Protests around corruption and censorship of eviction film ahead of APEC regional meeting

Ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) regional economic forum in Papua New Guinea on 17-18 November 2018, the country has invested in the development of new meeting venues and other infrastructure. The capital of Port Moresby has gone through a series of facelifts ranging from continual road upgrades to clean up campaigns. While citizens and civil society groups recognise some of this development may be needed, concerns are being raised around the cost of hosting the meeting, allegations of corruption and how much the conference will benefit the people. According to reports, Papua New Guinea is in the grip of a medication shortage, an outbreak of polio, increased rates of tuberculosis, and funding crises in health and education.

Expression

Thousands strike against purchase of luxury cars for APEC summit

On 26th October 2018, thousands of people participated in a one-day strike in Papua New Guinea to protest against the purchase of a fleet of Maserati luxury cars by the government for the APEC conference. The protest was organised after it was revealed that the government bought 40 luxury cars, and later three Bentleys, to ferry around dignitaries during the multilateral APEC leaders meeting in the capital Port Moresby.

Angry at the lavish spending, opposition MPs announced a national day of protest, calling for Papua New Guineans to boycott work for the day and stay home. Strikers reportedly included transport drivers and airport staff. The boycott was supported by some unions, including the PNG Banks and Financial Institutions Workers Union.

Martyn Namorong, a well-known PNG commentator and one of the protest organisers, said the fact the Maserati purchases were only revealed in a news report highlighting the lack of transparency around government spending. He added:

“It’s a protest against the corruption associated with the hosting of Apec. It’s not a protest against world leaders, it’s a protest against our own corrupt, unaccountable politicians.”
Film on Paga Hill evictions banned from festival

In October 2018, an internationally acclaimed investigative documentary about Paga Hill community’s fight for justice from the illegal eviction and demolition of their homes in Port Moresby between 2012 and 2014 was banned from screening at the PNG Human Rights Festival.

The film entitled “The Opposition” tells the battles of the evicted community evicted of at least 3000 people, whose homes were completely demolished by two Australian-run companies, Curtain Brothers and Paga Hill Development Company, and the PNG state. The hotels and meeting venue for the upcoming APEC summit, which will take place in November 2018, are located in the vicinity of a redeveloped Paga Hill.

Paga Hill community leader and lawyer Joe Moses, the main character in The Opposition film said:

“The ban highlights the lingering limits on free speech in our country and the continued attempts to censor our story of resistance against gross human rights violations…this censorship comes as a deep disappointment for my community who have suffered greatly over the past six years…How does this make us look to the world leaders who will be coming here for the APEC meeting in November?”

In 2017, Charities Aid Watch and Jubilee Australia claimed that "2000 of an estimated 3000 squatters who had to make way for gated tourism and a casino precinct were given no resettlement and in many cases no compensation, and up to 500 of those could be living on the streets of the capital".

Association

Sick refugees moved from Port Moresby to Manus before APEC summit

Authorities have flown refugees from Port Moresby to Manus Island, including some who were receiving ongoing medical treatment in the capital, in the lead-up to the APEC conference.

About 70 asylum seekers and refugees, part of the group sent to PNG by Australia’s offshore immigration system, have been in Port Moresby for medical treatment which was unavailable on Manus Island. On 3rd November 2018, some 50 refugees were told by authorities that they had to leave before the conference because the Pacific International hospital needed to be able to treat delegates and conference employees.

As many as 10 of the men had not finished their treatment and said they had been informed they would be returned in a month to continue their treatment. One man attempted suicide after he was told he would be sent back to Manus without treatment.

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, Australia’s policy of detaining and processing refugees on Manus Island has resulted in the systematic violation of the rights of hundreds of individuals. More than 800 refugees and asylum-seekers have been detained on the island since 2013. The refugees have been effectively forced to choose between returning to repression in their home countries or moving to a similarly abusive environment.

New report highlights human rights abuses caused by land grabbing

A new report by ACT NOW! and UK based charity, War on Want published in October 2018, highlights how Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABL) are being used by foreign companies to unlawfully occupy land in Papua New Guinea and cases of abuse faced by communities trying to resist logging and oil palm planting on their traditional land. In one case, Peter Tai, the Chief of Ambai village, in West Sepik Province, said they had not had any prior knowledge about an agreement that included their land, until a logging company arrived and started operations. When they resisted people were threatened, beaten and turned away by armed police and the army. He said:

“When the company uses the police and army, they twist the law and beat us up very badly, to the point where we are afraid to attempt stopping the company again.”

The report highlights how the SABL land grab, as well as breaching PNG’s own land laws and Constitution has breached a whole raft of international treaties. ACT NOW! and War on Want are calling for immediate action to end the land grab and for the PNG government to cancel the leases. They are also asking the international community to be more proactive in pressuring the authorities for action.

According to the report, more than 5 million hectares of land was stolen from rural communities using fraudulent SABL agriculture leases between 2003 and 2009. A Commission of Inquiry, that released its findings in 2013, found that the leases had been unlawfully issued.

Since then, despite numerous promises, the report says that the PNG government has failed to cancel the leases, stop the logging and return the land to its rightful owners. Instead, the government is still allowing logs from SABL areas to be exported, other areas to be cleared and planted with oil palm and is allowing palm oil produced on stolen land to be exported.