Amnesty International Report 1999 - Papua New Guinea

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Ill-treatment by members of the security forces continued to be reported. Prison conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment were highlighted after rioting and mass escapes by prisoners. There were reports that at least five people were shot dead by police in disputed circumstances.

Significant progress was made towards resolving the armed conflict on the island of Bougainville, where the October 1997 truce appeared to be holding (see Amnesty International Report 1998). In January the Papua New Guinea government, the Bougainville Transitional Government, the Bougainville Resistance Forces, the Bougainville Interim Government, community leaders and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army jointly announced the "Lincoln Agreement" in New Zealand, which formalized steps towards peace on Bougainville, including a formal cease-fire signed in April. The agreement included plans for the gradual withdrawal of Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) personnel from Bougainville during the restoration of civil authority, a return to civilian policing, and democratic elections for a provincial Bougainville Reconciliation Government. Parties to the meeting also agreed "to renounce the use of armed forces and violence" and to respect "human rights and the rule of law".

In April the UN Security Council issued a Presidential Statement supporting the "Lincoln Agreement" and the development of a UN peace monitoring mission as requested in the agreement. A UN office was established in Bougainville. In June the government announced the withdrawal of PNGDF forces from the capital of Bougainville, Arawa, and other parts of the island, and the restoration of the national and village court system. In December, however, parliament twice failed to pass legislation necessary for the holding of provincial elections in Bougainville.

In a move linked to the peace process in Bougainville, an advisory "Committee on the Power of Mercy" was reportedly re-established in September. The Committee was to investigate and make recommendations on appeals from prisoners to be released or to have their sentences reduced.

There was no substantial progress in the establishment of a National Commission on Human Rights announced by the government in 1997 (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

Charges of sedition against the PNGDF Commander, Brigadier-General Jerry Singirok, dismissed in 1997 for his role in preventing the planned use of foreign mercenaries in the Bougainville conflict and for calling on former Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan to step down, were suspended during judicial inquiries into the affair (see Amnesty International Report 1998). The second of two judicial inquiries found in October that he had not tried to overthrow the previous government, but had acted unlawfully in seeking to expel the mercenaries. Brigadier-General Singirok was reappointed as Commander, but the sedition charges were reinstated in November.

Ill-treatment by the security forces continued to be reported. In June at least 20 people were reportedly injured and some ill-treated when approximately 100 armed police officers fired tear gas at students to break up non-violent demonstrations at the University of Papua New Guinea Waigani Campus. Police defended their action by saying they could not wait for more than an hour until students removed a roadblock to prevent access to the campus.

In May a group of women publicly expressed concern about police use of force during arrests, alleging that officers in Port Moresby had used a sledgehammer to hit the leg of a suspect they had already arrested. In August Louis Mark and Andrew Aubu alleged they were beaten by police and whipped with a bamboo branch after officers stopped them for questioning. In September there were reports that several people had lodged formal complaints of police ill-treatment during the police's "Operation Sweep" in Manus island, ahead of an international sports competition there.

Severe and prolonged shortages of food contributed to rioting and mass escapes of prisoners, including at Bomana Prison near the capital, Port Moresby, and at Kerevat Jail in East New Britain province. An official investigation was opened.

Reports in August cited complaints about the killing of five criminal suspects in disputed circumstances by police officers at Tabubil and Laloki. At least one of them was reportedly shot in the back by police who claimed they were pursuing armed suspects shooting at officers. One police officer was suspended from duty when investigations began into the death of a villager who died in September after police reportedly fired three shots to disperse men who were fighting in Kagua, Southern Highlands Province.

Amnesty International continued to monitor developments in Bougainville and reports of human rights violations by police in other provinces.

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