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Papua New Guinea: Failing to Protect Women and Girls

Violence Against Women, Corruption, and Police Abuse

(Sydney) – Papua New Guinea is one of the most dangerous places to be a woman or girl, with rates of family and sexual violence among the highest in the world, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2016. Gender inequality, violence, corruption, and excessive use of force by police, including against children, remain pressing human rights issues.

A woman holding a child looks down the valley from Kassam Pass, in Papua New Guinea’s Highlands, an isolated region where some people must walk several days to reach the nearest road.  © 2012 Vlad Sokhin/Panos

In the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.

An estimated 70 percent of women in Papua New Guinea experience rape or assault in their lifetime. While violence against women has long been criminalized and domestic violence was specifically proscribed under the 2013 Family Protection Act, few perpetrators are brought to justice and the government has not yet begun to implement the Family Protection Act. Police and prosecutors rarely pursue investigations or criminal charges against people who commit family violence and instead prefer to resolve them through mediation and/or compensation. Women and girls accused of “sorcery” or “witchcraft” are often attacked by violent mobs. In May 2015, a group of men in a remote part of Enga province killed a woman after she was accused of “sorcery.”

“Papua New Guinea is failing to meet its obligations under international law to protect women and girls from discrimination and family violence,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government should immediately begin enforcing the Family Protection Act to ensure appropriate law enforcement responses and should provide comprehensive access to services for victims of family violence.”

In 2015, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill continued to weaken the country’s anti-corruption agency, Task Force Sweep, by starving it of funding. In October, the government sought to suspend Chief Magistrate Nerrie Eliakim, who issued the arrest warrant against Prime Minister O’Neill for corruption charges.

About 930 male asylum seekers and refugees, transferred by Australia for refugee status determination, remain detained on Manus Island. Most have been held there for more than two years. Human rights organizations and media are regularly denied access to the detention center. The indefinite nature of detention is causing significant mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. Fifty-one of those recognized as refugees have been transferred to a transit center, but most cannot leave Manus Island, study, or work. Only three refugees have been permitted to leave Manus to work since December 2015.

Police abuse continues to be reported with little accountability even for fatalities and egregious physical abuse. In January 2015, police killed two market vendors in Port Moresby when firing indiscriminately into a crowd after a dispute between vendors and local council officials. So far no one has been arrested for the shooting.

“The government needs to address police brutality and bring any officers responsible for crimes to justice,” Adams said. “Papua New Guinea should treat asylum seekers in accordance with international standards and implement a refugee resettlement policy.”

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