Asylum Seekers Protest Their Life Sentence in Nauru

About Nauru


Nauru Map
Nauru Map

Nauru was first settled by Polynesian and Melanesian settlers. The first European to arrive was Captain John Fearn in 1798, but Nauru continued as an independent island society, reigned by a king (the most known was King Auweyida), until it was annexed by Germany in 1888 to German New Guinea. Mining of its extensive phosphate reserves began early in the 20th century.

Following World War I it became a British territory in 1920, though administered by Australia. In 1947, a trusteeship was approved by the United Nations, which saw Nauru continue under administration by Australia until independence in 1968. The founding president was Hammer DeRoburt. Nauru is a special member of the Commonwealth and joined the United Nations as a member state in 1999.



Nauru is a small phosphate rock island in the South Pacific Ocean, south of the Marshall Islands. The island is a raised atoll, with a surrounding reef exposed at low tide. Most of the population live on the narrow coastal belt. A central plateau, covering approximately four fifths of the land area, rises 70 metres above sea level.

There are limited natural fresh water resources, roof storage tanks collect rainwater, but islanders are mostly dependent on a single, aging desalination plant.

Intensive phosphate mining during the past 90 years – mainly by a UK, Australia, and New Zealand consortium – has left the central 90% of Nauru a wasteland and threatens limited remaining land resources.

Nauru’s climate is extremely muggy all year round because of its proximity to the Equator.


Another source of revenue was office rents from Nauru House, one of the tallest buildings in Melbourne, built on the profits from phosphates. Unfortunately, in the 1990s mismanagement and corruption ruined the once substantial savings of the island government, and in recent years the island went broke. The huge earnings from the phosphates mining have been wasted, and now Nauru faces a very uncertain future.


The official language is Nauruan. English is widely understood, spoken, and used for most government and commercial purposes.

The main religion is Christianity (two-thirds Protestant, one-third Roman Catholic).


The island’s traditional culture is all but vanished: Nauru is considered to be one of the most Westernized of the Pacific islands.

The national sport is Australian Rules Football, but Nauru has had international success in weightlifting. Marcus Stephen has been the most successful lifter to date, winning several Commonwealth Games medals. He was elected to Parliament in 2003.


The 18-member Parliament is elected every three years. The Parliament elects a president from amongst its members, who appoints a Cabinet of 5-6 people. The President is both the head of state and head of government. There is a loose multiparty system; the two main parties are the Democratic Party and Nauru Party (informal).

Between 1999 and 2003, a series of no-confidence votes and elections meant René Harris and Bernard Dowiyogo led the country for alternating periods. Dowiyogo died in office on March 10, 2003 in Washington DC after heart surgery. Ludwig Scotty was elected President on May 29, 2003, and it was thought possible at the time that the years of political uncertainty might come to an end. But in August 2003 there was another no confidence vote. Harris regained support and was elected president again.

Asylum Seekers Protest Their Life Sentence in Nauru (AFP/Greg Wood)
Hunger-striking asylum-seekers protesting their apparent life sentence on the near-bankrupt South Pacific island of Nauru.
New Zealand journalists who sneaked onto the island believe they will be dead within a week.

On October 1, 2004, the president of Nauru, Ludwig Scotty, declared a state of emergency and dissolved parliament after it failed to pass the national budget.

Nauru has 14 districts: Aiwo, Anabar, Anetan, Anibare, Baiti, Boe, Buada, Denigomodu, Ewa, Ijuw, Meneng, Nibok, Uaboe, Yaren.