Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2006
March 6, 2007

Nauru is a constitutional republic with a population of approximately 9,200. The most recent parliamentary elections, held in October 2004, 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. In October 2004 Parliament reelected President Ludwig Scotty. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security 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. A few human rights problems were reported, including frequent judicial delays, some restrictions on the activities of certain religions, and social and economic marginalization of stranded foreign former mine workers until their repatriation in midyear. Despite the ostensible deactivation of Australia's refugee processing center in the country, a small number of asylum seekers remained held there in isolated, Spartan conditions.

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

Prison conditions were austere but generally met international standards.

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

Since 2001 the country has hosted a refugee processing and detention center funded by Australia and operated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Australian human rights organizations and some politicians have repeatedly expressed concern about the detention center's isolation and austere conditions, and called for the asylum seekers to be removed from Nauru. Early in the year the facility was declared deactivated, and its two remaining asylum seekers, both Iraqi nationals, were moved to an administrative building outside the center. In August one of the two was moved to Australia, and in December a third country agreed to accept the second for resettlement. However, in September seven Burmese asylum seekers were transferred from a refugee detention facility on Australia's Christmas Island to Nauru for further processing, effectively re-opening the detention center (see section 2.d.).

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. The Ministry of Justice oversees the 109 member police force. Under a cooperative agreement, Australian Federal Police officers were seconded to the country's police force to facilitate organizational reforms and training and to increase police accountability, skills, professionalism, and community responsiveness. There were no reported cases of police corruption or impunity.

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. There was a functioning bail system. Authorities confiscated the passports of some accused persons released on bail to prevent flight. The law provides for accused persons to have access to legal assistance, but in practice qualified assistance was not always readily available.

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.

Human rights activists continued to assert that the detention by Australian authorities of asylum seekers in Nauru was in violation of both countries' constitutions. The courts of both countries have ruled that the detention arrangements are legal.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence 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 criminal and civil cases, but this rarely was done. A resident magistrate presides over the district court, and also the family court as chairman of a three member panel. Three lay magistrates handle simple cases; serious matters are given directly to the Supreme Court.

The constitution also provides for two quasi courts: the Public Service Appeal Board and the Police Service Board. The chief justice presides over both boards.

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; 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, Tuvalu, and the People's Republic of China (PRC) 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 only two trained lawyers, and many persons were represented in court by "pleaders," trained paralegals certified by the government.

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.

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 no independent media except for a sporadically published private newsletter highly critical of the government.

Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chatrooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by electronic mail.

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; however, the government restricted this right in some cases. The government continued to prevent members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the Jehovah's Witnesses from practicing their religion freely and openly and from carrying out missionary work. Members of these religions were subject to arbitrary licensing and immigration requirements.

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 2006 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

Neither the constitution nor law specifically provides for these rights, but the government generally respected them in practice.

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 2001 agreement with Australia establishing refugee processing centers, the country undertook not to commit refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared prosecution. However, according to IOM statistics cited in testimony before an Australian Senate inquiry in June, 32 Afghan children registered as unaccompanied when brought to Nauru in 2001 for processing were subsequently returned to Afghanistan. Nine were still under 18 years of age at departure. 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 who had been apprehended at sea while attempting to enter Australia illegally. These persons were granted visas and detained under national law while their status as refugees was determined and possible applications for asylum in Australia or elsewhere were adjudicated. They were held in facilities funded by Australia but administered by IOM officials. 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 successful applicants in other countries, but it was not active during the year.

At the beginning of the year two Iraqi refugees deemed by Australia to be security risks remained in the country. In August one was transferred to Australia for psychiatric evaluation, and in December a third country agreed to accept the second of the two for resettlement. In September seven Burmese asylum seekers were sent to Nauru for further processing of their applications by Australia and remained there at year's end. The government had publicly urged Australian authorities to resolve the case of the remaining Iraqi national and stated that the new arrivals must be processed more expeditiously than past cases, or the government would impose substantially higher, punitive visa fees.

