Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Nauru

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 8 March 2006
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Nauru , 8 March 2006, available at: [accessed 30 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
March 8, 2006

The Republic of Nauru is a parliamentary democracy with a unicameral parliament. Its population was approximately 10 thousand, of which an estimated 1,450 were foreign workers and their families. The most recent parliamentary elections, held in October 2004, were generally free and fair. Parliament elects one of its members to be president, who is both chief of state and head of government. The civilian authorities maintained effective control of the police force.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of addressing individual instances of abuse. During the year the government adopted measures to address charges that the country's financial and commercial regulations were not sufficient to protect against money laundering. The Australian government was in the process of deactivating its refugee processing center on Nauru, which at year's end held only two persons. The following human rights problems were reported:

  • detention of asylum seekers in isolated, Spartan living conditions in a refugee processing center
  • limited access to the refugee processing center
  • judicial delays
  • reduced levels of social services for stranded foreign workers and their families


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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

During the year the country's prison facility was refurbished by the Australian government. The facilities were austere but generally met international standards.

There were no local human rights groups, and the question of visits to the prison by human rights observers did not arise. Prison visits by church groups and family members were permitted.

Beginning in 2001 the country hosted a refugee processing and detention center, funded by Australia. At year's end only 2 unsuccessful asylum seekers remained at the facility (see section 2.d.), down from 58 at the beginning of the year and the last of approximately 1,200 refugees at one time held at 2 centers. At year's end the Australian government was deactivating the remaining center and had moved the two asylum seekers to an administrative building. The two persons, deemed security risks by Australia, were awaiting the outcome of legal challenges to their status. Australian human rights organizations had repeatedly expressed concern about detention center conditions.

Human rights groups protested that journalists, human rights activists, doctors, lawyers, and clergy members have been denied visas to visit asylum seekers held in the detention centers. In July the government denied a visa to an Australian parliamentarian critical of the center.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The country has no military force, and the 129-member police force is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. Under a cooperative agreement, Australian federal police officers were seconded to the country's police force to facilitate organizational reforms and training and increase police accountability, skills, professionalism, and community responsiveness. There were no reported cases of police corruption.

Arrest and Detention

Arrests are made openly, based either on warrants issued by authorized officials or for proximate cause by a police officer witnessing a crime. Police may hold a person for no more than 24 hours without a hearing before a magistrate. A functioning bail system was in place. Authorities confiscated the passports of some accused persons released on bail to prevent flight. The law provides accused persons access to legal assistance.

Judicial delays were a problem. The lack of qualified magistrates and judges, coupled with severe financial constraints, caused delays of up to two years, during which defendants were released from detention to await trial.

Since 2002 human rights activists have asserted that the detention by Australian authorities of asylum seekers in the country was in violation of Nauru's and Australia's constitutions. The courts of both countries have ruled that the detention arrangements are legal.

There were no reports of political detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law 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. Parliament cannot overturn court decisions. Under the Appeals Act, the High Court of Australia may review cases on criminal and civil actions, but this rarely was done. The post of resident magistrate, who presides over the district court, and also the family court as chairman of a three-member panel, was unfilled during the year. Instead, three lay magistrates handled simple cases; serious matters were given directly to the Supreme Court. The constitution also provides for two quasi-courts, the public service appeal board and the police appeal board, but these did not meet during the year. The chief justice presides over both boards.

Trial Procedures

Procedural safeguards are based on English common law. They include the presumption of innocence; the right to be informed promptly of charges; a guarantee of adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; the right to confront witnesses, present evidence, and appeal convictions; the right to trial by jury; and a prohibition on double jeopardy and forced self-incrimination. Trials are public, defendants have the right to 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.

Stranded contract workers from Kiribati and Tuvalu who formerly worked in the moribund mining sector did not have recourse to effective communal assistance and were disadvantaged in complaints against citizens. There were few trained lawyers, and many persons were represented in court by "pleaders," trained paralegals certified by the government.

Political Prisoners

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice and did not restrict academic freedom or the Internet. An effective judiciary and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and of the press.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for freedom 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.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

The relationships among religions generally were amicable. There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2005 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 nearly complete suspension of mining operations has made the regulation moot. At year's end an estimated 1,450 unpaid foreign workers and family members were awaiting imminent repatriation (mostly to Tuvalu and Kiribati) after Taiwan agreed to fund the process. The two remaining persons detained at the Australia-funded processing camp were permitted to move freely during the day but had to return to the facility in the evening.

Neither the constitution nor law prohibits forced exile; however, the government did not use it.

Protection of Refugees

The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol; the country is a party to neither. Although the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees, under its 2002 agreement with Australia establishing the refugee processing centers, the country undertook not to commit refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared prosecution. The government did not accept refugees for resettlement, nor did it grant refugee status or asylum. However, the government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.

Beginning in 2001 the country hosted an Australian government processing center for persons seeking asylum in Australia. The persons were detained under national law while their status as refugees was determined and possible applications for asylum in Australia were adjudicated. These persons were held in facilities funded by Australia but administered by officials of the International Organization for Migration. The UNHCR took a limited role, on "an exceptional basis," in conducting refugee determinations of some applicants when the processing centers were first opened. In subsequent years the UNHCR also assisted in resettling some of the successful applicants in countries other than Nauru, but it was not active during the year. Nearly all of the 58 asylum seekers held at the processing center at the beginning of the year were from Afghanistan and Iraq. Of these, 56 asylum seekers were removed to Australia during the year, many on temporary visas while processing continued. At year's end only two persons, determined by Australia to be security risks, remained at the center, and the Australian government was in the process of deactivating it.

