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Sepik killings must trigger urgent logging reform

Logs cut from pristine forest  Sepik River (Global Witness)
Logs cut from pristine forest, Sepik River (Global Witness)


NOOSA - Prominent church, environmental and community organisations have demanded that the Papua New Guinea government take urgent action to establish an independent review of the country’s forestry sector following the killings of two landowners and a policeman at a logging site.

Johnson Wapunai, the member for Ambunti-Drekikir, told the PNG parliament that the incident arose from landowners’ anger at illegal logging and the logging company’s use of police against them.

PNG Post-Courier, 19 January 2022

Mr Wapunai called on the police minister and police commissioner to explain the use of police on forestry projects where they work on behalf of logging companies.

In a joint statement, eight leading organisations, including the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights, Caritas PNG and the Institute of National Affairs, said the deaths were an outcome of broader issues within the forestry sector that PNG leaders need to address urgenty.

“This tragedy further unveils larger issues of exploitation and suffering by the people of PNG in the natural resource industry,” the statement said.

“The country needs to reassess its approach to management of natural resources so it better understands the causes of conflict and finds solutions that respect and protect the rights of our people and their environment.

“Illegal logging is well documented across the country,” they said, adding that there is a long history of police acting for logging companies.

“We are concerned that logging companies continue to use the police force to inflict violence against the very people the police are supposed to protect – the traditional landowners, who rely on their forests for their livelihood.”

While previous police commissioners had called for an end to police being stationed at logging camps but the problem continued unabated.

This meant that, when landowners’ human rights are violated, “they are left cornered with little to no protection under the laws of the land”.

The logging industry in PNG and accomplices within the government have long been the focus of inquiries, investigations and reports that consistently identified widespread corruption, fraud, exploitation of landowners and serious environmental damage.

In January, PNG Attitude reported that the public had been repeatedly misled by the government over illegal land grabs in PNG which now represented “a mass theft encompassing more than five million hectares of land, 12% of the country”.

But, despite many commitments to take corrective action, illegal practices have persisted and approvals continue to be made for large forest areas to be cleared and permanently lost while long-term social, environmental and economic benefits are lost forever.

The organisations called on prime minister James Marape, who is facing elections mid-year, to finish his first term by initiating a public inquiry by an independent committee “into the integrity of the forestry sector, allegations of illegal logging and the serious and prolonged human rights breaches” at logging sites throughout the country.

They said the government must take back customary land by nullifying illegal leases, stopping illegal log exports, issuing no new forest clearing authorities and nullifying existing authorities found to be illegal.

The organisations also want parties that illegally issued leases and authorities to pay compensation and restore the areas affected.

“The killings demand immediate responses,” they said, “but these responses must go beyond police investigation to addressing the root causes that are seriously affecting the lives of customary landowners.

“This must be done to prevent such future tragedy in the Sepik region and around the country.”


The statement is authorised by:

Peter Bosip, Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights Inc
John Tagai Kuange, Assistant Country Director, Wildlife Conservation Society
Paul Barker, Executive Director, PNG Institute of National Affairs
Cosmas Makamet, Manager, Forest for Certain Forest for Life
Sangion Appiee Tiu PhD, Director, Research & Conservation Foundation of PNG
Kenn Mondiai, Executive Director, Partners With Melanesia
David Mitchell, Director, Eco Custodian Advocates
Mavis Tito, Director, Caritas PNG


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Stephen Charteris

Yes this practice has been ongoing for decades. All part of the divide and rule that exploiters quickly learn work so well in PNG.

Doesn't take them long to find out that loyalty can be bought and so long as the policemen in question come from another province, some will have no compunction shooting local landowners on the understanding they are not MY relatives.

As for the government. Again an example that shows the common good doesn't quite extend to the 'little people'. Sori tru, nothing to see here folks. Now where did I put those logging bank account details.

The Special Agricultural Business Lease (SABL) debacle reeks of Bolsonaro's clearance of the Amazon. Same tactics, same consequences for people, biodiversity and the planet. Interestingly we don't have to look as far as Brazil. It's happening right here on our very own doorstep to a member of our "Pacific family".

But hey, before we get too high up mount moral high ground, remember we did exactly the same thing here and Sorry is such a hard word to say isn't it Mr Howard?

Harry Topham

Whilst no one having any sensibilities would condone violence of any sort, it would seem that when the normal process of righting wrongs through normal channels, including the legal process, has failed it is understandable that some people could quite easily be tempted to resort to violence.

Sometimes violent outcomes are inevitable and perhaps the only message to those crooks and gangsters who are exploiting others would understand is when some of them find their return to their home country is as baggage in the cargo hold rather than a seat in first class.

Lindsay F Bond

Rout em out, rout em out, roll em loggin's wot yer about,
Round em up, round em up, act on laws or looz yer plots.
Round log rout, routes round laws so weak, yer Nation's lost.

Sad is is that Tommy Baker and his entourage were depleting resources of PNG police at Milne Bay Province while PNG police were enticed to support businesses that are so openly defying PNG laws.

Question for PNG voters is, who will safeguard PNG lands, resources and sovereignty.

Philip Fitzpatrick

The use of police by resource developers is a long-standing practise. It has been going on for years in the mining and petroleum sectors.

The companies pay the cops much more than their usual salaries, so who can blame them.

It is a tactic also used by dictatorships, of course.

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