Republic of Nauru
Area: 21 sq. km.
Cities: Capital--no official capital; government offices in Yaren District.
Terrain: Sandy beach rises to a fertile but narrow ring around raised coral reefs with phosphate plateau in center.
Climate: tropical; monsoonal; rainy season (November to February).
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Nauruan (s).
Population (2002 est.): 12,329.
Annual growth rate: 1.96%.
Ethnic groups: Nauruan 58%, other Pacific Islander 26%, Chinese 8%, European 8%.
Religions: Christian (two-thirds Protestant, one-third Roman Catholic).
Languages: Nauruan, English.
Health (2002): Infant mortality rate--10.52/1,000. Life expectancy (est.)--61.57 yrs. women 65.26 yrs; men 58.05 yrs.
Work force: No figures available.
Unemployment: No figures available.
Independence: January 31, 1968.
Branches: Executive--president and cabinet.
Legislative--unicameral Parliament. Judicial--Supreme Court, Appellate Court, District Court, and Family Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 14 districts.
Political parties: Democratic Party, Naoero Amo (Nauru First) Party.
Central government budget (1999 est.): $37.2 million.
Suffrage: Universal at age 20.
GNP (2001 est.): $60 million.
Per capita GNP (2001 est.): $5,000.
Avg. inflation rate (1997): -1%. Australian dollar is currency used. Industry: Types--phosphate mining, offshore banking, and coconut products.
Trade: Exports (1995)--$38.1 million; phosphates. Major export markets--Australia.
Imports (1994)--$45.9 million; food, fuel, manufactures, building materials, machinery. Major importers--Australia, New Zealand. Fiscal year: July 1 to June 30.
Nauru is a small oval-shaped island in the western Pacific Ocean, located just 42 kilometers (26 mi.) south of the Equator. It is one of three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific Ocean--the others are Banaba (Ocean Island) in Kiribati and Makatea in French Polynesia--though its phosphate reserves are nearly depleted. Phosphate mining in the central plateau has left a barren terrain of jagged coral pinnacles, up to 15 meters (49 ft.) high. A century of mining has stripped and devastated four-fifths of the total land area.
The island is surrounded by a coral reef, exposed at low tide and dotted with pinnacles. The reef is bounded seaward by deep water, inside by a sandy beach. A 150-300-meter (492-984 ft.) wide fertile coastal strip lies landward from the beach. Coral cliffs surround the central plateau. The highest point of the plateau is 65 meters (213 ft.) above sea level. The only fertile areas are the narrow coastal belt, where there are coconut palms, pandanus trees and indigenous hardwoods, and the land surrounding Buada lagoon, where bananas, pineapples, and some vegetables are grown. Some secondary vegetation grows over the coral pinnacles.
Nauruans descended from Polynesian and Micronesian seafarers. Grouped in clans or tribes, early Nauruans traced their descent on the female side. They believed in a female deity, Eijebong, and a spirit land, also an island, called Buitani. Two of the 12 original tribal groups became extinct during the 20th century.
Nauru had little contact with Europeans until whaling ships and other traders began to visit in the 1830s. The introduction of firearms and alcohol destroyed the peaceful coexistence of the 12 tribes living on the island. A 10-year internal war began in 1878 and resulted in a reduction of the population from 1,400 (1843) to around 900 (1888).
The island was allocated to Germany under the 1886 Anglo-German Convention. Phosphate was discovered a decade later and the Pacific Phosphate Company started to exploit the reserves in 1906, by agreement with Germany. Following the outbreak of World War I, the island was captured by Australian forces in 1914. After the war the League of Nations gave Britain, Australia, and New Zealand a trustee mandate over the territory. The three governments established the British Phosphate Commissioners, who took over the rights to phosphate mining.
During World War II Japan occupied Nauru in August 1942 and deported 1,200 Nauruans to work as laborers in the Caroline Islands, where 463 died. The survivors returned to Nauru in January 1946.
After the war the island became a UN Trust Territory under Australia, in line with the previous League of Nations mandate, and it remained one until independence in 1968. A plan by the partner governments to resettle the Nauruans (because of disappearing phosphate and damage to the island caused by extensive mining) on Curtis Island, off the north coast of Queensland, Australia, was abandoned in 1964 when the islanders decided to stay put. In 1967, the Nauruans purchased the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners and in June 1970 control passed to the Nauru Phosphate Corporation. Nauru became an independent Republic in 1968.
In 1989 Nauru filed suit against Australia in the International Court of Justice in The Hague for damages caused by mining while the island was under Australian jurisdiction. Australia settled the case out of court in 1993, agreeing to pay A$109 million (U.S.$72.6 million) and to assist Nauru with environmental rehabilitation.
