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PNG failing to meet human rights obligations

Gender-based-violenceKEITH JACKSON

Link here to the full submission from Human Rights Watch to the Universal Periodic Review of Papua New Guinea

NOOSA - The Papua New Guinea government has failed to live up to commitments on women’s rights, children’s rights, and police accountability.

This is the headline statement in a recent submission Human Rights Watch has made to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

PNG’s periodic review of its human rights situation by the council has been scheduled for November.

“Papua New Guinea has made big promises to the UN, but failed to meet them,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch.

“During the review, UN member countries should remind the PNG government that it needs to do much better, especially to defend the basic rights of women and children, and to investigate and prosecute police brutality.”

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva reviews each country’s human rights record every five years.

During the previous cycle, in 2016, PNG accepted numerous recommendations.

It pledged to take steps to protect the rights of women and girls; to investigate gender-based violence, including accusations of sorcery; to increase access to education, and to ensure that police officers are held to account for abuses.

However, the government has failed to show progress on these key issues.

The Human Rights Watch submission is scrupulously referenced and includes recommendation and summaries of PNG’s international commitments and obligations, most of which have not been honoured.

Among the stand-outs are:

Women’s rights

PNG remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman or girl, highlighting the government’s failure to implement policies to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and discrimination.

The government criminalised domestic violence in 2013 but few perpetrators against women and girls are brought to justice. In June 2020 alone, there were 647 cases of domestic violence reported in Port Moresby.

A study in 2020 found that over 19 months, a specialist police unit set up to receive complaints of sexual violence in Boroko averaged 27 complaints a month, 90% female and 74% under age 18.

There is a dire lack of services for people who have suffered family violence. Shelters are absent in most areas, qualified counsellors are rare, legal aid is almost entirely absent, and there is no assistance to survivors, especially those with children, who need temporary support and assistance to leave their abusers.

Much of the effort on the ground to try to end family violence seems to be coming from activists outside government.

Sorcery related violence

Sorcery related violence is rampant, usually targets women and often goes unreported. Women accused of ‘sorcery’ are often attacked by violent mobs, risk being tortured and killed, and the perpetrators are rarely held to account.

Maternal health

More than 2,000 women and girls die in childbirth in PNG each year. These deaths are largely preventable. The risk of maternal death is increased by limited access to hospitals, with 80% of the population living outside urban centres.

Children’s rights

Children as young as 10 can be held criminally responsible, which falls short of international recommendations that countries increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14.

PNG has an underfunded health system and children are particularly vulnerable to disease. An estimated 13,300 individuals aged 0-19 died in 2019, mostly from preventable diseases, and large numbers of children experienced malnutrition resulting in stunted growth.

International human rights law makes clear all children have a right to free, compulsory, primary education. PNG’s ‘Tuition Fee Free (TFF)’ education policy was launched in 2012 but failed to deliver free education. In January 2021, the government ended the policy and announced that parents would be required to pay any gap in schooling costs.

Police abuse

Papua New Guinea police have a long record of violence with impunity, including against children. In September 2020, then police minister Bryan Kramer acknowledged that the police force has a “rampant culture of police ill-discipline and brutality.” Kramer said the government is taking steps to reform the police force without elaborating on those steps.

Despite the establishment of a police task force in 2018 to investigate unlawful conduct by police officers in Port Moresby, police violence continues, especially targeting those suspected of crimes.

Sexual orientation and gender identity

International human rights law establishes that matters of sexual orientation and gender identity, including consensual sexual relations, are protected under the right to privacy and the right to be protected against arbitrary and unlawful interference with, or attacks on, one’s private and family life and one’s reputation and dignity.

Same-sex relations are still punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment in PNG’s criminal code. While there is little information on convictions, the law is sometimes used as a pretext by officials and employers to harass or extort money from gay and lesbian people, including gay refugees.

Disability rights

PNG ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in September 2013 and has developed a National Policy on Disability (2015–25), yet people with disabilities are often unable to go to school or work because of lack of accessibility, stigma and other barriers.

PNG has limited data regarding people with disabilities. However, according to the World Health Organisation, 15% of the world’s population have a disability. This infers that an estimated 1.2 million people in PNG live with a disability out of a population of approximately nine million people.

In many cases, people with disabilities are prevented due to inaccessible infrastructure from leaving their homes. Access to mental health services are limited. Children with disabilities face abuse, discrimination, exclusion, lack of accessibility, and a wide range of barriers to education.

Refugee rights

The detention center on Manus Island closed in October 2017 after a PNG court ruled the detention facility was unconstitutional. Most of the refugees and asylum seekers were initially transferred to other facilities on the island, and in 2019 authorities transferred those remaining, approximately 120 men, to Port Moresby.

Hundreds of refugees have since moved to the United States for resettlement, and hundreds have been transferred to Australia for medical treatment. As of January 2021, 137 refugees and asylum seekers remained in PNG, transferred there by the Australian government since 2013. Refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea endure violence, threats, and harassment, with little protection from authorities.


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John Kuri

PNG is very good at launching elaborately worded policy documents with flashy covers. But when it comes to implementing them, it’s totally a different story. I just wonder how government is guided towards achieving the results in these policy documents. There are numerous, and I won’t mention them but one stands out. That is Objective No. 2 of the Papua New Guinea Strategy to Prevent and Respond to GBV 2016 - 2025. Stakeholders who are receiving funding are conducting outdated methods which focus on awareness, training, workshops etc…and not really targeting the root causes of Gender Based Violence. But then again how can current strategies employed have an impact when there is no data. According to Objective 2, the government (or Department of Community Development) should have a GBV database by now but doesn’t. It is 2021. There are is still time, but it begs the question, what the department was doing since then. Stakeholders seemed to believe that GBV is city centric. No data is coming in from the other rural districts because there is no way to collect data.

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