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2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Nauru

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 11 March 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Nauru, 11 March 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b9e52d42.html [accessed 30 September 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.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2010

Nauru is a constitutional republic with a population of approximately 10,700. The most recent parliamentary elections, held in April 2008, were generally free and fair. There were no formal political parties. The unicameral parliament elects one of its members to be the president, who is both chief of state and head of government. Marcus Stephen has served as president since 2007. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of addressing individual instances of abuse. Few human rights problems were reported.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 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 constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The country's only prison was damaged by fire in March 2008. The government undertook repairs, which were continuing at year's end. Repairs to the perimeter fence and most of the interior of the existing prison buildings were completed, including repairs to cells and ablution facilities, and prison conditions generally met international standards. The maximum number of prisoners that the existing facilities were able to hold was 35, and the prison had 35 prisoners accommodated in cells and dormitories. Short-term detainees (those held for no more than 24 hours, generally for drunk and disorderly behavior), including juveniles, were accommodated in shipping containers converted into cells.

The government affirmed it would permit monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, but none were reported. Prison visits by church groups and family members were permitted.

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

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in 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. There was a functioning bail system. The law provides for accused persons to have access to legal assistance, but in practice qualified assistance was not always readily available. Detainees were allowed prompt access to family members.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Procedural safeguards are based on English common law. They include the presumption of innocence; the right to be informed promptly of charges; the right to 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 at public expense 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. These rights were extended to all citizens without exception.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

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

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

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of "expression," and the government generally respected freedom of speech and of the press in practice.

Although there were no government restrictions, there were few local independent media.

Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. Internet facilities were available for public use for an affordable fee.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution 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, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

The relationships among religions generally were amicable, although there was a degree of societal intolerance toward religions other than established Christian denominations. There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

Neither the constitution nor law specifically provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights in practice. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

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

Protection of Refugees

The country is not a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Its laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no requests during the year for protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

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

The constitution and law provide citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

In April 2008 President Marcus Stephen called new parliamentary elections in an effort to break a parliamentary deadlock between government and opposition members of Parliament (MPs). Following the elections, in which three opposition MPs lost their seats, Parliament reelected Stephen as president. Multiple candidates stood for all parliamentary seats in each of the country's eight constituencies. Political parties could operate without restriction or outside interference, but there were no formal parties.

Independent election observers concluded that the 2008 elections were credible, with voters able to exercise their will freely.

There are no legal impediments to participation in politics by women, but in general women traditionally have been less prominent in politics than men. Four women stood as candidates in the 2008 parliamentary elections, but none was elected. The country's permanent representative to the UN was a woman. Women held some senior civil service positions, including the head of the civil service and the presidential counsel.

There were no members of minorities in the 18-member Parliament or the cabinet.

Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but there are no financial disclosure laws or specific government agencies responsible for combating government corruption. There were some allegations of government corruption during the year.

In March, together with Kiribati and Tuvalu, the country signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a subregional audit support program, a new initiative of the Pacific Association of Supreme Audit Institutions, with the goal of enabling public accounts to be audited to uniformly high standards in a timely manner.

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

Section 5 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The government did not restrict establishment of local human rights organizations, but no such groups existed.

The government cooperated with international governmental organizations and permitted visits by UN representatives and other organizations. From November 30 to December 1, the government hosted a visit from the Regional Rights Resource Team of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to discuss legal and policy issues dealing with women's rights.

Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, place of origin, color, creed, or sex, and the government generally observed these provisions.

Women

Rape is a crime punishable by up to life imprisonment. However, there was no information regarding the extent of rape or domestic violence. Police investigated all reports of rape thoroughly, and cases were vigorously prosecuted by the courts. There were two rape convictions during the year. Spousal rape is not specifically identified as a crime, but police investigated and filed charges when allegations of rape were made against a spouse.

The government kept no statistics on the incidence of physical or domestic abuse of women. However, credible reports indicated that sporadic abuse occurred, often aggravated by alcohol use. Families normally sought to reconcile such problems informally and, if necessary, communally. The police and judiciary treated major incidents and unresolved family disputes seriously.

Prostitution is illegal, and there were no reports of such activity during the year.

Some forms of sexual harassment are crimes, but sexual harassment was not a serious problem.

Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The government-run medical system provided access to contraception and prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care free of charge. A Department of Health survey on contraceptive use reported that 36 percent of married women surveyed used some form of contraception. The majority of those surveyed who did not use contraception gave as the reason that they wanted more children; the remainder indicated they did not believe in using contraceptives. Women and men had equal access to diagnostic services and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

The law grants women the same freedoms and protections as men. The government officially provides equal opportunities in education and employment, and women may 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.

Children

Citizenship is derived from one's parents. The constitution also provides for acquisition of citizenship by birth in the country in cases in which the person would otherwise be stateless.

Government resources for education and health care for children were severely constrained by the country's economic crisis.

Child abuse statistics were not compiled, but anecdotal evidence indicated that abuse occurred. During the year two persons were convicted of "indecent sexual treatment" of children under age 14.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 17 years. The penalty for unlawful carnal knowledge or attempted carnal knowledge of a girl under age 17 is six years' imprisonment. "Indecent treatment" of a girl under age 17 is a misdemeanor punishable by two years' imprisonment.

Trafficking in Persons

The constitution and law do not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons; however, the constitution prohibits forced labor, and the penal code criminalizes "deprivation of liberty." There were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, through, or within the country.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. Nonetheless, there was no reported discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. No legislation mandates services for persons with disabilities or access to public buildings. Department of Education teachers provided rudimentary schooling for a small group of students with disabilities, holding classes in a teacher's home, as no classroom was available.

There is no government agency with specific responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. There are no formal mechanisms to protect persons with mental disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Chinese composed approximately 5 percent of the population. A pattern of petty theft, property damage, and assault directed at the ethnic Chinese community continued during the year. Police attributed most attacks on ethnic Chinese to economic motivations and noted a general trend of theft-related attacks on the country's few private businesses, such as stores and restaurants.

Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Sodomy is illegal, but there were no reports of prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons under this provision. There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons based on HIV/AIDS status.

Section 7 Worker Rights

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

The right to strike is not protected, prohibited, or limited by law. There were no strikes during the year.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

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 governed by public service regulations.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age of employment at 17. The Department of Human Resources and Labor is responsible for enforcing the law, which was respected by the only two significant employers – the government and the phosphate industry. Some children under 17 worked in small, family-owned businesses.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government has a graduated salary system for public service officers and employees. At lower ranges the salaries did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. There was no minimum wage for private-sector workers.

By regulation the workweek in both the public and private sectors was 35 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. There were provisions for premium overtime pay only for public-sector workers.

The government sets some health and safety standards, which the Department of Human Resources and Labor is responsible for enforcing. The phosphate industry had a history of workplace health and safety requirements and compliance, but with the decline of the industry, enforcement of these regulations was lax. A gradual revival of the industry, which continued during the year, was accompanied by accusations that unfiltered dust discharge from the phosphate plant exposed workers and the surrounding communities to a significant health hazard. The government did not act to eliminate the problem, citing high costs. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

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