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20 February 2018


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Human Rights Watch – 2018 Report

Almost 40 percent of the population in Papua New Guinea (PNG) lives in poverty.

The government has not taken sufficient steps to address gender inequality, violence, excessive use of force by police, or corruption and relies heavily on religious groups and non-government organisations (NGOs) to provide services on a charitable basis to meet the economic and social rights of the population.

Rates of family and sexual violence are among the highest in the world, and perpetrators are rarely prosecuted.

In August, Peter O’Neill was reappointed as prime minister following an election marred by widespread electoral irregularities and violence.

Soldiers and extra police were sent to the Highlands in response to fighting triggered by the election, where dozens of people, including police, had been killed in election-related violence.

Refugees and asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Manus Island have suffered repeated violent attacks and robberies by locals, with inadequate hospital care on the island and no action by police.

Women’s and Girls’ Rights

More than three years after the 2013 Family Protection Act was adopted, parliament in May finally passed regulations to implement the law, which criminalises domestic violence and allows victims to obtain protection orders.

Police and prosecutors rarely pursue investigations or criminal charges against people who commit family violence—even in cases of attempted murder, serious injury, or repeated rape—and instead prefer to resolve such cases through mediation and/or payment of compensation.

Police often demand money (“for fuel”) from victims before acting, or simply ignore cases that occur in rural areas. There is also a severe lack of services for people requiring assistance after having suffered family violence, such as safe houses, qualified counsellors, case management, financial support, or legal aid.

Violent mobs attacked individuals accused of sorcery or witchcraft, particularly women and girls. In March, a trial involving 122 defendants began in Madang. The defendants were charged in connection with the killing of five men and two children suspected of sorcery in 2014.

The prosecution alleged that the men raided a village in search of sorcerers to kill, armed with “bush knives, bows and arrows, hunting spears, [and] home-made and factory-made shotguns.” No further details were available at time of writing regarding the trial’s progress.

PNG has one of the highest rates of maternal death in the world. Just over 50 percent of women and girls give birth in a health facility or with the help of a skilled birth attendant.

Although the PNG government supports universal access to contraception, two out of three women still cannot access contraception due to geographic, cultural, and economic barriers. Abortion remains illegal in PNG, except when the mother's life is at risk.

Security Force Abuses

Police abuse remained rampant in PNG. In May, police detained and assaulted a doctor at a police roadblock on his way home in Port Moresby. The case triggered a public outcry, but no one had been charged for the offence at time of writing.

Few police are ever held to account for beating or torturing criminal suspects, but in December 2016, a mobile squad commander was charged with the murder of a street vendor, six months after the alleged offence occurred. A court granted him bail in January 2017.

In September, police charged a former police officer with the 2013 murder of two people in Central Province.

Despite the ombudsman and police announcing investigations into the 2016 police shooting of eight university students during a protest in Port Moresby, at time of writing no police had been charged or disciplined and neither body had issued a report.

In May, prison officers shot and killed 17 men who escaped from Buimo prison in Lae. Corrective Services ordered an inquiry, but no investigation had commenced by November 2017 due to lack of funding.


Corruption in PNG is widespread. Individuals in positions of power and government agencies lack accountability and transparency. In August, the National Court authorised the arrest of Prime Minister O’Neill in relation to a 2014 warrant obtained by anti-corruption police for corruption charges. But in August, the Supreme Court granted a stay against police executing the warrant pending appeal.

Asylum Seekers and Refugees

About 770 male asylum seekers and refugees from countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, and Iran, live on Manus Island. Another 35 or so have signed settlement papers to remain in PNG, although only four of these are working and financially independent. About 70 are temporarily living in Port Moresby.

All were forcibly transferred to PNG by Australia since 2013. Australia pays for their upkeep but refuses to resettle them, insisting refugees must settle in PNG or third countries, such as the United States.

Refugees and asylum seekers do not feel safe on Manus due to a spate of violent attacks by locals in the town of Lorengau. Local youths attacked refugees and asylum seekers with bush knives, sticks, and rocks and robbed them of mobile phones and possessions. Police failed to hold perpetrators to account.

