The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is situated nearly midway between Hawaii and the Philippines, and is the easternmost island group in Micronesia. The country consists of two parallel chains of atolls and islands in the central Pacific Ocean, known as the Ratak (Sunrise) chain and Ralik (Sunset) chain. Together, the RMI is comprised of approximately 1,225 islands and islets, which spread across a sea area of nearly 1.9 million square kilometers.
British naval Captain John William Marshall gave his name to the area in the 1700s. However, the islands have been under the control of various nations throughout the last few centuries, including Spain from the late 1400s to the late 1800s, Germany from 1885 to World War I and Japan from 1914 to World War II. After World War II, the RMI became a part of the United Nations (UN) Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands under United States (US) administration.
The RMI Government was officially established in 1979 following the signing of the Constitution, which represents a blend of the US and British models of government. The RMI gained its independence in 1986, after signing the Compact of Free Association with the US, ending the UN-US Trusteeship Agreement and establishing the national charter of independence of the island nation. The RMI became a full member of the UN in 1991, and has since established diplomatic relations with most of the world’s major maritime and industrial nations.
The RMI maintains a politically stable, democratically elected parliamentary system of government. The parliamentary system consists of two legislative chambers; (1) the Council of Iroij, comprised of 12 tribal chiefs, serves as an advisor to the Presidential Cabinet and reviews legislation affecting customary law or any traditional practice; and (2) the Nitijela, comprised of 33 senators elected by 24 electoral districts, which elects the President from among its members for a four-year term. In turn, the President appoints a Cabinet of 6-10 members with the approval of the Nitijela, and serves both as chief of State and head of government.
The RMI court system includes local courts of first instance (whose judges are appointed by the Presidential Cabinet), a Traditional Rights Court with jurisdiction over real property matters, a District Court with general jurisdiction over cases outside the High Court’s jurisdiction, and a High Court with maritime jurisdiction. In all cases, appeals may be brought before the Supreme Court.
Agriculture and tourism are the mainstays of the economy. The principal trading partners are the US, China, Japan, and Australia. The official currency is the US dollar and the official languages are English and Marshallese. Two international airports facilitate air transportation with airstrips scattered throughout the larger islands. There are four deepwater docks for large ocean-going ships. Excellent international communications are provided by satellite links for telephone, fax, and email. Banking services for citizens are provided by the Bank of Guam, which is FDIC insured, and the Bank of the Marshall Islands.