Nauru and the UPR: who said what and does it matter?


This item was first published by Tess Newton Cain & Savitri Taylor on Devpolicy on November 15th, 2015

Recently, Nauru (whose delegation was led by Minister for Justice David Adeang) appeared before the Human Rights Council in Geneva as part of the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) cycle. In this post, we explain what the UPR is and what, if anything, Nauru’s recent participation adds to what we know about governance in that country.

What is the UPR?
By a resolution adopted in March 2006 [pdf], the UN General Assembly established the UN Human Rights Council and charged it with various tasks including the conduct of a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the human rights performance of every UN member state. All 193 UN member states had their first UPR in the period April 2008 to October 2011. The second UPR cycle commenced in June 2012 and will be completed in November 2016.

The UPR process is detailed in a resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in June 2007. Each review is conducted by a working group consisting of all 47 members of the Human Rights Council and takes the form of an interactive dialogue between representatives of the country being reviewed and the working group. Other UN member states are also able to participate in the dialogue if they wish. The dialogue is informed by a report submitted by the country being reviewed, a compilation of relevant UN documents prepared by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and “additional, credible and reliable information provided by other relevant stakeholders”.

The 2007 Human Rights Council resolution provides that each member state’s performance is to be measured against its obligations under the UN Charter and the human rights treaties to which it is a party, any voluntary commitments it has made, the standards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and “applicable international humanitarian law”. It also provides that the outcome of the review process is to take the form of a report containing a summary of the review proceedings, conclusions and/or recommendations, and any voluntary commitments made by the country being reviewed. In a further resolution adopted in April 2011, the Human Rights Council indicated that second and subsequent reviews of a country should focus on the implementation of recommendations made in the previous review and any developments in its human rights situation since that previous review.

How did Nauru fare in Geneva?
The UPR process is wide-ranging and, on paper at least, extensive. As is the case with many small developing countries, Nauru struggles to keep up with reporting commitments and on following through on undertakings that were made during the first UPR cycle. The Human Rights Council spends a lot of time urging countries such as Nauru [pdf] to ratify treaties, adopt voluntary protocols and submit outstanding reports.
Nauru was a focus of particular attention in Geneva for two reasons. One is the use of Nauru by the government of Australia as an offshore processing centre for asylum seekers. The other is the continuing concern about the parlous state of democratic governance and the rule of law in that jurisdiction (for previous analysis of this, see herehere and here).

The UPR session saw the Nauru delegation asked questions about restrictions on news reporting, changes to the criminal code that limit freedom of expression, blocking of social media, suspension of MPs from Parliament and, very particularly, the removal of Roland Kun’s passport.

The responses of Minister Adeang reveal a lot about the thinking that informs decisions of the Nauru government at this time. In relation to concerns raised about the massive hike in visa application fees for foreign journalists, he restated his position that this is to prevent irresponsible reporting on the operations of the regional processing centre, which may undermine sensitive relationships between asylum seekers and the wider Nauruan population. However, the most striking statement that he made was that the reason for the seizure and cancellation of opposition MP Roland Kun’s passport was “to allow the due process of an individual charged with a crime is facilitated and are in line with the laws of Nauru”.  These supposed charges relate to a protest outside Parliament earlier in the year. Despite the fact that the cabinet has determined this protest to be a ‘riot’, no charges have been laid against anyone, including Roland Kun. Mr Kun has accused Minister Adeang of lying to the UN Human Rights Council.

The UPR session saw Australia make the most critical public statement yet about the deteriorating state of democratic governance on Nauru. This is to be welcomed and should form the basis for more and stronger advocacy on the part of Australia in its own right as well as in its capacity as a member of the Pacific Islands Forum. Unfortunately, Australia’s credibility on human rights has been significantly undermined by its poor showing in the UPR review of its own performance conducted on 9 November. Among other things, Australia’s maintenance of offshore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea attracted criticism from a large number of countries.

Since Australia’s ability to play a watchdog role in relation to Nauru is clearly compromised, it is necessary for other states and international agencies to maintain their interest in the state of governance on Nauru. Minister Adeang said he welcomed visits from international agencies with open arms, although it is likely that Amnesty International is not at the top of the list of organisations he would like to see taking him up on that.

