The Woes of Papua New Guinea
Just imagine. You are enjoying a hot cup of coffee while reading the newspaper. You’re browsing, absentmindedly, and you come across an article discussing domestic violence. Now, there are a lot of things you could expect from an article dealing with violence against women, but a cooking class is not one of them. According to a newspaper article in Papua New Guinea, “a well fed husband will surely not beat his wife who prepares him delicious meals.” Such a way of responding to abuses against women is appalling, but unfortunately, it is the reality women in PNG have to face.
The country has one of the worst rates of domestic violence in the world, with 97% of women in the Highlands experiencing domestic or sexual violence. Women and children are still being subjected to violence following accusations of sorcery, sometimes resulting in death. The stories are chilling. Despite legal reforms in recent years - including the repeal of the Sorcery Act and introduction of the 2013 Family Protection Act - no effective action has been taken, such as improving social services, access to health care, counselling and women’s shelters. The police force remains understaffed and under-resourced to deal with the high volume of family violence reports, preventing many women from accessing justice. Additionally, lack of government services in remote areas disproportionately affects women in rural locations.
But it’s not just violence against women.
Hundreds of men remain in detention at the Australia-run immigration detention centre on Manus Island. Despite some improvements to conditions at the centre, concerns linger about prolonged and arbitrary detention, as well as safety and security after a detainee was killed in February 2014 by people working at the centre. Plans regarding long-term resettlement are uncertain. In April, the PNG Supreme Court declared detention centres illegal, but we are yet to see any actions taken as neither PNG nor Australia are willing to take responsibility.
Reports of unnecessary or excessive use of force by police and military persist. While some attempts have been made to improve accountability in individual cases, many police abuses such as torture including rape, and unlawful detention, go unpunished. Marginalized groups, including sex workers and LGBTI people, are particularly vulnerable to abuses by the police while in custody.
Corruption of elites and officials is also pervasive and the government has been faced with major opposition in the last few weeks asking the Prime Minister to resign. Not to mention that PNG has yet to abolish the death penalty, and even though the last execution was carried out in 1954, thirteen prisoners are reported to remain on death row.
Now is an important time for PNG. The country went through its Universal Periodic Review last month, a rolling review of the human rights records for all UN Member States. The government is currently examining recommendations by other states, deciding whether or not it will accept them, and ultimately improve its dire human rights record.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon describes the UPR process as having great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world. And that’s exactly what the international community needs to do. We need to challenge the idea that the Pacific is tucked away in a corner of the world, we need to show PNG that it cannot keep doing what it's doing, or more accurately, what it's not doing. We want PNG to be accountable for its actions, implement its policies, and ensure that all women, men and children are treated with dignity and respect.