The shooting of students peacefully protesting in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, is a disgraceful attack on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.
Amnesty International has received information that there are 38 people injured, including four in critical condition. Three people are still being assessed in emergency.
“The shooting of students peacefully protesting is reminiscent of the worst excesses of repressive regimes in the region,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific.
“Papua New Guinea’s authorities must establish a prompt, impartial and independent investigation to determine who is responsible for the unnecessary and excessive use of force.”
The Papua New Guinea police opened fire today on a group of students at Papua New Guinea University who were peacefully protesting against the alleged corruption of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
Several eyewitnesses have come forward to say they saw students beaten and shot at, including one case where a student was shot in the head.
In a statement, Prime Minister O’Neill blamed the violence on the students who had set out from their university for a peaceful protest at parliament. Before any investigation has taken place, he has denied that the police targeted the students, claiming that their only response was the use of tear-gas and “warning shots.”
“Prime Minister O’Neill’s reaction has been completely inadequate. He should ensure an investigation worthy of its name takes place into reports of excessive use of force. Instead, he has prejudged the outcome, blamed the students for what happened to them, and sought to evade accountability,” said Djamin.
Prime Minister O’Neill told parliament that an investigation into the shootings at Papua New Guinea University will take place. It is not clear who will carry out the investigation, when it happen, or whether it will be independent of any government or police interference.
“It is not good enough for the authorities to investigate themselves,” said Djamin. “The Papua New Guinea government is trying to absolve the police of all responsibility for the unlawful use of force.”
Claims by the Papua New Guinea authorities directly contradict several first-hand accounts reported of the violence.
Outside Papua New Guinea General Hospital, families and friends of students who were attacked were peacefully protesting the shootings. Hospital officials have said that they heard shooting outside the hospital.
“The police must exercise restraint and respect the right to peaceful protest. Firearms must only be used when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life,” said Djamin.
Since May, Prime Minister O’Neill’s government has been the focus of sustained student protests over allegations of corruption. O’Neill is accused by PNG’s Taskforce Sweep of allegedly authorizing payments for fraudulent legal bills amounting to USD $22 million.
The students have used peaceful methods, including protests and a boycott of classes.
Prime Minister O’Neill has lashed out at the students for taking part in the peaceful protests, deriding them as poor performing students and warning that they will have to “face the consequences” in terms of their academic prospects
In light of the tragic police shooting of university students, this story published in January appears to ring truer than ever…
International State Crime Initiative
The recent video of a young woman forced to consume a condom by Papua New Guinea police, has rightly triggered condemnation. Yet this humiliating act is by no means an isolated incident. It is rooted in a much longer history of violence, lawlessness and impunity within the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC).
Of course, it needs to be said at the outset, many police officers serve their country with distinction, under very difficult conditions. In short, an entire force cannot be tarred with the same brush.
Nevertheless, there is compelling evidence cataloguing a longstanding culture of violence, lawlessness and impunity within the RPNGC, particularly the mobile squad units. It shouldn’t be forgotten it was their brutality on Bougainville that is frequently cited as one of the critical triggers for the subsequent conflict that cost up to 20,000 lives.
Over the past decade there has been a steady stream of critical reporting on the RPNGC. For example, Amnesty International has documented [pdf file] the lawless behaviour of mobile squads operating around the Porgera mine. They claim, ‘between April and July 2009, police officers of the Mobile Squad burned down at least 130 buildings in Wuangima, with local community members reporting many more being destroyed’.
Violence against women and children has been a persistent problem too. For example, in a series of reports published in 2005 [pdf] and 2006 [pdf], Human Rights Watch uncovered serious sexual assaults perpetrated by police officers, in addition to other acts of humiliation and degradation, including the forced consumption of urine and other gratuitous acts of wanton torture.
On numerous occasions concerns have been raised over mobile squad units securing PNG LNG, including Esso Highlands logistic support for their operations. Investigations are promised by government, but never occur.
Were all that not enough, repeated warnings have been raised over police in Port Moresby and elsewhere, unlawfully evicting communities using extreme violence, on behalf of developers who have acquired the property under questionable conditions. Coupled to this are the other day to day abuses committed by police who not only torture suspects and humiliate civilians publicly – but have the temerity to take glory shots for their own amusement.
This organisational behaviour has been going on for over three decades, without any enduring signs of improved discipline.
Therefore, more junior officers might be forgiven for thinking they are above the law, given the senior command have made no substantive attempt to reform an organisation troubled by systemic corruption, human rights abuses and lawless behaviour.
If we take into account the mountainous body of unprosecuted referrals made by anti-corruption agencies over the past two decades, involving senior politicians and civil servants, its fair to say many state officials have little to gain from a highly functional police force, who impartially administer the law. After all, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.
