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Lawyers voice concerns over Nauru

Tuesday 7 July 2015 | Published in Regional


WELLINGTON – Lawyers in New Zealand and Australia are rallying over concerns about human rights and rule of law in Nauru.

New Zealand’s being asked to pull the plug on its aid to the country, and pressure is mounting on Australia to take a stand.

The Law Council of Australia says regional stability is at risk if an apparent breakdown in democracy in Nauru is not addressed.

The council’s president-elect Stuart Clark said it is seeking discussions with Canberra on Nauru.

“Australia like New Zealand has an important role to play in the region as does every other nation in ensuring regional stability,” Clark said.

“It’s in nobody’s interests in the region to see a breakdown in proper democratic procedures and in the rule of law. We’ve seen that happen in Fiji, we’ve seen that happen in the Solomons.”

But Clark said it is not yet time to call for a review of Australia’s asylum seeker processing deal with the country. The peak legal body is particularly concerned about recent moves against Nauru’s opposition MPs.

Two of the five suspended indefinitely from parliament will stay in the island’s prison for at least another week after their bail applications were denied on Thursday.

They have been accused of fomenting a protest outside parliament two weeks ago. The government has claimed the protest was a riot – but the organisers deny this.

A group of New Zealand law academics have called on New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, to take more decisive action over what they see as the deteriorating constitutional situation.

They have written him a letter saying funding for Nauru’s justice sector should be withdrawn if Nauru does not move swiftly to remedy matters.

One of the signatories, Claudia Geiringer, said it’s time for McCully to play hard-ball with the Nauru government.

“The Minister, Murray McCully has been expressing concern over the situation on Nauru on and off for a year now, and that hasn’t been an 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,” Geiringer said.

International law specialists are rallying too, saying moves by Nauru against the opposition MP Roland Kun go against international human rights law.

Kun’s passport’s been cancelled because he was deemed a security risk, preventing him from returning to his family living in New Zealand.

A council member of the Australian-New Zealand Society of International Law, Kim Rubenstein, said these moves are an assault on Kun’s rights to free speech, movement and family life.

“Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects freedom of expression,” Rubenstein said. “The cancellation of his passport in Nauru has an impact on his freedom of movement and Article 12 affirms the right to liberty of movement and the capacity to be free to leave any country including your own country.”

Professor Rubenstein said she is preparing a letter for members to sign which will go to the foreign ministers of Australia and New Zealand highlighting their concerns.

In a statement at the weekend, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she has sought assurances from Nauru’s government that due process and the rule of law is being upheld on the island.

New Zealand’s McCully has said he plans to have a “pretty direct conversation” with the Nauru President Baron Waqa at a meeting this week of Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers in Sydney but has stopped short of saying he will pull New Zealand’s aid commitments.

Observers say Australia’s deal with Nauru on asylum seeker processing compromises its position and will hamper any strong stand by Canberra.

The New Zealand parliament has unanimously moved to express concern about the situation on Nauru.