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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Nauru

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Nauru, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 29 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Republic of Nauru, a small Pacific island with about 9,500 inhabitants, gained independence in 1968, at which time it adopted a modified form of parliamentary democracy. Prior to independence it had been administered by Australia.

Nauru has two levels of government, the unicameral Parliament and the Nauru Island Council (NIC). Parliamentary elections must be held at least triennally. The Parliament, consisting of 18 members from 14 constituencies, is responsible for national and international matters. It elects the President, who is both head of state and head of government, from among its members. The NIC acts as the local government and is responsible for public services. The judiciary is independent. Nauru has no armed forces, though it does maintain a 92-man police force under civilian control.

The economy depends almost entirely on the country's rich phosphate deposits, mined by the government-owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation (NPC). The Government places a large percentage of the NPC's earnings in long-term investments meant to support the Nauruans after the phosphate reserves have been exhausted. Using current extraction techniques, Nauru's phosphate reserves will probably be exhausted by the year 2000. The Governments of Nauru and Australia reached a $70.4 million out-of-court settlement in July for rehabilitation of the Nauruan lands ruined by Australian phosphate mining.

Fundamental human rights are provided for in the Constitution and generally respected in practice, although hard data and systematic records are lacking. Discrimination and violence against women remain the principal human rights problems.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no political or other extrajudicial killings in 1993.

b. Disappearance

There were no political disappearances in 1993.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits these practices, and this prohibition is respected.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The constitutional prohibition against arbitrary arrest and detention is honored. The police may hold a person for no more than 24 hours without a hearing before a magistrate. Exile is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Nauru maintains an independent judiciary, and constitutional provisions for both a fair hearing and a public trial are respected. Defendants may have legal counsel, and a representative will be appointed when required "in the interest of justice." Nauru has only two trained lawyers, and many people are represented in court by "pleaders," trained paralegals certified by the Government. There are no political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution generally provides protection from these abuses. Searches not sanctioned by court order are prohibited, and there is no surveillance of individuals or of private communications. Nauruan citizenship and inheritance rights are traced through the female line. Until very recently, laws restricted intermarriage of Nauru men and women with non-Nauruans. Although the laws have changed and such intermarriage is practiced and permitted, intermarriage between Nauru women and foreign males still draws substantial social censure. The spouses – male or female – of Nauru citizens have no automatic right of abode in Nauru. They are, however, normally granted short-term "visits" sponsored by the Nauru spouse or they can apply for longer-term work permits. Foreign spouses are not eligible for Nauru citizenship.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression. News and opinion circulate freely, rapidly, and widely by the press and word of mouth. The country has two regular publications: the private, fortnightly newspaper, the Central Star News, which operates and editorializes freely; and the Government Gazette, which contains mainly official notices and announcements. The sole radio station, also owned and operated by the Government, broadcasts Radio Australia and British Broadcasting Corporation news reports but not local news. Satellite reception of pay television, broadcast from New Zealand, became available in 1991.

Foreign publications are widely available. However, during the July South Pacific Forum meeting in Nauru, authorities banned the then-current issue of Pacific Islands Monthly, which strongly criticized the financial management and decisions of government investment trust managers regarding Nauru's phosphate resources and income. The issue was available, nonetheless, and no one was detained for possession of it.

There are no prohibitions or restrictions on academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitutional right of peaceful assembly and association is honored. No limitations exist on private associations, and no permits need be obtained for public meetings. There were several peaceful demonstrations during the July South Pacific Forum meeting against various government policies and actions.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution protects freedom of religion, and the Government recognizes no religion as official. Several different Christian denominations are well established in Nauru. Missionaries, foreign clergy, and religious publishing are all permitted. Adherence to a particular faith results in no advantage or disadvantage in any secular pursuit.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Nauruans are free to move and travel both domestically and internationally. Foreign workers must apply to their employers for permission to leave during the period of their contracts. They may break the contract and leave without permission but would lose their positions and, often, a sizable bond as a result. In most cases, foreign employees whose contracts are terminated by their employers must leave Nauru within 60 days. Nauru does not revoke citizenship for political reasons. Citizens who have left the country have the right to return, and repatriates receive the same treatment as other citizens. No restrictions on emigration exist.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens have, and exercise, the right to change their government. Though Nauru has no organized political parties, persons with diverse points of view run for and are elected to Parliament and to the NIC.

