Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 07:52 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 - Papua New Guinea

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 1 July 2010
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 - Papua New Guinea, 1 July 2010, available at: [accessed 13 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Papua New Guinea has one of the most heterogeneous populations in the world, with more than 800 languages spoken among its 6.2 million people, according to the World Bank database. The overwhelming majority of the population are Christian, although traditional beliefs remain very strong, and reports of religious discrimination are rare. Baha'is form the second-largest religious group, with local leaders claiming up to 40,000 followers. There are a few thousand Muslims, including increasing numbers of converts.

Unrest overtook more than half a dozen of Papua New Guinea's major towns in May 2009, after a dispute between local and Chinese migrant workers at a nickel refinery site near the northern town of Madang led tens of thousands of New Guineans to take to the streets in a wave of anti-Chinese protests and riots. Diplomats reported that nine Chinese-run businesses had been looted, while three rioters were shot dead and one trampled to death in the turmoil, according to The Australian newspaper. Ethnic Chinese have been present in Papua New Guinea since the nineteenth century, but migrant numbers have grown rapidly over the past decade. They are now estimated to comprise around 20,000 people, or 0.3 per cent of the population. Some have set up small goods shops and fast food outlets, which make them a highly visible presence in New Guinean towns. Many indigenous New Guineans believe these businesses undercut locally owned rivals and claim that their owners have obtained work permits fraudulently. Around half a dozen ethnic Chinese have been killed over the past decade by indigenous employees alone. The unrest echoed similar violence against Chinese businesses in the neighbouring Solomon Islands and in Tonga in 2006.

Papua New Guinea's highly diverse population means that there is no single dominant ethnic or linguistic group, although outside their own communities indigenous New Guineans can become marginalized. A strong tradition of land ownership and widespread poverty means that migrants from rural areas frequently end up in squatter settlements on the fringes of large towns. These are popularly regarded as encouraging crime and disease, and are regularly bulldozed by police. Parts of the Five Mile settlement in the capital Port Moresby were razed in June 2009, and further demolitions were carried out in the suburbs of Four Mile and Hohola the following month, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported. Local media quoted residents claiming that food, goods and money were taken during the raids. Police also demolished squatter settlements around the Porgera gold mine in the New Guinea highlands in April. The facility is owned by Barrick, the world's largest gold mining company. The company says the squatters were carrying out illegal mining, but local groups say that most were forced to pan tailings due to degradation of their land. Plans to remove camps around the highlands town of Goroka were also announced in September 2009, although they had not been carried out by year's end.

Sporadic violence between clans continued through the year, particularly in Enga and Eastern Highlands provinces. Such tit-for-tat violence has historically been common in the New Guinea highlands, although political rivalries and the relatively recent introduction of guns are thought to have worsened the situation over the past few decades.

Inter-clan sexual violence is also a common trigger for such feuds, and the UNICEF has reported that Papua New Guinea has one of the world's highest rates of sexual violence. Traditional practices that relegate women 'to the status of chattel', according to UNICEF, contribute to rape going under-reported. Women are also excluded from political participation at all levels. In March, the government's sports minister, Dame Carol Kidu, introduced a bill to increase women's presence in national politics by adding three appointed female representatives to the 109-member parliament. The measure failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority to pass. Dame Carol Kidu is the only woman in the national parliament.

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