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Papua New Guinea

Executive Summary

Papua New Guinea is a constitutional, federal, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary elections took place in 2017, and the People’s National Congress party won a majority in the 111-seat unicameral parliament, led by former prime minister Peter O’Neill. In May, O’Neill resigned, and parliament elected James Marape prime minister. In some parts of the country, electoral contests involved widespread violence, fraud, bribery, voter intimidation, and undue influence.

The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Police. The Defense Force is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities, and reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police; torture by police; acts of government corruption; the existence of criminal defamation laws; trafficking in persons; the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, although the law was not enforced; and child labor.

The government frequently failed to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was pervasive.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. Newspapers sometimes reported on controversial topics, although many journalists complained of intimidation aimed at influencing coverage by agents of members of parliament and other government figures. Self-censorship by journalists was common, especially when reporting on contentious political events.

Freedom of Expression: The government generally respected freedom of speech, although some activists reported the intimidating presence of unmarked vehicles outside of their homes. Government critics on social media reported intimidation and threats. In March 2018, acting on a complaint from a member of parliament, police arrested a man for alleging on social media that the parliamentarian paid bribes to voters during the 2017 election. The same parliamentarian supported a government proposal to ban Facebook for one month to allow the government time to investigate fake accounts. On May 28, the communications minister announced that the government would implement such a ban, but the new government dropped the proposal in June after civil society groups protested.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Media members alleged that politicians offered journalists and editors bribes with the intent of buying favorable coverage. On August 19, the president of the Media Council of Papua New Guinea (MCPNG) and the news director of government-owned television station EMTV, Neville Choi, was fired at the government’s direction after Choi allowed EMTV news to cover soldiers protesting outside of the office of the prime minister. The government later denied the link to Choi’s dismissal. On August 22, Choi was reinstated in response to public pressure on EMTV and the government.

In November 2018 EMTV suspended senior journalist Scott Waide for publishing reports that were “not favorable” to the station. EMTV claimed the decision to suspend Waide was taken by Kumul Telikom Holdings Board, which controls EMTV. After a week of national and international outcry, including from the MCPNG, Waide was reinstated later that month. Minister for Public Enterprise and State Investments William Marra Duma, however, said that an inquiry into the suspension would be launched and that Waide would be investigated for “displaying lack of news judgment.”

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to harassment, intimidation, and in some cases violence by police and supporters of parliamentarians for their reporting. Multiple media outlets asserted their journalists, photographers, and videographers experienced intimidation attempts from some parliamentarians and their associates during the year. In May police assaulted a journalist as he tried to take photos and notes at the scene of a car accident. Social media reported that the driver was someone of high standing and known to police officers. As of September no action had been taken against the officers.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law allows for investigation and prosecution of offenses including defamatory publication of material concerning another person.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Asylum seekers and refugees were sometimes subjected to abuse by security forces and the local population. In August the government opened a new detention facility, Bomana, in Port Moresby for asylum seekers who had their claims rejected or who were transferred from Manus Island to Port Moresby. Refugee and legal groups noted that asylum seekers detained at the Bomana detention facility were unable to speak to lawyers and doctors, blocking their urgent medical evacuations to Australia. Several others were detained after being approved for medical transfers and lost communication with their lawyers.

The psychiatric institution at the Bomana facility responsible for the mental-health needs of nonrefugees who were transferred from Manus Island to Port Moresby reportedly was closed. In September, ICRC observers were reportedly denied access to nonrefugees in the facility.

From January to March, an independent health advice panel overseeing medical transfer for asylum seekers languishing in the Manus Island offshore detention facility reported that 472 mental-health consultations and 375 specialist consultations were performed at the East Lorengau refugee transit center on Manus Island. Of these, 17 were admitted to Lorengau general hospital for mental-health conditions.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Legislation provides a refugee status determination process, under which those approved are eligible to apply for a refugee visa and certificate of identity. The law allows persons from Indonesia’s Papua Province (formerly Irian Jaya) to apply for citizenship without having to pay the usual fee.

The government maintained two agreements with Australia on refugees. The first allowed Australia to send asylum seekers to Manus Island (see section 1.c.) for processing only. The second, which superseded the first, allows refugees and asylum seekers to resettle in the country under the same rules that apply to all other foreign nationals applying for citizenship, which require applicants to have resided permanently in the country for eight years. Refugees brought into the country under the latter agreement were exempted from paying the PGK 10,000 ($2,940) application fee and were exempted from a work permit requirement. International organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society groups in the country raised questions about the constitutionality of both agreements.

In 2017 Australian authorities closed the Manus Island Refugee Processing Center while refugees and asylum seekers were living in it. Hundreds of detainees, however, refused to leave the center. In August the East Lorengau refugee transit center was closed, and almost all remaining refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island were transferred to Port Moresby.

Australian authorities and UNHCR trained the ICA on how to make refugee status determinations. ICA officers were responsible for processing refugee claims made by those on Manus Island. As of October more than 400 persons determined to be genuine refugees were accommodated in hotels in Port Moresby. Authorities determined 53 individuals to be nonrefugees and placed in the Bomana holding facility in Port Moresby approximately 30 who refused to participate in the status-determination process. Five persons remained in Manus awaiting court appearances for criminal offenses, and another 598 had accepted the voluntary departure package, which in some cases included as much as $25,000 in cash, offered by Australian and Papua New Guinea authorities. The remainder were either deported, sent to Australia for medical treatment, settled in Papua New Guinea or the United States, or had died.

The ICA worked with the support of international organizations and NGOs to provide training, job matching, and temporary financial support to help refugees establish themselves in the country. Resettlement efforts were problematic, however, because several refugees who tried to resettle in the country became victims of crime.

Durable Solutions: The national refugee policy provides a way for Indonesian Papuans to apply for Papua New Guinean citizenship without having to pay the PGK 10,000 ($2,940) citizenship fee. The ICA estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Indonesian Papuans lived in Papua New Guinea. Under the policy 1,259 Indonesian Papuans received citizenship certificates in 2017, more than 200 were awarded in 2018, and there was no report of any granted as of September.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to persons from Indonesia’s Papua Province who may not qualify as refugees. Approximately 3,000 persons, classified by the government as “border crossers,” lived in villages adjacent to the border with Indonesia, and approximately 2,400 lived in urban areas, including Port Moresby.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections. Citizens exercised this right through periodic but flawed elections based on universal and equal suffrage. While voting is supposed to take place by secret ballot, secrecy of the ballot was routinely compromised during elections, and assisted voting was common.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; the government, however, did not always implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption at all levels and in all organs of government was a serious problem due to weak public institutions and governance, lack of transparency, politicization of the bureaucracy, and misuse of public resources by officials to meet traditional clan obligations. Corruption and conflicts of interest were of particular concern in extractive industries, particularly the logging sector, and in government procurement.

The Ombudsman Commission and Public Accounts Committee are key organizations responsible for combating government corruption. The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee established by the constitution with a mandate to examine and report to parliament on public accounts and national property.

The Ombudsman Commission met with civil society and at times initiated action based on input received. Although civil society organizations engaged with individual members of the Public Accounts Committee, the committee was less receptive to public input and generally did not seek to engage with civil society. The committee generally operated independently of government influence, but a lack of trained staff hindered its effectiveness. Neither body had sufficient resources to carry out its mission.

Corruption: In July the new acting deputy police commissioner, David Manning, announced he was reopening an investigation into the Manumanu land scandal, in which a company belonging to family members of a government minister received PGK 46.6 million ($13.7 million) for land that it did not legally own. In 2017 then prime minister Peter O’Neill had suspended two cabinet ministers, four department heads, the state solicitor, and other senior government executives for their involvement in this land scandal. Outcry from the general public and customary owners of the land led the prime minister to announce a commission of inquiry, but no report was released, and in August 2018 the then police commissioner announced that police were dropping an investigation into the deal, asserting they found no evidence of wrongdoing. Both ministers implicated in the scandal retained their portfolios.

The new police commissioner fired police officials at all levels, including the commissioner, two deputy commissioners, and three officers, in an effort to restore credibility and accountability. Using social media the minister urged popular and political support for a cultural change that respected due process, rule of law, and equal justice.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure law as stipulated in the leadership code of conduct. The Ombudsman Commission monitored and verified disclosures and administered the leadership code, which requires leaders to declare, within three months of assuming office (and annually thereafter), their assets, liabilities, third-party sources of income, gifts, and all beneficial interests in companies, including shares, directorships, and business transactions. The public did not have access to government declarations. Sanctions for noncompliance range from fines to imprisonment.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. While domestic human rights groups did not face threats from the government, civil society in the country remained weak and disorganized.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman Commission is responsible for investigating alleged misconduct and defective administration by governmental bodies, alleged discriminatory practices by any person or body, and alleged misconduct in office by leaders under the leadership code. Staffing constraints often caused delays in investigations and thus in the completion and release of reports.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers in the public and private sectors to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The government has limited influence over trade union formation and registration. The law does not cover workers in the informal sector, which accounted for 85 percent of the labor force, most of whom were engaged in small-scale farming.

The law requires unions to register with the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. An unregistered union has no legal standing and thus cannot operate effectively. Although the law provides for the right to strike, the government may, and often did, intervene in labor disputes, forcing arbitration before workers could legally strike or refusing to grant permission for a secret ballot vote on strike action. Some union leaders complained that the Labor Department’s refusal to allow for votes on strike action constituted undue government influence. By law the government has discretionary power to intervene in collective bargaining by canceling arbitration awards or declaring wage agreements void when deemed contrary to government policy.

The law prohibits both retaliation against strikers and antiunion discrimination by employers against union leaders, members, and organizers. The law does not provide for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. In cases of retaliation or unlawful dismissal for union activity, the court may fine an employer and may order the reinstatement of the employee and reimbursement of any lost wages. If an employer fails to comply with such directives, the court may order imprisonment or fines until the employer complies.

The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing the law, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. With two labor inspectors per province and inadequate resources, inspectors usually monitored and enforced the law on an ad hoc basis. The Labor Department did not always act to prevent retaliation against strikers or protect workers from antiunion discrimination, which remained widespread in the logging sector and in state-owned enterprises. Observers attributed its ineffectiveness to a lack of sufficient manpower and resources.

Unions were generally independent of both the government and political parties, whose influence diminished from previous years. Employees of some government-owned enterprises went on strike on several occasions during the year, primarily to protest against privatization policies, terminations, and appointments of managers or board members, or in pay disputes. In most cases the strikes were brief due to temporary agreements reached between the government and workers.

Workers in both the public and private sectors engaged in collective bargaining. The Labor Department and courts were involved in dispute settlement.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties are sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Logging and mining sites primarily operated in remote regions with negligible government oversight, and authorities did not make efforts to identify forced labor victims at these sites. The law allows officials, on order of a judge or magistrate, to apprehend a noncitizen crewmember of a foreign-registered ship who fails to rejoin the crewmember’s ship during its time in the country. The crewmember is placed at the disposal of the diplomatic representative of the country in which the ship is registered (or, if no such representation exists, the ship’s owner or representative) in order to return the crewmember to the ship. Observers noted this practice might prevent foreign workers from reporting or escaping situations of forced labor.

There were reports that foreign and local women and children were subjected to forced labor as domestic servants, as beggars or street vendors, and in the tourism sector (also see section 7.c.). Foreign and local men were subjected to forced labor, including through debt bondage, in the logging, mining, and fishing sectors. There also were reports of foreign workers, particularly from China and other Pacific nations, entering the country with fraudulent documents and being subjected to forced labor.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. By law the minimum working age is 16, although children ages 14 to 15 may be employed if the employer is satisfied that the child is no longer attending school. In addition children ages 14 to 15 may work aboard ships. The minimum age for hazardous work is 16, but the government has not identified a list of which occupations are hazardous. There are no provisions prohibiting children ages 16 to 18 from engaging in hazardous work. Children ages 11 to 16 may be employed in light work in a family business or enterprise, provided they have parental permission, medical clearance, and a work permit from a labor office. This type of employment was rare, except in subsistence agriculture. Work by children ages 11 to 16 must not interfere with school attendance, and children younger than 16 may not be employed in working conditions dangerous to their health. The law does not, however, specify the types of activities in which light work is permitted nor the number of hours per week this work may be undertaken. The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing child labor law provisions. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

There was a high prevalence of child labor in urban and rural areas, including in hazardous occupations. Children were seen directing parking vehicles and selling cigarettes, food, and DVDs on the street and in grocery stores throughout the country, sometimes near mining and logging camps. There were reports of boys as young as 12 being exploited as “market taxis” in urban areas, carrying extremely heavy loads for low pay; some may have been victims of forced labor. There were also reports of children engaging in mining activities, including prospectors forcing children to work in alluvial gold mining.

Children worked mainly in subsistence agriculture, cash crop farming, and livestock herding. This included seasonal work in plantations (for coffee, tea, copra, and palm oil) in the formal and informal rural economies.

Some children (primarily girls) worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes, often to repay a family debt to the “host” family, in situations that sometimes constituted domestic servitude. In some cases the host was a relative who informally “adopted” the child. There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

No law prohibits discrimination regarding race, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. The constitution bars discrimination based on disability, but the government did not take measures to protect persons with disabilities from discrimination. The law bans discrimination based on gender for employment and wages in the workplace. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

The law explicitly precludes women from employment in certain occupations, allows the government to recruit either men or women for certain civil service positions, and discriminates by gender in eligibility for certain job-related allowances.

Discrimination occurred based on the above categories with respect to employment and occupation. For example, the International Labor Organization noted there were concerns regarding discrimination against certain ethnic groups, including Asian workers and entrepreneurs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was above the official estimate for the poverty income level. The law regulates minimum wage levels, allowances, rest periods, holiday leave, and overtime work. The law limits the workweek to 42 hours per week in urban areas and 44 hours per week in rural areas, and it provides for premium pay for overtime work. Labor law does not apply to workers in the informal sector.

The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing the law regarding minimum wage and work hours and occupational safety and health. It sets occupational safety and health standards and is required by law to inspect work sites on a regular basis. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Workers are entitled to wages while the inspection takes place, although the law does not specify further protection for employees who seek to remove themselves from conditions they deem hazardous. The number of occupational health and safety and industrial relations inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. In the case of a second or subsequent, continuing offense, the employer is liable for a fine for each day or part of each day for which the offense continued. When an employer fails to obey an order, direction, or requirement, the court may order imprisonment of the offender until the directive is obeyed.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health law and regulations were common in the logging, mining, agricultural, and construction sectors due to the government’s lack of enforcement capacity. The logging industry in particular was known for extremely low wages and poor working conditions, including cramped and unhygienic worker housing. Workers in the mining sector were also subjected to hazardous and exploitative conditions, including exposure to toxic metals such as mercury.

According to World Bank data, 90 percent of the 2.9 million workers labored in rural areas, where law enforcement and monitoring were weak.

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