So, does what happened during the Nauru peer review by the UPR process matter? At the conclusion of the first cycle of the UPR process, the legal academic Elvira Dominquez-Redondo [paywalled article] was largely positive about the process, with its focus on cooperation that had garnered 100% participation and a dynamic that was based around high-level political engagement. However, as can be seen from the Nauru experience in the second cycle, there is little to suggest that participation in this process has done very much to prompt meaningful action on the part of government to address issues identified in the past or pre-empt (and avoid) censure that might arise in the future. There is no enforcement mechanism attached to the UPR process, leaving public embarrassment (to which some are more susceptible than others) as the only ‘punishment’ for transgression.

Meanwhile, Roland Kun’s case seeking return and reinstatement of his passport is making slow and painful progress through the Nauruan courts.

Photo credit: Flickr/Hadi Zaher


What next for Nauru?

This item was first published on Devpolicy on October 9th, 2015

The ongoing governance crises in Nauru were noticeable by their absence from the communiqué released at the end of the meeting of Pacific Island Forum leaders in Port Moresby last month. This is certainly disappointing if not very surprising. The media covered the decision by the government of New Zealand to suspend its aid to the justice sector of Nauru. This decision was important in terms of its timing and also a significant indicator that this is one area where there is appetite to demarcate a policy difference between Wellington and Canberra. On the part of the Nauruan government, this was met with little concern and the impact in terms of operations within the justice sector appears to have been minimal. The Minister for Justice, David Adeang (who is also the Minister for Finance), has more than sufficient funds available by virtue of Australia’s regional processing centre to make up any shortfall that may arise.

From numerous conversations and exchanges I have had with sources close to what is happening on Nauru, it is clear that the rule of law and democratic governance is deteriorating. This is a matter of concern to many within the region and needs to be given appropriate attention, not only to protect the rights and freedoms of the citizens of that country but also to ensure that the region as a whole remains one where democratic government continues to be the prevailing norm.

The government of Nauru has, via its official Twitter feed (managed by the Brisbane based public relations firm Mercer PR), made much of the fact that the country has a full complement of judiciary, including a Chief Justice (Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi of Fiji) and a Resident Magistrate (Emma Garo of Solomon Islands). There is nothing to lead anyone to believe that these jurists are making decisions at the behest of the executive. However, there are certainly concerns that within the executive (and particularly on the part of Minister Adeang and the Secretary for Justice, Lionel Angimea) actions are being taken that serve to distort the processes and procedures normally associated with an observance of the rule of law. These have included manipulation of visa regulations that make it difficult for defendants and litigants to secure appropriate legal representation.

More recently, Minister Adeang has advised several senior citizens of Nauru that pension payments and access to concessional travel have been withdrawn. This is as a result of a Cabinet decision, which was based on their having participated in what the government calls ‘riots’ during June of this year. None of these people have been charged with riot or any other criminal offence and they have not appeared before any court. This ‘pension’ scheme has no statutory basis and the payments are discretionary, which is what allows them to be discontinued by the Cabinet without having to worry about a legal challenge on the part of those affected.

These are some of the most recent worrying occurrences on Nauru that can be added to previous ones that have been documented herehere and here. Which leads us to the following questions:

What, if anything, can or should be done?

Who should do it?

A number of references have already been made to the application of the Biketawa Declaration in a situation such as has been unfolding for some time in Nauru. The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Dame Meg Taylor, has cited it in her comments and has indicated that she does not expect there to be a Forum-led intervention in Nauru but that the Secretariat stands ready to provide Nauru with any assistance in relation to governance that may be required. It is too simplistic to say that the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat is failing in its mandate to ensure regional peace, security and governance. Whilst it is certainly true that it is the regional body with primary responsibility in this space, it remains the case that the secretariat cannot be expected to act either in isolation or without the political backing of the Forum leaders.

The current administration of Nauru continues to demonstrate an insularity and resistance to anything it perceives as an attack on its national sovereignty. This is reflected in the blocking of Twitter accounts (particularly those of international journalists) that express criticisms of the government of Nauru. Opportunities to influence decision-making are not plentiful whether on Nauru itself or outside the country. However, there are options available which merit consideration here.
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat needs to maintain a watching brief in relation to governance on Nauru, further to the visit to that country by the Secretary General. The issues that have been discussed here did not garner any consideration at the recent leaders meeting in Port Moresby because they did not feature in the ‘Framework for Pacific Regionalism’ processes that determined the agenda and were not raised by any of the leaders as a matter for discussion. They were, however, raised at the recent Forum Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Sydney and it may be that this is where the continuing engagement should take place as facilitated by the Forum Secretariat.

