Freedom in the World 2014: Tuvalu

AGORA moderator's picture


For several months, Prime Minister Willy Telavi used legal and political maneuvering to forestall opposition attempts to remove him from office through a no-confidence vote. After the sudden death of Finance Minister Lotoaloa Metia in December 2012, Telavi repeatedly delayed the by-election to elect Metia’s replacement. Once the High Court ruled the by-election be held, Teavi refused to convene parliament leading to Governor General Iakoba Italei’s order to reconvene the parliament. On August 3, the opposition, now holding a majority in the 15-member parliament after the Metia by-election, ousted Telavi and elected Enele Sopoaga prime minister.          

Tuvalu faces a serious threat from global climate change and rising sea levels. Additionally, scarce rainfall has resulted in a dangerously low fresh water supply and declarations of state of emergency. In August, a climate change adaptation agreement with the United Nations Development Program was signed to bring in economic assistance to protect local fisheries and to fund disaster management.


Political Rights: 37 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 12 /12

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and is represented by a governor general, who must be a citizen of Tuvalu. The prime minister, chosen by Parliament, leads the government. The unicameral, 15-member Parliament is elected to four-year terms. A six-person council administers each of the country’s nine atolls. Council members are chosen by universal suffrage for four-year terms. In the October 2010 general elections, 26 candidates—all independents—competed. Within two months, a no-confidence vote ousted Prime Minister Maatia Toafa and parliament replaced him with Willy Telavi. Telavi held on to power till August 2013 when the opposition ousted him with a no-confidence vote and chose Enele Sopoaga to replace him.

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 15 / 16

There are no formal political parties, though there are no laws against their formation. Political allegiances revolve around geography, tribal loyalties, and personalities. Intense personal and political rivalries frequently prompt new alliances and no-confidence votes to change governments.

C. Functioning of Government: 10 / 12

Tuvalu is one of the few places in the Pacific Islands where corruption is less severe, though international donors have called for improvements in governance. About 10 percent of its annual budget comes from an overseas investment fund set up by Britain, Australia, and South Korea in 1987 to provide development assistance. Sales of fishing licenses, lease of its Internet suffix (.tv), and remittances from Tuvalu workers overseas also supplement the state budget.

Civil Liberties: 57 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 /16

The constitution provides for freedoms of speech and the press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. The semi-public Tuvalu Media Corporation (TMC) operates the country’s sole radio and television stations, as well as the biweekly newspaper Tuvalu Echoes and the government newsletter Sikuelo o Tuvalu. Human rights groups have criticized the TMC for its limited coverage of politics and human rights issues, but there have been no allegations of censorship or imbalances in reporting. Many residents use satellite dishes to access foreign programming. Internet use is largely limited to the capital because of cost and connectivity challenges, but authorities do not restrict access.

Religious freedom is upheld in this overwhelmingly Christian country, where religion is a major part of life. Academic freedom is generally respected.

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

The constitution provides for freedoms of association and assembly, and the government upholds these rights in practice. Nongovernmental organizations provide a variety of health, education, and other services.

Workers have the right to strike, organize unions, and choose their own representatives for collective bargaining. With two-thirds of the population engaged in subsistence farming and fishing, Tuvalu has only one registered trade union with about 600 members who work on foreign merchant vessels. Public sector employees—fewer than 1,000—are members of professional associations that do not have union status.

F. Rule of Law: 15 /16

The judiciary is independent and provides fair trials. Tuvalu has a two-tier judicial system. The higher courts include the Privy Council in London, the Court of Appeal, and the High Court. The lower courts consist of senior and resident magistrates, the island courts, and the land courts. The chief justice, who is also the chief justice of Tonga, visits twice a year to preside over the High Court. A civilian-controlled constabulary force maintains internal order. There are no reports of abuse in the prison system. Jails meet minimum standards, but limited capacity can mean long waits in the legal system and restricted access to proper counsel.

Sexual relationships between men are illegal and punishable by up to 15 years in prison. To date, no one has been charged or imprisoned.

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 14 / 16

Traditional customs and social norms condone discrimination against women and limit their role in society. Women enjoy equal access to education, but they are underrepresented in positions of leadership in business and government. There are currently no women in Parliament. No law specifically addresses sexual harassment. There have been few reports of violence against women. Rape is illegal, but spousal rape is not included in the definition.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year