As you know, in May and June 2014, five members of the Nauruan parliamentary opposition were suspended indefinitely from Parliament. For more than a year, five out of seven opposition MPs (in a 19 member Parliament) have received no funding or resources and have been unable to participate in parliamentary proceedings.
That’s almost the entire opposition nobbled.
During the course of 2014 and 2015, there have been a number of other significant incursions into the free speech of Nauruan citizens, including a 2014 direction from government to local media not to speak to members of the opposition, a May 2015 government directive to Nauru’s only internet service provider to block Nauruan citizens’ access to Facebook, and a May 2015 amendment to Nauru’s Criminal Code introducing a vaguely worded offence that punishes speech which has the “intent to stir up … political hatred”.
This is banana republic stuff. Stirring up political hatred is code for criticising the Government. And no Government should tell ISPs what to block, let alone Facebook.
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.
The five suspended MPs have also had their passports cancelled so that they cannot travel outside of Nauru – a denial of the right to freedom of movement recognised at international law.
Over the past 18 months, you have expressed publicly on several occasions your concern about these developments and have undertaken to raise various issues with the Nauruan government. Nothing has come of this “softly softly” approach and the time for a more forceful approach has arrived. As you have previously acknowledged in relation to Nauru, there is a close connection between democracy and the rule of law, and the effective operation of the justice system. It is not tenable for New Zealand to continue in its role of principal funder of Nauru’s justice sector while democracy and the rule of law are in such disarray and while so many basic human rights are being denied. As well, given our historical ties to Nauru and our position as a Pacific neighbour, New Zealand owes it to the citizens of Nauru to do everything it can to encourage its government to restore democracy and the rule of law.
And it is in our sphere of influence.
1. Make urgent representations to the government of Nauru in respect of its persistent breaches of human rights and its disregard for the rule of law and parliamentary democracy;
2. Persuade the government of Nauru to:
- revoke its decision to cancel the passports of opposition MPs;
- lift the suspension of opposition MPs;
- restore freedom of expression and other civil and political rights;
- and refrain from further interferences with the operation of the justice system;
3. If Nauru does not move swiftly to take remedial action, withdraw New Zealand funding from Nauru’s Department of Justice and Border Control.
The time for talk is past. Give them three months otherwise the funding stops. We should not prop up authoritarian governments.
UPDATE: McCully is seeking a meeting with the Nauru Government. Good, but we need more than a meeting.