Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Nauru’s civil liberties rating declined from 1 to 2 due to government attempts to limit freedom of expression among foreign journalists and opposition figures, as well as the dismissal of judicial officials who refused the government’s push to try asylum seekers charged with rioting at a detention center in 2013.
Nauru continued to face international scrutiny in 2014 because of poor conditions in the detention center it hosts for migrants seeking asylum in Australia. The government of Nauru implemented a hike in fees for journalist visas in January, a move that officials later admitted was a response to negative reporting on the issue by foreign outlets.
In January, officials targeted several Australian nationals—including prominent members of Nauru’s judiciary, a former media advisor, and a business owner—with seemingly arbitrary applications of immigration law. The resident magistrate and Supreme Court registrar was dismissed and deported, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court was banned from reentry into Nauru after he attempted to intervene in the former case. In May and June, a total of five opposition legislators were suspended from Parliament after protesting the government’s actions and speaking to the foreign media about the incidents.
Political Rights: 37 / 40 (−1) [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12
Nauru is an electoral democracy. The 19-member unicameral Parliament is popularly elected from eight 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. In May 2013, Parliament was dissolved after lack of a quorum forced adjournment of two consecutive sessions. Following general elections in June, Parliament elected Baron Waqa to the office of the president.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16
Although political parties are allowed, most candidates for public office run as independents. Political parties include the Nauru First Party, the Democratic Party, and the Center Party. Alliances frequently shift.
C. Functioning of Government: 9 / 12 (−1)
Corruption is a serious problem in Nauru. In 2011, the country’s president resigned amid allegations that he had accepted bribes from an Australian phosphate company.
A number of opposition legislators condemned the government’s use of immigration law in January 2014 to deport or deny reentry to prominent Australian nationals. Some legislators voiced concerns that the justice minister and the president were interfering with judicial independence. By June, five opposition parliamentarians were suspended, allegedly for unruly behavior and speaking to foreign media. Their appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the suspensions was dismissed in December.
Civil Liberties: 51 / 60 (−3)
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16 (−1)
There is access to several local weekly and monthly publications, and foreign dailies, mostly in English, are also 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 countries.
In January 2014, Nauru announced an increase in visa application fees for foreign journalists from A$200 (US$180) to A$8,000 (US$7,300). The government initially announced that the hike was needed to raise revenue, but the interior minister later admitted that the move was a reaction to negative reporting by international outlets on conditions at the detention center for asylum seekers. By November, no foreign journalist had applied for a visa.
The constitution provides for the freedom of religion, which the government generally respects in practice. There were no reports of suppression of academic freedom in 2014.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 11 / 12
The government generally 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: 12 / 16 (−2)
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 are frequently used instead of the formal legal process.
A number of events compromised the functioning of the judiciary in 2014. In January 2014, resident magistrate and Supreme Court registrar Peter Law was dismissed from his positions and deported from Nauru by government order. Supreme Court Chief Justice Geoffrey Eames issued an injunction against the deportation order, but his efforts were ignored by authorities. Eames was subsequently denied reentry into Nauru when attempting to return from travel. Both men are Australian nationals.
Some reports indicated that the men were dismissed because of misconduct, while other claimed that the government’s actions were politically motivated. Eames and Law had resisted government influence on judicial process in Nauru’s detention center for migrants seeking asylum in Australia. A number of asylum seekers were scheduled to face trial in 2014 for their involvement in riots that took place at the facility in 2013. The government had requested that trials take place in the detention center, rather than in an open court. Nauru’s solicitor general resigned in protest after the incidents, while local and international watchdogs voiced concern for judicial independence and integrity.
In late January 2014, the government deported two more Australian nationals, a former state media advisor and a business owner, based on allegations of intervention in domestic affairs. The justice minister ordered the deportations after a late night session of Parliament, in which legislators amended the Immigration Act to allow the justice minister to sign deportation orders.
Civilian authorities control Nauru’s small police force. There have been reported cases of abuse in the past. Nauru has no armed forces; Australia provides defense assistance under an informal agreement.
Nauru is host to a detention facility for migrants seeking asylum in Australia. Critics continued to condemn the harsh living conditions at the facility in 2014, in addition to long processing delays by Australian authorities. The first group of individuals received refugee status in May 2014, while more than 1,000 more cases remained in processing at year’s end.
In April 2014, a UN inspector reported being denied access to the detention center. Officials from the United Nations have criticized the Nauru government for failing to establish an independent tribunal to investigate claims of human rights abuses at the detention center. Human rights groups have cited instances of self-harm at the detention center and reported that children are at significant risk of sexual abuse.
In 2011, Nauru pledged to decriminalize same-sex sexual activity. As of the end of 2014, 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 hard labor.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 14 / 16
Economic conditions in Nauru are dire. The mining of phosphate, which has been the country’s main source of revenue, is in decline. Mining has also left the majority of the island nation uninhabitable. There are few alternative resources, and the country also faces threats from rising sea levels and climate change. Nauru relies heavily on foreign loans and international assistance, as well as payments from Australia connected to the processing facility for asylum seekers. In March 2014, the government announced the creation of an internationally managed trust fund with contributions from Nauru and foreign donors to help secure the country’s financial future.
Societal pressures limit women’s ability to exercise their legal rights. In 2014, Jane Elizabeth Hamilton-White, a former barrister in Australia, became the first woman to sit on the Nauruan Supreme Court. Domestic violence is frequently associated with alcohol abuse.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year