In April, soldiers fired shots at the main regional processing centre, injuring nine people including refugees and centre staff. In June, locals carrying knives attacked and robbed a Bangladeshi man, seriously injuring his arm with a machete. He was transferred to Port Moresby for medical treatment.

In July, locals attacked and robbed three refugees on Manus Island in three separate incidents; two of the men were seriously injured in knife attacks and one had to be transferred to Port Moresby for medical treatment.

In August, an Iranian with a mental health condition was found dead near the transit centre on Manus. Police ruled his death a suicide, though an inquest was pending at time of writing.

In October, a Sri Lankan refugee with a mental health condition was found dead at the hospital in Lorengau from a reported suicide, the sixth asylum seeker or refugee to die on Manus Island since 2013.

In 2016, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, surveyed 181 refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and found that 88 percent had anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In October, the Australian government ordered the main centre closed, following a 2016 PNG Supreme Court ruling that detaining people there is unconstitutional. Hundreds of refugees refused to leave and remained in the squalid unguarded centre without power, food, or water.

PNG and Australian officials pressed refugees and asylum seekers to move to other facilities on the island that are less secure, and offered financial incentives for both refugees and asylum seekers to return home “voluntarily.”

Approximately 200 men whose claims for asylum were rejected were told they must leave PNG, and will be moved to a separate accommodation facility on Manus pending deportation.

In November, the PNG Supreme Court rejected an application by the refugees and asylum seekers to restore services to the main centre.

Children’s Rights

Police often beat children in lock-ups and house them with adults, despite a juvenile justice law that states children should be kept separate from adults during all stages of the criminal justice process.

A juvenile reception centre in Port Moresby closed in 2016 due to a land dispute, so police refer children to Bomana adult prison which has separate accommodation for children.

While there have been efforts at reform and a new child reception facility established in Boroko, police abuse of children continues, and police target young people for “snake bails,” where children are not charged but must pay a bribe for their release.

Disability Rights

Despite the existence of a national disability policy, people with disabilities are often unable to participate in community life, go to school, or work because of lack of accessibility, stigma, and other barriers.

Access to mental health support and services is limited, and traditional healers are the only option for many people with psychosocial disabilities.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The PNG criminal code outlaws sex “against the order of nature,” which has been interpreted to apply to consensual same-sex acts, and is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. Gay asylum seekers on Manus Island have reported being harassed and sexually assaulted by other asylum seekers.

Key International Actors

Australia remains PNG’s most important international partner, providing over 70 percent of the country’s total overseas development aid. The Australian government’s aid to PNG for 2017-18 amounts to A$546.3 million (approximately US$438.7 million). In November 2018, PNG will host the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

A couple of people have questioned my use of the term "Africanisation".

I've been trying to think of a successful African nation, Botswana and Namibia spring to mind. They both make great beer, almost as good as SP.

That said, I don't think it's useful to go off on a semantic tangent. This is, after all, a serious issue.

Perhaps I should have said "Americanisation", or even "Australianisation"

And, yes, Rashmii beat me to it.

Daniel, sadly, stunned too are the many who have followed this blog. But why?

Frankly, many of them have taken to that response nigh on a decade ago, or more, for evidence has been quite apparent and appallingly and showing no abatement.

Hiding behind the tenacity of a football team success or any other worthy contribution to exemplary leadership (sport-wise, civility, and so on), offers no credibility of worthiness in global garnering of tangible resource (minerals, tree crop, sea life, etc) and intangible recognition (such as might have initiated preparation for APEC 2018).

Treating rampant fraud and other corrupt practices as slight, a mere extension on tradition of toleration of historical petty thefts at PNG villages, is not a blight to endure, it is the cause of inequity, lack of fulfillment and, sadly, needlessly untimely deaths.

Propping pockets of human habitation (at village level, that means communities) by gifting from foreign sources of goodwill, does not auger well on a register of sustainability, especially where birth rate is that as recorded of PNG nationally.

Propping pockets of too few beneficiaries defeats any pretense of equity. Propping propositions of equity by relying on practices that are unlawful (or sheer evil) is beyond reason, currency market exchanges notwithstanding.

With those of your fellow citizens who might say to me that I have no place in platitudinous pleading of processes in PNG, I agree. But with Phil too, I agree, both with the sentiment here condensed, and the sense of eventuality in its presentation.

