2 Jul 2015

More action needed on Nauru by McCully

2:45 pm on 2 July 2015

A group of New Zealand law academics say the Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, needs to take more decisive action over the deteriorating constitutional situation in Nauru.

An aerial view of Nauru

An aerial view of Nauru Photo: RNZI

In an open letter to Mr McCully, the 29 academics, want the Foreign Minister to make urgent representations to the Nauruan government about the deteriorating rule of law situation.

Signatories include the former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, and the former Attorney-General and Speaker Margaret Wilson.

The letter says that if Nauru does not move swiftly to take remedial action, then the Minister must withdraw New Zealand funding from Nauru's Department of Justice and Border Control.

New Zealand has provided US$600,000 a year to fund the system.

The academics add that it's 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 are being denied.

One of the signatoriesis Claudia Geiringer, who is the chair in Public Law at Victoria University and the director of the New Zealand Centre for Public Law.

She says it's time for Mr McCully to play hard-ball with the Nauru government.

"The Minister, Murray McCully has been expressing concern over the situation Nauru on and off for a year now, and that hasn't been effective approach, and we think it's time to engage New Zealand's aid relationship and ultimately if there are not some swift improvements to withdraw funding."

She says the problem there is New Zealand may be under pressure not to rock the boat, given Australia's compromised position with regard to Nauru.

McCully seeks meeting with Nauru

Last week Mr McCully told Dateline Pacific he does not want to put Nauru's judicial system under any further pressure by pulling aid.

He said he plans to have what he calls a pretty direct conversation with the Nauruan President Baron Waqa at a meeting of Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers in Sydney next week.

Crowds gather in Nauru

Photo of a protest in Nauru over a week ago outside Parliament. Photo: supplied/ Shane Bazzi

Five of the seven opposition MPs in the Nauru Parliament have been expelled for more than a year, officially for speaking to foreign media about the government's actions.

Three of those MPs are now facing criminal charges in relation to a protest outside the Parliament earlier this month.

The group says 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.

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 says, 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.

Concern for Kun's family

The letter expresses particular concern for the Wellington-based family of suspended Nauruan opposition MP Roland Kun.

Last year, the Nauruan government revoked the visa of Mr Kun's wife, an Australian citizen, so that she cannot live on Nauru.

The legal academics say by cancelling Mr Kun's passport while he was visiting Nauru, the Nauruan government has now forced the couple's separation. Mr Kun is the primary caregiver of the couple's three children and the youngest is only 18 months old.

The New Zealand Law Society also issued a press release, saying that it was time to speak out about the deteriorating situation in Nauru.