Freedom in the World
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Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Digicel, a private mobile telecommunications company, was given approval in June 2009 to provide wireless network services in Nauru. President Marcus Stephen declared September 1 a national holiday in celebration of the launch of nation-wide mobile service.
Nauru is the world’s smallest republic. It was a German protectorate from 1888 until Australian troops seized it during World War I. The League of Nations granted a joint mandate to Australia, Britain, and New Zealand to govern the island in 1919. Japan occupied Nauru during World War II, and in 1947, the United Nations designated it as a trust territory under Australia. Nauru gained independence in 1968, became an associate Commonwealth member in 1969, and joined the United Nations in 1999.
The once-plentiful supplies of phosphate, mined by Australia for use as fertilizer, are now almost entirely exhausted in Nauru. Mining has made more than 80 percent of the eight-square-mile island uninhabitable, and the government has squandered much of its accumulated wealth through financial mismanagement. The country currently carries a large foreign debt, and rising sea levels threaten its survival.
Recent governments have tried different ways to generate income, mostly with limited success. With few viable economic alternatives, foreign development assistance had become a major source of government income. However, money laundering tied to Nauru’s offshore banking operations had landed the country on international blacklists, restricting its access to international loans. Despite such restrictions, Nauru has received considerable aid from China and Taiwan by switching diplomatic recognition between the two rivals. Between 2001 and 2008, Nauru served as a refugee-processing and detention center for Australia in exchange for rent and aid. International groups criticized the center for detaining refugees, including children, for years while awaiting processing, adjudication, and settlement. Its closure cost Nauru approximately one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product.
Intense political rivalry and the use of no-confidence votes have been a source of political instability. The election of Ludwig Scotty in 2004 and his re-election in August 2007 provided encouragement for some that a stable government and the implementation of much needed economic reforms were possible. However, the president’s apparent refusal to investigate allegations of corruption against Finance and Foreign Minister David Adeang led to Scotty’s ouster in a no-confidence vote in December 2007. Marcus Stephen replaced Scotty as president, pledging good governance and transparency, though Stephen was soon challenged by a failed opposition-led vote of no confidence in March 2008. Political deadlock in Parliament followed, leading to Stephen’s declaration of a state of emergency and calls for a snap election the following month. Stephen won a second term in office, and his supporters secured 12 of 18 seats in Parliament, ending the crisis.
To improve political stability and government accountability, the Scotty government launched a constitutional review in 2005. However, the 36-member Constitution Convention created to make recommendations to the government has yet to submit its suggestions, as delegates remained deeply divided over proposals including a directly elected president, making the state auditor an independent officer of Parliament, and requiring strict accounting for all public revenue and expenditures.
Nauru’s distance from the rest of the world increases the importance of connectivity through telecommunications. The entry of the telecommunications company Digicel in June 2009 was greeted with considerable excitement, including the president’s decision to make September 1—the day mobile telephone service and was officially launched in Nauru—a national holiday.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Nauru is an electoral democracy. The 2007 elections were deemed free and fair by international observers. The 18-member unicameral legislature is popularly elected from 14 constituencies for three-year terms. Parliament chooses the president and vice president from among its members. Political parties include the Nauru First Party and the Democratic Party, but many politicians are independents.
Corruption is a serious problem in Nauru. Although there were allegations of government corruption in 2009, no cases were brought before the courts. In March, President Marcus Stephen signed a memorandum of understanding with Kiribati and Tuvalu to establish a subregional audit support program for more uniform and timely auditing of public accounts. Nauru was not rated in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The government does not restrict or censor the news media. Local journalists produce a number of weekly and monthly publications; foreign dailies, most in English, are freely admitted and widely available. The government publishes occasional bulletins, and the opposition publishes its own newsletters. Radio Nauru and Nauru TV, which the government owns and operates, broadcast content from Australia, New Zealand, and other international sources. There are no formal restrictions on internet usage, though cost and lack of infrastructure has limited access. The introduction of Digicel’s wireless network services in 2009 made mobile phone service and internet access through mobile devices available to all areas of Nauru.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, which the government generally respects in practice. There have been no reports of government suppression of academic freedom.
The government respects freedoms of assembly and association. There are several advocacy groups for women, development-focused groups, and religious organizations. The country lacks trade unions and labor protection laws, partly because there is little large-scale, private employment.
The judiciary is independent, and defendants generally receive fair trials and representation. The Supreme Court is the highest authority on constitutional issues, and Parliament cannot overturn court decisions. Appeals in civil and criminal cases can be lodged with the high court of Australia. Traditional reconciliation mechanisms, rather than the formal legal process, are frequently used, typically by choice but sometimes under communal pressure. A civilian official controls the 100-person police force. Police abuse is rare, although foreign workers have complained that the police are slow to act on cases filed against native employers. Nauru has no armed forces; Australia provides national defense under an informal agreement.
Societal pressures limit the ability of women to exercise their legal rights. Sexual harassment is a crime, but spousal rape is not. Domestic violence is frequently associated with alcohol abuse. There are currently no women serving in parliament.