Papua New Guinea | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Papua New Guinea’s political rights rating improved from 4 to 3 due to efforts by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and his government to address widespread official abuse and corruption, enabling successful prosecutions of several former and current high-ranking officials.


In February 2013, the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) government announced plans to substantially build up its military, increasing its troop levels from 1,900 to 10,000. It also announced it would receive $2 million in aid from China to purchase Chinese-made military equipment. Some former government officials have nevertheless expressed doubt that PNG would be able to afford or execute the troop buildup.  

Natural-resource exploitation, including mining and logging, provides the bulk of government revenue, but the government has done little to improve infrastructure, education, health, and other indicators of development. High population growth is also a challenge for the country. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has considered providing interest-free home loans to couples between the ages of 18 to 25 if they delay having children.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Political Rights: 24 / 40 (+1) [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 9 / 12

Voters in PNG elect a unicameral, 109-member National Parliament to serve five-year terms. A limited preferential voting system allows voters to choose up to three preferred candidates on their ballots. The governor-general, who represents Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as head of state, formally appoints the prime minister who leads the majority party or coalition in parliament.

In 2012, Peter O’Neill became prime minister when his People’s National Congress (PNC) party was victorious in elections held in June and July; O’Neill was in a prolonged battle with former prime minister Michael Somare, who claimed he never legally left the post. The PNC won control of parliament in 2012 with 22 votes; while marred by violence, the elections were generally considered free and fair. O’Neill’s government further consolidated its position in 2013, with many lawmakers joining its coalition; by May, the party and its allies held 46 seats in the parliament.

Shifting alliances and frequent use of no-confidence votes have undermined political stability and exacerbated fragmentation in politics. In February 2013, parliament approved O’Neill’s proposal for a 30-month grace period in which no-confidence motions could not be held. Lawmakers also unanimously repealed three controversial laws passed during the political impasse between O’Neill and Somare that set an age ceiling for prime ministers and gave more power to the chief executive over the judiciary. 


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 10 / 16

There are numerous political parties but political loyalties are driven more by tribal, linguistic, geographic, and personal ties than party affiliation. Many candidates run as independents and align with parties after they are elected.


C. Functioning of Government: 5 / 12 (+1)

Prime Minister O’Neil has made fighting corruption a top priority and created an organization, Task Force Sweep (TFS), to investigate corruption in PNG. In August, TFS estimated that about $600 million intended for public development projects was lost to corruption in 2013. The organization also reported it had made 59 arrests, including Yori Yei, head of a United Nations agency office in PNG. Yei was accused of misappropriating funds intended for lobbying on PNG’s behalf in the UN for his personal use. PNG’s Auditor General’s Office was also investigated in 2013 for numerous allegations of official abuse. Additionally, 23 members of parliament were investigated in 2014 for failing to comply with campaign finance laws. O’Neill has also proposed the creation of a formal Independent Commission Against Corruption, though parliament had not authorized it by the year’s end.

In March, the government announced that China would help it create and implement a national electronic identification system intended to mitigate official abuse and prevent election fraud.

PNG was ranked 144 out of 177 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Civil Liberties:  36 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 12 / 16

Freedom of speech is generally respected, and the media provide independent coverage of controversial issues such as alleged police abuse, official corruption, and opposition views. However, the government and politicians have occasionally used media laws and libel and defamation lawsuits to limit critical reporting. Internet use is growing, but cost and lack of infrastructure limits its spread outside urban centers.

In July 2013, Anderson Agiru, governor of Hela Province put forth a proposal in parliament to determine whether non-Christian faiths should be banned. Church leaders immediately spoke out against it and there was little support in parliament. Nevertheless, rapid increase in the 5,000-member Muslim community in the predominantly Christian country in recent years has stirred anxiety among some locals.

Academic freedom is generally respected, but the government does not always tolerate criticism. In February 2013, the government ordered that English be used in PNG’s schools, replacing the vernacular, also known as lingua franca. 


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 9 / 12

The constitution provides for freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally observes these rights in practice. Marches and demonstrations require 14 days’ notice and police approval. Many civil society groups provide social services and advocate for women’s rights, the environment, and other causes. The government recognizes workers’ rights to strike, organize, and engage in collective bargaining.


F. Rule of Law: 7 / 16

The judiciary is independent. The legal system is based on English common law. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal and has jurisdiction on constitutional matters. Laypeople sit on village courts to adjudicate minor offenses under customary and statutory law. Suspects often suffer lengthy detentions and trial delays because of a shortage of trained judicial personnel.

Law enforcement officials have been accused of corruption, unlawful killings, extortion, rape, theft, the sale of firearms, and the use of excessive force in the arrest and interrogation of suspects. Weak governance and law enforcement have allegedly made PNG a base for organized Asian criminal groups. The correctional service is understaffed. Prison breaks are common. In March 2013, 49 escaped prisoners surrendered to authorities after telling the media about harsh prison conditions, including torture and a lack of medical care.

O’Neill’s government has attempted to address the prison problems. In February 2013, it demoted 73 police officers for alleged brutality and other offenses, and arrested four correction officers in July for letting prisoners escape.

In May 2013, Australia agreed to provide additional military aid and police training to PNG for the operation of a detention center on Manus Island. The center had been opened in 2012 as part of a deal in which PNG would house refugees seeking asylum status in Australia in exchange for development assistance. In August, PNG signed an agreement to allow detainees to resettle within its borders in exchange for $463 million in development aid. In the weeks that followed, dozens of Iranians, who made up one-third of the detainees at the facility, opted for repatriation to Iran. By year’s end, about 1,100 detainees were held in the detention center, the condition of which Amnesty International describes as unacceptable. The PNG government said it will begin processing their refugee claims in early 2014.

Opposition lawmakers have challenged the government’s policy on refugees, and provincial governors and other local leaders cautioned hostile reactions from their communities. The government defended the detention policy on the grounds that asylum seekers had effectively consented to being held as a requirement for refugee status determination; it also defended the resettlement agreement, arguing that a new visa—not citizenship—would be offered to those opting to stay in PNG.

A referendum on the future of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) is scheduled between 2015 and 2020. The area was created following a multi-year, low-grade secessionist war in which landowners on Bougainville Island waged guerrilla attacks on a major Australian-owned copper mine, demanding compensation and profit-sharing. The 2005 treaty that ended the fighting stipulated that an independence referendum be held once ABG disposed of its weapons and demonstrated self-reliance. Various reports in recent years, however, have found the island to be mired in poverty and corruption.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 8 / 16

Discrimination and violence against women and children are widespread. A 2013 UN survey found 61 percent of the PNG men surveyed reported to have raped someone at least once. Two other studies in 2013 claimed two-thirds of women in PNG are victims of physical or sexual assault and violence, and that nearly all cases went unreported and unpunished.

In May 2013, O’Neill publicly apologized for crimes against women and lawmakers increased penalties for such crimes. The new penalties included 50-year prison sentences with no possibility of parole for kidnapping, and the death penalty was reinstated for armed robbery, murder, and aggravated rape (including gang rape, rape of a child 10 years old and under, and rape involving a weapon). Parliament also repealed the Sorcery Act of 1971, which critics argued gave legitimacy to claims of sorcery and contributed to numerous deaths—particularly of women—each year. Nevertheless, police have been largely ineffective in controlling mob violence, tribal warfare, and other crimes.

In 2011, the government rejected a call by the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality.

The U.S. State Department’s 2013 Human Trafficking Report and rated PNG as a tier three country, in which both local and foreign victims are trafficked for sex work, child labor, and manual labor.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology