U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Papua New Guinea

PAPUA NEW GUINEA   Papua New Guinea (PNG) comprises some 1,000 tribes and over 800 distinct languages in a population of about 4 million. It has a federal parliamentary system, based on universal adult suffrage with periodic free and fair elections, and an independent judiciary. The Government has constitutional authority over the armed forces (PNGDF), the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC), and intelligence organizations. Government security forces committed serious human rights abuses in 1995. Exploitation of such natural resources as minerals, hydrocarbons, and tropical timber generates significant export and tax revenues. However, 85 percent of the population reside in isolated villages and engage in subsistence and smallholder agriculture. For a majority of the citizens, income and literacy are at a low level, and infant and maternal mortality rates are high. The Government continued to place major emphasis on the resolution of the 6-year-old secessionist movement on the island of Bougainville. Following a cease-fire with the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) in September 1994 (which the BRA later repudiated), the number of human rights abuses associated with the conflict dropped significantly. However, the BRA continued to launch sporadic attacks on government and civilian targets in 1995, despite a general amnesty offered by the Prime Minister in May. Both the Government and BRA forces continued to commit serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings and physical abuse. The Government promised to investigate some members of the armed forces for such abuses, but no results were released. Besides the conflict with the BRA, there continued to be credible reports that security forces abused prisoners and detainees, sometimes resulting in death in custody. The Government on occasion investigated alleged instances of abuse or prosecuted those believed responsible. Prison conditions remained poor, and the Government limits freedom of assembly. Extensive discrimination and violence against women, and ethnically motivated tribal violence remained serious problems.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Security forces committed a number of extrajudicial killings, most often as a result of use of excessive force. In some instances, the authorities punished the officers responsible for such abuses. In August a joint police-PNGDF patrol shot and killed a student near the front gate of the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby following a confrontation with a group of students. Reacting to student protests, the Prime Minister ordered a probe of the killing, but at year's end the results of the probe had not been made public. Following a police raid on a village in Western Highlands province in May, in July three members of a police mobile squad were charged with murder, and the squad leader, an inspector, and two other policemen were charged with unlawful assault. In March a court sentenced a police sergeant to 5 years of hard labor for the July 1994 death of a suspect while in police custody. In Bougainville two former BRA members and five village chiefs were sentenced to terms of 10 to 20 years for the 1990 killing of a local villager. The PNGDF is believed responsible for the deaths of three youths and disappearance of another in Bougainville at the end of 1994. Although the PNGDF commander publicly promised a full investigation in March, at year's end its progress was uncertain. The Government has not investigated previous security force atrocities in the Bougainville conflict or brought perpetrators to justice, thus perpetuating the climate of impunity. With the Prime Minister's announced general amnesty for BRA crimes in May, it is unlikely the Government will investigate past instances of abuse by the armed forces, the worst of which took place in 1989 and 1990. Despite the Government's general adherence to the September 1994 cease-fire, BRA insurgents continued to launch sporadic attacks against civilians and security forces, which resulted in several deaths. In February the BRA claimed responsibility for shooting at a commercial commuter aircraft as it was taking off from a local airfield; one passenger was killed and another wounded. A series of ambushes and raids in August left several security and progovernment militia force personnel dead. Two young boys abducted in one BRA raid were later killed (see Section 1.b.).

