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An open letter to Peter O’Neill on family violence

Janet WalshJANET WALSH | Human Rights Watch | Extracts

DEAR Prime Minister - Please accept my regards on behalf of Human Rights Watch, an independent non-governmental organisation that monitors and reports on human rights in more than 90 countries worldwide.

I am writing to you on an issue of great shared concern—the prevalence of family violence, particularly against women and girls, in Papua New Guinea and your government’s efforts to reduce this violence.

Your government has taken important steps to combat family violence, including adoption of the Family Protection Act, establishing police Family and Sexual Violence Units and hospital-based Family Support Centres, and initiating a process to develop a gender-based violence strategy.

Human Rights Watch has recently undertaken research on the topic of family violence in Papua New Guinea, including interviewing people who are survivors of family violence, as well as activists, service providers, and experts.

I am writing to share with you the preliminary findings of our research and to request information that can help us ensure that we accurately and fairly reflect the current situation and your government’s efforts in our reporting on this issue. We would be grateful if you could facilitate a response to this information request from the various ministries involved in addressing family violence.

Our research was largely focused on the assistance available to survivors of family violence, particularly the response by police and justice officials, as well as the availability of services. We conducted research in both the Central Province and the Highlands. Some of the key concerns we identified include the following:

Impunity for perpetrators of family violence: Our interviews with survivors suggested that police and prosecutors are very rarely prepared to pursue investigations or criminal charges against people who commit family violence, even in cases where the violence is severe, including attempted murder and repeated rape.

Interviewees said that police, prosecutors, and courts seem reluctant to treat these cases as criminal matters, preferring to resolve them through mediation and/or the payment of compensation, even when it was clear that this was not the preference of the victim.

Police often demanded money (“for fuel”) from victims before they would take action, or simply ignored cases that occurred in rural areas, instructing victims that it was their responsibility to bring the perpetrator to the police. These failures appear to occur in Family Sexual Violence Units as well as other police units.

Underutilisation of protection orders: Experts and organizations reported that survivors of violence were rarely able to secure interim protection orders (IPOs) and other forms of protection orders.

Nongovernmental organizations that support victims said that police often seem reluctant to refer survivors for IPOs in cases where they would have been appropriate. Survivors whom we interviewed who did seek IPOs and protection orders often said they encountered delays in the courts.

Lack of services: There appears to be a dire lack of services for people requiring assistance after having suffered family violence. Safe houses are absent in most areas and in short supply everywhere, qualified counsellors are all but non-existent, case management is not provided, legal aid is almost entirely absent, and there is no safety net to assist survivors, especially those with dependent children, who need temporary support and assistance to leave their abusers and become financially independent.

Moreover, we are concerned about courts mandating mediation for couples in cases of family violence, as this goes against international best practices.

Lack of government leadership: Although your government has taken the critical steps mentioned above, we were struck by the fact that much of the leadership on trying to end family violence in Papua New Guinea seems to be coming from activists outside the government with support from international donors.

While these actors have critical roles to play, family violence cannot be systemically tackled without full engagement and leadership by your government.

While in Papua New Guinea, we requested meetings with government officials responsible for addressing family violence. We were unable to secure meetings, but we hope that we can have a dialogue moving forward. As a first step, we would welcome any reactions to our preliminary findings above.

Read the full letter here -


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Phil Fitzpatrick

This is another sad story of neglect coming out of PNG.

Processes and infrastructures have been left to fall apart for so long that even restoration of basic functions is a monumental task.

And all this is because of the greed and stupidity of politicians.

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