A HIGHLY unusual and welcome feature of Papua New Guinea's justice system is that any judge, on their own initiative, can commence legal action if they suspect a person or institution has breached or will breach human rights.
PNG's National Court even has a division devoted to managing human rights cases. It is led by Justice David Cannings, the resident judge in the province of Madang.
That Justice Cannings saw fit to initiate an inquiry this year into the human rights environment at the Manus Island detention centre is an indictment of Australia's deplorable policy of dumping asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea.
That the PNG government, led by Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, has moved to quash Justice Cannings' inquiry on the grounds of apprehended bias underscores that government's highly compromised position.
PNG will happily take the many millions of dollars offered by successive Labor and now Coalition governments in return for storing more than 1300 asylum seekers in a pen, but it refuses to allow proper scrutiny of conditions inside the centre it operates.
The O'Neill government's legal move on March 21 to stymie the Cannings inquiry was immediately countered by the judge, who said he would commence a second inquiry. Today, the O'Neill government is expected to push ahead and ask the courts to crush that inquiry, too.
This is a deliberate and reprehensible effort to hide from public view what a senior judge, operating at the topmost levels of PNG's human rights jurisdiction, suspects is a serious curtailment of universal human rights.
The Abbott government is complicit in this. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison last week said the Abbott government was being kept informed of the PNG government's moves, and ''we support the actions they consider are necessary to take, upon their own initiative, within their own sovereign jurisdiction and consistent with their own constitution''.
What has to be asked is why PNG believes it is at all necessary (using Mr Morrison's term) to end the Cannings inquiry. If the government had nothing to hide, then it should welcome a thorough review of conditions at Manus Island and demonstrate that it is capable of upholding its responsibilities as a signatory to the UN human rights convention.
At the same time, the Abbott government should be urging the O'Neill government to be open and transparent - but, sadly, that is a fanciful notion. The Abbott government has done all in its power to keep secret any information about the management of asylum seekers. There is no transparency from its end.
Anything ''on water'' - the detection, interception or turning around of boats carrying asylum seekers - is deemed a military secret. Anything involving its transfer of asylum seekers to Manus Island or Nauru is waylaid by obfuscation.
Once asylum seekers are in the offshore centres, inquiries get lost in a maze of yet more questions about which government bears responsibility.
More than half of the 4699 people in Australia's immigration detention centres are on Manus Island and Nauru. Four months ago, Amnesty International pointed to a host of human rights violations arising from the offshore regime. It urged the Abbott government to cancel the entire arrangement immediately, pointing out that Australia could not wash its hands of violations committed during the transfer and detention of asylum seekers overseas.
Since the Amnesty report, there have been violent disturbances at Manus Island. One man was killed and several were seriously injured. PNG remains responsible for rights violations on its territory.
It should take pride in having a justice system that powerfully promotes human rights by vesting its judges with powers to investigate and prosecute breaches. Instead, it is embarking on a shameful effort to obstruct justice - emboldened, no doubt, by the silence from the Abbott government.