Events of 2015

Nauru is a parliamentary democracy, with 58 per cent of the population comprised of indigenous Nauruans while another 26 per cent identify as Pacific Islanders. Chinese (8 per cent) and European (8 per cent) minorities make up the remainder of the population. While the Constitution theoretically protects the rights and freedoms of Nauruan citizens, 2015 saw some significant setbacks with regard to the island nation's democratic space, including the passing of the Criminal Code (Amendment) Bill 2015. Allegedly developed to curb language that is 'threatening, abusive or insulting in nature and has the intention to stir up racial, religious or political hatred', critics accuse the government in practice of using the legislation to crack down on dissent. The government has used similar morality arguments to justify other repressive measures, including its attempt during the year to block Facebook, although refugee advocates have claimed the move was to prevent residents of its controversial asylum detention centre from speaking out about their conditions. Nauru has received widespread criticism for its involvement in Australia's offshore processing centres, including allegations of unreasonable delays in processing claims, harsh living conditions, violence and sexual abuse against asylum seekers.

Violence against women remains a key issue for Nauru. While a lack of readily available data makes conclusions difficult, there is a general perception that it is in fact increasing in frequency. While some new policy measures are being developed by the government to tackle this problem, it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of these measures in reducing violence against women. While traditionally Nauruan clans have been matrilineal, with property passing to female rather than male heirs and providing women with a measure of domestic influence, in practice many occupy a marginalized position within society – a situation reflected in the fact that the country has only had two elected female MPs.

The issue of sexual assault against women, in particular for the minorities who are now being settled in Nauru as refugees under Australia's resettlement policy, was highlighted by a high-profile case that came to light in October 2015, when a 23-year-old Somali refugee was sexually assaulted on Nauru. Known as Abyan, she allegedly became pregnant as a result of a sexual assault on the island and requested to travel to Australia, as abortion remains an illegal procedure on Nauru. But after spending five days in immigration detention in Australia, immigration minister Peter Dutton publicly stated that Abyan had decided not to proceed with the abortion and was sent back to Nauru, without the procedure having been carried out. Abyan denied that she had changed her mind, and her lawyers said she had simply asked for more time to make a decision. There have been calls for an independent commission into the handling of the case.

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