b. Disappearance

In January the brother of an ex-BRA commander disappeared, possibly the victim of a feud among rival militias. In March the BRA claimed that PNG security forces and progovernment militias were still abducting secessionists. A series of BRA raids in August led to several abductions: two boys ages 9 and 11 were taken from the Manetai Community School, and several civilians were missing following a BRA raid on the Stemas Care Center. The Government did not make public the results of its investigation into the disappearance of a youth in Bougainville at the end of 1994 (see Section 1.a.).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution forbids torture and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment. Nonetheless, some PNG soldiers and police, as well as BRA insurgents, continued to engage in such practices. For example, the PNGDF admitted that soldiers on Bougainville in September mistreated a priest whom they wanted to question concerning the whereabouts of a suspected ex-BRA member. The priest was struck with a blunt instrument and seriously injured. The PNGDF later denied claims that the priest had been refused medical attention and failed to indicate whether disciplinary action would be taken against those involved. The courts took action to address some instances of past abuse. For example, in January a court awarded a Mount Hagen province man approximately $20,000 in damages following its determination that the police had unjustifiably shot him in 1992. In another case, a court awarded approximately $300,000 to villagers in Western Highlands province for an illegal raid, conducted jointly by police and the PNGDF in 1991. In August a former Highlands police commander was found guilty of assaulting a woman and received a suspended 6-month sentence. The commander and four other senior police officers were suspended from the force pending investigation of a coverup. The BRA committed a number of serious abuses, including beatings of villagers (see Section 1.g.). Prison conditions remain poor, and facilities are severely overcrowded and understaffed. Medical care is frequently lacking and one prison commander complained publicly in August that the Government had "seriously failed" to provide for the health care needs of prisoners throughout the country. The Correctional Services Act of 1995 attempts to address correctional training needs, and the Government, with the assistance of foreign donors, conducted an in-service commissioning course for noncommissioned officers in September. Prison visits are permitted and diplomatic officers on occasion made such visits. The Government also permits visits by human rights monitors, although none requested permission to do so in 1995.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The courts generally enforce constitutional protections against arbitrary arrest and detention. However, the protections have been weakened by the 1993 Internal Security Act (ISA) and amendments to existing anticrime legislation which no longer require judicially issued warrants when authorities suspect a person has committed an ISA offense or certain other offenses. Under 1993 amendments to the Bail Act and the Criminal Code, only National or Supreme Court judges may grant bail in certain criminal cases involving firearms. In all other cases, bail may be granted unless the judge rules otherwise. Those under arrest have the right to legal counsel, to be informed of charges, and to have their arrests subjected to judicial review. Given the relative shortage of police and judicial resources and an exceptionally high crime rate, pretrial detention periods can be long, particularly in rural areas. However, pretrial remand is subject to strict judicial review through continuing pretrial consultations, especially at the National Court level. Nonetheless, cases are frequently delayed for months awaiting the results of police investigations. The Constitution prohibits exile and it is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the courts are independent of executive, legislative, and military authorities. The legal system is based on English common law. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal and holds original jurisdiction on Constitutional matters. The National Court hears most cases and appeals from the lower district courts established at the provincial level. There are also village courts headed by lay persons, who judge minor offenses under both customary and statutory law. The Constitution provides for due process, including a public trial, and the court system generally enforces these provisions. Defendants have the right to an attorney. Legal counsel is provided either by the public solicitor's office or by the Law Society on recommendation of the public solicitor's office for those accused of serious offenses and unable to afford counsel. "Serious offenses" are generally defined as felony charges or any case heard in either the National or district court (as opposed to the village or magistrate courts). Defendants and their attorneys may confront witnesses, present evidence, plead cases, and appeal convictions. There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

While the authorities generally respect privacy rights, police in the highlands have burned homes to quell intertribal conflict and punish communities suspected of harboring suspected criminals. Some communities have sought redress through the courts. For example, in June the National Court in Mount Hagen awarded $42,000 to villagers for property damage resulting from a July 1993 police raid. Police continued to conduct warrantless searches and seizures.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

Following the September 1994 cease-fire with the BRA, the armed conflict decreased significantly. However, the BRA later disavowed the cease-fire and continued insurgent activities in 1995 (see Section 1.a.). In July and August the BRA launched a series of ambushes and attacks against government-held areas in which members of the security forces, progovernment militia, and civilians were killed or wounded, and property--including a newly constructed district office building--was burned or destroyed. BRA members also blocked a church-sponsored peace march, firing shots to disperse marchers who had sought to enter BRA-held territory. In response, the Government threatened to terminate the cease-fire. Peace talks were held in September and December between representatives of the Bougainville Transitional Government and representatives of the BRA and its self-styled Bougainville Interim Government (BIG). Toward the end of the year, despite the peace talks, the level of violence began to rise, most--though not all--of the increase in violence was by the BRA. Several civilians and members of the security forces were killed, dampening hopes that the talks would lead to a peaceful resolution of the 6-year-old crisis.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for free speech, including freedom of the media, and the Government generally respects this freedom in practice. The media provided independent coverage and analysis of major controversies, including the ongoing insurrection on Bougainville and the legal problems of senior government ministers. The two daily newspapers and the two weeklies--one of which began publishing in May--compete aggressively. One of the dailies is owned by a Malaysian firm, which has invested heavily in PNG's timber industry; the newspaper publishes little on the controversial subjects of logging and forestry but is generally independent and unbiased on other issues. The television-broadcasting company, EM-TV, is also independent. Journalists are required to obtain permission from the Defense Force commander before traveling to Bougainville. In one instance of censorship in July, the government media adviser instructed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) not to run a radio program on which a panel of prominent government critics were to discuss provincial government reforms. The Prime Minister later defended this action, saying that the NBC's objective was to promote national unity. Although the NBC receives its funding from the Government, it usually maintained an independent line in its news broadcasts. The courts occasionally tried citizens and foreigners under those provisions of the Censorship Act which ban the import, broadcast, or publication of materials deemed pornographic according to Papua New Guinea's rather strict Censorship Code. The usual sentence for violations is confiscation and destruction of restricted goods, although the courts can legally impose a fine of $17 or more, or a prison sentence of up to 2 years. In March the Censorship Board ordered newsstands to remove copies of Cosmopolitan and Cleo magazines as both had "gone against the nature of decency" in several of their issues.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Private associations and public assemblies are legal. The Government does not require registration of associations. International affiliation of church and civic groups is also freely permitted. Public demonstrations require police approval; however, such permission is frequently denied on the grounds that such activities encourage bystanders to engage in vandalism and violence. Although denied such a permit in March, university students nonetheless conducted a demonstration against the proposed increase in parliamentarians' electoral development funds. The Police Commissioner publicly warned that illegal demonstrations would not be tolerated and dispatched armed police to the planned demonstration site. The students' march was conducted peacefully, and confrontation was avoided when the Government announced that it would receive the students' petition.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution contains provisions for freedom of religion, and the Government respects them in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

