers in the atolls, which are facilities where family
health workers can provide medical services. The
centers also provide libraries and space for meetings
and other activities with a focus on the development of
women. In addition, in July 2001 the Government passed
a family law that makes 18 years of age the minimum age
of marriage for women.
Under Islamic practice, husbands may divorce their wives
more easily than vice versa, absent any mutual agreement
to divorce. Shari'a also governs intestate inheritance,
granting male heirs twice the share of female heirs. A
woman's testimony is equal only to one-half of that of a
man in matters involving adultery, finance, and
inheritance (see Section 1.e.). Women who work for
wages receive pay equal to that of men in the same
In 2000, the Cabinet created a Gender Equality Council
to serve as an advisory body to the Government to help
strengthen the role of women in society and to help
ensure equal participation by women in the country's
development. In 2003, at the request of the Cabinet,
the Ministry of Women's Affairs and Social Welfare began
to draft a paper setting out a national policy on gender
The Government does not have a program of compulsory
education, but it provided universal access to free
primary education. The percentage of school-age
children in school in 2002 was: (grades 1 to 5) 99
percent; (grades 6 to 7) 95 percent; and grades (8 to
10) 51 percent. Of the students enrolled, 49 percent
were female and 51 percent were male. In many
instances, education for girls was curtailed after the
seventh grade, largely because parents do not allow
girls to leave their home island for an island having a
secondary school. Nevertheless, women enjoyed a higher
literacy rate (98 percent) than men (96 percent).
Children's rights are incorporated into law, which
specifically protects them from both physical and
psychological abuse, including abuse at the hands of
teachers or parents. The Ministry of Women's Affairs
and Social Welfare has the authority to enforce this
law, takes its responsibility seriously, and receives
strong popular support for its efforts. Although unable
to provide an exact number, the Ministry noted that
there continued to be reports of child abuse during the
year, including sexual abuse. Penalties for the sexual
abuse of children range from banishment to imprisonment
for up to 3 years. It is not known if there were any
prosecutions for child abuse or child sexual abuse
during the year.
The Government was committed to the protection of
children's rights and welfare. The Government was
working with UNICEF to implement the rights provided for
in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The
Government has established a National Council for the
Protection of the Rights of the Child.
Government policy provided for equal access to
educational and health programs for both male and female
children. In May 2002 the Government ratified two
Optional Protocols of the UN Convention on Children, on
Children in Armed Conflict and the Sale of Children.
Persons with Disabilities
There is no law that specifically addresses the rights
of persons with physical or mental disabilities. In
1999, the Government initiated a survey that identified
30,000 persons with disabilities in the country
(primarily hearing and visually impaired). The
Government has established programs and provided
services for persons with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities usually were cared for by
their families. When family care was unavailable,
persons with disabilities were kept in the Institute for
Needy People, which also assisted elderly persons. The
Government provided free medication for all persons with
mental disabilities in the islands, and mobile teams
regularly visited patients with mental disabilities.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
While the Government does not expressly prohibit unions,
it recognizes neither the right to form them nor the
right to strike. Associations (such as industry
associations and clubs) are allowed, and in May 2003 the
Government enacted a new law in this area. This law
aims at strengthening the legal regime governing
voluntary, not for profit associations. Small groups of
similarly employed workers with mutual interests have
formed associations, some of which include employers as
well as employees. These associations have not acted as
The work force consisted of approximately 86,000
persons, including expatriate labor and seasonal and
part-time workers. The approximately 30,700 foreigners
who work in the country make up almost half of the
workers in the formal sector; most were employed in
hotels, the retail and wholesale trade, factories, on
construction projects or as school teachers. The
Government employed approximately 26,700 persons, both
permanent and temporary. It was estimated that the
tourist sector employed 16 percent of the labor force
and manufacturing another 13 percent.
There are no laws specifically prohibiting anti-union
discrimination by employers against union members or
Although workers can affiliate with international labor
federations, this generally has not been the case. It
is believed, however, that some seamen have joined such
In 1995 the U.S. Government suspended the country's
eligibility for tariff preferences under the U.S.
Generalized System of Preferences because the Government
failed to take steps to afford internationally
recognized worker rights to workers.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law neither prohibits nor protects workers' rights
to organize and bargain collectively. Wages in the
private sector are set by contract between employers and
employees and are usually based on the rates for similar
work in the public sector.
There were no reports of efforts to form unions or of
strikes during the year.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor
The law does not prohibit forced or bonded labor,
including by children; however, there were no reports
that such practices occurred.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for
There is no compulsory education law, but almost 98
percent of school-age children to grade 7 were enrolled
in school (see Section 5). The law bars children under
14 years of age from "places of waged work and from work
that is not suitable for that child's age, health, or
physical ability or that might obstruct the education or
adversely affect the mentality or behavior of the
In December 2002, the age of majority was raised to 18
years from 16 years.
The law prohibits government employment of children
under the age of 16. In May 2003, the Government
introduced new guidelines for the employment of children
below 18. The new law prohibits employment of children
below 18 by the government and in jobs of a hazardous
nature -- construction, carpentry, welding, and driving.
There were no reports of children being employed in the
small industrial sector, although children work in
family fishing, agricultural, and commercial activities.
The hours of work of young workers were not limited
specifically by statute. A Unit for Children's Rights
in the Ministry of Women's Affairs and Social Welfare is
responsible only for monitoring compliance with the
child labor regulations, not enforcement.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The regulations for employee relations specify the terms
that must be incorporated into employment contracts and
address such issues as training, work hours, safety,
remuneration, leave, fines, and termination. There was
no national minimum wage for the private sector,
although the Government has established wage floors for
certain kinds of work such as government employment,
which provided a decent standard of living for a worker
and family. Given the severe shortage of labor,
employers must offer competitive pay and conditions to
attract skilled workers.
There are no statutory provisions for hours of work, but
the regulations require that a work contract specify the
normal work and overtime hours on a weekly or monthly
basis. In the public sector, a 7 hour day and a 5 day
workweek have been established through administrative
circulars from the President's office. Overtime pay in
the public sector was instituted in 1990.
There are no national laws governing health and safety
conditions. There are regulatory requirements in
certain industries such as construction and transport
that employers provide a safe working environment and
ensure the observance of safety measures. It is unclear
whether workers can remove themselves from unsafe
working conditions without risking the loss of their
jobs. The Ministry of Human Resources, Employment and
Labor has a Labor Dispute Settlement Unit to resolve
wage and labor disputes and to visit worksites and
enforce labor regulations.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons;
however, there were no reports that persons were
trafficked to, from, or within the country. The
Attorney General's Office believes that, should a case
arise, it could be addressed under Shari'a.