Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2008

Nauru is a constitutional republic with a population of approximately 9,300. The most recent parliamentary elections, held in August, were generally free and fair. There are 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 August Parliament reelected President Ludwig Scotty, but following a vote of no confidence in December, he was replaced by Marcus Stephen, who named a new government. 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. Few human rights problems were reported. At year's end 82 asylum seekers were being held at Australia's refugee processing center in the country.


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). In March the Australian government transferred 82 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers to the facility. They joined seven Burmese asylum seekers of the Rohinga minority who had been at the facility since September 2006. On December 9, the Burmese were granted refugee status by Australia and removed to Australia for resettlement. Australian human rights organizations and some politicians repeatedly expressed concern about the detention center's isolation and austere conditions and called for the asylum seekers to be removed from Nauru. The newly elected Labor government in Australia announced its intention to end the processing of asylum seekers on Nauru in the near term.

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 108‑member police force. An expatriate police commissioner and four expatriate advisors are seconded to the police force under a cooperative agreement with Australia. 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. The law provides for accused persons to have access to legal assistance, but in practice qualified assistance was not always readily available. Detainees were allowed prompt access to family members.

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 is also chairman of the Family Court's 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 at public expense 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. These rights were extended to all citizens without exception.

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.

Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e‑mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e‑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, and the government generally respected this right in practice. The government significantly relaxed restrictions that had previously prevented members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints (Mormons) and the Jehovah's Witnesses from practicing their religion freely and openly. The government permitted missionary work by foreign religious groups previously barred from entering the country for missionary activities.

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 2007 International Religious Freedom Report.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

Neither the constitution nor law specifically provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights 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 there is reason to believe they feared prosecution. 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. The UNHCR visited the center in July.

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 August, Parliament reelected Ludwig Scotty as president. Multiple candidates stood for all parliamentary seats in each of the country's eight constituencies. Political parties could operate without restriction or outside interference. On December 19, President Scotty lost a parliamentary vote of no confidence, and his government was replaced by a loose coalition of parliamentarians who opposed him.

Independent election observers concluded that the August elections were credible, with voters able to freely exercise their will. However, the observers voiced concern over the perceived increase in the use of cash in election campaigning and allegations of vote buying.

There are no legal impediments to participation in politics by women, but in general women traditionally have been less prominent in politics than men. Eight women stood as candidates in the August elections, but none were elected to Parliament. 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

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not consistently implement these laws, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Accusations of corruption by a government minister contributed to the toppling of the Scotty government on December 19. There are no financial disclosure laws or specific government agencies responsible for combating government corruption.

There are no legal provisions providing for public access to government information, and the government did not freely provide such access. An independent observer team to the August elections commented on lack of public access to information relating to major election issues.

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 existed. There were no reports that the government sought to constrain the creation of such bodies. The government worked harmoniously with the IOM, which comanaged 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.


Rape is a crime punishable by up to life imprisonment. However, there was no information regarding the extent of rape or domestic violence. Police investigated all reports of rape thoroughly, and cases were vigorously prosecuted by the courts. Spousal rape is not specifically identified as a crime, but police investigated and filed charges when allegations of rape were made against a spouse.

The government kept no statistics on the incidence of physical and domestic abuse against women. However, credible reports indicated that sporadic abuse occurred, often aggravated by alcohol use. Families normally sought to reconcile such problems informally and, if necessary, communally. The police and judiciary treated major incidents and unresolved family disputes seriously.

Prostitution is illegal, but there were no reports of such activity during the year.

Some forms of sexual harassment are crimes, but 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 may 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.


Government resources for education and health care for children were severely constrained by the country's economic crisis. Education is compulsory, free, and universal until age 16, but in practice not all school‑age children attended school. In 2006, 90 percent of children of primary school age attended school. At the secondary level, 56 percent of eligible children attended school. Most children did not complete secondary school.

Government health care was free and available equally to boys and girls, but facilities and services were minimal.

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.

There was no government agency with specific responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, nor was there any specific government support to facilitate voting or participation in civic affairs by such persons. There are no formal mechanisms to protect persons with mental disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

A pattern of petty theft, property damage, and assault 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.

Some members of a small community of nationals from the People's Republic of China (PRC) who formerly worked in the mining industry remained in the country. In August 2006 government figures put the number of PRC workers and their family members at 132, but at year's end officials no longer knew the exact size of the community. There were reports that some of the workers departed the country during the year. The PRC 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. Some of the workers, who were owed back wages by their former employer, received a government stipend of approximately $44 (A$50) every other week.

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.

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

The government raised wages and implemented a graduated salary system for public service officers and employees, which became effective in July. At lower ranges the salaries did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.

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. The government did not act to eliminate the problem, citing high costs. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.