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I. Summary

When police arrested Steven E., age sixteen, for pick-pocketing five hundred kina (U.S.$160) from a soldier, three reserve police officers in a truck chased him to the edge of the sea and caught him, he said.1 He was unarmed, and the officers began to beat him:

I was covered in blood. They also hit me with a gun butt and made me go into the sea. They told me to wash the blood off before I got into the vehicle. I was finding it very difficult to breathe. I was really exhausted because they had been bashing me up.

Then the officers tied his hands and legs.

I didn’t get into the vehicle—they threw me in . . . the back of the truck. They drove me around town and told people I was a criminal, a pickpocket who they caught. . . . They were saying, “Can you see the criminal in here? This is a pickpocket. This pig—we are going to take him and kill him.”
They were talking on a speaker. . . . I couldn’t tell if people could see me because my eyes were full of blood. . . . There was one policeman in the back with me and he was beating me. . . . They did one trip around town and then brought me to the police station.

At the station:

They held my head and hit it against the vehicle on the front bumper.
. . . This cut me here [indicating his right eyebrow and cheek]. . . .
Then they took me into the station and started questioning me about the money. . . in a small room where they interview criminals. . . . The [five] who questioned me were totally different than the ones who caught me. But I would recognize them all again. . . .
First they cut me with the scissors. They put the scissors there [indicating his back and right side] and cut my skin.

Steven E. showed us two thin scars, each around one inch long, that he said were from being cut with scissors.2 “Then the police officer came with a smoke fire [large stick of tobacco] and burned me. I was wearing a shirt and they took it off,” he told us. He also showed us two round scars on each side of his back that he said were from where the police burned him. A pediatrician who viewed photographs of the scars told us that the fact that the scars were round, were located on both sides of the back, and were well-circumscribed and demarcated “makes it much more suspicious that they were deliberately inflicted and not an accident.” While she said she could not say for certain that they were from burns, she noted that “the increased pigmentation and that the scars are flush with the skin” were consistent with a healed burn.3

Steven E. continued:

They made me take off all my clothes. I was bare naked with them. When they were burning me, they were saying things like, “rotten kids, running around spoiling the place, just another stupid kid in town.” . . . Two of them were burning me at the same time.

A police lady came walking in, and they told me to turn around and look at the lady. I was naked. Then another police officer said, “No, don’t do that.” . . . They told me to stand so she could take a look at me. I had to do what they said—they had guns. They told her to see me naked. It was a joke to them and they started laughing. She laughed too. She came and had a look and left. . . .

I admitted everything to the police. Before they put me in the cell, I admitted everything.

After police questioned him, Steven E.told us, they put him in a cell naked. After about an hour, he said, they brought him some shorts.

There were men of all ages in my cell. Many were adults. There were plenty. . . . I didn’t count. . . .

The cell was very stinky. I couldn’t sleep that night because of the pain. I was leaning against the wall . . . . There weren’t any beds and there was no proper bedding—no blankets or mats. There was shit all over the place. Especially during the day it was really smelly as the sun was shining. There was a toilet, but it was spoiled and there wasn’t any water. There was no medicine. I wasn’t even able to wash because there wasn’t any water. My parents brought me food and water from home. In the cell, they would give us one litre of water in the afternoon and a few dried biscuits. . . .

I stayed there for two weeks. Then my parents bailed me out. It cost one hundred kina [U.S.$32]. . . .

I never told anyone in the court what happened to me. The magistrate asked me, “Did you do this,” and I admitted it. He didn’t ask me how the police treated me. I didn’t have a lawyer. There wasn’t a social worker there. I was only there with my parents.


Papua New Guinea’s serious crime problem is being met with a violent police response. Children, who make up nearly half of the country’s some 5.6 million people, are especially vulnerable. The experience of Steven E. reflects that of many children at the hands of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, the country’s police force. Brutal beatings, rape, and torture of children, as well as confinement in sordid police lockup, are widespread police practices. Although even high level government officials acknowledge this, almost nothing has been done to stop it.

The vast majority of children who are arrested are severely beaten and often tortured by members of the police. Almost everyone Human Rights Watch interviewed in each area we visited who had been arrested was beaten. Children reported being kicked and beaten by gun butts, crowbars (“pins bars”), wooden batons, fists, rubber hoses, and chairs. Boys described being shot and knifed while in custody. Girls told us that they had been forced to chew and swallow condoms. Many of those we interviewed showed us fresh wounds and scars on their heads, faces, arms, legs, and torsos that they said were from police. Serious injuries to the face, particularly around the eyes, were common.

