U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Nauru


The Republic of Nauru, a small Pacific island with approximately 10,500 inhabitants, gained independence in 1968, at which time it adopted a modified form of parliamentary democracy. Nauru has two levels of government, the unicameral Parliament and the Nauru Island Council (NIC). Parliamentary elections must be held at least triennially. The Parliament, consisting of 18 members from 14 constituencies, is responsible for national and international matters. It elects the President, who is both Chief of State and Head of Government, from among its members. The NIC acts as the local government and is responsible for public services. The judiciary is independent.

Nauru has no armed forces, although it does maintain a small police force (less than 100 members) under civilian control.

The economy depends almost entirely on the country's declining phosphate deposits. Secondary reserves and residual mining may extend the productivity of its mines. The government-owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation (NPC) controls the mining industry. The Government places a large percentage of the NPC's earnings in long-term investments meant to support the citizenry after the phosphate reserves have been exhausted. The Governments of Nauru and Australia reached a $70.4 million out-of-court settlement in 1993 for rehabilitation of the Nauruan lands damaged by Australian phosphate mining. Two new banks opened during the year. Media reports indicate that significant offshore deposits are associated with these new banking facilities. The Government is working with the Pacific Finance Technical Assistance Center (an International Monetary Fund facility based in Fiji) to update its banking regulations.

Fundamental human rights are provided for in the Constitution, and the Government generally respected them in practice. There were no reports of specific human rights abuses, but in the traditional culture, women occupy a subordinate role, with limits on their job opportunities.

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial 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 these practices, and the Government respects these prohibitions in practice.

The Government attempts to provide internationally accepted minimum prison conditions within its limited financial means and in accordance with local living standards. However, prison conditions are basic, and food and sanitation are limited. There are no local human rights groups, and the question of visits to prisons by human rights monitors has not been raised. Visits by church groups and family members are permitted.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The constitutional prohibition against arbitrary arrest and detention is honored. The police may hold a person for no more than 24 hours without a hearing before a magistrate.

The Government does not practice forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent, and constitutional provisions for both a fair hearing and a public trial are respected. Defendants may have legal counsel, and a representative will be appointed when required "in the interest of justice." However, many cases never reach the formal legal process, as traditional reconciliation is used – usually by choice but sometimes under communal (not government) pressure. Contract workers from Kiribati and Tuvalu are employed predominantly in the mining sector and do not have recourse to effective communal assistance; they are particularly at a disadvantage in complaints against citizens. There are only two trained lawyers, and many people are 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 generally prohibits these abuses. Searches not sanctioned by court order are prohibited, and there is no surveillance of individuals or of private communications. Citizenship and inheritance rights are traced through the female line. Marriage between women and foreign males may still draw social censure. The law extends the right of citizenship – subject to approval by the NIC – to both male and female spouses, provided that marital and residency requirements are met.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression. News and opinion circulate freely, rapidly, and widely by the press and word of mouth. The country has no regular print media. Occasional publications include the government bulletin. The sole radio station is owned and operated by the Government; it broadcasts Radio Australia and British Broadcasting Corporation news reports. Local television includes Nauru TV, which is government owned, as well as a privately owned sports network.

There are no prohibitions or restrictions on academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. No permits are required for public meetings, and there are no limitations on private associations.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

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

The law provides for these rights for citizens, and the Government respects them in practice.

Foreign workers must apply to their employers for permission to leave during the period of their contracts. They may break the contract and leave without permission but would lose their positions and often a sizable bond as a result. In most cases, foreign employees whose contracts are terminated by their employers must leave Nauru within 60 days.

The Government cooperates with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. No person in recent memory has applied for refugee status, and the Government has not formulated a formal policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum.

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

Citizens have, and exercise, the right to change their government. Although there are no organized political parties, persons with diverse points of view run for and are elected to Parliament and to the NIC.

Parliament elects the President. There was a change in government in April, the seventh change in government in the past 3 years. All the changeovers were peaceful and in accordance with the Constitution. Voting by secret ballot is compulsory for all citizens over the age of 20 for parliamentary elections. There have been multiple candidates for all parliamentary seats during recent elections. The approximately 3,000 guest workers have no voice in political decisions.

There are no legal impediments to participation in politics by women; however women are underrepresented in government and politics. There are no female Members of Parliament.

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

There are no restrictions on establishing local groups that concern themselves specifically with human rights, but to date none has been formed. No allegations have been made by outside organizations of human rights violations in the country, nor have there been any requests for investigations.

Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Government policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status.


The Government does not keep track of incidents of physical abuse against women. However, credible reports indicate that sporadic abuse, often aggravated by alcohol use, occurs. Families normally seek to reconcile such problems informally, and, if necessary, communally. The judiciary and the Government treat major incidents and unresolved family disputes seriously.

Nauru law assures 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 limit opportunities for women to exercise these rights fully. The Government has appointed a women's development officer to assist with the development of professional opportunities for women.


The Government devotes considerable attention to the welfare of children, with particular stress on their health and educational needs. Education is compulsory until age 16. Child abuse statistics do not exist, but alcohol abuse sometimes leads to child neglect or abuse. The NIC treats child abuse as a serious communal matter. There were no reported cases of child abuse during the year.

People with Disabilities

There is no reported discrimination in employment, education, and the provision of state services to persons with disabilities. However, no legislation mandates access to public buildings and services for the disabled. The Government has assisted persons with disabilities by building access ramps to homes and workplaces and by purchasing office equipment adapted for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Non-Nauruan Pacific island workers experience some discrimination. While guest workers are provided free housing, the shelters they are given often are maintained poorly and overcrowded. In the past, some guest workers alleged that the police rarely act on complaints they made against citizens.

Section 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, and there are no trade unions. Past efforts to form unions were discouraged officially. The transient nature of the mostly foreign work force and the relative prosperity of the citizenry also have served to hamper efforts to organize the labor force. The right to strike is neither protected, prohibited, nor limited by law. No strikes took place during the year. Nauru is not a member of the International Labor Organization. There are no prohibitions or limits on the right of unions to affiliate with international bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

While there are no legal impediments, collective bargaining does not take place. The private sector employs only about 1 percent of salaried workers. For government workers, public service regulations determine salaries, working hours, vacation periods, and other employment matters.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

Education is compulsory until age 16; the law sets 17 as the minimum age of employment. The only two large employers, the Government and the NPC, honor this. Some children under the age of 17 years work in the few, small, family-owned businesses. The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children and enforces this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages exist for office workers and manual laborers and provide an adequate, if modest, standard of living. Most families live in simple but adequate housing, and almost every family owns some sort of motor vehicle. The Government sets the minimum yearly wage administratively for the public sector. Since November 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 determine wages for foreign contract workers based on market conditions and the consumer price index. Usually foreign workers and their families receive free housing, utilities, medical treatment, and often a food allowance. Some noncitizen contract workers have complained about conditions in company living compounds. By regulation the workweek for office workers is 36 hours and for manual laborers 40 hours in both the public and private sectors. Neither law nor regulations stipulate a weekly rest period; however, most workers observe Saturdays and Sundays as holidays.

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

f. Trafficking in Persons

The law does not specifically address trafficking; however, there were no reports that persons were trafficked in, to, or from the country.


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