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Wednesday 16 March 2016 | Published in Regional


WELLINGTON – New Zealand’s foreign minister says the country has no plans to reinstate aid funding to Nauru’s justice sector while questions over rule of law in the Pacific nation persist.

Speaking to the ABC’s Pacific Beat on the sidelines of a Lowy Institute presentation of New Zealand’s international priorities, Murray McCully said he had attempted to re-establish a relationship with Nauru since the withdrawal of aid funding for Nauru’s justice sector in September last year.

“I’ve had brief conversations with members of the Nauru government,” he said. “They were discussions intended to try and find a way forward. But sadly that doesn’t seem to have been possible and we’ll just wait for a time when that is possible.”

“I’ve made it clear that we are happy to pick up the phone at any stage, that we are happy to look at ways in which can help get back to a normal situation in the justice sector in Nauru, but ultimately that’s an area where we have to respect the sovereign rights of the Nauruan Government and ultimately the Nauruan people.”

Nauru’s ‘diminishing rule of law’:

- Arrested and deported Nauru’s magistrate Peter Law in January 2014 while Law was preparing inquiry into the death of justice minister’s wife.

- Cancelled the visa for its chief justice Geoffrey Eames preventing him from re-entering the country.

- Revoked the visa of Katy Le Roy, legal counsel to the parliament and wife of suspended opposition MP Roland Kun.

- Suspended five opposition MPs from the 18-seat parliament.

- Imposed a non-refundable $8,000 application fee for any off-island journalist.

- Fired Australian police commissioner as investigation into bribery allegations involving the president and justice minister was in progress.

- Directed internet provider Digicel to shut off access to Facebook, and refused to let the general manager back into the country.

In September 2015, New Zealand suspended the majority of its aid to Nauru, mostly tied to bolstering its justice sector, citing diminishing rule of law.

At that time McCully highlighted the case of Nauru opposition MP Roland Kun, who is one of five opposition MPs banned from taking their seat in parliament since mid-2014, had his passport stripped in June 2015, and is unable to return to his family based in New Zealand.

It also followed his country’s parliament unanimously passing a motion in July 2015 expressing concern about the political situation in Nauru.

At the same time, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also said she had sought assurance from Nauru’s president that the country is adhering to the rule of law.

“I said to Julie Bishop at the time that it was with great regret that we would have to take this step, but the Naur) justice system we were funding was being used for some purposes that we felt we couldn’t associate ourselves with,” McCully told Pacific Beat.

“We gave people plenty of opportunity to change course and to reflect on whether they really wanted us to go, but that was a decision we were forced to make at the time.

“We’ve made it clear that we want to ensure that the justice sector that we were funding is carried out in a fairly orthodox fashion, that it’s operating in a way that’s going to maintain international respect and credibility, and when it was in a space where clearly that couldn’t be said to be happening we felt we had to withdraw.”

In his Lowy address, the Foreign Minister reiterated that: “New Zealand and Australia have a significant stake in the peace and security of the small island developing states in our region.”

McCully told Pacific Beat that recent moves by Nauru’s Government to raise the fees 20-fold for candidates in the upcoming election, among other concerns, do little to move the situation forward.

“Those are the sort of steps that don’t take us much closer to a resolution of the difficulties that cause international criticism, and we hope we’ll get to a point soon where we are able to start making positive steps rather than negative ones,” he said.

- Pacific Beat