Papua New Guinea | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

Freedom in the World 2006

2006 Scores


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Civil Liberties
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Political Rights
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Elections held in May 2005 on Papua New Guinea's Bougainville Island, which saw John Kabui chosen Bougainville's president, paved the way for the island's self-rule. Tensions with Australia over immunity for Australian soldiers and police forced their withdrawal from Papua New Guinea. Meanwhile, university students launched violent protests over a new grading policy.

Papua New Guinea (PNG), which consists of the eastern part of New Guinea and some 600 smaller islands, gained independence from Australia in 1975. The island that PNG shares with New Guinea is the second largest island in the world and is vulnerable to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tidal waves.

In 1988, miners and landowners on Bougainville Island began guerrilla attacks against the Australian-owned Panguna copper mine, which provided 40 percent of the country's total export revenues. By 1990, the rebels-who were demanding compensation and profit-sharing-were waging a low-grade secessionist struggle under the newly formed Bougainville Revolutionary Army. A short-lived ceasefire broke down in 1996, when gunmen assassinated Theodore Miriung, the head of a govern-ment-installed transitional administration on Bougainville. Tensions eased following a 1998 ceasefire brokered by Australia and New Zealand. A peace treaty between the government and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army in August 2001-which called for elections for self-rule in Bougainville and a referendum on independence in 10 to 15 years-ended the country's civil war, which had claimed more than 10,000 lives and crippled the country. The war displaced many people, and economic collapse resulted in the creation of large squatter communities in the capital and nearby cities and towns.

Both the United Nations and Australia have been deeply involved in the peace process and postconflict recovery: the United Nations had an observer mission in Bougainville, while Australia sent federal police officers to train local law enforcement in PNG in December 2003. Another group of Australian officers were sent to PNG in December 2004 to help restore law and order and reform the PNG Army. However, in May 2005, Australia pulled out its 150 police and army officers when the PNG Supreme Court decided that their deployment was unconstitutional and that Australian officers were not immune from prosecution. Negotiations eventually allowed Australia to send back 40 police advisers to train PNG police in anticorruption work and law enforcement techniques.

Parliament approved a new constitution for Bougainville in December 2004. Elections, held in May 2005, saw more than 200,000 people vote in polls declared free and fair by international observers. John Kabui, an advocate for Bougainville independence, was elected the new Bougainville president, defeating former Bougainville governor John Momis. Kabui formally assumed his new post in June.

Crime-including firearms smuggling, rape, murder, and drug trafficking-is on the rise, and the government has done little to stop crime due to a lack of resources and political will. The country's economic and social troubles are exacerbated by high population growth, which at an annual rate of 2 percent is among the highest in the world; nearly half of the population lives on $1 per day.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Papua New Guineans can change their government democratically. However, voter fraud and other electoral irregularities are not uncommon. Voters elect a unicameral parliament with 109 members from all 19 provinces and the National Capital District. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party or a majority coalition in parliament. As PNG is a member of the Commonwealth, the prime minister is formally appointed to the post by the governor general, who represents Queen Elizabeth II. The governor general is elected by the PNG parliament; Sir Paulias Matane was sworn in to the post in 2004. In 2005, a limited preferential voting system was formally adopted, which will allow voters to rank three preferred candidates; it replaces the first-past-the-post system that critics claimed was open to bribery. The new system was tested in a by-election in 2004 and will be used in the next general election in 2006. The last general election was held in June 2002, resulting in a coalition government headed by Prime Minister Michael Somare.

The major political parties are the National Alliance of Prime Minister Somare, the United Resources Party, the Papua New Guinea Party, and the People's Progressive Party. However, tribal and geographical ties and personalities are more important determinants of political affiliations and alliances than political parties.

