Foreign Workers: Are Human Rights in Palau in Trouble?

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PALAU — Palau, officially the Republic of Palau, is a country consisting of hundreds of islands on the western side of the Pacific Ocean. The majority of common human rights issues, such as crimes against children or lack of freedom of the press, are not of great concern in Palau. However, there are still concerns for the state of human rights in Palau.

Government Corruption

The government of Palau has a careful infrastructure to prevent public corruption. There are even criminal penalties assigned to various acts of corruption. Public officials also have to make annual financial disclosure statements.

Unfortunately, this infrastructure is not that effective. For example, the Office of the Special Prosecutor and the Public Auditor are responsible for enforcing anti-corruption laws against government officials. And as of 2012, those offices have remained vacant for at least two years.

Government workers also fear releasing information about government corruption. It is difficult to mobilize against such corruption when the public doesn’t have access to current information about ongoing public corruption.

Violence Against Women

Violence against women is a human rights concern in Palau. There are no laws against domestic violence. Instead, domestic violence cases are prosecuted as assault or battery cases. The very classification of domestic violence as other forms of violence may discourage victims of domestic violence to come forward with their reports.

Authorities estimate that they are aware of only a small percentage of female victims; women are reluctant to report their spouses and disturb the family unit.

Foreign Workers

Human rights in Palau for foreign workers are a serious concern. Non-citizens cannot purchase land or obtain citizenship — the only way to obtain citizenship is by blood, which means that at least one parent must be Palauan. This law makes it difficult for non-citizens to be economically stable in Palau.

Foreign workers make up 55 percent of the workforce, drawing irritation from the local population as Palauans fear that foreign workers are taking their jobs. Foreign workers and their dependents make up a third of the population in Palau, and workers, including unskilled laborers, generally come from the Philippines, China and Bangladesh. In total, there are over 6,000 foreign nationals in Palau.

The fear Palauans have for their own economic security manifests in the treatment of foreign workers.
Foreign workers are likely to be abused by their employers. Authorities do not prosecute these crimes as vigorously as they would otherwise.

Foreign workers also experience severe discrimination while seeking employment, their salaries, buying houses, obtaining education and accessing social services.

There is also a chance that workers are fraudulently recruited, with employers falsely advertising positions and salaries. When some foreign workers attempt to leave these positions, their employers threaten them with violence or withhold important travel documents like passports.

While the law forbids forced or compulsory labor, authorities often do not enforce these laws.

In theory, the law protects non-citizen foreign workers; however, in practice, foreign workers experience severe discrimination and violence.

Foreign workers may also be forced into sexual trafficking. For example, workers who have positions in massage parlors find themselves pressed into trafficking. Changing employers is nearly impossible for these workers because of the difficult social circumstances they face.

Public corruption also plays a role. Governors, police officers and other authority figures may sometimes be complicit in the trafficking of foreign workers. Investigations of authority figures have occurred, but prosecutions of such public figures rarely happen.

Human rights in Palau generally meet international standards. As such, it is likely that concerns about human rights in Palau will be remedied eventually.

Smriti B Krishnan

Photo: Flickr

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