Rule of law under threat in Nauru

by Hannah Norton03 Jul 2015
A former Prime Minister and one of the founders of firm Chen Palmer is among the 29 Kiwi legal scholars calling on New Zealand’s government to take action against Nauru’s over deteriorating constitutional situation.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer is joined by and former Attorney-General and Speaker Margaret Wilson, as well as academics from most New Zealand law schools, in writing an open letter to Foreign Minister Murray McCully, calling on him to take more decisive action towards to government in the island country in the central Pacific.

New Zealand is the principal funder in Nauru’s Department of Justice and Border Control.

“Since the 2013 election in Nauru, there has been a series of disturbing developments on the islands that indicate a severe deterioration in the state of its parliamentary democracy and in the rule of law,” the letter said.

“Last year, the government forced out of office the island’s (then) only judge, and suspended most of the opposition from Parliament indefinitely. The government has also prohibited local media from speaking to the opposition, and has closed down access to Facebook for Nauruan citizens, amongst other things.”

The letter said the “dismantling of an effective judicature together with the silencing of the media, opposition and even ordinary citizens on Facebook means that the government of Nauru is now virtually immune from scrutiny of its actions.”

It urged McCully to make it known to the Nauruan government that the island’s rule of law was swiftly deteriorating, and without remedial action by the government, resort to withdrawing New Zealand funding.

The New Zealand Law Society has echoed the group’s sentiments, issuing a press release on Wednesday speaking out about the government’s actions 

“Nauru has expelled five of seven opposition MPs from its parliament,” Law Society rule of law convenor Austin Forbes QC said in the release.

“Three of the MPs are now facing criminal charges for their involvement in a protest. One, Roland Kun, was taken off a flight bound for New Zealand and his passport has been cancelled.

“Over the last two years Nauru has sacked and deported a Magistrate. He had issued injunctions restraining the government from deporting two residents without giving any reasons. The Government also refused to allow its Chief Justice to return to the country from vacation.

“Interference with the independence of the judiciary, the arrest of elected members of parliament, expulsion of citizens who protest and other curbs on freedom of expression and the right to access information. This cannot continue. Nauru has to restore human rights,” he said.