(This report covers the period January-December 1997)

Four human rights activists were arrested and charged for their non-violent role in anti-government demonstrations. Ill-treatment by police continued to be reported. Possible extrajudicial executions continued to be reported on the island of Bougainville. In other parts of the country, at least five people were killed by police in suspicious circumstances or died in police custody. Three men were sentenced to death. No executions were carried out during the year. An armed secessionist group committed human rights abuses, including hostage-taking and deliberate and arbitrary killings.

In February it emerged that the government had recruited foreign mercenaries for deployment on the island of Bougainville, where the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (pngdf) and government-

backed paramilitary Resistance Forces continued fighting against the secessionist Bougainville Revolutionary Army (bra). In March domestic opposition to the planned use of mercenaries culminated in the pngdf Commander, Brigadier-General Jerry Singirok, calling on Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan to step down, and in large-scale protests, backed by pngdf soldiers loyal to the pngdf Commander, outside the National Parliament. In late March, the Prime Minister stepped down pending an inquiry into the hiring of the foreign mercenaries. The Prime Minister resumed power following completion of the inquiry, but national elections in June brought a new government, led by Prime Minister Bill Skate, to power. Brigadier-General Jerry Singirok was sacked as pngdf Commander and at the end of the year was facing charges of sedition; five soldiers were convicted on charges of mutiny in December and sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 10 years.

In October a truce was agreed by the government, the pngdf, the Bougainville Resistance Forces, the government-funded Bougainville Transitional Government, and the military leaders of the bra and its political party, the Bougainville Interim Government. The truce called for the respect of human rights and for neutral regional monitors of the cease-fire. In December defence and civilian personnel from neighbouring countries began arriving in Bougainville to monitor the truce which was holding at the end of the year. Plans for peace talks in 1998 made progress.

The new government announced that it would establish a National Commission on Human Rights, legislation for which had been prepared the previous year. Prime Minister Bill Skate stated that the proposed National Commission would consider human rights violations on Bougainville as a priority. In November, the Justice Minister announced that plans for the Commission had been postponed. He gave no indication of when the Commission would be established.

Restrictions on freedom of movement in Bougainville were lifted following the truce. It was not known whether previous restrictions on international human rights monitors would also be lifted.

In May a human rights lawyer and three human rights activists were detained and charged following their participation in demonstrations against the deployment of foreign mercenaries on Bougainville. The four men – Powes Parkop, Jonathan O'ata, John Kawowo and John Napu – were charged with unlawful assembly. At least one of the men was arrested without a warrant. All four appeared to have been charged for their non-violent role in protests against the government and the use of foreign mercenaries. The charges against the men were dropped in August, but in October, the charges were reinstated against Powes Parkop, John Napu and Jonathan O'ata. However, hearings related to the case were repeatedly postponed and the prosecution's case against the three men had still not been completed by the end of the year.

There were further reports of ill-treatment by the police, at times resulting in death. In February Guba Kevau was reportedly beaten in police custody in Boroko following his arrest for a curfew violation in the capital, Port Moresby. He was allegedly hit, punched and beaten with rifle butts. In May Jashihe Waniholo was awarded compensation after the National Court found that he had been beaten by police in custody in Boroko, Port Moresby, following his arrest in December 1995. Jashihe Waniholo was repeatedly beaten and thrown down on a concrete floor, as a result of which he suffered broken teeth, cuts and a dislocated shoulder. In March four police officers were suspended after allegedly beating to death a man arrested for suspected sorcery. It was not known if there had been an independent inquiry into the beating by police of William Tanka, Michael Peterson and Steve Pokua in June 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

There was a significant drop in the number of reports of "disappearances" on Bougainville. There was no information as to the whereabouts of Peter Ugua who "disappeared" after arrest by the pngdf in 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

There was a dramatic decline in the number of extrajudicial executions reported on Bougainville. In February a man linked to the bra, who allegedly shot dead a member of the Resistance Forces and a civilian, was arrested and then reportedly shot dead by the security forces in Kokopau.

The police announced that they were intending to investigate several incidents in which people were reportedly shot dead by police in other areas of the country. In March, police in Chimbu Province announced that they would investigate the death of a man reportedly shot by police. The outcome of the inquiry was not known by the end of the year. In May Golden Sasaviro was reportedly shot dead by police in the Asaro Valley, Eastern Highlands. The police announced an investigation into the incident but the outcome was not known by the end of the year

While investigations appeared to have been initiated into some cases of possible human rights violations, others remained unresolved. There was no information concerning progress in the investigation into the death of Mathew Fugo who was shot by police in 1996, despite the announcement of a police inquiry (see Amnesty International Report 1997). Nor was there any information about inquiries initiated into "disappearances" and killings by the security forces on Bougainville in previous years.

There was no progress in the investigation into the killing of former Bougainville Transitional Government Premier, Theodore Miriung. No member of the security forces had been charged by the end of the year, despite a coroner's inquiry which concluded that Theodore Miriung had been killed by members of the Resistance Forces and the pngdf. No other investigations were conducted into past violations on Bougainville, such as the killing of 14 civilians, including children, by the security forces in southwest Bougainville in December 1996.

Three men – Steven Ima Loke, Charles Kaona and Greg Wawa Kavoa – were sentenced to death in February for the rape and wilful murder of a woman in December 1995. The men appealed to the Supreme Court, but the outcome of their appeal was not known by the end of the year. No executions were carried out during the year.

On Bougainville, the bra committed human rights abuses, including hostage-taking and deliberate and arbitrary killings. In July five members of the security forces taken hostage by the bra in September 1996 were released unharmed (see Amnesty International Report 1997). In June John Momis, a representative for Bougainville in the National Parliament, was taken hostage by the bra which demanded a large ransom and the withdrawal of government soldiers from Bougainville for his release. The bra dropped their demands and he was released two weeks later. In June the bra reportedly killed one of their own commanders who advocated disarmament on Bougainville.

In February Amnesty International launched a major report, Papua New Guinea: Bougainville – the forgotten human rights tragedy, which documented human rights violations by the government security forces and abuses by the bra. The report called on the government and the bra to take immediate steps to prevent further abuses. In March Amnesty International wrote an open letter to the then Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, expressing concern that the deployment of foreign mercenaries on Bougainville could contribute to human rights violations. In May Amnesty International called on the authorities to drop the charges against four men detained and facing trial for their non-violent role in demonstrations against the government.

This 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.