"However, in places like PNG, where the subtle skills of influence peddling are not well understood, the machinations of the elites tend to be very evident" - Chris Overland. Sums it up.

Phil, with your [reinserted (nicely done, haha)] questions, you may recall I attempted an answer in response to a piece by Chris Overland:

That was in 2016. Two years on and we're still asking the same questions....

In the original version of this article I asked: "What’s wrong with Papua New Guineans? Can’t they see what they are doing?

"Why do they continue to trot out the same lame excuses? 'It is the Melanesian Way- we must do things our way, we don’t need your advice, you offend us and bruise our national ego and pride with your persistent ranting, go away, leave us alone, it is our country and we will run it the way we want'.

"And things continue to fall apart around their ears".

Keith wisely edited out those inflammatory words but it is a question worth considering.

You may make excuses for as long as you like but sooner or later you have to face reality.

It is this reality that many Papua New Guineans seem to be afraid of. I know that ignoring reality and hoping something will go away is a cultural trait.

But is it a good trait? I don't think so.

And, of course, as Bernard points out, Papua New Guinea is not alone in this regard.

I am an Australian pot calling a Papua New Guinean kettle black and, unfortunately, I know it.

....but Phil got them in anyway [chuckle] - KJ

Sadly, I think that Phil's analysis of the current situation in PNG is accurate.

Worse still, I now think that it is too late to prevent PNG's inevitable spiral into some form of authoritarian state or, possibly, its anarchical collapse into a number of smaller, competing mini-states. The latter outcome would be more broadly consistent with its pre-colonial history.

There are many reasons for its decline but the overriding one is that its traditional cultures are not really conducive to the establishment and maintenance of a viable democratic state.

PNG cultures are communalist in nature but do not have underlying governance structures that provide a solid foundation for democratic institutions. They are, in essence, anarchical, and profoundly inconsistent with the acceptance or even imposition of any form of central authority except by force and coercion.

PNG is not alone in this. Even so-called mature democracies rely, at bottom, upon the imposition and maintenance of state authority by means of a centrally controlled, enforceable legal framework.

The mere existence of relatively large and, very often, heavily armed Police forces is mute testimony to the fact that even the most ostensibly modern and socially unified societies are sustainable only through the use of various sanctions to impose order upon an often fractious citizenry.

Things like the London Riots of 2011 come as such a tremendous shock because we all cling onto the comforting illusion that our societies are fundamentally self regulating. They are not and, in fact, never have been.

In truth, we citizens of the mature democracies, have merely been allowed to participate in a governance process which, in practice, frequently continues to favour various influential elites over and above the broader public interest.

This is why organisations like the National Rifle Association in the USA can continue to exert the influence they do despite the painfully obvious necessity to undertake major reforms to that country's gun laws.

People like Noam Chomsky have pointed out how the mass media has become complicit in the maintenance of the power of elites by its incessant championing of neo-liberal political orthodoxy and attacks upon those who dare to offer a different interpretation of the facts.

This latter process is mostly subtle: those who really wield power prefer to do so behind the scenes. However, in places like PNG, where the subtle skills of influence peddling are not well understood, the machinations of the elites tend to be very evident.

The same might well be said of places like Russia and China, although both of these countries have a long experience and tradition of authoritarianism.

It is no exaggeration to say that democracy is in crisis across the globe. Its enemies have found subtle and sophisticated ways to exploit its weaknesses and the political leadership seems unable to respond effectively at the moment.

It is difficult to say where this will lead us. Pessimists think that economic collapse and open warfare are the logical outcome, while optimists think that somehow we will, as we have done before, muddle through. Perhaps some combination of these scenarios will occur.

PNG is part of the crisis. It is being swept along in the tidal shifts that accompany what might be called "hinge moments" in human history.

Right now, it looks like PNG is set up to suffer very greatly if things go badly. Its economy and political institutions seem unlikely to survive any truly tectonic shift in geo-political affairs if and when this occurs.

Simply stunned by these words

I thought you were referring to Australia.
It's time, enough is enough.
An economy is not a society - Sous les paves la plage.

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