It is generally the case that Pacific Island Forum members are reluctant to be seen to be critical of each other and this may well constrain individual leaders from seeking to influence the Nauru leadership to change course. However, as we have seen, Pacific island leaders will criticise other member countries in relation to issues about which they feel sufficiently strongly or in circumstances that they perceive will further their interests.

There are some Pacific Island Forum members that could see meaningful engagement with Nauru to restore democratic governance and the rule of law as an issue that could merit deviation from the norm.

Papua New Guinea as the new chair of the Forum is well placed to make this issue one that provides more clear evidence of that country’s desire to be viewed as a regional leader. It is not necessary for PM O’Neill to go it alone in this regard; he can call on the support of the Troika (comprising the current chair, immediate past chair (Palau) and incoming chair (Federated States of Micronesia)).

Very recently, Australia has declared that it is seeking a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (2018-2020) with this manifesto:

Should we be elected, our focus would be on empowering women and girls, strengthening governance and democratic institutions, promoting freedom, freedom of expression, and advancing human rights for all.
Australia would be at the forefront of efforts to hold to account those responsible for human rights abuses, and to build more effective preventative and accountability measures.

The situation on Nauru provides the government of Australia with a very real opportunity to demonstrate to the global community how it is able to engage meaningfully and beneficially in a country within its sphere of influence. One where governance and democratic institutions are being undermined, where freedom of expression is denied and where there is a strong and pressing need to hold those responsible for human rights abuses to account. However, the nature of the relationship between Australia and Nauru centred on the use of the latter as a regional processing centre for asylum seekers by the former, means that Canberra is unlikely to be very active in this regard.

A similar opportunity presents itself to the government of Fiji, which is also seeking an appointment to the UN Human Rights Council (2018-2020) on a similar platform [pdf]:

Dedication to basic human rights is the foundation of democracy. No democracy can survive if the rights of each person are not sacred, if the state fails to protect – or even works to undermine – the individual’s ability to think and believe and worship as he or she chooses.

Both Australia and Fiji have very close linkages with the executive leadership of Nauru. Australia is a primary provider of finance flows to the Nauruan government (including more than $600,000 in visa fees per month) and Fijian nationals occupy many important posts within the Nauruan bureaucracy. It is no doubt a matter of concern to the Fijian leadership that these public servants are susceptible to being placed under considerable pressure to act contrary to the rule of law and democratic principles faced with the knowledge that their continued employment is at the whim of the Nauruan cabinet.

Many Forum member countries, Fiji and Papua New Guinea included, have struggled and are currently struggling with governance challenges of their own. This may mean that they have limited room to move, but they are also able to approach this complex and sensitive issue from a starting point of achieving and maintaining democracy as a shared challenge.

I am the first to acknowledge that rectifying a situation such as the one that has arisen in Nauru is neither straightforward nor easily achievable. However, simply looking the other way is indefensible.


Deafening silence on rule of law in Nauru

This item was first published on The Interpreter on 21st March, 2014

The status of the rule of law in Nauru became even more precarious with the recent resignation of Nauru’s Chief Justice, Australian Geoffrey Eames. After two months of seeking to have the withdrawal of his visa by the Nauruan Government overturned, he now says his position is untenable.

This week, the parliamentary opposition of Nauru expressed its deep concern about the state of governance in their country and called on the governments of Australia and New Zealand to stop ‘pussyfooting’ around the situation (more on that later). Particularly vocal among the Opposition is Roland Kun MP, who described government proposals to appoint a new chief justice on a six-month renewable contract as:

…proof that this government is either completely ignorant of the importance of the separation of powers and judicial independence – and therefore unfit to govern – or so contemptuous of the rule of law that they think they are entitled to effectively dictate to the judiciary that judicial decisions must favour government.

But elsewhere, the volume levels have been turned way down. It is true that the Pacific Conference of Chief Justices has expressed its collective concern, but by its own admission, it can do precious little else. More significantly, there has been no utterance from the Pacific Islands Forum. And it is not for want of a mechanism. The Forum has the Biketawa Declaration to provide guidance for responding to a situation of this type.

What is the Biketawa Declaration and why is it important here?
It is a statement of principles of governance that was accepted by the members of the Pacific Islands Forum in 2000. Among those principles is a commitment to maintaining the rule of law; indeed ‘upholding…the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary’ are expressly stipulated in point three of the document.

