The Bougainville crisis & peace & harmony in PNG
21 September 2015
An entry in the 2015 Rivers Award
for Writing on Peace & Harmony
UNITY in diversity speaks volumes about who we are and what we are: a peace-loving and distinct collection of tribal people harmoniously mingled with each other to form this awe-inspiring nation of Papua New Guinea.
Collectively we number more than seven million people organised into 22 provinces. Having more than 800 different languages yet united under one national parliament, we are unique.
We have tribal conflicts in the highlands but tend to be confined to two or three local tribes. And it happens sporadically. It does not affect the overall peace and harmony of the nation.
In 1989 there was a major shake-up in Papua New Guinea when the Bougainville civil war broke out. The island province is now autonomous and will, in the next few years, hold a referendum on independence.
At the end of 10 years of conflict on Bougainville, everybody desired peace. The Bougainville Peace Agreement had three main pillars: autonomy for Bougainville, the referendum and weapons disposal.
The agreement serves as a monument to our desire for peace. It is testimony of the diplomatic skills that Papua New Guineans possess. The art of conflict resolution is born in us.
Our peace-loving nature is the adhesive that sticks irrespective of tribal background.
There are two kinds of conflict resolution employed in problem-solving. The more formal is the judicial system.
The informal method involves mediation, in which the opposing parties present their cases to a mediator seen by both parties as neutral with no affiliation to either side. This form of conflict resolution is normally practised in rural villages.
The mediation system of conflict resolution is a traditional method where the mediator seeks to calm down tensions and encourage a harmonious dialogue to get conflicting parties to reach a common understanding based on forgiveness and the good of the society as a whole.
Normally these mediations do not emphasise the origins of conflict.
The mediation method emphasises both sides coming to a compromise unlike the formal, adversarial court system where the suspect is interrogated by police after arrest and then cross examined in the court room and the verdict decided.
The findings of the court either vindicates or punishes in an attempt to foster correction and rehabilitation.
But it does not promote peace and harmony; it leaves hatred and disunity. The mediation method normally ends up in compensation in cash or kind to the victim and to tribespeople. Then peace and harmony are restored.
The Bougainville situation set PNG justice administration on a new path where police brutality was the spark that ignited the revolution which started as a landowner disagreement with Bougainville Copper Limited and escalated far beyond that.
Before the Bougainville crisis, landowners’ rights were never talked about freely. There was always police brutality to quell these concerns.
The landowners’ rights issue on Bougainville went unaddressed until the civil war which prompted the highest demand of political independence from PNG for Bougainville.
If there had been mediation to genuinely address landowner concerns back then, perhaps there would not have been conflict on the island.
However, the Bougainvilleans eventually compromised total independence in their desire for peace.
The spirit of peace was enshrined in the Bougainville Peace Agreement in which the PNG government and the people of Bougainville agreed on terms and conditions to nurture peace and harmony.
That was an eye opener for the world on how to make peace and live harmoniously even with different ethnic backgrounds.
Our region is aptly termed the Pacific. Peaceful sandy beaches, serene mangrove lagoons and nonviolent people are notable features. Swaying palms and dancing to the rhythm of peace and harmony whether it be day and night.
This is our reality. This what we want.
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