PNG security forces no longer require travelers to Buka to obtain permits. Government approval is still required to travel to Bougainville for those not from the island. Otherwise, freedom of movement within and outside the country is not restricted. The Government has not applied sections of the ISA left standing by the Supreme Court which authorize the Government to exclude from any part of the country anyone convicted under the Act or likely to commit an offense under its provisions. The Government hosts around 9,000 refugees from Irian Jaya, the neighboring province of Indonesia. Approximately 6,000--many of whom have land or kinship ties with Papua New Guineans--live along the border just inside Papua New Guinea. While Papua New Guinea recognizes Irian Jaya as an integral part of Indonesia, the Government nonetheless grants asylum to qualified refugees. There were no known forced repatriations of Irian Jayans to Indonesia. The Government continued to cooperate with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to manage the remaining 3,600 refugees remaining in the camp at East Awin.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change their Government

Citizens freely exercise the right to change their government through direct elections with a secret ballot and universal adult suffrage. The voters elect a unicameral Parliament made up of 109 members from all 19 provinces and the Port Moresby National Capital District. Any citizen can stand for election, and several foreign-born citizens sit in Parliament. With a multiplicity of small parties, coalition governments tend to be weak and shifting; none has yet survived its 5-year electoral mandate. The next general election will be held in 1997. Although there are no legal barriers to their participation in political life, women are underrepresented in senior positions in government and politics. There are no women in the Cabinet or in Parliament.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no official barriers to the formation of human rights groups in Papua New Guinea. While the PNG Association for Human Rights, formed in 1992, has been relatively inactive, the Individual and Community Rights Advocacy Forum, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), became increasingly active in 1995. It concentrated its efforts on human rights and the environment. NGO's exercised their right to comment on human rights issues in the media without any known governmental interference or retribution. An NGO-sponsored "parallel forum," conducted in Madang in conjunction with the 16-nation South Pacific Forum in September, discussed human rights issues in Irian Jaya. Although initially the organizers were denied a permit to demonstrate, permission was later granted. The Government continued its consideration of forming an independent human rights commission which would investigate abuses on Bougainville and elsewhere, or alternatively, having such abuses come under the jurisdiction of the existing Ombudsman Commission. While the Ombudsman Commission has devoted its efforts to investigating official corruption, its charter already is sufficiently broad to investigate discrimination and human rights abuses. At year's end the Government announced that it was creating a human rights commission. Based on his representative's fact-finding visit to the area, the U.N. Secretary General concluded that human rights violations had substantially decreased since the September 1994 cease-fire, and he decided not to appoint a special representative to investigate abuses. The U.N. Human Rights Commission adopted a resolution noting favorably the actions taken so far toward peace; expressing concern that the BRA had not participated in the October 1994 peace conference on Bougainville; and urging all parties to pursue a dialog towards a cessation of hostilities, restoration of peace, and promotion of human rights. The Government invited the Commission to visit PNG. In October BRA leaders rejected a visit by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary Execution who had traveled to PNG at the invitation of the Government.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides for equal protection under the law irrespective of race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, color, creed, religion, or sex. Despite these constitutional and other legal guarantees, women often face discrimination. Extreme ethnic and geographic diversity prevents any one tribe or clan from dominating the country. The democratically elected government, based on loose coalitions, has consistently avoided favoring one group over another.


