Nauru is a constitutional republic. International observers deemed the August 24 parliamentary election to be generally free and fair. Parliament elected Lionel Aingimea, a former human rights lawyer and second-term member of parliament, as president.
The police force, under the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, maintains internal security and, as necessary, external security. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included censorship and criminal libel laws, although there were no such cases during the year.
There were no reports that government officials committed egregious human rights abuses, and impunity was not a problem.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, the government owned all media and exercised editorial control over content.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government owned all media, giving it significant control over published and broadcast content.
Libel/Slander Laws: By law “unlawful vilification” and “criminal defamation” are punishable by a maximum three years’ imprisonment. There were no reports of arrests for breach of the law, although critics contended these offenses could inhibit free speech.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. In January 2018 the government lifted restrictions it had used previously to block Facebook.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
Neither the constitution nor the law specifically provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights for its citizens.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: As of November there were no people housed at the Australian government’s Regional Processing Centre in the country (used to house people seeking refuge or asylum in Australia). The Australian government has been criticized for poor conditions there. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law includes a provision for nonrefoulement.
Durable Solutions: The government grants five-year visas to asylum seekers after they receive refugee determination.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Recent Elections: International observers considered the most recent parliamentary election, held August 24, to be generally free and fair. Opposition figures alleged, however, that some changes made to the election law prior to the polls disadvantaged nongovernment candidates. The opposition also criticized President Baron Waqa for his announcement, on the eve of the election, of payouts of up to 10,000 Australian dollars ($6,700) to 734 Nauruans impacted by the collapse of the Bank of Nauru in 2006. The opposition claimed this was designed to shore up support for Waqa in the election. Critics also accused the Waqa government of misconduct after it approved citizenship for 118 people weeks before the election, automatically qualifying the new citizens to vote.
The 19-member parliament elected Lionel Aingimea, a former human rights lawyer and second-term member of parliament, as president.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Although political parties have the legal right to operate without outside interference, there were no formal parties.
In May former president Sprent Dabwido, who was part of a group of 19 people still facing trial for their role in a 2015 political protest outside the Nauru parliament, died in Australia. Prior to this while seeking cancer treatment in Australia, Dabwido said the government withheld his passport preventing timely travel and denied him access to a government-funded overseas medical treatment program for his condition, claims the government denied.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate; however, participation by women was significantly less than by men. Two of the five women who ran in the August 24 general election were elected to the 19-person parliament.
The country has a small and almost entirely homogenous Micronesian population. There were no members of minorities in parliament or the cabinet.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials and the government generally implemented the law effectively.
Corruption: There were no new reports of government corruption, although opposition politicians said corruption remained a problem, repeating earlier allegations the government misused funds provided by a foreign government for refugee resettlement in Nauru.
Financial Disclosure: There are no income and asset disclosure laws for appointed or elected officials.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
The government did not restrict the establishment or operation of local human rights organizations, but no such groups existed. No international human rights organizations maintained offices in the country.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Department of Justice had a Human Rights Section staffed by a human rights adviser, two human rights officers, and a liaison officer from the secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Regional Rights Resource Team. The section was generally effective.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime and carries a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment. The law specifically applies penalties for rape of married and de facto partners. Police are required to investigate all reported rape cases. They generally did so, and the courts prosecuted cases. Observers said many instances of rape and sexual abuse went unreported. The law does not address domestic violence specifically, but authorities prosecuted domestic violence cases under laws against common assault. The maximum penalty for simple assault is one year’s imprisonment. The maximum penalty for assault involving bodily harm is three years’ imprisonment.
Both police and judiciary treated major incidents and unresolved family disputes seriously.
Human Rights Watch reported that female refugees faced sexual assault and sexual harassment, yet such cases often were not reported to police.
The government did not maintain statistics on the physical or domestic abuse of women, but police officials stated they received frequent complaints of domestic violence. Families normally sought to reconcile such problems informally and, if necessary, communally.
Sexual Harassment: There is no specific law against sexual harassment, but authorities could and did prosecute harassment involving physical assault under assault laws.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, including under family, religious, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Discrimination in employment and wages occurred with respect to women (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship if one of their parents is a citizen. The constitution also provides for acquisition of citizenship by birth in the country in cases in which the person would otherwise be stateless. The law requires registration of births within 21 days to receive citizenship, and families generally complied with the law.
