Nauru: Civil society and democratic freedoms are essential to development

16.03.2016

The Government of Nauru should stop undermining human rights and the rule of law and instead recognise that civil society and democratic freedoms are essential to development, ISHR told the UN Human Rights Council today.

(Geneva) - The Government of Nauru should stop undermining human rights and the rule of law and instead recognise that civil society and democratic freedoms are essential to development, ISHR told the UN Human Rights Council today.

In a meeting to consider the report of a major UN review of Nauru's human rights record, ISHR expressed grave concern that, in recent years a veil of secrecy and repression has descended on the Pacific island State.

'Respect for the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, support for a free press, the maintenance of an independent judiciary, and adequate space for civil society are all essential elements of a functioning democracy. They are also indispensable to sustainable development,' said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

Despite this, over the last three years, the government of Nauru has:

  • Imposed significant restrictions and prohibitive visa application fees on journalists wanting to travel to the country, systematically denying requests from journalists and agencies – whether the ABC, Al Jazeera, the BBC or The Guardian – perceived to be independent or critical;
  • Denied visit requests from both the Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures and leading international NGOs, such as Amnesty International;
  • Censored the internet, including by blocking Facebook, a key communications channel to the outside world for refugees and asylum seekers in the Australian-controlled detention centre;
  • Removed the Chief Justice and the Chief Magistrate;
  • Suspended opposition parliamentarians and cancelled their passports;
  • Criminalised peaceful protests; and
  • Just last week, proposed prohibitive new fees in order for citizens to stand as candidates for parliament.

'All of these moves coincide with Australia’s opening of a major immigration detention centre in Nauru in late-2012. In a larger State, one that was not nestled in the Pacific and protected by a powerful self-interested neighbor, such regression would attract an international outcry,' Mr Lynch said.

'Nauru’s future does not lie in the warehousing of Australia’s asylum seekers. Instead, as recognised by the international community through Sustainable Development Goal 16, Nauru’s future lies in establishing effective and accountable institutions and access to justice for all.'

As reflected in UPR recommendations made by States including Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Timor Leste and Trinidad & Tobago, ISHR said that Nauru’s future must be built on open and accountable government, an independent judiciary, a free media, access to information, and a vibrant and pluralistic civil society. ISHR's Briefing Paper on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Nauru informed and incorporated many of these recommendations, and ISHR deeply regrets that Nauru merely noted rather than accepted most recommendations on these lines. 

'ISHR urges Nauru to embrace these recommendations and for States with influence to be guided in their relationship with Nauru by these principles, rather than by myopic and misguided self-interest,' Mr Lynch said.

Several other civil society organisations expressed their disappointment at Nauru failing to accept, implement and act on key recommendations concerning the safety, security and well being of asylum seekers. Amnesty International similarly highlighted Nauru's ineffective and closed policies concerning limiting access to independent media, journalists, and social media platforms, as well as recent measures taken undermining the integrity of the judiciary.   

ISHR's statement on Nauru is available here.

A video of the statement can be viewed here.

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, ISHR, on p.lynch@ishr.ch

Category:

Region
  • Pacific
Topic
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
Mechanism
  • Universal Periodic Review
Country
  • Australia
  • Nauru