Not only does the Biketawa Declaration set out a democratic framework to which Pacific island countries have ascribed, it also delineates how the Pacific community can move to guide, censure or otherwise intervene in the event one of its members strays from the path. As well as engaging in national and regional consultation, the Forum Chair has a number of options available to him, including issuing a statement, deploying a fact-finding mission, convening a ministerial contact group or establishing an eminent persons’ group.

The Forum has acted on three occasions under the aegis of this declaration. The most significant was Operation Helpem Fren (also referred to as the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands or RAMSI). The other instances were the targeted measures in relation to Fiji (instigated in 2009 and including suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum) and the Pacific Regional Assistance to Nauru (PRAN), which ran from 2004 to 2009 at the request of the then Nauru Government.

While all of these initiatives are branded as ‘regional’ and carry the imprimatur of the Pacific Islands Forum, they have one other important characteristic in common: Australia played a pivotal role in driving each of them. So, it’s fair to say that unless Australia steps up to provide leadership in this space, we are unlikely to see a regional response beyond that of the chief justices’ grouping referred to earlier.

It is unrealistic to expect New Zealand to take the lead, given Nauru sits so firmly within Australia’s sphere of influence. However, there certainly is a role for Wellington to play given that it is footing the bill for the Nauru justice system to the tune of $1 million per year. Concerned voices from within and close to Nauru have been dismayed that New Zealand has maintained its financial support on the strength of what appear to be weak assurances given at a high level meeting between MFAT and Nauru’s Minister for Justice David Adeang and Home Affairs Minister Charmaine Scotty.

Which brings us to Australia. In discussing the reasons for his resignation, Geoffrey Eames was (by chief justice standards) strident in his criticism of Canberra for describing the situation in Nauru as being purely a domestic matter. It is doubtful that recent statements about the importance of ‘cultivating’ the rule of law in Nauru will comfort those who have criticised Australia’s silence on this issue.

Given the history of Australia’s involvement with Nauru, which started before independence and is much more complex than the most recent phase centred on processing of asylum seekers, it seems disingenuous to seek to adopt a ‘hands off’ approach at this juncture. The interweaving of the bureaucracies of Nauru and Australia, which has involved key positions in the Nauru government machinery being occupied by Australian public servants and contractors, is extensive. For some, it tends to undermine the credibility of Australian protestations about the importance of sovereignty.

Australia runs the risk of sending mixed messages to its Pacific island neighbours about how much value it places on democratic norms. As Bal Kama commented this week:
Australia continues to play a leadership role in the region as an established constitutional democracy. It needs to project a consistent and clear position on issues of rule of law and constitutional governance in a region plagued by serious socio-political instability.

Bal warns that the Nauru precedent may come back to haunt Australia. We should hope he is wrong but be aware of increasing concerns that he may be right.

Photo by Flickr user ARM Climate Research.


The Pacific Solution and Nauru’s coup by stealth

This item was first published on Devpolicy on January 23rd, 2014

The implosion of the legal system in Nauru has been described as a “coup by stealth” by David Lambourne, a former Secretary of Justice for Nauru. He left the country after having had his appointment terminated in 2011 following the fall of the government led by Marcus Stephen. The deportation of the Resident Magistrate, cancellation of the Chief Justice’s visa to enter Nauru and resignation of the Solicitor-General (for details, see herehere and here) are part of what Lambourne characterises as a comprehensive programme to return Nauru to the ‘bad old days’.

Prior to 2004, Nauru was a democracy in name only with the cabinet effectively ruling by fiat. There was no commitment (or even lip service) to any form of checks and balances on executive action and no understanding of the need for administrative decisions to have a lawful basis. Some degree of ‘progress’ was made during the 2007 – 2011 period, which may come to be seen as the high point as far as good governance applies in Nauru. However, in the period of November 2011 to mid-2012, and more recently since the change of government in June 2013, there has been a comprehensive removal of office-holders who are seen to stand in the way of government will and whim. This includes the Commissioner of Police, the Secretary of Health, the Secretary of Justice and others, most recently the Resident Magistrate Peter Law.

