Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
PAPUA NEW GUINEAPapua New Guinea (PNG) comprises some 1,000 tribes and over 800distinct 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 has an independent judiciary. Serious disorder erupted in March. PNGDF Commander Brigadier General Jerry Singirok called on then Prime Minister Julius Chan and Vice Prime Minister Chris Haiveta to resign, following disclosure of a plan to hire foreign mercenaries from the company Sandline International in the Bougainville conflict. Looting and demonstrations took place, and both PNGDF troops and civilian protesters surrounded Parliament. Prime Minister Chan stepped down temporarily but resumed his position after being cleared of wrongdoing by a commission of inquiry. He lost his parliamentary seat in July national elections, and a new government headed by Prime Minister Bill Skate took office. The Government has constitutional authority over the Defense Force (PNGDF), the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC), and intelligence organizations. Government security forces committed serious human rights abuses. Exploitation of such natural resources as minerals, hydrocarbons, and tropical timber, and production of tree crops such as coffee, cocoa, and copra, generate significant export and tax revenues. However, 85 percent of the population resides in isolated villages, and engages in subsistence and smallholder agriculture. For a majority of citizens, income and literacy are at a low level, and infant and maternal mortality rates are high. The Government's human rights record remained the same. Killings and kidnapings by both sides in the 9-year secessionist insurgency on Bougainville continued, until a cease-fire was successfully negotiated in October. Besides the conflict with the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), there continued to be credible reports that members of the security forces committed extrajudicial killings, were responsible for disappearances, abused prisoners and detainees, and employed harsh enforcement measures against civilians. The Government on occasion investigated allegations of abuse and prosecuted those believed responsible. Prison conditions remain poor, there are lengthy pretrial detentions, and the Government infringes on citizens' privacy rights and limits freedom of assembly. Extensive discrimination and violence against women, discrimination against the disabled, and violence between tribes remain serious problems.