According to victims and eyewitnesses, police typically beat individuals at the moment of arrest, during the time they are transported to the station, and often at the station itself. Beatings are so routine that police make little or no attempt to hide them, beating children in front of the general public and international observers. A man who said police beat him and forced him to fight naked with other detainees in a police station when he was sixteen or seventeen years old noted: “We thought it was their job and we just had to accept it.” Although police violence is endemic and adults described similar experiences, children’s particular vulnerability and the assumption that boys and young men are “raskols”—members of criminal gangs—make children especially easy targets.

Girls often are subjected by police to sexual abuse, including rape—frequently pack rape (gang rape, also described as “lineup sex”). Because girls are rarely charged, tried, and sentenced, their contact with the police often goes formally unrecognized. Girls and women told us about rapes in police stations, vehicles, barracks, and other locations. Some described seeing police rape girls vaginally and orally, sometimes using objects such as beer bottles. Alice O. recounted being stopped on the highlands highway with her friends when she was fourteen or fifteen years old:

The cops came and got the girls one by one. There were five guys. There were five girls so they each had one for themselves. One came to me. I was crying and said, “You guys hit me already.” . . . The same guy who hit me wanted to take me out. I said, “You have already belted around so how can I go?” He booted me on the ass and slapped me. He pushed me. I had a lump on my back and bruises on my bum. . . .

After that, they took the other four out. They did whatever they could do with them. . . . There was moonlight. It was on the dirt. It was right in front of me. I could see through the window. It was forcible. The others had injuries from where they were belted—they had bruises on their bums and where they were forced to have sex.

Alice O. did not claim that she was raped. But, as she described, girls and women are often detained briefly by police on pretextual grounds, raped, and then released without ever being taken to a police station. If they are taken to the station, they are at risk of being raped at the station.

Boys and men also reported sexual abuse by police, including oral and anal rape and attempts to force them to have sex with other detainees.

More commonly, we heard accounts from boys in which they described instances of sexual humiliation, such as being forced to run or fight naked, ordered to expose themselves to female police officers, or stripped during interrogation. Some boys told us that police beat them on the genitals. Muna G. said that when he was about fourteen years old, police arrested him with his friends for loitering. At the police station, he told us, “They stood us at the charging table and told us to take off our trousers and put our penises on the table. The police removed their necklaces, the chains that were around their necks, and hit our penises on the table. They struck really hard—they were big chains.” Muna G. was later released without charge.

Many of the abuses the children recounted rise to the level of torture.  Under international law, torture consists of intentional acts by public officials that cause severe physical or mental pain or suffering for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession, or for punishment, intimidation, or discrimination. We heard accounts in which police intentionally inflicted severe pain and suffering, apparently motivated by the desire to punish those suspected of wrongdoing. Boys perceived to be part of raskol gangs are often targeted for abuse. Police similarly target street vendors, sex workers, and boys and men who engage in homosexual conduct. (In Papua New Guinea, it is illegal to “live. . . on the earnings of prostitution”; sodomy, and, in some places, selling on the street are also illegal.) In other cases, police use violence to obtain confessions. For instance, we interviewed children whom police had burned, cut, whipped while naked, and humiliated during their interrogations in order to coerce them to confess to a crime.

At police stations, many children are detained for weeks or months in squalid conditions that violate basic international standards. Most said that police provided them with no medical care, even when seriously injured. In addition, children are routinely mixed with adults in police lockup, where boys are at increased risk of sexual assault at the hands of older detainees. We found boys under the age of eighteen held together with adult detainees in nearly every police lockup we visited. In several of these police stations, separate cells were available but were being used for adults. In some stations, children lacked bedding and sufficient food and water.

Police abuse of children and members of marginalized groups, including rape and other crimes of sexual violence, is not only a problem in and of itself: it may also fuel Papua New Guinea’s burgeoning AIDS epidemic. Experts believe that at least 80,000 people—almost 2 percent of the population, the highest rate in the South Pacific region—are living with HIV in Papua New Guinea. By 2010, experts predict, at least 13 percent of the population may be HIV-positive. AIDS has been the leading cause of death in Port Moresby General Hospital since mid-2001.

Police sexual abuse of both boys and girls increases the risk of HIV for all victims, male and female. Police abuse of marginalized populations, such as sex workers and men and boys engaged in homosexual conduct, also increases HIV risk by driving them underground and away from potentially lifesaving information on HIV prevention and health services. Stigmatization of sex workers as “AIDS carriers” may prevent people from seeking HIV-related services for fear of being stigmatized as sex workers. Police harassment of individuals carrying condoms may also deter condom use. All of these acts undermine desperately needed HIV/AIDS prevention work by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the government.

