Polity: Presidential-parliamentary democracy
Population: 10,000
GNI/Capita: N/A
Life Expectancy: 61
Religious Groups: Christian (two-thirds Protestant, one-third Roman Catholic)
Ethnic Groups: Nauruan (58 percent), other Pacific Islander (26 percent), Chinese (8 percent), European (8 percent)
Capital: Yaren

Political Rights Score: 1
Civil Liberties Score: 2
Status: Free

Ratings Change
Nauru's civil liberties rating improved from 3 to 2 due to changes in the survey methodology.


Nauru, a tiny Pacific island nation located 1,600 miles northeast of New Zealand, gained independence from Australia in 1968. The island was a German protectorate from 1888 until the close of World War I, when Australia began administering it under a League of Nations mandate. The Japanese occupied Nauru during World War II, shipping 1,200 Nauruans to Truk Island in the northern Pacific to work as forced laborers. Australian administrators returned to Nauru after the war under a UN mandate. The island became self-governing in 1966 in preparation for independence two years later.

The ever-shifting coalitions in Nauru's tiny, faction-ridden parliament, which chooses the president, have contributed to chronic political instability. Two veteran politicians – Rene Harris, the current president, and rival Bernard Dowiyogo – have alternated in power over the last several years. Dowiyogo was forced from office in 2001 over allegations that a Russian crime group laundered money through Nauru.

These and other money-laundering allegations led the U.S. government to announce plans in December 2002 to slap sanctions on Nauru, as well as on Ukraine, for the same reason. The U.S. Treasury Department said that it intended to bar U.S. financial institutions from doing business with any institution licensed by Nauru. The potential impact of the measures on Nauru's tiny economy was unclear at year's end.

The move came after the multination Financial Action Task Force called on member states to impose sanctions on Nauru and Ukraine for their failure to set up adequate anti-money laundering frameworks. Separately, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development lists Nauru as one of seven tax havens worldwide that has refused to meet international norms by adopting tougher oversight.

Nauru established itself as an offshore tax and banking center as part of an effort to find new sources of income to offset the depletion of its once-ample phosphate reserves. Phosphate mining had made the country one of the richest in the world per capita. However, a good part of the royalties have been squandered, and the reserves are likely to become depleted by the middle of the decade.

A trust fund that sets aside a portion of phosphate royalties for future generations has lost millions of dollars through failed investments and financial scams. Moreover, years of government financial mismanagement have saddled Nauru with huge foreign debts relative to its size.

Easing matters somewhat, Australia in 1993 agreed to pay Nauru $70.4 million over 20 years in an out-of-court settlement after Nauru sued its former ruler in the International Court of Justice for additional royalties for mining during the trusteeship period. A century of phosphate mining, much of it during Australian rule, has left more than 80 percent of the eight-square-mile island uninhabitable.

Separately, the government since 2001 has temporarily housed hundreds of mainly Middle Easterners seeking asylum in Australia while their applications are being processed. Australia said in December that the two countries had signed a new deal under which Nauru will take up to 1,500 asylum seekers at a time and Australia will boost aid to the Pacific island nation. Nauru held around 700 asylum seekers in Australian processing centers at year's end.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Nauruans can change their government through elections. The 1968 constitution created an 18-seat parliament whose members are directly elected from 14 districts for 3-year terms. Parliament elects the president from among its members. The government does not prevent Nauruans from forming political parties, although none exist.

Nauru's judiciary is independent, and defendants generally receive fair trials, according to the U.S. State Department's global human rights report for 2001, released in March 2002. Appeals can be lodged with the High Court of Australia, although this is rarely done. Many cases, in fact, are settled entirely outside the formal legal system through traditional reconciliation. This is done usually by choice, though sometimes under communal – though not governmental – pressure, the State Department report said. Contract workers from Kiribati and Tuvalu, who work mainly in mining, have limited access to this type of communal help and, in the past, have alleged that police rarely act on their formal complaints against Nauru citizens, the report added.

Nauru has no regular print media, but several publications appear on an occasional basis. They include a governmental bulletin and a newsletter, The Visionary, which often criticizes the government. The sole radio station is government owned. It regularly broadcasts Radio Australia and BBC news reports. The state-run Nauru TV and a privately owned sports network provide television service.

Citizenship and inheritance are matrilineal, although traditional norms have made it hard for women to pursue higher education, careers, or seats in parliament. Credible reports suggest that some Nauruan women are abused by their husbands, according to the U.S. State Department report.

Nauru has no trade unions and virtually no labor laws, and the government in the past has discouraged efforts to form unions. Foreign workers risk losing their jobs if they leave Nauru without their employer's permission. Moreover, foreign employees who lose their jobs generally must leave Nauru within 60 days. Foreign workers are provided free housing, but in practice this often consists of dilapidated and overcrowded shelters. The government and the state-owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation are the main employers.

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