The Papua New Guinea government should seriously address the criticisms of its human rights record and scores of recommendations raised by United Nations member countries, Human Rights Watch said today. Papua New Guinea appeared before the UN Human Rights Council for its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on November 4, 2021.
“UN member countries rightly criticized Papua New Guinea’s record on gender-based violence, retention of the death penalty, and laws that criminalize same sex relations,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN review made it clear that the Papua New Guinea government hasn’t followed through on some of its key past pledges to the UN Human Rights Council.”
The Universal Periodic Review, which began in 2006, is a comprehensive review of the human rights record of each UN member country every five years. The country under UN review, along with local and international organizations, has the opportunity to submit reports to the Council to inform the review process. Human Rights Watch submitted an assessment of Papua New Guinea’s record in March.
At the review, other countries praised Papua New Guinea for the establishment of a special parliamentary inquiry into gender-based violence and for the establishment of an anti-corruption commission since the last review in 2016.
The Papua New Guinea government reported that, of 161 recommendations made in 2016, it had accepted 108.
However, more than 15 nations questioned Papua New Guinea’s retention of the death penalty, from Finland to Spain, Iceland to Fiji. The Papua New Guinea government has increased the number of crimes punishable by death in recent years to include robbery and murder following accusations of sorcery and rape. To the extent that international law permits the death penalty it is only for the most serious crimes following full due process. Robbery is not one of the most serious crimes.
Even though Papua New Guinea’s last execution was in 1954, Papua New Guinea officials rejected the calls to end the death penalty. They said that it was an integral component of their justice system. The use of the death penalty has widespread international condemnation, and the UN General Assembly states that there is no evidence that it is an effective deterrent.
“It’s disappointing to see the Papua New Guinea government’s support for the death penalty, which is clearly out of step with the rest of the Pacific and certainly most of the world,” Pearson said.
Several countries raised Papua New Guinea’s failure to reduce incidents of gender-based violence, and the lack of female representation in politics. More than 1.5 million people experience gender-based violence in the country each year, and prosecutions and convictions remain low. Italy and Cyprus also pressed the government about sorcery-related violence and urged the government to take steps to prevent such attacks and to prosecute offenders. Between May and June, groups of men violently attacked at least five women they accused of “sorcery.” One of the women was killed.
Other concerns included inequality and discrimination experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Papua New Guinea. Many countries, including New Zealand, Montenegro, France, and Argentina, said that the government should decriminalize same-sex relations.
Some countries urged Papua New Guinea to increase access to education for all children, including children with disabilities. International human rights law makes clear that all children have a right to free, compulsory primary education. The Papua New Guinea government admitted that it does not provide schools close to all rural communities, but said it now has a policy of free education, which was not in place earlier in the year.
India said that the government should improve access to health care for children in rural communities, and two countries urged the government to raise the age of criminal responsibility from the current age of 10.
The US and Zambia urged Papua New Guinea to investigate instances of police brutality.
“Women and girls continue to face enormous danger from the scourge of gender-based violence and sorcery accusations,” Pearson said. “The Papua New Guinea government should demonstrate that it is serious about tackling these issues by prosecuting offenders and holding abusers to account.”