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A northern pacific nation spread over more than 1,000 islands and islets, the Marshall Islands have a longstanding association with the United States, reinforced by the latter’s enduring military presence. Governed as a presidential democracy, the Marshall Islands combine an elected lower house with a council of advisors drawn from traditional tribal chiefs. Human rights concerns include child labour, sexual exploitation and violence against children.
The Marshall Islands are made up of 29 low-lying coral atolls and five islands, spread across 750,000 square miles of the central pacific. The Kwajalein atoll, a U.S. military base and missile testing range, contains the world's largest lagoon. The capital city is Majuro.
Population and language
The Marshall Islands are home to almost 55,000 people. Marshallese and English are both official languages, and Japanese is also spoken in the country.
History and politics
The Marshall Islands take their name from John William Marshall, who named the islands after himself when passing through the area transporting convicts to New South Wales. Though first discovered by Micronesian navigators, and later claimed by Spain, Germany annexed and governed the islands in the three decades leading up to the First World War. In the aftermath of the war, the islands came under Japanese control as part of the Japanese administered Mandated Territory arrangement of the League of Nations. The island then passed into the administration of the United States following the end of the Second World War. The U.S. administration's use of the islands to test nuclear weapons was highly controversial, and left parts of the territory, particularly the Bikini atoll, uninhabitable.
In 1979, the country gained its independence, and established itself as a Republic, though it maintained its close relationship with the U.S. and in 1986, formed a Compact of Free Association with the country. The Compact ensured that the islands maintained control over domestic and foreign policy, while the U.S. provided defence and funding in exchange for maintaining its military bases on the islands. The Compact was renewed in 2004.
The legislature takes the form of a 33 seat parliament (Nitijela) which in turn elects the President. The President acts as Head of State and Government and governs with the Cabinet. Christopher Loeak was elected as the sixth President of the Marshall Islands in January 2012.
U.S financial aid accounts for much of the Marshall Islands' budget, as of 2010 more than 61 per cent, and 46 per cent of the salaried workforce is employed by the government. Agriculture, particularly copra and coconut oil, dominate exports and the yellow-fin tuna that is plentiful in the islands is exported to the Japanese sushi market. Tourism currently accounts for only a small part of the economy, but pristine beaches and fish stocks could make the islands an ideal location for scuba diving and sports fishing.
Media and civil society
The Marshall Islands Journal, a small privately owned weekly newspaper is published in English and Mashallese, and a government monthly, the Marshall Islands Gazette, contains official news but avoids politics. Television reception is available in some areas, and U.S. television is available via cable.
Human rights and children's rights
International human rights mechanisms have raised a number of concerns about human rights standards on the islands, particularly those affecting children. Economic exploitation, sexual abuse and other forms of violence against children have persistently been highlighted by UN human rights mechanisms in examining the country.
- UNDESA, "Population Statistics 2011"
- BBC, "Marshall Islands Profile: Leaders" 31 July 2012
- BBC, "Marshall Islands Profile: Media" 31 July 2012
- CRIN, "Marshall Islands: Persistent violations of children's rights" 14 December 2012
- OHCHR, "Marhsall Islands Homepage"
- BBC, "Marshall Islands Country Profile", "Timeline" and news items (see footnotes)
- UNDESA, "Population Statistics 2011"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Marshall Islands Country Profile"