Nauru | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)



Nauru continued to struggle economically in 2013 as a result of the depletion of its phosphate supply. Mined for use as fertilizer, phosphate was the country’s main source of revenue, but has since been exhausted; additionally, over-mining has left nearly 80 percent of the eight-square-mile island nation uninhabitable. As a result, Nauru relies heavily on foreign loans and international assistance; its survival is also threatened by climate change and rising sea levels.

In August 2013, Nauru signed a new agreement with Australia regarding the resettlement of refugees who had been seeking asylum in Australia; under the new deal, Nauru will receive about $27 million in a total aid package in exchange for giving refugees the option of resettling in Nauru once they are processed. The refugee detention center on Nauru has been criticized for harsh living conditions; much of the detention center was burned down in a February 2013 riot.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: 38 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

Nauru is an electoral democracy. The 19-member unicameral Parliament is popularly elected from 14 constituencies for three-year terms. Parliament chooses the president and vice president from among its members.

Intense political rivalries and the use of no-confidence votes have been a source of political instability. Several changes of government occurred between 2007 and 2011, the shortest lasting only days. Elected in 2011, President Sprent Dabwido made it a priority to introduce constitutional reforms that would increase political stability. Under the Electoral Act of 2012, Parliament was expanded by one seat to 19 to prevent legislative stalemate.

In May 2013, Parliament was dissolved after lack of a quorum forced adjournment of two consecutive sessions. In general elections held on June 8, voters chose 19 representatives out of 68 candidates. The new Parliament was the first to have 19 members; former education minister Baron Waqa, a lawmaker since 2003, was elected president, and Ludwig Scotty was named the new speaker of parliament.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16

Although political parties are allowed, all candidates for public office are required to run as independents.  Political parties include the Nauru First Party, the Democratic Party, and the Center Party. Alliances frequently shift.


C. Functioning of Government: 10 / 12

Corruption is a serious problem in Nauru. In 2011, President Marcus Stephen resigned amid allegations that he had accepted bribes from an Australian phosphate company.


Civil Liberties: 54 / 60 (-1)

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 15 / 16

The government does not restrict or censor the news media. There are several local weekly and monthly publications; foreign dailies, mostly in English, are widely available. The government publishes occasional bulletins, and the opposition publishes its own newsletters. Radio Nauru and Nauru TV, which are owned and operated by the government, broadcast content from Australia, New Zealand, and other international sources. There are no formal restrictions on internet usage.

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.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 11 / 12

The government respects freedoms of assembly and association. There are several advocacy groups for women, as well as development-focused and religious organizations. There are no trade unions or labor protection laws, partly because there is little large-scale, private employment.


F. Rule of Law: 14 / 16 (-1)

The judiciary is independent, and defendants generally receive fair trials and representation. The Supreme Court is the highest authority on constitutional issues. 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, and there have been few reported cases of abuse. Nauru has no armed forces; Australia provides defense assistance under an informal agreement.

In 2012, Nauru agreed to host refugees seeking asylum in Australia, and reopened a detention center that had previously been used to house asylum seekers. Detainees in Nauru’s facilities have cited poor living conditions, with many engaging in violent protests and hunger strikes in attempts to pressure the Australian government into allowing them to settle there.

In February 2013, 80 percent of Nauru’s detention center was burned down in a riot forcing detainees to live in tents and other temporary structures. By August, Nauru charged about 120 of the detainees with arson, property damage and rioting.  Almost immediately, the refugees in July; the asylum seekers and their advocates brought a counter suit, claiming unlawful detention in Nauru, but the court struck down their claims. Hearings were set for 2014.

In August, Nauru and Australia signed a new deal that would allow refugees to be resettled in Nauru after they are processed. The deal promised Nauru about $27 million in development assistance in addition to millions more to repair damage done to the detention center in the February riot.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 14 / 16

Societal pressures limit women’s ability to exercise their legal rights. In 2013, Charmaine Scotty became the second woman to be elected to Nauru’s parliament since the country became independent in 1968; she was also appointed Minister for Home Affairs, Education, Youth, and Land Management.  Sexual harassment is a crime, but spousal rape is not. Domestic violence is frequently associated with alcohol abuse. In 2011, Nauru pledged to decriminalize homosexuality—male homosexuality is punishable with 14 years of prison at hard labor—after a United Nations human rights audit. As of year’s end, assault “with intent to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature” remains a criminal offense liable to 14 years of imprisonment with hard labor.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology