AusAID and Papua New Guinea: Urgent need for a policy review
Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is expected to make a five-day visit to PNG beginning on 3 March 2008 - the first of any State visit by an Australian Prime Minister in many years. PM Rudd will be briefed by his diplomatic and development representatives on the poor security situation, as well as high levels of criminality and societal violence in PNG. AusAID will rightly argue that this ‘law and order’ problem is a serious drag on PNG’s development and the prospects for AusAID development assistance.
AusAID will outline to PM Rudd Australian support to the PNG police who are charged with addressing these violent crimes. But it is unlikely that there will be neither discussion of the appalling human rights situation nor the direct involvement of the police in these crimes.
Beyond a limited ‘law and order’ prism, Rudd’s representatives are equally unlikely to offer any analysis on the relationship between human rights violations by police and poor security and the consequent prospects for development. This is a troubling position: even senior members of the PNG government concede that the PNG Police are a cause of insecurity, violence and contributing to the breakdown in the rule of law in PNG.
While the links between human rights, security and development might have been unclear and hence understandable twenty years ago, this is no longer the case. These links have been an established part of mainstream development policy making for more than a decade, included in the policies of such development actors as DfID, the EU and the World Bank.
AusAID under the Howard government has fallen out of touch with the rest of the development community. AusAID influence in PNG is difficult to underestimate. It will spend an estimated 355 million Australian dollars in PNG in 2008 alone. The size of its assistance allows AusAID to dominate development discourse in PNG.
In this review ACHR argues that AusAIDs policy position condemns Australian development assistance to failure. Billions of dollars of Australian development assistance will be wasted and will at best fail to halt PNG’s descent into a vicious cycle of violence and human rights violations that undermine all other aspects of development and development assistance.
With a new
Criminality in PNG
There is no doubt
that criminality and in particular violent crime, is a serious problem in PNG.
Despite low levels of reporting, available evidence suggests crime is getting
worse. A recent survey suggested that 18% of the
PNG is complex. Dinnen notes that ‘rampant corruption among the political elite
has also fuelled the rise of raskolism [vernacular for criminal gangs],
providing a powerful rationalization for street criminals’
There are well established links between organized crime and the political
elite. In 1997 Australian Television
screened concealed video footage of the then PNG Prime Minister William Skate
claiming that he was the ‘the Godfather’ of all PNG’s criminal gangs.
There are similar
links between criminal gangs, the police and powerful business interests. These
links were highlighted by a 2006 report by CELCOR, a public interest
environmental law NGO based in
Any analysis of the rule of law and in particular police reform must take account of elite linkages to organized crime.
Reform and Violence in PNG
Since independence in 1975 AusAID has
played a central role in police reform in PNG. While millions of Australian tax
dollars have been spent on attempts at reform, the police are not only failing
to address crime, they are actually perpetuating a downward cycle of crime and
violence. One aspect of the failure is
explained by chronic under-resourcing in all areas of policing – barracks are
regularly condemned as unfit for human habitation. The police are regularly
placed in security situations where they are literally outmanned and out
gunned. The challenge of policing in PNG
is enormous: from the extreme nature of the crimes, to PNGs harsh
geography. Not surprisingly, against
this background, morale is very poor.
The Human Rights Situation in
resources present an incomplete picture. There are only a few major studies on
the human rights situation in PNG, primarily carried out by the international
human rights group Human Rights Watch.
Their conclusions are of widespread and systematic patterns of abuse
perpetrated by the police. Their reports express particular concern for
violations against children, including torture and rape. The police are guilty
of: ‘wanton crime and abuse’ and ‘routinely employ excessive force, sexual
violence and torture against individuals in their custody’.
There are all too familiar reports in the media of detainees being shot ‘while
resisting arrest’, or ‘while trying to escape’.
While some level of violation is
unremarkable for any security force – mistakes happen - it is the scale of
these violations and the extent of the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators
that is of deep concern. Violations in PNG have reached such widespread and
systematic levels they are actually feeding crime, insecurity and a breakdown in
the rule of law.
Government of PNG concurs. In the words of Governor-General, Sir Paulias Matane
‘the constabulary, instead of protecting and serving the community was being
seen more as a threat to our very security’
. A 2004 PNG Ministerial Police Review noted as
key issues: ‘rape and assault’ as well as ‘excessive and unprovoked violence’
The report concludes that: ‘law and
order is breaking down and there are serious discipline and morale problems
within the Royal PNG Police Constabulary’
the years AusAID driven reform of the police and justice sectors has taken many
forms, but the basic structural issue remains unchallenged: impunity for grave
violations of human rights. The 2004 Ministerial Police Review and Human Rights
Watch both identify the lack of accountability as a key obstacle to changing
the culture and reforming the police force. The 2004 Ministerial Police Review
stated that the Government would not ‘tolerate continuance of the present
appalling state of affairs’.
 In relation to the prospects for reform
it warned that ‘without government commitment, nothing will change’
The report is now three years old and impunity continues to undermine reform
is now three years old and impunity continues to undermine reform efforts. Few
if any other national police forces have ever been so reliant on support from a
single external donor, not least the former colonial power, who established the
PNG police force. And it is in this context that
the severity of human rights abuses in PNG, under the Howard government,
Australian diplomatic representatives did not publicly raise human rights
concerns with PNG. Senior diplomats privately concede that this omission was
replicated in private exchanges. AusAID publications on PNG suggest that they
do not consider human rights an issue. For example, the AusAID Papua New Guinea - Australia Development
Cooperation Strategy 2006-2010 fails to mention the words ‘human rights’.
One explanation for the absent human
rights analysis may perhaps be found in an examination of
AusAID dominates development discourse
in PNG. Other donors lack the funds to take the sectoral approach that AusAID
can afford and append their projects to an AusAID design.
indicator is the parlous state of PNG civil society. Even in countries without
democracy, and with weak rule of law, under normal circumstances civil society
plays a key role in advocating for human rights. NGOs are engines of ideas
which can provide alternative visions for us to contest, refine, accept or
reject. In such developing countries domestic financial support for human rights
groups (whose role is to challenge government on the most sensitive issues) is
not realistic. The human rights sector of civil society in most developing
countries is heavily reliant on external funding. In PNG AusAID's monopolistic role means that civil
society is limited by AusAIDs funding approach to development. It is hardly
surprising then that while there are valiant attempts to defend human rights,
there is no identifiable human rights movement in PNG.
situation is compounded by legal protections against criticism of AusAID
established by the Howard Administration. Under Howard, AusAID reserved the right to censor the public statements
of NGOs in contracts for delivery of government-funded welfare services. The
confidentiality clauses required not for profit organisations to provide copies
of their media releases, submissions, reports and campaigns to the Government
before being issued publicly. These restrictive clauses also gave the
Federal Government the right to insist that the organisation change staff
members. These conditions which may have been intended to prevent political
criticism, stifled public debate and prevented the release of vital research on
social issues, not least human rights. Thankfully one of PM Rudd’s government first
initiatives has been to put an end to these clauses - a move that Asian Centre
for Human Rights (ACHR) applauds.
As the only recently departed
ex-colonial power and its continuing dominance,
Perversely for a democratic country,
human rights are not on the political agenda of the PNG government, the
political parties, civil society, or the media. With Australian support
successive PNG governments have responded to very high levels of crime and
violent social disorder with a blunt focus on punitive actions in the justice
sector. Their response has been neither
strategic nor long term. They inevitably fail. What little space remains for
alternatives is increasingly sidelined by ever more emotive calls for punitive
action to respond to PNGs appalling problem with violence; punitive action in
which the criminals are rarely punished if ever caught.
Rudd Government Performance
On 13 February 2008 the government
apologized for the ‘stolen generation’ – Aboriginal children stolen from their
families in the 1970s. Prime Minister Rudd was brave enough to admit that the
old policies had failed. He promised a new beginning.
A similar break with the past is needed
Whether or not PM Rudd accepts human
rights arguments, Australian tax payers will contribute an estimated AU$355
million to PNG in 2008. Objectively the policy has failed. AusAID has a case to
Asian Centre for Human Rights urges the Australian government to:
- Announce an immediate policy review on Papua New Guinea. This would be best facilitated by an immediate independent evaluation of AusAID’s development assistance to PNG composed of an eminent panel of experts with a clear human rights dimension and relevant expertise;
- Develop a programme supporting the development of a human rights culture in PNG including explicit support to human rights NGOs and networking with their international partners;
- Develop a strategy to incorporate human rights as an explicit part of AusAID policy goals; and
- Develop in-house AusAID human rights expertise.
 Report of the Royal PNG Constabulary Administrative Review Committee to Minister for Internal Security Bire Kimasopa. September 2004
 . Human Rights Watch Report
 . The National Newspaper 4 March 2007
 . Report of the Royal PNG Constabulary Administrative Review Committee to Minister for Internal Security Bire Kimasopa. September 2004
 . ibid
 . ibid
 . ibid
 There are other donors but the size of Australian assistance means the agenda is set by AusAID.