Violence against women, including domestic violence and gang rape, is a serious and prevalent problem. While ostensibly protected by their families and clans, women are nonetheless often victims of violence and force. Traditional village deterrents are breaking down, and the number of reported cases of rape in some areas is rising. Although rape is punishable by imprisonment, and sentences are handed out when assailants are found guilty, few assailants are apprehended. Domestic violence such as wife-beating is also common, but is usually viewed by police and citizenry alike as a private family matter. Violence committed by women against women frequently stems from domestic problems, and, where polygynous marriages are still customary, there has been an increase in the number of women charged with the murder of another of their husbands' wives. The Constitution and laws have provisions for extensive rights for women dealing with family, marriage, and property issues. Some women in the modern sector have achieved senior positions in the professions, business, and civil service. Nonetheless, traditional patterns of discrimination against women persist. Despite constitutional and legal provisions, most women, even those in urban areas, are considered second-class citizens. Village courts tend to enforce traditional attitudes and values that oppress both women and youth. For example, village court justices tend to be overly severe on women by imposing jail terms on those found guilty of adultery, while penalizing men lightly or not at all. Circuit-riding national court justices frequently annul such village court sentences. Polygyny, a customary practice among some societies, particularly in the Highlands, and the custom of paying bride-price serve to reinforce a view of women as property. Both the Government and public organizations are working to improve the status of women but have had limited results. The Government provides a grant to the National Council of Women and has instituted an Office of Women's Affairs in the Department of Youth, Home Affairs, and Religion.


The Government did not dedicate significant resources to protect the rights and welfare of children. More than 40 percent of the population is under the age of 16. In PNG's traditional clan system, children are generally cared for within the extended family, in accordance with financial resources and the tribe's access to services. Because of the geographic isolation and remoteness of many villages, malnourishment and infant and maternal mortality rates are very high. Although statistics are not available, welfare officers believe that child abuse is increasing as village life and the extended family give way to the influences of modern society. Most programs to protect and develop youth are operated by NGO's and religious organizations. Many government programs are severely underfunded.

People with Disabilities

Through the National Board for the Disabled, the Government provides limited funding to more than a dozen NGO's that provide services to the disabled. The Government does not provide direct programs or services. Services and health care for the disabled, except for that provided by the traditional family and clan system, do not exist in several of the country's provinces. No legislation mandates accessibility for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The right to form and join labor unions is protected by law, subject to registration by the Department of Labor. While the Government does not use registration as a form of control over unions, an unregistered union has no legal standing with the Department of Labor or before the courts and, accordingly, cannot operate effectively. Unionized workers account for about one-half of the 250,000 wage earners in the formal economy and are organized into some 50 trade unions. Most of the unions representing private-sector workers are associated with the Trade Unions Congress. Unions are independent of the Government and of political parties. They may freely affiliate with international organizations. Both public- and private-sector unions exercised their legal right to strike in 1995.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides for the right to engage in collective bargaining and to join industrial organizations. These rights are exercised freely. The Government did not take action to amend a law criticized by the International Labor Organization in 1994 which gives the Government discretionary power to cancel arbitration awards or declare wage agreements void when they are contrary to government policy. Antiunion discrimination by employers against union members and organizers is prohibited by law. The Department of Labor and Employment and the courts are involved in dispute settlement. Wages over and above the minimum wage are set through negotiations between employers and employees or their respective industrial organizations. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution forbids slavery and all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and there were no reports of such practices.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum working age, as established in the Employment Act, is 18 years. However, children between the ages of 11 and 18 may be employed in family related work provided they have parental permission, a medical clearance, and a work permit from a labor office. Such employment is rare, except in subsistence agriculture.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages for the private sector are set by the Minimum Wage Board, a quasi-governmental body with worker and employer representation. A 1992 determination reduced the minimum wage for newly hired urban workers significantly, to equal the minimum wage for rural workers. The minimum wage of about $17.00 per week (kina 22.96) would not support a decent standard of living for a worker and family who exist solely on the cash economy. The Department of Labor and Employment and the courts take steps to enforce the minimum wage law, but enforcement is not effective because of the lack of resources. The depreciation of the kina against the U.S. dollar, about 30 percent since September 1994, has reduced the real wage received by most workers. Minimum wage levels, allowances, rest periods, holidays, leave, and overtime are regulated by law. The workweek is limited by law to 42 hours (44 in rural areas). The law provides for at least one rest period of 24 consecutive hours in every week. Enforcement of the Industrial Health and Safety Law and related regulations is the responsibility of the Department of Labor and Employment. The law requires that inspections take place on a regular basis, but, due to a shortage of inspectors, they occur only when requested by workers or unions. The ability of workers to remove themselves from hazardous conditions varies by workplace. Where workers are unionized, there is some measure of protection in such situations.

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