Human rights in Nauru
Nauru is a small island country in the South Pacific. With a population of 9,322 it is the world’s least populous independent republic. Nauru’s government is based around its constitution, part two of which contains ‘protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.' The Human Rights Council (UNHRC) carried out Nauru’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in January 2011. The review was generally favourable with only a few areas of concern.
Human rights treaties
Nauru became a member of the United Nations on 14 September 1999. Of the nine core human rights treaties Nauru has ratified or acceded to four of them- the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention Against Torture (CAT),and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) along with the First Optional Protocol were both signed on 12 November 2001 but are yet to be ratified. Nauru stated that the burden of reporting, specifically the financial cost, was a significant factor behind their low rate of participation in international human rights instruments.
Due to Australia’s use of the Nauru Detention Centre for housing asylum seekers many states recommended in the UPR that Nauru ratify the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The signing process was begun on 17 June 2011 and is expected to take around 90 days to complete. Nauru also accepted recommendations to ratify the ICCPR, CAT, and CEDAW but these have not yet been acted upon.
Domestic violence is a systemic problem in Nauru and was referred to frequently throughout the UPR report. In response Nauru accepted recommendations to ratify CEDAW and drew attention to several already existing measures. The elimination of domestic violence has been a national priority since 2002 when the government created the Women’s Affairs Office. In 2008 the Nauruan Police Force received funding to establish a Domestic Violence Unit and safe-house for victims. International Women’s Day is a national holiday. A review of the Nauruan Criminal Code, currently underway, is expected to result in provisions addressing the issue of domestic violence.
Rights of sexual minorities
Sodomy has been illegal in Nauru since 1899 and there is no recognition of same-sex marriages. Under section 208 of the Penal Code homosexual acts are punishable by up to 14 years hard labour. Notwithstanding the law there have been no reports of prosecutions of homosexuals. The review of the Nauruan Criminal Code is expected to decriminalise consensual homosexual activity.
Proposed constitutional amendments
Main Article: Nauruan constitutional referendum, 2010
In 2009 the Nauruan Parliament passed a bill to amend part II of the Constitution. The amendment proposed extending the protection of the rights of disabled persons, the environment and children as well as recognising the right to receive healthcare, education and maternity leave in the Constitution. The amendment failed to gain the required two-thirds approval in a referendum held on 27 February 2010. The Constitutional Review Committee, a Standing Committee of Parliament, aims to explore alternative formats for a subsequent referendum.
Review of the Criminal Code
A review of the Nauruan Criminal Code, which has been largely unchanged since 1899, is currently under review by the government with aid from the Australian Attorney-General’s Department. The review is expected to modernise the code and bring it in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
National human rights institution
Nauru has no national human rights institution. However, in November 2009 Nauru invited a delegation to visit the country and advise the government on the potential establishment of a national human rights mechanism. Delegates included representatives from the Asia Pacific Forum and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Several states noted in the UPR that since the delegation Nauru had not taken further steps to establish a human rights institution and recommended that this be addressed. Nauru accepted these recommendations but cited resources and expertise as their ‘biggest obstacles’ in pursuit of this goal and stated that the funding of other institutions took precedence.
- CIA World Factbook: Nauru
- Member States of the United Nations
- International/Regional Agreements, Conventions and Treaties: Nauru
- Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Nauru, para 20
- Brisbane Action Web: 'Nauru Signs Refugee Convention'
- Scoop Pacific: 'Statement of Nauru Parliamentarian on VAW'
- Lydia Bezeruk, ‘Nauru Police Response to Domestic Violence’ (2010) The Journal of Women and Policing 40.
- Asia Pacific Forum: 'Nauru to Consider Options for Human Rights Body'
- Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Nauru, para 35
- Universal Periodic Review of Nauru
- 2009 Human Rights Report by the United States Department of State