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

The law 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.

Elections and Political Participation

Citizens 20 years and older directly elect an 18-member unicameral parliament in compulsory voting for a term of 3 years. Following general elections in October 2004, Ludwig Scotty was reelected president by parliament. Multiple candidates stood for all parliamentary seats in each of the country's eight constituencies.

There are no legal impediments to participation in politics by women, but in general women traditionally have been less prominent in politics than men. There were no women in the 18-seat parliament or the cabinet. Women held many senior civil service positions, including the head of the civil service and the presidential counsel.

Government Corruption and Transparency

During the year the government took corrective measures in government and in publicly owned corporations to combat corruption. Loose controls on the enormous revenues generated by phosphate mining led to mismanagement and misappropriation of vast sums of public funds. With the effective end of mining in recent years, within a decade the country went from great wealth to de facto bankruptcy. A search for new sources of income led to the creation of facilities to register offshore businesses and banks. This led in turn to the creation of thousands of shell banks and companies and to massive money laundering. In 2000 the country was placed on a list of noncooperative countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) antimoney laundering taskforce and forced to close its offshore banking sector and revise its business incorporation program. In recognition of its corrective actions, in October the OECD removed the country from the list. The financial and regulatory crises, accompanied by continued corruption and severe national impoverishment, dominated national politics from the late 1990s. The 2004 elections were widely interpreted as a victory for reformists dedicated to addressing corruption and economic problems.

There are no legal provisions providing for public access to government information, and the government did not freely provide such access.

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

There were no government restrictions on establishing local human rights organizations, but no such groups have been formed. The government restricted or denied entry visas to representatives of foreign nongovernmental organizations and other persons focused on the refugee processing center. In July the government denied a visa to an Australian Green Party senator asking to visit the center.

5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

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


The government did not record 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 but 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 and the country's impoverished economic circumstances often limited opportunities for women to exercise these rights fully. The Women's Affairs Office was responsible for promoting professional opportunities for women.


Government resources for education and health care for children were severely constrained by the country's economic crisis. Education is compulsory until age 16. The Bureau of Statistics reported that 60.3 percent of school-age children attended primary school in 2000. The government declared that truancy was as high as 60 percent in some schools. Most children did not complete secondary school. Foreign workers left unemployed and stranded by the virtual closure of the phosphate mines complained that health and educational services to their children were inferior to those provided to citizens.

Child abuse statistics were not compiled, and there were no reported cases of child abuse or child prostitution during the year. However, anecdotal evidence indicated that abuse occurred.

Trafficking in Persons

The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking, but 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. The country's economic crisis has led to an overall deterioration in funding for health care facilities and services.

There are no formal mechanisms to protect persons with mental disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Chinese, who composed 5 to 8 percent of the population, and their property were the targets of racially motivated attacks, most of a minor character. Theft, property damage, and violence directed at the Chinese community increased during the year.

Workers from other Pacific Islands, primarily Tuvalu and Kiribati, who were unemployed and stranded in the country experienced discrimination. The foreign workers previously had been provided free housing as part of their contracts, and they continued to occupy this housing, but it was poorly maintained and overcrowded.

6. Worker Rights

a. Right of Association

The law 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.Historically, the transient nature of the mostly foreign workforce hampered efforts to organize trade unions.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to strike is not protected, prohibited, or limited by law. Although there were no legal impediments, collective bargaining did not take place. A tiny private sector, mostly family-run stores and restaurants, employed approximately 1 percent of salaried workers. Salaries, working hours, vacation periods, and other employment matters for government workers are nominally governed by public service regulations. However, as a consequence of the economic crisis, all civil servants, parliamentarians, and members of government were paid a common salary of approximately $105 (A$140) every other week.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law 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 the minimum age of employment at 17. The only two large employers, the government and the Nauru Phosphate Corporation (NPC), honored this rule. Some children under 17 worked in small, family-owned businesses.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

As an emergency measure, the government decreed a single maximum public servant wage equal to approximately $105 ($A140) every 2 weeks, which did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The measure was valid for all civil servants, including parliamentarians and government ministers. This represented a major salary reduction for most workers and families. However, prior to the wage measure, public service salaries often went unpaid, frequently for months.

Hundreds of foreign workers formerly employed by NPC remained in the country. Previously, they and their families received free housing, utilities, medical treatment, and often a food allowance. At year's end NPC was unable to meet unpaid wages claims. The government began paying the foreign workers a stipend of $37 ($A50) every other week, barely enough to survive. They continued to occupy company housing at no cost, but their circumstances were dire. The government of Taiwan agreed in October to compensate these laborers for some portion of their unpaid NPC back wages and to finance and facilitate their repatriation, mostly to Tuvalu and Kiribati.

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

The government sets health and safety standards. 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. NPC also had a safety officer specifically responsible for improving safety standards and compliance throughout the company. However, with operations in the phosphate industry almost at a standstill, enforcement of these regulations was lax.

Search Refworld