Also see: Nauru News on Topix.com
Information and Advisories from the British Foreign Commonwealth Office: Nauru
Local laws and customs
There are heavy penalties for all drug offences.Homosexuality is technically illegal in many Pacific countries and the law is occasionally enforced. Open displays of affection between same-sex partners may offend some in Nauru.
Nauru’s political situation has been uncertain recently. President Ludwig Scotty’s government fell to a no-confidence vote in December 2007. His successor, Marcus Stephen, struggled to assert his authority with no clear majority in parliament. On April 18 2008, President Marcus Stephen declared a state of emergency and called snap elections on 26 April to break a parliamentary stalemate. Stephen’s government returned to power, winning twelve of the eighteen seats in parliament. Stability now appears to have returned to the political scene.
Nauru – world’s smallest island nation
Naura, officially the Republic of Nauru, is an island nation in the Micronesian South Pacific. Nauru is the world’s smallest island nation, covering just 21 km2 (8.1 sq. mi), the smallest independent republic, and the only republican state in the world without an official capital.
It is the least populous member of the United Nations. It had 9265 residents at the end 2006.
According to The International Lesbian and Gay Association, 85 countries in the world criminalize consensual same sex acts among adults in 2007. Not all of the countries systematically enforce these laws, but the fact remains that they are on the books. More countries outlaw gay male sex than lesbian sex. Nauru is on this list of forbidden-sex countries even though there is no specific law that prohibits female/female sex. Homosexuality has been illegal in Nauru since 1899 when the island was part of Australia.
Initially inhabited by Micronesian and Polynesian peoples, Nauru was annexed and designated a colony by Germany in the late 19th century, and became a mandate territory administered by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom following World War I. The island was occupied by Japan during World War II, and after the war entered into trusteeship again. Nauru achieved independence in 1968.
Nauru is a phosphate rock island, and its primary economic activity since 1907 has been the export of phosphate mined from the island. With the exhaustion of phosphate reserves, its environment severely degraded by mining, and the trust established to manage the island’s wealth significantly reduced in value, the government of Nauru has resorted to unusual measures to obtain income.
In the 1990s, Nauru briefly became a tax haven and money laundering center. Since 2001, it has accepted aid from the Australian government; in exchange for this aid, Nauru housed, until early 2008, an offshore detention centre that held and processed asylum seekers trying to enter Australia.
Nauru is a republic with a parliamentary system of government. The president is both the head of state and of government. An 18-member unicameral parliament is elected every three years. The parliament elects a president from its members, who appoints a cabinet of five to six members. Nauru does not have a formal structure for political parties; candidates typically stand as independents.
Nauru has no armed forces; under an informal agreement, defence is the responsibility of Australia. There is a small police force under civilian control.
Nauru was one of three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific Ocean (the others are Banaba (Ocean Island) in Kiribati and Makatea in French Polynesia); however, the phosphate reserves are nearly depleted. Phosphate mining in the central plateau has left a barren terrain of jagged limestone pinnacles up to 15 m (49 ft) high. A century of mining has stripped and devastated four-fifths of the land area. Mining has also had an impact on the surrounding Exclusive Economic Zone with 40% of marine life considered to have been killed by silt and phosphate runoff.
There are limited natural fresh water resources on Nauru. Roof storage tanks collect rainwater, but islanders are mostly dependent on a single, aging desalination plant. Nauru’s climate is hot and extremely humid year-round, because of the proximity of the land to the Equator and the ocean.
Nauru House in Melbourne was sold in 2004 to finance debts and Air Nauru’s only Boeing 737-400 was repossessed in December 2005, although the aircraft was replaced in June of the next year with a Boeing 737-300 model, and normal service was resumed by the company. The value of the Trust is estimated to have shrunk from A$1,300 million in 1991 to A$138 million in 2002.
Nauru currently lacks money to perform many of the basic functions of government (the national Bank of Nauru is insolvent). GDP per capita has fallen to only US$2,038, from its peak in the early 1980s of second in the world, only after the United Arab Emirates.
In the 1990s, Nauru became a tax haven and offered passports to foreign nationals for a fee. The inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) then identified Nauru as one of 15 "non-cooperative" countries in its fight against money laundering. During the 1990s, it was possible to establish a licensed bank in Nauru for $25,000, no questions asked.
However, under pressure from FATF, Nauru introduced anti-avoidance legislation in 2003, following which foreign hot money flew out of the country. In October 2005, this legislation—and its effective enforcement—led the FATF to lift the non-cooperative designation and Nauru became ‘respectable’ again, and poorer.
From 2001 to 2007, the Nauru detention centre provided a source of income for the small country. The Nauruan authorities reacted with much concern to its closure by Australia.
The main religion practiced on the island is Christianity (two-thirds Protestant, one-third Roman Catholic). There is also a sizable Bahá’í population (10 percent of the population) and a Buddhist population (3%). The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the government restricts this right in some circumstances, and has restricted the practice of religion by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, most of whom are foreign workers employed by RONPhos.
Nauruans are among the most obese people in the world, with 90% of adults overweight. Nauru has the world’s highest level of type 2 diabetes, with more than 40% of the population affected. Other significant diet-related problems on Nauru include renal failure and heart disease. Life expectancy has fallen to 58.0 years for males and 65.0 years for females.
Angam Day, held on 26 October, celebrates the recovery of the Nauruan population after the two world wars, which together reduced the indigenous population to fewer than 1500. The displacement of the indigenous culture by colonial and contemporary, western influences is palpable. Few of the old customs have been preserved, but some forms of traditional music, arts and crafts, and fishing are still practiced.
