(Sydney) – The Papua New Guinean government has failed to adequately address gender inequality, violence, corruption, or excessive use of force by police, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2017. In May 2016, Papua New Guinea’s human rights record came under detailed scrutiny during its periodic review at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Heavily-armed Papua New Guinea police form a roadblock, preventing students from leaving the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby.

© 2016 Reuters

In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will. For those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.

In June 2016, police opened fire on protesting university students in Port Moresby, wounding 23 people. The protesters attempted a march to the national parliament to call for a vote of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. They had been protesting for five weeks demanding O’Neill step down over corruption allegations. Anti-corruption officers have held an arrest warrant for the prime minister on corruption charges since 2014, although a court order has prevented its execution to date.

In Papua New Guinea, police abuse, including of children, continues with little accountability even for fatalities and egregious physical abuse. Between 2007 and 2014, 1,600 complaints of police abuse were received by the Internal Affairs Directorate with 326 classified as criminal cases. The government has not publicly said how many, if any, of these resulted in criminal convictions of police officers.

“People took to the streets to voice concerns about corruption, and the only government response was gunfire,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “Corruption and abuse will only end when abusive officials are held responsible for their crimes.”

Despite some worthy legal and institutional initiatives, inadequate implementation has meant few genuine improvements for victims of human rights violations in Papua New Guinea. Since passing the 2013 Family Protection Act to tackle widespread gender-based violence, there has been no meaningful reduction in the alarming rates of family and gender-based violence. Three years after the act was passed, the legislation has not been implemented. Police respond inadequately, rarely pursuing investigations or criminal charges, and services for victims such as safe houses, counselors, financial support or legal aid are inadequate.

“Despite a law that was lauded when it was passed, the government is failing miserably to protect women and girls from discrimination and family violence,” said Pearson. “There is still a dire lack of services for people who have suffered family violence.”

Papua New Guinea continues to accept Australia’s forcible transfer of asylum seekers to Manus Island for refugee status determination and settlement. In April, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled that the indefinite mandatory detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was unconstitutional, and O’Neill promptly agreed to close the centers. But since then, neither Australia nor Papua New Guinea has taken significant steps to shut them down. In October, a leaked report by the UNHCR noted the endemic and deteriorating mental health of asylum seekers and refugees held on Manus.

“Closing the centers on Manus once and for all, and promptly resettling the refugees to Australia or suitable third countries needs to be a top priority for Australia and Papua New Guinea,” said Pearson. “Refugees and asylum seekers on Manus have suffered enough, it’s time to let them move on with their lives in safety and dignity.”