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 held on the basis of universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Citizens 20 years and older, in compulsory voting, directly elect an 18 member unicameral parliament for a term of three years. Following general elections in October 2004, Parliament reelected Ludwig Scotty as president. 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 some senior civil service positions, including the head of the civil service and the presidential counsel.

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

Government Corruption and Transparency

In recent years Parliament took corrective measures to combat corruption in government and in publicly owned corporations. Over prior decades loose controls on the enormous revenues generated by phosphate mining led to mismanagement and misappropriation of vast sums of public funds. With the decline of the mining sector and its near end after 2000, the country went from great wealth to de facto bankruptcy. 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, increasing transparency, and addressing economic problems. During the year the government continued its efforts to increase accountability and further reform the financial sector. Nonetheless, there were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

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

Section 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. There were no reports that the government sought to constrain the creation of such bodies. The government remained highly defensive in response to accusations that it was violating the human rights of those persons held in the processing center. The government worked harmoniously with the IOM, which co-managed the processing center with Australian authorities.

Section 5 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

The government kept no statistics on the incidence 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 police and judiciary treated major incidents and unresolved family disputes seriously.

Spousal rape is not specifically a crime, but rape is a crime and police investigate and file charges if allegations of rape are made against a spouse. Prostitution is illegal and was not widespread. Some forms of sexual harassment are crimes, and sexual harassment 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.

Children

Government resources for education and health care for children were severely constrained by the country's economic crisis. Education is compulsory until age 16, but in practice not all school-age children attended school. The Asian Development Bank reported that in 2003, 83 percent of girls and 84 percent of boys of primary school age attended school. At the secondary school level, only 50 percent of eligible girls and 46 percent of boys attended school. More recently the government declared that truancy was as high as 60 percent in some schools. Most children did not complete secondary school. Government health care was free, but facilities and services provided were minimal. Prior to their repatriation (see section 6.e.), 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 constitution and law do not prohibit trafficking in persons, but there were no reports of persons trafficked to, from, 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. The country's economic crisis has led to an overall deterioration in funding for health care facilities and services, including for persons with disabilities. There were no restrictions on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs, nor was there specific government support to facilitate the exercise of these rights by persons with disabilities.

There was 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

A pattern of theft, property damage, and violence directed at the ethnic Chinese community continued during the year. Ethnic Chinese composed 5 to 8 percent of the population. Police attributed most attacks on ethnic Chinese to economic motivations and noted a general trend of theft-related attacks against the country's few private businesses, such as stores and restaurants.

Former mining industry workers from other Pacific islands (primarily Tuvalu and Kiribati) and the PRC, 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. However, it was no longer maintained by the mining company and had become derelict and badly overcrowded. Between July and October the workers from other Pacific islands and their families were repatriated to their home countries, but an estimated 130 to 150 Chinese workers remained at year's end (see section 6.e.).

Section 6 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.

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 $108 (A$140) every other week.

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. Although the law does not specifically mention forced or compulsory labor by children, 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 only two significant employers, the government and the phosphate industry, 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 $108 (A$140) every two 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.

Approximately 460 foreign workers from other Pacific islands and the PRC formerly employed in the phosphate industry and approximately 1,100 of their family members remained in the country at the beginning of the year. Previously they and their families received free housing, utilities, medical treatment, and often a food allowance. Their former employer, the state-owned phosphate mining company, was virtually defunct and unable to meet unpaid wage claims. The government paid the foreign workers a stipend of $39 (A$50) every other week, barely enough to survive. They continued to occupy company housing at no cost, but their circumstances were dire. After the government of Taiwan agreed to finance payment of unpaid back wages for the workers from other Pacific islands, these workers and their families were repatriated to their home countries. An estimated 130 to 150 workers from the PRC did not receive back wages and remained in the country; at year's end the government was seeking their repatriation by the PRC government.

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.

The government sets some health and safety standards. 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. During the year a gradual revival of the industry was accompanied by accusations that unfiltered dust discharge from the phosphate plant exposed workers and the surrounding communities to a significant health hazard. An arson attack on a plant conveyor belt was reportedly related to the dust issue. The government did not act to eliminate the problem, citing high costs.

[This is a mobile copy of Nauru]