The extremely high rate of family violence in Papua New Guinea (PNG) needs to be addressed, said a long list of countries during PNG’s United Nations Periodic Review, a process in which countries’ human rights records are scrutinized by their peers at the UN.
Many countries welcomed PNG’s Family Protection Act, a new domestic violence law. But concerns remain regarding not only the high rate of violence, but also the lack of police investigations and prosecutions, and lack of awareness, justice, and support services. Also, the Family Protection Act was passed in 2013 – yet more than two years later remains unimplemented. The government says it will not enforce the law until regulations on implementation are finalized, and it is unclear when that will happen.
In 2015, Human Rights Watch met Mari, who had been abused by her husband for 23 years. She did not know where to turn for help, as almost no services for domestic violence victims exist. An estimated 70 percent of women and girls in PNG are raped or assaulted. If authorities intervene, they prefer to take abuse victims to village courts for mediation, instead of opening a criminal investigation.
To be fair, during the review, PNG’s representative repeatedly stated family violence is a top priority for PNG. However, it all seemed like déjà vu. In its 2011 review, PNG accepted many of the same recommendations with respect to improving its response to domestic violence that it accepted on Friday. PNG argued that a lack of resources and data hinders its ability to fulfil its human rights commitments. Yet these can be overcome with political backing.
PNG’s government should take concrete steps towards addressing family violence. They can do this by finalizing the regulations for and implementing the Family Protection Act, ensuring that family violence cases are investigated and prosecuted and that specialized Family and Sexual Violence Units in police stations are adequately resourced. Additionally, PNG needs more public awareness campaigns, as well as shelters and other services, so women and children aren’t trapped in abusive situations.
To be sure, family violence is not PNG’s only challenge. Abuses by law enforcement were raised, as well as discrimination towards LGBT people, among other issues. Countries did support PNG’s recent announcement that it was closing its Manus Island detention center, where migrants – many sent from Australia – are held in squalid conditions.
As a rising leader in the Pacific region, with a fast-growing economy, PNG needs to live up to its statement that human rights underpin democracy. This review demonstrates that PNG has key gaps in its human rights record to address. Too many women and girls, like Mari, live with domestic violence because the government has given them no way out.