Papua New Guinea: Amnesty calls for a full and impartial investigation into prison escape tragedy

11 March 2016, 15:22 UTC | Papua New Guinea

On 25 February at around 2pm, a large group of almost 90 men escaped from Buimo prison in Lae, Papua New Guinea. Many of those who escaped were awaiting trial. 12 men were consequently shot dead by apprehending guards. At least 18 others were wounded and apprehended.

The vast majority of those who escaped prison, including those shot or injured by the authorities had not been convicted of any criminal offence. Reportedly some of these people have been on remand for several years.

As yet a full official account of what actually occurred has not being released by the prison or any other state authority. Relatives of the shot escapees are already calling the deaths a “massacre” and have urged the national Government to conduct an independent investigation. 

The extra judicial killings and injuries caused by the authorities should be immediately condemned by the Police Commissioner and other public officials as a violation of the right to life and a violation of the prohibition on torture. Governor Kelly Naru, of the Morobe Province where Buimo prison is located, has called on courts and prison prosecutions to fast track court cases claiming that a large majority of the people who escaped were remandees who have been waiting, in some cases, years for their cases to be heard.

Governor Kelly claims that neglect for people in prisons and for due process in the legal system has led to high levels of frustration and desperation in the prison system and is behind a series of mass escapes in Papua New Guinea.

“They have human rights and our constitution protects them,” said Governor Kelly.

Previously, in 2014 the Special Rapporteur for Extra Judicial Killings visited PNG and in his 2015 report on this official visit he noted “There have been frequent reports in the media about prison breakouts to which the authorities have sometimes responded with deadly violence.”

His recommendations at this time included better and regular institutionalized training on human rights for police and correctional services officers, including refresher courses, to ensure police officers be trained on the appropriate use of firearms.3 Since 2015, there has been little progress on these issues.

In response to this tragedy Amnesty International is calling for:

  • A full and impartial investigation, with the findings to be made public. The National and Supreme Court has powers under the Constitution to launch a human rights inquiry. This would ensure justice for injured persons and the families of those killed.
  •  End impunity of the police force. The prison officers and other officials involved to be suspended pending a full investigation. Where there is evidence of excessive use of force, members of the security forces should face criminal charges, without recourse to the death penalty.
  • Guarantee medical treatment for those injured – this should include access to medical treatment as requested, ensuring a person has full access to their own medical records, and access to a second medical opinion where requested. In addition the authorities should facilitate access for family and lawyers while detained (including in hospital), as an essential safeguard against torture and ill-treatment and to ensure the right to a fair trial.
  • Security forces to only use such force as is strictly necessary and proportionate in arresting any other persons who escaped prison. In addition to the above calls Amnesty International also calls on the Government to launch an inquiry into the alleged overcrowding, delays in court proceedings and any other complaints of ill-treatment relating to those detained at Buimo Prison.
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