In 2003, the government, as a result of the efforts of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and an interagency working group of government and civil society representatives, began to create a juvenile justice system, as envisioned by the 1991 Juvenile Courts Act. As of May 2005, seven juvenile courts were operating in some capacity in seven locations in the country. In 2004 and the first half of 2005, policies for dealing with juveniles were adopted for police, magistrates, and correctional officials. These policies severely limit the circumstances under which children can be detained and require separation from adults. The challenge remains to implement these policies. In April 2005, fifteen volunteer juvenile court officers were commissioned to monitor police treatment of children in police stations, and the police opened a single processing center intended for all children detained in Port Moresby, the country’s capital. These developments are significant and commendable. However, the next step—changes in how children are treated—had yet to be seen at the time of writing. A critical component—one not yet addressed—will be accountability for police violence.

At present, there is almost no willingness on the part of the police to investigate or prosecute its members. With little or no penalty for violators, training for police has had little effect on violence against children. Indeed, the causes of police violence appear to run far deeper than simply a need for more training: they relate to a collapse of management and discipline throughout the force.

In 2004, an administrative committee commissioned by the minister for internal security issued a report finding a breakdown of discipline and loss of integrity that has destroyed public confidence in the police force and rendered it “largely ineffective.” The committee also found “lack of demonstrable government will and commitment to effective law enforcement and wider related issues of broad community safety and an effective, sustainable, law, order and justice framework.” The committee made a detailed series of recommendations, including the appointment of a Police Ombudsman. If acted upon, the recommendations would likely go a long way towards reforming the police. In June 2005, the police commissioner and other officers accepted the report and agreed to create teams to implement the recommendations. However, the actual implementation will require significant political will and resources that have yet to be demonstrated.

Government mechanisms external to the police that might hold police accountable and provide victims with redress—the public solicitor’s office, the ombudsmen’s commission, and civil claims against the state—have not been effective in diminishing police violence. The public solicitor’s office lacks the resources to represent many children charged with crimes. The ombudsman’s commission, while widely commended for taking on government corruption, has little capacity to investigate reports of police abuse. Despite extraordinary costs to the state, civil claims for police violence fail to provide adequate remedies for many victims because procedural barriers prevent many from pursuing legitimate claims. Where victims are able to bring successful claims, the penalties imposed fail to deter police violence because they are borne by the state, not by the police force or individual officers themselves. There are periodic initiatives to create a national human rights commission, but these efforts have been stalled without reaching Parliament. Others in the justice system, such as judges, appear to ignore or accept police violence.

International funding plays an important role in Papua New Guinea, particularly for policing. Because of the two countries’ proximity, colonial history, and continuing special relationship, Australia wields enormous influence. Australia is Papua New Guinea’s largest foreign donor, giving $A 492.3 million (U.S.$367.4 million) in development aid in 2005-2006; in turn, Papua New Guinea is the largest per capita recipient of Australian development aid. Much of Australia’s aid is directed to the police force, which has received funding and technical assistance, including training, through the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) for more than fifteen years. This assistance, Australian officials admit, has had no effect on police violence.

In 2004, Australia dramatically increased its aid for the police by $A 805 million (U.S.$600.8 million) over five years under the Enhanced Cooperation Programme (ECP), which originated in part in response to growing instability in Papua New Guinea and out of concerns that the country was a weak link in Australia’s anti-terrorism strategy. Under the program, more than 200 Australian police were to be deployed with Papua New Guinea police—this component was on hold as of August 2005 after Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court declared the immunity agreement for Australian officers unconstitutional. Australians are still filling other government positions as advisors.

Australia does not condition receipt of police aid on respect for human rights norms and does not take a rights based approach to development generally. As one AusAID official told us in Canberra, “We don’t play a direct advocacy role as a bilateral donor.”

Other donors include China, the European Union, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank, which focus on health (including HIV/AIDS), education, infrastructure, agriculture, and financial reform, not policing. In the areas of juvenile justice, UNICEF has taken the lead, with AusAID and, in Bougainville, the New Zealand Agency for International Development (NZAID) providing funding for some aspects.

Papua New Guinea’s international legal obligations prohibit torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; rape; and sexual assault. International law also requires that children be detained only as a measure of last resort, for the shortest appropriate period of time. When they are detained, children must be provided adequate medical care and be separated from adults. In addition, the United Nations (U.N.) has developed a series of principles and minimum rules on the use of force by law enforcement officials and the detention of children that inform the interpretation of country’s obligations under international law. Papua New Guinea’s law reflects many but not all of these principles.

Key Recommendations

Some authorities in Papua New Guinea are aware of problems in how the state treats children and have begun to introduce appropriate policy changes to reduce the rates of detention of children. Police violence, however, has not been addressed. The problem of police violence is so endemic, so institutionally engrained, that efforts to reduce it will not succeed unless made part of widespread reforms and demanded from the highest levels of government to the public.

Any serious effort to stop police violence, including severe beatings, rape, and torture of children, must include three key components: public repudiation of police violence by officials; criminal prosecution of perpetrators; and ongoing, independent monitoring of police violence. Suggestions of immediate steps that Papua New Guinea authorities can take in each area are outlined below.

