Nauru should lift the veil of secrecy on human rights

The Government of Nauru should take urgent steps to respect and protect journalists, strengthen judicial independence and enact specific legislation protecting human rights defenders, the International Service for Human Rights and the Human Rights Law Centre said in a joint briefing paper on Nauru published today.

Nauru’s Universal Periodic Review - a major review of each State's human rights record - is scheduled to take place in November 2015 at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

ISHR Director, Phil Lynch, said it was vital that Nauru enact and implement laws to protect journalists, whistleblowers and human rights defenders and to ensure greater public access to government information.

“In recent years a veil of secrecy has descended on government in Nauru, with significant restrictions imposed on journalists wanting to travel to the country and the denial of requests to visit by both United Nations human rights experts and leading non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International. The Universal Periodic Review of Nauru later this year provides States an opportunity to lift this veil and emphasise to Nauru the importance of an independent media, access to information and a critical civil society to good government and accountability,” Mr Lynch said.

HRLC’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said that Nauru’s decision to allow Australia to detain asylum seekers in its territory had contributed to its failure to implement many of the key recommendations from its last performance review at the United Nations.

“Australia should be a positive force for human rights protections in the region. Instead, its asylum seeker policies have been a catalyst for regression,” said Mr Webb.

“At times about 10 percent of the people on Nauru have been asylum seekers sent there by Australia. They’ve been held in mandatory and indefinite detention in clear breach of international law. Controversy and concern around their treatment has contributed to Nauru’s deterioration on matters of access, transparency and respect for the rule of law,” Mr Webb said.

Many of the key recommendations from Nauru’s last Universal Periodic Review in 2011 are yet to be implemented.

“After its last UPR, Nauru committed to allowing greater UN access and to strengthening its legal and judicial sectors, yet on these matters Nauru has actually regressed. In addition to imposing barriers to the UN, NGOs and journalists visiting Nauru, the entire judiciary was effectively removed in January 2014, undermining both the actual and perceived independence of the courts,” said Mr Webb.

“ISHR and the HRLC are particularly concerned about the imposition of gag clauses by Australia in contracts pertaining to Nauru and reports of retribution and reprisals against those who speak out about human rights abuses in the country,” ISHR's Mr Lynch said.

“States should use the opportunity presented by the UPR to push Nauru to enact legislation which enshrines the right to access and disclose information about human rights and to guarantee that individuals who publically criticise the government or who disclose information about human rights abuses are not subject to reprisals,” Mr Lynch said.

The ISHR and HRLC joint briefing paper is intended to assist States and other stakeholders to formulate questions and recommendations regarding the protection of human rights defenders during the UPR.

For further comment contact:
In Geneva - Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights, + 41 76 708 4738 or
In Australia - Daniel Webb, Director of Legal Advocacy, Human Rights Law Centre, + 61 437 278 961 or