Corruption is a severe problem hindering the country's recovery. However, authorities have yet to implement real reforms to increase transparency and strengthen the rule of law. In 2005, there was widespread public opposition to two government bills to prevent parliament members from dismissal and to increase district support grants to politicians. More than 20,000 people signed petitions against these two bills, which the public feared would lead to greater corruption and abuse by elected officials. PNG ranked 130 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of speech is generally respected. There are two major daily newspapers and several other smaller local weekly and monthly publications. The government operates two FM radio stations and one AM radio station, as well as a television station. Several radio stations and two television stations are operated by private entities. The Japanese government donated a new 1.5-megawatt generator to Radio Bougainville, allowing broadcasts to expand to 10 hours daily. In November 2004, Fiji TV acquired Media Niugini, PNG's only free-to-air station, which reaches about 45 percent of the population and controls 38 percent of the total PNG advertising market. Foreign newspapers are available, as are radio and television broadcasts from Australia and other countries. The media provide independent coverage and report on controversial issues such as alleged abuses by police, cases of alleged corruption by government officials, and the views of the political opposition. There are no government controls on access to the internet, but access is limited by cost and connectivity issues.

The government generally respects freedom of religion. Belief in religious cults and sorcery is widespread in rural communities. Academics are generally free to set their curriculums and engage in research, but the government often does not tolerate strong criticism of the government or the economy. The introduction of a new grading policy in July sparked three weeks of violent protests in the capital by university students, who alleged that the new policy would downgrade their work. Students boycotted classes and burned university vehicles used by senior university officials.

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respects this right in practice. A number of civil society groups provide social services and advocate for women's, conservation, and other causes. However, the government continues to restrict freedom of assembly in the form of marches and demonstrations, which require 14-day advance notice and police approval. The government recognizes workers' rights to strike, organize, and engage in collective bargaining.

The judiciary is independent, and the legal system is based on English common law. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal and has original jurisdiction on constitutional matters. The National Court hears most cases and appeals from the lower district courts established at the provincial level. There are also village courts, which are headed by laypersons, to adjudicate minor offenses under both customary and statutory law. The government increased the number of full-time judges in 2002 and took steps to expand training of the judiciary.

Police and judicial reforms are much needed, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. Law enforcement officials have been implicated in unlawful killings, the use of excessive force in arresting and interrogating suspects, extortions, and conducting excessively punitive and violent raids. The police commissioner admitted in September that more than 500 cases of police brutality had been reported since 2002, and more than 100 officers dismissed as a result. In November 2005, police allegedly robbed a school in the capital and injured more than 20 people when they opened fire; three were arrested for being drunk while on duty. There has been little progress in improving poor prison conditions and prison breaks are not uncommon. In January, 106 prisoners escaped from the Bohama prison-the largest jail break in three years. Sixteen prisoners escaped in September from a jail in Madang, and 33 escaped from a jail in Mount Hagen in October.

The country maintains ground, naval, air, and special operations forces. Control and effectiveness of the military are complicated by a lack of resources for training and equipment, low morale, low pay, corruption, and disciplinary issues. The Australian-led multinational force had downsized the PNG Army from 3,300 to 2,000 officers, and 30 Australian police officers are working to improve capacity and morale in the PNG police force.

Violence between native tribes is a serious problem rooted in a cultural tradition of revenge for perceived wrongs. Lack of police enforcement and the increased availability of guns have exacerbated this problem. Attacks on Chinese nationals and their businesses were reported in the past year in connection with a police crackdown on the operation of horse racing machines and on illegal immigration. In several cases, police had allegedly led or participated in lootings of Chinese-owned businesses.

Discrimination and violence against women and children are serious problems. Domestic violence is punishable by law, but prosecutions are rare as police commonly treat it as a private matter, and family pressure and fear of reprisal discourage victims from pressing charges. Critics argue that polygyny and the custom of paying a bride price reinforce the view that women are property. Prime Minister Somare has voiced support for the death penalty for men convicted of gang rape. The spread of HIV/AIDS is a serious problem, with an estimated 2 percent of the population infected with the virus. PNG has the largest number of HIV/AIDS cases among the Pacific Island states.