  • The minister of police and the police commissioner should publicly repudiate police use of torture, rape, and excessive force against children. The commissioner, with the support of the government, should make clear the guidelines for the use of force consistent with international legal standards, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and the U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.The commissioner should fully implement throughout the country the 2005 Police Juvenile Justice Policy and Protocols that mandates that children be detained only in “extreme or special circumstances” and never with adults.
  • The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary should take swift and meaningfulaction against police officers who torture, rape, or use excessive force against children. This should include administrative measures, including dismissal, and criminal prosecution. Commanding officers who know or should know of such acts and who fail to take action to prevent and punish them should face similar sanctions.
  • The government should immediately designate an independent body outside the police force to monitor police violence against children. This body should have the mandate and resources to regularly enter police lockup and detention centers without notice; interview all children alone, regardless of whether the child makes a complaint; question detainees about their ages and any allegations of violence; collect other evidence of abuse from children; compel police to provide evidence; and refer cases for prosecution. If the Ombudsman’s Commission is given this responsibility, it should also be provided with adequate resources to do so. If a Human Rights Commission or Police Ombudsman (recommended by the September 2004 administrative review of the police) is created, the government should consider giving one of these bodies this responsibility. However, responsibility should be assigned to an existing body until a new body is operational.

Given the critical role of international donors, particularly Australia, in funding the police sector in Papua New Guinea, a serious effort to eradicate police violence against children in Papua New Guinea will require a far more active role on the part of the international community. Although not unaware of the problem, donors have not made a concerted effort or devised a comprehensive strategy to assist in curbing police abuses against children. To supplement existing efforts, international donors, including the Australian government, should:

  • raise with the government of Papua New Guinea in all official meetings and at the highest level concerns over police violence, including torture, rape, and excessive force against children;

  • prioritize accountability for police violence against children in continued and expanded support for mechanisms internal and external to the police force; and

  • provide assistance for the development of local human rights groups with the capacity for independent monitoring of police violence and agencies that can provide services for victims.

Additional recommendations can be found at the end of this report.

Methods and Scope

This report is based on research in Papua New Guinea in September 2004, as well as additional information gathered by our researchers between May 2004 and July 2005. Because Papua New Guinea is extremely diverse—there are more than 800 language groups, more than 600 islands, and no roads connecting the capital city with other parts of the country—we visited five representative areas: Port Moresby, the capital; Goroka, in the Highlands; Wewak, along the northern coast; Kokopo (Rabaul), in East New Britain; and Alotau, in Milne Bay. This selection should not be taken to indicate that police violence against children is in any way confined to these areas. In each of the five places, we visited facilities where children were detained, nine in total, including police lockups, juvenile remand centers, and correctional institutions. We also visited a number of urban settlements especially targeted by police and spoke directly with victims.

During the course of our research, we interviewed more than 160 people, including thirty child victims of police violence; young adults who had experienced police violence as children; medical personnel; social workers; NGO staff; lawyers; academics; police officials at various levels, including rank and file officers, an assistant commissioner of police, and the head of internal investigations; government officials in the National AIDS Council, the Ombudsman’s Commission, the Office of the Public Solicitor, and the Ministry of Justice;the Secretary of Education; members of the Juvenile Justice Working Group; Australian government officials from AusAID, the Australian Federal Police, and the Australian foreign affairs department; employees of the Australian-based contractor ACIL; U.N. staff; and the current and a former United States (U.S.) ambassador to Papua New Guinea.

Human Rights Watch has investigated and reported on police violence against children in Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, and Turkey. We have documented detention conditions for children in several of these countries and also the United States. Human Rights Watch has reported on police actions and the spread of HIV/AIDS in Bangladesh, Canada, India, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Thailand.

In this report, the word “child” refers to anyone under the age of eighteen.4 Where individuals did not know or were uncertain about their age, this is indicated in the text. The names of all children in this report have been changed and, in some instances, place names or other identifying information withheld. This is done to protect their privacy and preclude retaliation.

[1] Human Rights Watch interview with sixteen-year-old boy, Wewak, September 18, 2004. The names of all children in this report have been changed to protect their privacy. Throughout this report the exchange rate used is 3.12 kina to the U.S. dollar and 1.34 Australian dollars to the U.S. dollar, with U.S. dollar amounts greater than ten rounded to the nearest dollar.

[2] A pediatrician who viewed photographs of the scars noted that they “were consistent with the injury described.” Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Annie Sparrow, pediatrician, New York, January 19, 2005.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines as a child “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted November 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force September 2, 1990), art 1. Papua New Guinea ratified the convention on March 1, 1993. Papua New Guinea’s 1991 Juvenile Courts Act, in section 2, also defines as a juvenile anyone between the ages of seven and eighteen.

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