Child Abuse: The government does not maintain data on child abuse, but it remained a problem, according to civil society groups. The law establishes comprehensive measures, including mandatory reporting, to protect children from child abuse.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage by persons younger than age 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. There are standardized penalties for sexual exploitation of children; intentional sexual intercourse with a child younger than age 16 is punishable by 25 years’ imprisonment. Sexual intercourse with a child younger than age 13 carries a penalty of life imprisonment.
The law establishes penalties for taking images of children’s private acts and genitalia. If the child is younger than age 16, the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment, and if younger than age 13, 15 years’ imprisonment. The same law prescribes even tougher penalties for involving children to produce pornographic material. The maximum penalty if the child is younger than age 16 is 15 years’ imprisonment and 20 years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than age 13. The cybercrime law outlaws the electronic publication and transmission of child pornography.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The country does not have a Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
There were no confirmed reports during the year that Nauru was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.
The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. No legislation mandates services for persons with disabilities or access to public buildings. Although the government has installed mobility ramps in some public buildings, many buildings were not accessible. The Department of Education has a special education adviser who is responsible for education for students with disabilities and teachers provided classes for a small group of students with disabilities.
The Department of Justice is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The law grants some legal protections for persons with mental disabilities. There were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, but social stigma likely led to decreased opportunities for employment.
The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law does not specifically cite sexual orientation, but it could be used to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons. There were isolated reports of violence against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent trade unions or other associations. It restricts freedom of association for police. While the right to strike is neither protected nor prohibited by law, a civil servant may not foment or take part in a strike and may be summarily dismissed if found guilty of organizing a strike. The law does not specifically provide for the right of workers to bargain collectively, but it does not prohibit it. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination, and there is no legal right to reinstatement for dismissal due to union activity; however, workers may seek redress through the civil court system.
The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations include fines, which were adequate to deter violations.
The country lacks formal trade unions. The transient nature of the mostly foreign workforce hampered efforts to organize trade unions.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. In general the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law does not stipulate penalties. Civil courts handle cases of forced labor. There were no reports such practices occurred.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The worst forms of child labor were not prohibited. The law sets the minimum age of employment at 16. No regulations govern type of work, occupation, or hours for workers younger than age 18, nor do they identify hazardous occupations. The Department of Human Resources and Labor is responsible for enforcing the law. The government enforced the law in the public sector but did not conduct any workplace inspections of private businesses.
The only two significant employers–the government and the phosphate industry–respected minimum age restrictions. There were reports some children younger than age 17 worked in small family-owned businesses.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. The law requires that public servants receive equal pay for work of equal value and provides for an entitlement to maternity leave after a woman has completed six months of employment. Women working in the private sector do not have a similar entitlement.
Discrimination against women in employment and wages occurred. Societal pressures and the country’s general poverty limited opportunities for women. While women headed approximately one-third of all households, less than one-quarter of heads of households engaged in paid work were female.
Overall, 70 percent of male heads of household and 40 percent of female heads of household were economically active in either paid or unpaid work, according to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. There were no reports the government took any specific action to prevent employment discrimination.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum starting salary for public-sector employees is above the poverty level. There is no minimum salary for the private sector; approximately 26 percent of the population lived at the subsistence level.
Public-service regulations govern salaries, working hours, vacation periods, and other employment matters for government workers, who constituted more than 90 percent of salaried workers. The government has a graduated salary system for public-service officers and employees.
There is no limit to the maximum number of accumulated overtime hours and no prohibition on excessive or compulsory overtime for workers in the public sector. There are no specific regulations that govern overtime or overtime pay for private-sector workers.
Although the government sets some health and safety standards, they do not have the force of law. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment.
The Department of Human Resources and Labor enforced labor laws in the public sector. The law allows the ministry the right to inspect a workplace at any time. Authorities can charge an employer with a criminal offense if found to be in violation of the labor law or the provisions of an employment contract, which was sufficient to deter violations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations.
With the decline of the phosphate industry, enforcement of workplace health and safety requirements continued to be lax.