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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Nauru

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Nauru, 30 January 1998, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
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.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.


The Republic of Nauru, a small Pacific island with about 10,500 inhabitants, gained independence in 1968, at which time it adopted a modified form of parliamentary democracy. Nauru has two levels of government, the unicameral Parliament and the Nauru Island Council (NIC). Parliamentary elections must be held at least triennially. 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 although it does maintain a small police force (less than 100 members) under civilian control.

The economy depends almost entirely on the country's declining phosphate deposits--although recent government statements indicate that new drilling technology may extend the productivity of its mines. The mining industry is controlled 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 citizenry after the phosphate reserves have been exhausted. The Governments of Nauru and Australia reached a $70.4 million out-of-court settlement in 1993 for rehabilitation of the Nauruan lands ruined by Australian phosphate mining.

Fundamental human rights are provided for in the Constitution and are generally respected in practice. There were no reports of specific human rights abuses, but in the traditional culture women occupy a subordinate role, with limits on their job opportunities. Complaints of discrimination against non-Nauruan Pacific island workers, particularly in treatment by police and in housing, continued.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits these practices, and the Government respects these prohibitions in practice.

The Government attempts to provide internationally accepted minimum prison conditions within its limited financial means and in accordance with local living standards. Prison conditions, however, are basic, and food and sanitation are limited. There are no local human rights groups, and the question of visits to prisons by human rights monitors has not been raised. Visits by church groups and family members are permitted.

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. The Government does not practice forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent, 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. However, many cases never reach the formal legal process, as traditional reconciliation is used--usually by choice but sometimes under communal (not government) pressure. Contract workers from Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu are employed predominantly in the mining sector and do not have recourse to effective communal assistance; they are particularly at a disadvantage in complaints against citizens. There are only two trained lawyers, and many people are represented in court by pleaders, trained paralegals certified by the Government.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution generally prohibits these abuses. Searches not sanctioned by court order are prohibited, and there is no surveillance of individuals or of private communications. Citizenship and inheritance rights are traced through the female line. Until very recently, laws restricted intermarriage with non-Nauruans. Although the laws have changed, intermarriage between women and foreign males still draws substantial social censure. The foreign spouses--male or female--of citizens have no automatic right of abode. They are, however, normally granted short-term visits sponsored by the citizen spouse, or they may apply for longer term work permits. Foreign spouses are not eligible for 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 one regular publication, the privately owned newspaper the Central Star News, which publishes monthly and which operates and editorializes freely. The sole radio station, owned and operated by the Government, broadcasts Radio Australia and British Broadcasting Corporation news reports but not local news. Pay television broadcasting from New Zealand is received by satellite. Foreign publications are widely available.

There are no prohibitions or restrictions on academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government respects the constitutional right of peaceful assembly and association. There are no limitations on private associations, and no permits are required for public meetings.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

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

The law provides for these rights for citizens, and the Government respects them in practice.

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.

The Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. No person in recent memory has applied for refugee status, and the Government has not formulated a formal policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum.

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

Citizens have, and exercise, the right to change their government. Although 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. From late 1996 until February, there were five changes of government, all peaceful and in accordance with the Constitution. Since February more characteristic political stability has prevailed. Voting by secret ballot is compulsory for all citizens over the age of 20 for parliamentary elections. There have been multiple candidates for all parliamentary seats during recent elections. The approximately 3,000 guest workers have no voice in political decisions.

There are no legal impediments to participation in politics by women. At present, there are no female Members of Parliament.

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 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status. The Government generally observes this in practice; however, women do not receive the same degree of freedom and protection as men.


The Government does not keep track of incidents of physical abuse against women. However, credible reports indicate that sporadic abuse, often aggravated by alcohol use, occurs. The Government has not addressed the problem of violence against women. Families normally seek to reconcile such problems informally, and, if necessary, communally. Major incidents and unresolved family disputes are treated seriously by the judiciary and the Government.

Constitutional provisions assure women the same freedoms and protections as men. The Government officially provides equal opportunities in education and employment, and women are free to own property and pursue private interests. However, in practice, traditional societal pressures deny women opportunities to fully exercise these rights. The island's population has been nearly eliminated on more than one occasion, first by disease and drought, and later, during World War II, by massive, forced removals from the island by the Japanese. The Government strongly supports efforts that encourage large families, and there have been reports of complaints by women that this emphasis on their reproductive role reduces their opportunities for other roles in society. Married women, in particular, are sometimes disadvantaged, as it is assumed that they will not want to study or work but instead will want to remain at home. For example, young women studying abroad on scholarship and contemplating marriage face possible termination of their educational grants as it is assumed that they will leave the work force and thus not require additional academic training.


The Government devotes considerable attention to the welfare of children, with particular stress on their health and educational needs. Child abuse statistics do not exist, but alcohol abuse sometimes leads to child neglect or abuse. The NIC treats child abuse as a serious communal matter. There were no reported cases of child abuse during the year.

People With Disabilities

There is no reported discrimination in employment, education, and the provision of state services to persons with disabilities. There is, however, no legislation mandating accessibility to public buildings and services for the disabled.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Non-Nauruan Pacific island workers 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 the police rarely act on complaints they make against citizens.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right of citizens to form and belong to trade unions or other associations. However, Nauru has virtually no labor laws, and there are no trade unions. Past efforts to form unions were officially discouraged. The transient nature of the mostly foreign work force and the relative prosperity of the citizenry also have 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 1997. Nauru is not a member of the International Labor Organization. There are no provisions which would prohibit or limit the right of unions to affiliate with international bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

While there are no legal impediments, collective bargaining does not take place, and, as noted above, has been unsuccessful. The private sector employs only about 1 percent of 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, including forced and bonded labor by children, and effectively enforces these prohibitions.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

Education is compulsory until the age of 16; the 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 the age of 17 years work in the few, small, family-owned businesses. The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children and enforces this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages 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 by the NPC, most families live in simple but adequate housing, and almost every family owns at least one car or truck. The Government sets the minimum yearly wage administratively for both public and private sectors. Since November 1992, that rate has been $6,562 ($A9,056) for those 21 years of age or older. The rate is progressively lower for those under 21 years of age. 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. Neither law nor regulations stipulate a weekly rest period; however, most workers observe Saturdays and Sundays as holidays.

The Government sets health and safety standards. The NPC has an active safety program that includes an emphasis on worker education and the use of safety equipment such as helmets, safety shoes, and dust respirators. The NPC has a safety officer who is specifically responsible for improving safety standards and compliance throughout the company.

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