Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July 2014, 15:15 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2004 - Nauru

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 28 February 2005
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2004 - Nauru , 28 February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4226d97811.html [accessed 30 July 2014]
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
February 28, 2005

The Republic of Nauru adopted a unicameral form of parliamentary democracy upon gaining independence in 1968. The Parliament, elected at least triennially, consists of 18 members from 14 constituencies. The Parliament elects the President, who is both chief of state and head of government, from among its members. The most recent parliamentary elections, held in November, were free and fair. The presidency has changed 14 times in the past 3 years; in June, Parliament reelected Ludwig Scotty with a clear majority. The judiciary is independent.

The country has no armed forces, although it has a small police force, with fewer than 100 members. The civilian authorities maintained effective control of the police force. There were no reports that security forces committed human rights abuses.

The country's population was approximately 12,000. The economy previously was based almost entirely on the mining of dwindling phosphate deposits. The government-owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation (NPC) controlled the mining industry and placed a large percentage of its earnings in long-term investments meant to provide national revenue after the phosphate reserves are exhausted. However, financial mismanagement and corruption led to severe and chronic shortages of basic goods and utilities as well as some domestic unrest. The closure of most mining operations in recent years has left the country dependent upon foreign aid and receipts from hosting asylum-seeker detention centers funded and managed by the Government of Australia. In February, in response to international money laundering concerns, the Government closed its offshore banking operations, suspended its investor passport program, and updated its banking laws and financial sector legislation.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of addressing individual instances of abuse. Human rights advocates continued to express concerns about poor living conditions and alleged arbitrary detention of asylum seekers held in the country, under an agreement with the Government of Australia, since 2001. In September, Australia closed one of the two asylum seeker centers in Nauru.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

The Government attempted to meet international prison standards within its limited financial means and in accordance with local living standards; however, prison conditions were basic, and food and sanitation were limited. There were separate accommodations for pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners, for men and women, and for adults and juveniles.

The country hosted a refugee processing and detention center, funded by the Government of Australia, that held 58 asylum seekers at year's end (see Sec. 1.d. and 2.d.). Most of the detainees were citizens of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with a small number from other South Asian countries, intercepted at sea en route to Australia in 2001, and who sought resettlement in Australia or other developed countries. Australian human rights organizations expressed concern about conditions at the detention center, including problems with the water quality and power supply. Water quality and power supply problems were common in the country as a whole. Since 2001, Amnesty International and other Australia-based human rights groups have protested that journalists, human rights activists, doctors, lawyers, and clergy members have been denied visas to visit asylum seekers held in the detention centers. A series of hunger strikes by detainees appear to have been resolved through negotiation and agreements by Australian authorities to review detainees' records and claims.

There were no local human rights groups, and the question of visits to local prisons by human rights observers was not raised. Prison visits by church groups and family members were permitted.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions.

The police may hold a person for no more than 24 hours without a hearing before a magistrate.

There were no reported cases of corruption in the police force.

Since 2002, the Australia-based Catholic Commission for Justice, Development, and Peace has asserted that the detention of asylum seekers in the country was not being handled in accordance with the country's Constitution, since these individuals had been detained by Australia without first being brought before a recognized court for a hearing. In August, the Australian court ruled that the detention of the asylum seekers was legal.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice.

The Supreme Court is the highest court addressing constitutional issues; it is presided over by the Chief Justice. The Appellate Court, composed of two judges, hears appeals of Supreme Court decisions on other matters. Parliament cannot overturn court decisions. Under the Appeals Act, cases may be reviewed by the High Court of Australia on Criminal and Civil Actions, but this rarely was done. A Resident Magistrate, who is also the Registrar of the Supreme Court, presides over the District Court and the Family Court as Chairman of a three-member panel. The Constitution further provides for two quasi-courts, the Public Service Appeal Board and the Police Appeal Board. The Chief Justice presides over both as chairman, with two members for each board.

Defendants may have legal counsel, and a representative for the defense is appointed, when required, "in the interest of justice." Bail and traditional reconciliation mechanisms rather than the formal legal process were used in many cases – usually by choice, but sometimes under communal pressure. Contract workers from Kiribati and Tuvalu working in the mining sector did not have recourse to effective communal assistance and were disadvantaged in complaints against citizens. There were only three trained lawyers in the country, and many persons were 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 prohibits such actions, and the Government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and the Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom.

The country had no regular print media. Occasional publications included the Government Bulletin. In addition, The Visionary, a newsletter published sporadically by the opposition party Naoero Amo, provided an independent and critical view of the Government. The Visionary was particularly vocal regarding the country's economic crises during the year. The country's sole radio station was owned and operated by the Government; it broadcast Radio Australia and British Broadcasting Corporation news reports. Local television included government-owned Nauru TV, as well as a privately owned sports network.

The Government was the sole Internet service provider in the country, but it did not monitor or censor content.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government restricted this right in some cases. In recent years, the Government has prevented Mormons and members of Jehovah's Witnesses from practicing their religion freely on some occasions, and members of these religions were subjected to arbitrary licensing and immigration requirements.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2004 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

The law provides for these rights, and the Government generally respected them in practice.

