Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Silas Atopare
Head of government: Michael Somare (replaced Mekere Morauta in August)
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
International Criminal Court: not signed

Implementation of far-reaching agreements to resolve the Bougainville conflict progressed despite local setbacks. Allegations of police brutality persisted and two journalists were ill-treated by security forces. Hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers were arbitrarily detained in Australian-funded facilities.


Armed violence was a frequent response to political power struggles, corruption and the perceived unequal distribution of government benefits.

In March, soldiers opposing plans to reduce the size of the army took control of military barracks near Wewak, burning down buildings and seizing weapons. Their demands included the resignation of the government and the withdrawal of foreign aid agencies. Most were arrested after a two-week stand-off.

In June and July, national elections sparked an upsurge of violence, particularly in Highland provinces, which left an estimated 30 people dead. Police and polling stations were attacked and raided by armed clans. Districts affected by massive violence and electoral fraud were left without representatives in parliament.

In December, the Justice Minister, announcing a review of sentencing laws, indicated "drastic measures" might be used to ensure that the courts used existing death penalty provisions.


In March, parliament passed legislation allowing for autonomy in Bougainville and a referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea in 10 to 15 years' time. The army began withdrawing from the province and Bougainville leaders began drafting a provincial constitution which was expected to be circulated for public consultation in 2003.

Concern among some former combatants about the pace of economic and political rehabilitation slowed progress on disarmament in some districts. In November, a report to the national Cabinet detailed the theft of 212 weapons from containers deployed under a UN-assisted disarmament program. Traditional chiefs met with the head of the UN mission to Bougainville, which must certify completion of the critical second stage of disarmament, but were unsuccessful in supporting renewed efforts to meet a disarmament deadline extended to December 2002. The UN Security Council then discussed a final extension of the UN mission for one year.

Ill-treatment by security forces

In November, following continuing reports of illegal logging and violence in remote provinces, a parliamentary committee directed the National Forest Authority to investigate police violations of human rights against landowners opposing logging on their land. In December, Western Province Governor Robert Danaya claimed that police officers paid by logging companies had been videotaped beating a local villager.

In October, a soldier assaulted and intimidated a newspaper journalist at military barracks in Port Moresby. Reporter Robyn Sela said the soldier shook and threatened to kill her if she continued reporting on investigations into corruption. Other soldiers intervened but the soldier left the barracks unchallenged. Robyn Sela sought refuge with her family in a safehouse. A military spokesman later announced that the soldier would be brought to justice under military law, but by the end of the year no information was available on any steps taken to bring this about.

In November, armed police Mobile Squad officers in riot gear took journalist and academic Kevin Pamba to the back of the Jomba police station in Madang for questioning, hours after his newspaper reported on how police had evicted suspected squatters from their homes. The officers reportedly threatened to beat him and demanded a published apology and the names of the people who provided information and permitted him to take photographs of houses destroyed during the eviction. Kevin Pamba said that during his interrogation, officers tried to cut off his ear and repeatedly punched him in the head, causing cuts and bruising. He was released following the intervention of the Mobile Squad Commander. By the end of the year no one was known to have been brought to justice in connection with the incident, but a court ordered the suspension of the evictions.

Soldiers and Bougainville resistance fighters held responsible by a 1997 official inquiry for the death of Bougainville Premier Theodore Miriung continued to enjoy impunity.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

International human rights organizations, lawyers and humanitarian organizations were effectively denied the opportunity to examine conditions in an Australian-funded detention and processing centre for asylum-seekers and recognized refugees on Manus island, or to investigate reports of human rights violations at the centre.

In October, the government reversed its initial opposition to Australian requests to extend for another 12 months the agreement covering the centre, which is administered by the intergovernmental body, the International Organization for Migration.

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