Parliament elects the President. Nauru has had seven changes in presidential leadership since independence. Power has always been transferred peacefully and in accordance with the Constitution. Continuing this tradition, Bernard Dowiyogo was reelected to his parliamentary seat and the Presidency in November 1992. Voting, by secret ballot, is compulsory for all citizens over age 20 for parliamentary elections. There have been multiple candidates for all parliamentary seats during recent elections. The approximately 3,000 guest workers in Nauru have no voice in political decisions. There are no legal impediments to participation in politics by women, and women have in the past served in Parliament, although none of the 18 current parliamentarians are women.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no restrictions on establishing local groups that concern themselves specifically with human rights, but to date none has been formed. There have been no allegations by outside organizations of human rights violations in Nauru, nor any requests for investigations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status


The Constitution contains provisions assuring women the same freedoms and protections as men. They are provided equal opportunities by the Government in education and employment and are free to own property and pursue private interests. Social values have, however, changed very slowly, and women still receive clear signals that their ultimate goal should be marriage and raising a family. Young women studying abroad on scholarship and contemplating marriage face review and possible termination of their educational grants as it is assumed that they will leave the work force and thus not require additional academic training.

Nauru's population has been almost eliminated on several occasions, first by disease and drought, then during World War II as a result of massive removals by the Japanese. The Government has gone to great lengths to encourage large families, and Nauruan women complain that emphasis on their reproductive role reduces their opportunities.

Previous Nauruan governments have shown little interest in the problems of women. Nauruan authorities give high priority to improved health care and education, but the island has no gynecologists. The Government has not specifically addressed the physical abuse of women, which anecdotal evidence indicates to be a serious problem, though there are no statistics showing its extent. Alcohol abuse is generally considered a major contributing factor.


Child abuse statistics do not exist, but as with violence against women, it can be assumed that alcohol abuse sometimes leads to child neglect or abuse. The Government devotes considerable attention to the welfare of children, with particular stress on their health and educational needs.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Foreign laborers, mainly from Vanuatu, Kiribati, and Tuvalu, experience some discrimination. While guest workers are provided free housing, the shelters they are given are often poorly maintained and overcrowded. Some guest workers have alleged that Nauruan police rarely act on complaints they make against Nauruan citizens.

People with Disabilities

There is no reported discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and provision of state services. There is, however, no legislation or mandated provisions of accessibility for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right to assemble and associate peacefully and to form and belong to trade unions or other associations. However, there are currently no trade unions in Nauru, and past efforts to form them were officially discouraged and ultimately failed. The transient nature of the mostly foreign work force and the relative prosperity of the Nauruans have also served to hamper efforts to organize the labor force. The right to strike is neither protected, prohibited, nor limited by law. No strikes took place in 1993. Nauru is not a member of the International Labor Organization.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Nauru has virtually no labor laws. The private sector in Nauru employs only about 1 percent of Nauru's salaried workers. For government workers, public service regulations determine salaries, working hours, vacation periods, and other employment matters. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution forbids forced or compulsory labor, and there have been no instances of either.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Education is compulsory until age 16; Nauruan law sets 17 as the minimum age of employment. This is honored by the only two large employers, the Government and the NPC. Some children under age 17 work in the few small family owned businesses.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages paid on Nauru vary considerably between office workers and manual laborers, but they suffice to provide an adequate, if modest, standard of living. Thanks to yearly dividends paid to Nauruans by the phosphate trust, most families live in simple but adequate housing and almost every Nauruan family owns at least one car or truck. The Government sets the minimum wage for Nauruans administratively for both public and private sectors. Since November 1992, that rate has been $5,958 ($A9,056) for those 21 years of age or older. The rate is progressively lower for those under 21 years of age, dropping to $2,957 ($A4,521) for those age 16. Employers determine wages for foreign contract workers based on market conditions and the consumer price index. Usually foreign workers and their families receive free housing, utilities, medical treatment, and often a food allowance. By regulation the workweek for office workers is 36 hours and for manual laborers 40 hours in both the public and private sectors.

The Government sets health and safety standards. The state-run mining enterprise, NPC, has an active safety program that includes worker education and the use of safety helmets, safety shoes, respirators for dusty conditions, and other safety measures. The NPC has a safety officer, specifically responsible for improving safety standards and compliance throughout the company.

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