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$107 million (U.S.$85.6 million) and to assist Nauru with environmental rehabilitation.
The country's population was approximately 12,000. The economy previously was based almost entirely on the mining of dwindling phosphate deposits. The government-owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation (NPC) controlled the mining industry and placed a large percentage of its earnings in long-term investments meant to provide national revenue after the phosphate reserves are exhausted. However, financial mismanagement and corruption led to severe and chronic shortages of basic goods and utilities as well as some domestic unrest. The closure of most mining operations in recent years has left the country dependent upon foreign aid and receipts from hosting asylum-seeker detention centers funded and managed by the Government of Australia. In February, in response to international money laundering concerns, the Government closed its offshore banking operations, suspended its investor passport program, and updated its banking laws and financial sector legislation.
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom.
The country had no regular print media. Occasional publications included the Government Bulletin. In addition, The Visionary, a newsletter published sporadically by the opposition party Naoero Amo, provided an independent and critical view of the Government. The Visionary was particularly vocal regarding the country's economic crises during the year. The country's sole radio station was owned and operated by the Government; it broadcast Radio Australia and British Broadcasting Corporation news reports. Local television included government-owned Nauru TV, as well as a privately owned sports network.
The Government was the sole Internet service provider in the country, but it did not monitor or censor content.
The Constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government restricted this right in some cases. In recent years, the Government has prevented Mormons and members of Jehovah's Witnesses from practicing their religion freely on some occasions, and members of these religions were subjected to arbitrary licensing and immigration requirements.
INCIDENCE OF CRIME
Nauru has a low crime rate. However, visitors should not be complacent regarding personal safety or the protection of valuables.
The country has no armed forces, although it has a small police force, with fewer than 100 members. The civilian authorities maintained effective control of the police force. There were no reports that security forces committed human rights abuses.
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions.
The police may hold a person for no more than 24 hours without a hearing before a magistrate.
There were no reported cases of corruption in the police force.
Since 2002, the Australia-based Catholic Commission for Justice, Development, and Peace has asserted that the detention of asylum seekers in the country was not being handled in accordance with the country's Constitution, since these individuals had been detained by Australia without first being brought before a recognized court for a hearing. In August, the Australian court ruled that the detention of the asylum seekers was legal.
The Supreme Court is the highest court addressing constitutional issues; it is presided over by the Chief Justice. The Appellate Court, composed of two judges, hears appeals of Supreme Court decisions on other matters. Parliament cannot overturn court decisions. Under the Appeals Act, cases may be reviewed by the High Court of Australia on Criminal and Civil Actions, but this rarely was done. A Resident Magistrate, who is also the Registrar of the Supreme Court, presides over the District Court and the Family Court as Chairman of a three-member panel. The Constitution further provides for two quasi-courts, the Public Service Appeal Board and the Police Appeal Board. The Chief Justice presides over both as chairman, with two members for each board.
Persons violating Nauru law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
The Government did not track incidents of physical and domestic abuse against women. However, credible reports indicated that sporadic abuse, often aggravated by alcohol use, occurred. Families normally sought to reconcile such problems informally, and, if necessary, communally. The judiciary and the Government treated major incidents and unresolved family disputes seriously.
Spousal rape is not a crime, but police investigate and file charges if allegations of rape are made against a spouse. Prostitution is illegal and was not widespread. Sexual harassment is a crime and 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 are free to own property and pursue private interests. However, in practice, societal pressures limited opportunities for women to exercise these rights fully. There was a Women's Affairs Office to promote professional opportunities for women.
There are no legal impediments to participation in politics by women. However, the dominance of traditional clans in national politics limited participation by women, and there were no women in the 18-seat Parliament or in the Cabinet. During the year, participation by women in party-based politics increased, and women held many senior civil service positions, including Permanent Secretary and Cabinet Secretary-level jobs.
The Government devoted adequate resources for education and health care for children. Education is compulsory until age 16. Child abuse statistics were not compiled, but alcohol abuse sometimes led to child neglect or abuse. There were no reported cases of child abuse or child prostitution during the year.
TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS
The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking; however, there were no reports of persons trafficked to, from, or within the country.
Internet research assisted by David Alexander