The government of Nauru has effectively done away with the rule of law in that country. The essential institutions have been severely compromised. The replacement Resident Magistrate who arrived on the island on 20 January was appointed without any reference to the Chief Justice, rendering his appointment in breach of the Courts Act. This immediately calls into question the validity of any decisions he might make, including in relation to the deportation of Rod Henshaw (a former government media adviser) and Hareef Mohammed (a long term Fijian resident). Given the circumstances in which the appointment of Andrew Jacobson was made, it is hard to be confident that he enjoys judicial independence as it is most commonly understood.

Whilst it is possible for Chief Justice Geoffrey Eames to continue to exercise his judicial powers without being physically present in the jurisdiction, there are no meaningful enforcement mechanisms available to him. Geoffrey Eames is renowned for his robust approach (which is exemplified here [pdf]) and is not expected to allow himself to become a pawn in this or any other political game. In theory, he has the protection of constitutional tenure for another 7 years. However, there have already been mutterings within government that if it is not possible to sack the CJ they will call a state of emergency, suspend the constitution and remove him at that point.

Lambourne, who spoke to me from Australia, points to the recent hike in visa fees for journalists as evidence of how the Nauru administration now operates. In order for such a fee to be lawful there would need to be regulations in place. No such regulations exist, there is only a cabinet decision that the cost of the visa should be $AU8,000 but this has been acted upon without question by relevant officials. Senior positions within the Nauruan bureaucracy are being filled with people (including expatriates) who can be relied upon to execute cabinet decisions without question.

For the first time in many years, the government of Nauru has plenty of cash at its disposal. Thanks to the economic boost provided by the Regional Processing Centre (by way of visa fees and increased revenue through duties and customs revenue), Nauru is no longer as dependent on aid as was previously the case. So, with hindsight, it appears that the ‘Pacific Solution’ has contributed to a ‘perfect storm’ with the government having increased funds available at a time when those in power are actively seeking to throw off the perceived shackles of good governance.

It is hard to overstate the precarious nature of the legal environment in Nauru right now. The government has made much of the impending return to the country of commercial banking services, courtesy of Bendigo Bank. It is hard to imagine that a prudent banking operation would countenance setting up in a jurisdiction that is operating with a total lack of, what Lambourne calls, ‘legal rigour’ (although the bank has said it is continuing to work towards opening a branch on Nauru). No one living on Nauru can be confident of having their rights or interests protected by law as things currently stand. And this includes Australian citizens currently resident on the island.

Lambourne is emphatic in his agreement with CJ Eames that these moves are purely politically motivated. Other commentators have described them as being driven by ‘venal politics’. And Lambourne’s perspective is that the real driving force behind these moves is not President Waqa, who is generally perceived to be well meaning but largely ineffective. Rather, the puppet master is David Adeang who holds two ministerial portfolios – justice and finance.

The government of Australia has been cautious in its response to this ‘coup by stealth’. Initially, Scott Morrison declared that it was purely an internal matter. Subsequently, DFAT has expressed concern via the offices of its High Commissioner to Nauru. The relationship between Australia and Nauru has the regional processing centre at its heart. It is not in the interests of either government to damage a connection that is of such mutual ‘benefit’. But these events open up the nature of the relationship between these countries to increased scrutiny and, not surprisingly, significant criticism.

Lambourne confirms that internal politics is what is driving this situation, but Australia should be very concerned about the impacts of what has happened recently. The processing regime set up by Nauru (with the assistance of Australia) envisages an avenue of appeal for asylum seekers whose applications are refused at first instance to the Supreme Court of Nauru and ultimately the High Court of Australia. As discussed here, Australia has shifted the burden of responsibility to the legal system of Nauru. If that system is compromised (and according to Lambourne and other sources close to Nauru it most certainly is) then it is difficult to have confidence that asylum seekers can have the legal protections to which they are entitled. This puts both Nauru and Australia at risk of being in breach of obligations under international law.

Meanwhile, the case to determine the validity of the deportation order against Rod Henshaw and others has been adjourned indefinitely. This means Mr Henshaw can (for now at least) remain in the country where his (recently) deceased wife is buried. Elsewhere, the Australian wife of an opposition MP has had her residency visa cancelled so she is unable to return to her home and family on Nauru. These are just some of the personal impacts arising from this political wrangling; there may well be more to come.


Nauru: politics, asylum seekers & more


This item was first published by Tess Newton Cain & Katy Le Roy on Devpolicy on September 20th, 2013

Tess Newton Cain was able to catch up recently with Katy Le Roy who spoke to her from Nauru for the latest Pacific Conversations interview. You can listen to a podcast of their conversation here or read the full transcript here. But for the highlights of what they discussed, read on.

