Portrait of activist Cressida Kuala

Portrait of an activist: Cressida Kuala

Our body was abused. Our land was taken away from us. Our rights were violated by mining company employees, the police and army. The same police and army pack raped and physically assaulted us—whom shall we turn to for help?

Cressida Kuala is a women’s human rights defender of the Ipili Indigenous people, and an environmental activist from a gold mining town in the highlands of Porgera, Enga Province, in Papua New Guinea (PNG). She told Amnesty International that her interest in protecting human rights was motivated by her own experience of being raped in 2012 by two employees of a local mining company.  Determined to protect other members of her community, she founded the Porgera Red Wara (River) Women’s Association to highlight problems facing women in mining communities, and to prevent sexual violence against the women and girls of Porgera.

Cressida works to draw attention to the negative impacts of mining on her community. She notes that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Mining Watch and others have documented serious human rights abuses in Porgera.

Cressida works to assist indigenous women and girls who have been displaced as a result of mining operations, or who have been sexually abused by mining company employees. She said that local women have been beaten and taken to jail for refusing to have sex with mining company employees. Women have also been gang raped by mining company employees. There have been forced evictions and arson. Police brutality is rife. Cressida says the government—and the legal system—has failed her and other human rights defenders.

Women’s human rights defenders like Cressida worry about retaliation when they raise concerns about mining operations. The work they do poses serious risks to their safety and security.

Notably, sexual violence is a real risk for Cressida and other women human rights defenders. Cressida herself is a survivor of repeated incidents of sexual violence. In 2017, she says, two male colleagues from the civil society sector raped her in Port Moresby, and in early 2019, two men from Porgera raped her. She believes these attacks were in retaliation for her vocal defense of women’s rights and her complaints about the negative impact of mining operations. She says because of the weakness of local government in Papua New Guinea, and the entrenched culture of impunity, she has little hope of seeing justice. Furthermore, she explains, to press for justice would result in her being socially ostracized and demoted from leadership roles, which would prevent her from carrying out her crucial advocacy work on behalf of women and girls in Porgera.

Cressida and her children regularly face threats of rape and violence, including gun violence, and have at various points been forced to go in hiding. As well as representing a backlash against Cressida’s uncompromising advocacy, the threats reflect tensions between different communities living in the region, and further compromise her safety and that of her children.

Cressida told Amnesty International that her overarching goal is to advance the rights of women living in Porgera. She believes that women must be recognized by the government and mining companies as right holders equal to men, and be meaningfully included in all forms of decision-making.