Church opposed to decriminalising homosexuality in Pacific
September 9, 2008
The head of Samoa’s biggest church says any attempt to push to decriminalise male homosexuality in the Pacific is likely to face strong opposition. The general secretary of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, Doctor Intisone Salevao says homosexuality is morally wrong and must remain a crime.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speakers: Dr Intisone Salevao, general secretary of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa; Bruce Kilmister, CEO of Body Positive New Zealand
HILL: Consensual sex between adult males is still a criminal offence in the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga and Tuvalu.
But the recent Pan Pacific Gathering for HIV Positive people in Auckland wants those laws scrapped.
One of the organisers of the conference, Bruce Kilmister, who is CEO of Body Positive, says Pacific governments are facing a simple life or death choice.
KILIMISTER: They are faced with a choice of tolerating people living a life style that is as natural to them as their own is to them, or for people to just die. It’s simply comes down to that. People will die if they are unable to be treated like human beings and part of that process is having human rights. We’re asking Christian churches to look really at the truest Christian meaning of Christianity, and that is accepting everyone for who they are, and that’s simply saying that the law has no place in peoples bedrooms. We already heard that in Papua New Guinea, the case is overwhelming and that there are people dying regularly, constantly, because they cannot be treated, and people are not being treated and are not presenting for testing, because there is no treatment.
Let me explain, that the cost in human nature is phenomenal. I was talking to the human resources manager from Ford Motor Company from South Africa, and he said for every position he has available, he employs three people, because two will be dead within the next 12 months.
HILL: And you think it’s going to get that bad in the Pacific?
KILIMSTER: I think it will get that bad if they do nothing about it.
HILL: But the call for scrapping laws against homosexuality in the Pacific is likely to face massive opposition, according to Dr Intisone Salevao, general secretary of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa.
He says churches in the region will oppose any change to the legal status of gay people, because homosexuality is unbiblical and wrong.
SALEVAO: For one thing, it is morally repugnant as far as we are concerned, so it is not morally acceptable. The biblical basis of it is clear. Man and woman are supposed to be the normal scheme of things. Man and man, well that’s outside the normal way of doing it. The theological basis of it is it is not acceptable. We prefer the normal way of marriage, man and woman.
HILL: What about the argument that it’s for the public health benefits to try and fight HIV/Aids? If homosexuality is illegal, it means people won’t come forward and they won’t be able to fight this disease?
SALEVAO: Well, it depends on how you look at it. If the argument for decriminalising is to prevent people going underground and doing it all the while, frankly that’s not very sensible solution to the issue.
HILL: What do you think a sensible solution would be then?
SALEVAO: Well, people should refrain from sexual behaviour that is conducive to the spread of HIV/Aids in the first place, and I’m talking about self-control, self-restraint.
HILL: What about the issue of people being homosexuals in the first place? They would argue that they are as God created them?
SALEVAO; Oh, I can see that. You’ve got a point there. Well, let me tell you about the situation in Samoa. We privilege and we respect our gay people here. They more often than not get the limelight and everybody tends to love them as they are, but that does not necessarily mean that we approve of what they do.
Decriminalizing Homosexuality–first step to establish equality
Op-ed by Matilda Bogner
Decriminalizing homosexuality is an essential first step towards establishing genuine equality before the law
Calls for truly universal application of human rights have been gathering momentum at the global level. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon have both called for measures to counter discrimination and violence against those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI). Last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched an appeal for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality and for every country to ensure equal rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said, is just that. It is universal and it applies to us all—whoever we are, whatever we look like, whoever we share our lives with. No exceptions.
Pacific Island countries have supported this call, with Australia, Fiji, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu signing onto a joint statement of over 80 countries at the UN Human Rights Council condemning violence based on sexual orientation in March this year. The statement expressed concern at the continued evidence in every region of acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including killings, rape, torture and criminal sanctions.
This message was underlined by a historic Human Rights Council resolution on 17 June 2011, expressing grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The resolution requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to commission a study, to be finalized by December 2011, documenting discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against LGBTI individuals, in all regions of the world, and how international human rights law can be used to end these violations. Laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults remain on the statute books in more than 70 countries globally, including the Pacific Island countries of Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu. Such laws are an affront to principles of equality and non-discrimination and fuel hatred and violence—in effect giving homophobia a State-sanctioned seal of approval.
Recognising this, Palau and Nauru accepted recommendations to decriminalize homosexual acts during their appearances at the Human Rights Council. Pacific Island countries have now all completed the first round of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of their human rights situation. Each country will return to the review in four years time to see what progress has been made in implementing their human rights commitments. During the most recent UPR meeting at the Human Rights Council, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea rejected recommendations relating to the decriminalization of sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex – citing cultural or religious reasons.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is encouraging countries to make progress in the area of LGBTI rights, and in particular the decriminalization of sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex. In a speech on Human Rights Day (10 December) 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “As men and women of conscience, we reject discrimination in general, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity… Where there is tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, universal human rights must carry the day”.
Decriminalizing homosexuality is an essential first step towards establishing genuine equality before the law. But real, lasting progress cannot be achieved by changing laws alone. We must change minds as well. Like racism and misogyny, homophobia is a prejudice born of ignorance. And like other forms of prejudice, the most effective long-term response is legal equality backed-up by information and education.
*Matilda Bogner is the Regional Representative for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Regional Office for the Pacific, based in Suva, Fiji.
For further information and media requests to OHCHR’s Regional Office for the Pacific in Suva, please contact Communications Officer Jacob Quinn at + (679) 331 0465 (ext. 211), or by email