Papua New Guinea 2017/2018
Violence by security forces remained endemic; prisoners, refugees and women were the most frequent victims. Disputes about elections led to violent clashes and deaths in some parts of the country. More than 800 refugees and asylum-seekers remained trapped in Papua New Guinea after being forcibly sent there by the Australian authorities. Two refugees with serious mental health issues died, raising concerns about inadequate health care.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
Australia’s policy of detaining and processing refugees on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG), resulted in the systematic violation of the rights of hundreds of individuals. In February, Iranian refugee Loghman Sawari was detained and charged after he was forcibly returned to PNG from Fiji, where he had fled to seek asylum. Papua New Guinea claimed he had provided false information to obtain a passport. However, by September all charges against him had been dismissed by the courts for lack of evidence.
Two refugees died (in August and October) in suspected suicides. The circumstances of the deaths were being investigated by the PNG Coroner.
In September, around 25 refugees were transferred to the USA. The vast majority of refugees and asylum-seekers remained trapped on Manus Island.
On 23 and 24 October, refugees were forcibly removed from the Lombrum refugee centre by PNG immigration and police officers armed with metal poles and transferred to Hillside Haus, West Lorengau Haus or the East Lorengau Transit Centre; some sustained minor injuries. Facilities at Hillside Haus and West Lorengau Haus were inadequate, with frequent water and power cuts. Refugees were subject to threats and attacks following the transfers.
Police and security forces
In April, PNG navy officers fired shots at the Manus Island refugee centre at Lombrum after a dispute about use of a nearby football field. Initial reports by PNG and Australia suggested that only one shot was fired into the air and was not a serious security breach. However, after forensic evidence established that multiple shots had been fired directly into the centre, putting the lives of refugees, immigration officials and private contractors at risk, Australia confirmed that nine people were injured, including three refugees. No investigation had taken place by the end of the year.
In May, PNG security forces shot and killed 17 detainees during an escape attempt from a prison in Lae city. The prison had previously been noted for poor conditions, lack of sanitation and overcrowding. The authorities stated that investigations would be conducted into the incident but no further information was received by the end of the year. Around half of those detained at the facility were being held on remand and many had waited years for their trials.
National elections were held from late June to August. Allegations of corruption, mismanagement, widespread exclusion of voters and a heavy-handed response by the authorities led to a tense atmosphere, in some cases involving violence or arrests.
By mid-August, violence over disputed seats following the election resulted in the deaths of at least 20 people and the burning down of some 120 houses in Enga and Southern Highlands provinces.
Gender-related violence continued to be a major issue. On 14 October, prominent journalist Rosalyn Albaniel Evara died. Family members and close friends claimed she was a victim of domestic violence. No charges had been brought by the end of the year.
In November, a six-year-old girl was cut and burned following accusations of sorcery in Enga. Her mother, Kepari Leniata, had been publicly burned to death in Mount Hagen in 2013; no perpetrators have been brought to justice. Authorities often failed to adequately investigate or prosecute cases of violence following sorcery accusations because of the deeply held customary beliefs of police officers and the community.
In November, the PNG government announced 25 million Kina (USD7.8m) in funding to end violence against women, set up child protection, and to address violence following sorcery accusations.