Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2018, 15:01 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Papua New Guinea

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 6 July 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Papua New Guinea, 6 July 2011, available at: [accessed 18 February 2018]
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.

With around 840 distinct living languages, Papua New Guinea is the most ethnically diverse state in the world. There is no precise data regarding the total number of ethnic groups in Papua New Guinea, but estimates are in the region of 5,000-7,000 separate groups, in a total population of just over 5 million.

Papua New Guinea was considered for the first time by the CEDAW committee in July 2010. The CEDAW committee noted the severe disadvantages faced by women in a range of areas, including in education, participation in public life and decision-making, and in the persistence of violence against women. The CEDAW committee further expressed its serious concern regarding the persistence of harmful practices relating to the roles, responsibilities and identities of women and men in all spheres of life. These include polygamy, bride price (baim meri), and the custom of including women as part of compensation payment.


Papua New Guinea accounted for more than 99 per cent of reported HIV cases in the Oceania region as of 2007, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Aids Factsheet. Out of Papua New Guinea's population of 6.5 million people, 1.5 per cent have been infected with the virus, leading to warnings of an epidemic. The CEDAW committee noted that women and girls are disproportionately affected by HIV, accounting for 60 per cent of the people living with HIV. Girls and women are infected at a younger age than boys and men, with twice as many women as men infected between the ages of 15 and 29 years. Girls between 15 and 19 years of age have the highest rate of HIV infection in the country, four times that of boys in the same age bracket. Gender-based violence is also one of the leading factors in the increased rates of HIV infection among women, the CEDAW committee noted. Violence against women and girls increases their vulnerability to HIV, and women who disclose are often then subject to further violence due to their status.

Barrick Gold

Private security personnel employed at a gold mine in Papua New Guinea have been implicated in alleged gang rapes and other violent assaults against Papua New Guinean women. The Porgera mine is operated and 95 per cent owned by Barrick Gold, a Canadian company that is the world's largest gold producer. The mine accounts for 12 per cent of Papua New Guinea's export earnings. Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented five alleged incidents of gang rape by mine security personnel in 2009 and 2010, and a sixth in 2008, in an extensive report on the matter published in early 2011. While Barrick was traditionally very hostile to any criticism by human rights groups about their operations in Papua New Guinea, more recently the company has shown signs of a tangible shift toward more serious engagement with human rights concerns. In particular, the company has attempted to incorporate the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (a set of non-binding principles for companies, developed in 2000 with the input of national governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multinational companies) into the operations of the mine. However, HRW stated that Barrick's efforts have fallen short of what is required by the Voluntary Principles.


Environmental concerns also continue to plague the peoples of Papua New Guinea. A satellite analysis conducted by scientists at the University of Papua New Guinea and Australian National University shows that the country has been losing about 1,400 square miles of rain forest, or about 1.4 per cent of its total forest cover, each year, with estimates indicating that 83 per cent of the country's accessible forest – and 53 per cent of its total forested area – will be gone or severely damaged by 2021. Deforestation affects local communities in myriad ways, among them their abilities to maintain their traditional ways of life, including hunter-gathering practices and cultural activities.

Further concern has been voiced regarding the world's first deep-sea mineral mine in Papua New Guinea waters. Indigenous peoples and scientists fear it will damage local marine life. The project, entitled Solwara 1, is located at 1,600 metres depth in the Bismarck Sea, Papua New Guinea, and will be run by Canadian company Nautilus Minerals, which was granted its environmental permit in January 2011. An independent scientific review of the environmental impact assessment of the proposed project concluded, however, that the assessment was inadequate, and that the mining will result in severe and prolonged environmental damage.

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