Rule of Law Overturned in Nauru

Sydney Asylum Seeker Protest

A protester at the Refugee Action Coalition rally holds a sign reading: ‘Close Manus and Nauru – No offshore detention gulags’. Photo by Richard Milnes © Demotix (22 November 2013)

Democracy in the tiny pacific island Republic of Nauru has been imploding with the sacking of its Resident Magistrate, aptly named Peter Law, the exiling of Chief Justice Geoffrey Eames and the resignation of solicitor-general Steven Bliim in protest. All three are Australians.

Nauru has been the focus of political controversy over the Australian government’s use of the country as an offshore processing centre for asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Currently the detention centre has approximately 900 detainees. Mr. Law was due to hear charges against dozens of asylum seekers who allegedly rioted in July 2013.

The Australian government has been slow to react with some on twitter accusing it of complicity, citing Ben Saul, professor of international law at the University of Sydney, in Guardian Australia’s ‘Comment is free’:

Legal academics have been busy online. Kevin Boreham blogged at The Conversation: Australia owes obligations to the asylum seekers we have transferred to Nauru and we have a legal interest in the maintenance of the rule of law in Nauru.

Barrister and human rights advocate Julian Burnside also took to the web, criticising several recent governments who have supported the Pacific Solution, the ‘policy of transporting asylum seekers to detention centres on island nations in the Pacific Ocean, rather than allowing them to land on the Australian mainland’:

…both governments – in Nauru and Australia – have an interest in seeing the rule of law fail in Nauru.

Australia is Nauru's paymaster. It will do pretty much anything we tell it to, because we are its main source of income. That is very convenient for Australia. Howard recognised this; Gillard and Rudd recognised it; Abbott recognises it.

Many on twitter have been calling on the Australian government and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to take strong action such as boycotts imposed on Fiji in similar circumstances:

The Nauru legal system is apparently funded through New Zealand’s aid program:

Meanwhile, in its annual report Human Rights Watch has criticised Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers for its:

…pernicious policies designed to deter asylum seekers at the expense of their rights, including mandatory offshore processing of asylum seekers arriving by boat, “enhanced screening” or fast-tracked deportations after cursory interviews, and withdrawing government-provided legal assistance to asylum seekers.

There is a new twist to this unfolding story:

On its Facebook page, ‘representing independant Members of Parliament in Nauru’, Nauru Eko Dogin warns:

The fact that the New Zealand Government is considering this action [terminating funding] is a significant statement that they condemn the actions of the Waqa/Adeang government and will not continue to support such blatant abuse of power and disregard for democracy, good governance and the rule of law.

Nauru simply cannot afford to risk the support of our neighbours and friends. Whilst our economy is stronger than it was 10 years ago, it remains incredibly fragile and just as quickly as this Government have destroyed our Judiciary, they can also ruin our economy in a flash.

The Nauruan government has made a range of accusations against Peter Law who has threatened to sue.

@NObservers, an ‘independent political observer in Nauru’ tweeted:

For further developments, please follow the twitter hashtag #Nauru. On this island with only 10,000 locals and an area of just 21 square kilometres (8.1 sq miles), not much else is making news.

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