We started by discussing the issue of political instability in Nauru. Katy identified a number of reasons for the most recent period of instability, which preceded the most recent elections in June of this year:

“I think the main ones are probably ego and the competition for power that is common to politics in most places, disagreements between members of Cabinet about the way things should be done. And unfortunately, some perverse incentives to cross the floor.”

However, as Katy pointed out, instability of the type we have seen recently has been a feature of the political landscape dating back to independence in 1968, with only two governments having successfully completed a full 3-year term. She identifies some particular aspects of Nauru politics that have contributed to this:

“… one of the main reasons for that constant instability is that we don’t have a political party system in Nauru. So effectively, you have got a parliament full of independent members. And the members obviously form alliances with each other, but those are generally pragmatic alliances. They are not based on any shared ideology or shared policy agendas. And so, they are very fluid alliances.”

In addition, governments often have very slim majorities so it only takes one or two people to cross the floor and the government can be brought down, something that has happened on numerous occasions.

The current parliament consists of 14 government members and five members in opposition. But does this mean the issues relating to instability have been resolved?

“… it sort of looks I guess from the outside like having 14 members in government and five in opposition might be a good thing for stability and it might look as though the problems of instability are being solved. But obviously in Nauru, things are never quite that simple. And among the 14 members on the government side, there is still considerable competition for the leadership. And there are three or perhaps four subgroups among those 14.”

The political environment of Nauru provides a backdrop to what is perhaps the most significant policy issue at present, the use of the island as a site for offshore processing of asylum seekers by the government of Australia. The nature of the agreement between Nauru and Australia has varied over time, with the most recent iteration including a provision that people who are found to be refugees may be permanently settled on the island. Katy identified this as an important change:

“This time around, Nauru is expected to do the refugee status determination. And that is a huge burden on our very small bureaucracy. And I think the whole arrangement is clearly designed to shift the burden of legal responsibility for the asylum seekers from Australia onto Nauru. So that’s a very significant development.”

In terms of the economic impacts of the regional processing centres, Katy identified both positives and negatives. The centres generate significant revenue for the government of Nauru, through visa fees for asylum seekers housed there with those fees (currently in excess of AU$500,000 per month) paid by the government of Australia. There are other positive impacts, including employment opportunities and payment of rents and lease payments. However, there are also negative impacts:

“… in terms of service delivery. And so, a few months after they reopened the centre, the head of the Nauruan public service sent a notice around to all heads of department saying that there had to be a freeze on the hiring of any new expat staff for government departments because there was no accommodation left on the island to house these people. And so, that meant in effect no new medical staff could be hired at the hospital or no expat teachers, no advisors to any government departments because the Australian department of immigration and their service providers had taken up all of the available accommodation on the island.”

In relation to the issue of whether asylum seekers would be allowed to live in the community whilst being processed, as has been mooted, Katy identified a number of things that could make this approach difficult They include logistical challenges, xenophobic attitudes within the government and the wider society and a lack of community consultation and understanding the current asylum seeker policy.

The question of permanent settlement of people who have been found to be refugees in Nauru is problematic on a number of levels. Katy referred to the lack of land available to build accommodation and the extremely limited employment options as two significant factors. In addition, government communication on this issue seems to be somewhat opaque:

“They have formally agreed to resettle refugees in their most recent MOU with Australia. But then on the other hand, in meetings that the government has had with local community leaders, they have been sort of fudging the issue and saying things like “resettlement is just a fancy word that lawyers use, but it doesn’t mean that they really live here”… It is difficult to know sort of where the disingenuousness lies. Does it lie in not taking its commitments under the MOU seriously? Or is it in what it has actually said publically within Nauru?”

We concluded by talking about the legal sector on Nauru, which is very small and has been significantly affected by the regional processing centres. A number of processes were required to equip the department of justice to undertake assessment of refugee status and this has resulted in some very significant delays. This is not the only serious impact in this area:

“… there is great difficulty when asylum seekers are charged with criminal offences, which they obviously have been in relation to some recent events here involving property damage. It is very difficult for the local legal profession to properly serve those asylum seekers in terms of criminal defence. And so, we quite often get Australian lawyers volunteering their services to come over and represent them in criminal matters.”