By regulation, foreign workers were required to apply to their employers for permission to leave the country during the period of their contracts; however, the scaling down of most mining operations in the early part of the year mooted the regulation. A few hundred expatriate workers left the country during the year, but approximately 6,000 have elected to remain, many of whom continued to work, hoping to collect months of back pay owed them.

Neither the Constitution nor law prohibits forced exile; however, the Government did not use it.

The Government has not formulated a formal policy regarding refugees, asylees, or temporary protection. However, the Government cooperated with the office of the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. The country has accommodated asylum seekers as a processing center for Australia and other countries. These asylum seekers were held in facilities funded by the Government of Australia, with day-to-day supervision provided by officials of the International Office on Migration and local authorities. Most of the asylum seekers were from South Asia and claimed to be fleeing political persecution. Throughout the year, some asylum seekers were resettled, primarily in Australia and New Zealand. At year's end, 58 asylum seekers remained in detention in the country (see Sections 1.c. and 1.d.).

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

The Constitution provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. Government also can be changed by a petition from the Members of Parliament. Although the country's politics are based more on clan than party membership, persons with diverse points of view have been elected to Parliament.

Parliament elects the President. There have been six changes in government since January 2003. Following general elections in November, Ludwig Scotty was reelected President by Parliament, after a dissolution and new election gave his reform supporters a clear majority.

In parliamentary elections, voting by secret ballot is compulsory for all citizens over the age of 20. Multiple candidates stood for all parliamentary seats in each election.

Once one of the richest countries in the world when measured on a per capita basis, the country has been reduced to defaulting on obligations because of government mismanagement and corruption by former officials and hired administrators at all levels. The country does not have legislation regulating the conduct of senior officials; therefore, corruption cannot be investigated without specific parliamentary actions, which has not been yet undertaken.

There are no legal impediments to participation in politics by women. However, the dominance of traditional clans in national politics limited participation by women, and there were no women in the 18-seat Parliament or in the Cabinet. During the year, participation by women in party-based politics increased, and women held many senior civil service positions, including Permanent Secretary and Cabinet Secretary-level jobs.

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

There were no restrictions on establishing local groups that concern themselves specifically with human rights, but no groups have been formed. The Australia-based Catholic Commission for Justice, Development, and Peace repeated concerns about alleged arbitrary detention of asylum seekers, asserting that detainees were not being held in accordance with the country's Constitution (see Section 1.d.).

5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, language, or social status, and the Government observed these provisions.

Women

The Government did not track incidents of physical and domestic abuse against women. However, credible reports indicated that sporadic abuse, often aggravated by alcohol use, occurred. Families normally sought to reconcile such problems informally, and, if necessary, communally. The judiciary and the Government treated major incidents and unresolved family disputes seriously.

Spousal rape is not a crime, but police investigate and file charges if allegations of rape are made against a spouse. Prostitution is illegal and was not widespread. Sexual harassment is a crime and was not a serious problem.

The law grants 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, societal pressures limited opportunities for women to exercise these rights fully. There was a Women's Affairs Office to promote professional opportunities for women.

Children

The Government devoted adequate resources for education and health care for children. Education is compulsory until age 16. Child abuse statistics were not compiled, but alcohol abuse sometimes led to child neglect or abuse. There were no reported cases of child abuse or child prostitution during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking; however, there were no reports of persons trafficked to, from, or within the country.

Persons with Disabilities

There was no reported discrimination in employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of state services to persons with disabilities. However, no legislation mandates services for persons with disabilities or access to public buildings. Persons who applied to the Health Department could obtain government assistance in building access ramps to homes and workplaces.

There are no formal mechanisms to protect persons with mental disabilities; however, the Government at times provided essential services to families of such persons.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Workers from other Pacific Islands experienced some discrimination. Foreign workers were provided free housing; however, the shelters were often poorly maintained and overcrowded. In the past, some foreign workers alleged that the police rarely acted on their complaints against citizens.

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, the country has virtually no labor laws, nor does it have any formal trade unions. Past efforts to form unions were discouraged officially. The transient nature of the mostly foreign work force also hampered efforts to organize the labor force.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Although there were no legal impediments, collective bargaining did not take place. The private sector employed only approximately 1 percent of salaried workers. For government workers, public service regulations determine salaries, working hours, vacation periods, and other employment matters.

The right to strike is not protected, prohibited, or limited by law.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution forbids forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and the Government effectively enforced these prohibitions.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets age 17 as the minimum age of employment. The only two large employers, the Government and the NPC, honored this rule. Some children under the age of 17 worked in small, family-owned businesses.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wage rates for office workers and manual laborers provided an adequate, if modest, standard of living for a worker and family. However, due to the Government's near-permanent lack of funds during the year, public service salaries often went unpaid, frequently for months at a time. Most families lived in simple but adequate housing, and almost every family owned some sort of motor vehicle. The Government set the minimum yearly wage administratively for the public sector. Since 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 determined wages for foreign contract workers based on market conditions and the consumer price index. Usually foreign workers and their families received free housing, utilities, medical treatment, and often a food allowance. Some noncitizen contract workers complained about conditions in company living compounds.

By regulation, the workweek in both the public and private sectors was 36 hours for office workers and 40 hours for manual laborers. Neither law nor regulations stipulate a weekly rest period; however, most workers observed Saturdays and Sundays as holidays.

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

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