The country is governed by a unicameral Parliament consisting of 18 members elected at least triennially from 14 constituencies. Parliament elects the president, who is both chief of state and head of government, from among its members. The president appoints a Cabinet from among Parliament.
For its size, Nauru has a complex legal system. The Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice of Nauru, is paramount on constitutional issues, but other cases can be appealed to the two-judge Appellate Court. Parliament cannot overturn court decisions, but Appellate Court rulings can be appealed to Australia's High Court; in practice, however, this rarely happens. Lower courts consist of the District Court and the Family Court, both of which are headed by a Resident Magistrate, who also is the Registrar of the Supreme Court. Finally, there also are two quasi-courts--the Public Service Appeal Board and the Police Appeal Board--both of which are presided over by the Chief Justice.
There are no armed forces, although there is a small police force (less than 100 members) under civilian control.
Principal Government Officials
President and Foreign Minister--Rene Harris
Ambassador to the United Nations--Vinci Neil Clodumar
Nauru does not have an embassy in the United States but does have a UN Mission at 800 2d Ave, Suite 400D, New York, New York 10017 (tel: 212-937-0074, fax: 212-937-0079).
As turmoil grows over Nauru's uncertain future and economic failures, no-confidence votes that spur a change of government have become common. In 1997 Nauru had four different presidents in as many months. The political situation has not stabilized as President Harris assumed power in August 2003 for the third separate time.
The economy depends almost entirely on the country's declining phosphate deposits. These were depleted in 2000 on a largescale commercial basis; however, smallscale mining is still occurring. The government-owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation (NPC) controls the mining industry. Many of the miners are contract workers from Kiribati and Tuvalu. The government places a large percentage of the NPC's earnings in long-term investments meant to support the citizenry after the phosphate reserves have been exhausted; many of these investments have not panned out, while those that have succeeded have often been used as collateral for loans, eroding their value. In the years after independence, Nauru possessed the highest GDP per capita in the world due to its rich phosphate deposits. Nauru now lacks money to perform many of the basic functions of government. A history of bad investments includes a failed play in London and the purchase of the once-luxurious Grand Pacific Hotel in Fiji. Financial mismanagement, corruption, and a shortage of basic goods, electricity, and water have resulted in some domestic unrest, such as demonstrations outside of Parliament. Air Nauru, the country's link to the outside world, has been periodically grounded in recent years due to problems paying for proper maintenance of its sole aircraft.
Lacking other resources, the government has turned to passport sales and laxly administered offshore banking to raise badly needed revenue. Both schemes have drawn strong international criticism as potentially aiding and abetting criminal and terrorist groups. The Nauru Agency Corporation administers Nauru's offshore banking sector. Nauru has been cited by the Financial Action Task Force as a noncooperative jurisdiction in the fight against money laundering.
Following independence in 1968, Nauru joined the Commonwealth as a Special Member. Special Members take part in all Commonwealth activities except heads of government meetings. They are not assessed but make voluntary contributions toward the running of the Secretariat. They are eligible for all forms of technical assistance.
Nauru was admitted to the United Nations in 1999. It is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme, the South Pacific Commission, and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission.
In 2001 Nauru became host to approximately 1,000 asylum seekers, mostly Afghan, who were intercepted while attempting to enter Australia illegally. A total of 549 of them remain on the island--318 of these have agreed to return to Afghanistan after receiving a cash package from Australia. Nauru reportedly received about $10 million in assistance from Australia in exchange for agreeing to house the refugees while their asylum applications are adjudicated.
During 2002 Nauru severed diplomatic recognition with Taiwan and signed an agreement to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. This move followed China's promise to provide more than U.S.$130 million in aid.
While resisting U.S. and other international pressure with regards to passport sales and shell banks, Nauru is generally supportive of U.S. positions at the United Nations and other international fora.
Trade between the United States and Nauru is limited due to the latter's small size and economic problems. In 2001, U.S. exports to Nauru totaled $4.2 million while U.S. imports from Nauru totaled $0.1 million.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--David L. Lyon
Deputy Chief of Mission--Hugh Neighbour
Political/Economic Officer--Edmond E. Seay, III
Management Officer--Jeffery Robertson
The U.S. Embassy at Suva, Fiji, also accredited to Nauru, is located at 31 Loftus Street, Suva. Tel: 679-331-4466, Fax 679-330-2267. The mailing address is U.S. Embassy, P.O. Box 218, Suva, Fiji.
For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.