If history is a guide, this latest scandal will pass under the bridge, without any substantive institutional reform. Of course, there will be much noise from government quarters to quench the public desire for justice, it is unlikely though this will translate into long term action. Politicians know they can grandstand at the heat of crises, and then wait for the public to cool.
Something seismic and unprecedented will be needed to break the cycle of abuse, outrage, and inaction.
Dr Kristian Lasslett, 5 January 2016
The front page headline and story in the Post Courier today is completely misleading and untrue but, sadly, not untypical of the poor standard of media reporting in Papua New Guinea.
Justice Bernard Sakora has NOT been acquitted.
He is accused of corruptly receiving K100,000 from notorious lawyer Paul Paraka in return for issuing a highly unusual and completely questionable blanket injunction preventing implementation of the findings of the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance or any media reporting.
The Commission of Inquiry exposed the theft of K780 million by corrupt lawyers and public officials. Paraka was identified as a major participant in the fraud and primary beneficiary.
Yesterday a magistrate throw out the charge against Sakora because of an alleged procedural error by the police.
The magistrate did NOT acquit Sakora.
To acquit someone means to free them from a criminal charge by a verdict of not guilty. It means the accused is absolved, cleared, exonerated, declared innocent or pronounced not guilty.
None of those terms can be applied to Bernard Sakora and his receipt of the K100,000 (which he does not deny).
The charge against Sakora has NOT been tested in court. He has NOT been found NOT GUILTY. He has NOT been acquitted.
Justice Sakora still needs to answer the questions of why did he received K100,000 from Paul Paraka and why did he grant such an unusual injunction?
The Post Courier should apologise to the people of Papua New Guinea!
Peter O’Neill’s argument against stepping down or resigning as Prime Minister in order to allow law enforcement authorities to do their job of investigating allegations of crimes or misconduct in office is that there is no ‘evidence’ of any wrongdoing on his part. Based on this, he has fought tooth and nail, both in court and out of court, to stay on in the office of Prime Minister of PNG. The out of court tactics he has used (killing the Task Force Sweep, changing justice minister, removing police commissioner, trying to remove the chief magistrate, etc) are clear signs of a power-hungry individual. The in-court battles he has fought will not come out in his favor in the end, because lawful processes of the Police, Prosecution, Leadership Tribunal, etc are all guaranteed under the Constitution, and the Supreme Court is likely to uphold this clear principle of good governance.
Two fallacies of O’Neill’s argument concerning ‘lack of evidence’ are as follows.
One, it is not for him to determine whether there is evidence of any wrongdoing, because only a court can make that determination. And the ridiculous thing is that when the court (and Tribunal) want to make this determination, he finds a way to put a stop to that. So, it seems that only HIM will continue to make this determination, albeit only temporary. I do not believe the Constitution has given him (or any body else who has been alleged to gave committed a crime) to make such a determination. Everyone else submits to the due process of the law, so who is Peter O’Neill to not to do the same? If it is because he is the Prime Minister, then this is a clear abuse of his office. Indeed, it really should be the other way around; i.e., because he is the Prime Minister he should be the first person in the country to show respect for the public office he holds and do two three things: one, he should resign from office; two, he should voluntarily attend at the police station and answer questions that the police have; and three, he should cooperate with the police and leadership code authorities to have any case started against him heard and determined. I would say that that would be the marks of a true leader who cares about protecting the integrity of the office of Prime Minister. This is not to say that he will forgo his individual Constitutional rights, because the recognition of his rights are integral in the legal processes involved, and so his rights will be observed as a matter of course.
Two, the only criteria under the Leadership Code (s.27 Constitution) that Peter O’Neill (or any other such leader) is required by this Code to be concerned about is to ask himself if his conduct (or what is alleged against him) may give rise to ‘doubt in the public mind’ as to whether he ‘could’ have a conflict of interest or he ‘might’ be compromised or his conduct ‘demeans’ the office of Prime Minister or his conduct has allowed the integrity of the office of Prime Minister to be called into question or his conduct has endangered or diminished the respect for and confidence in the integrity of government of PNG. The general public of this country may not know these exact wordings of the Leadership Code, but it is their general understanding of things that can be sufficient to warrant a leader to resign, submit himself to the law, and cooperate with law enforcement authorities. The bottom line in the Leadership Code is the protection of the name and integrity of the public office that the leader holds. In my mind, Peter O’Neill has clearly forgotten about this very important principle.
Adam Boland | Pacifik News | June 1, 2016
Peter O’Neill has become the great survivor.
For two years, he’s avoided serious questioning over allegations that could end his time as Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.
Amid the claims and counterclaims, it’s perhaps easy to lose track of how we got to this point. So, we’ve broken down the main issues that refuse to go away.
Almost immediately after coming to power in 2011, Peter O’Neill vowed to rid his country’s bureaucracy of corruption.
He set up a powerful crime fighting unit comprising police, prosecutors and auditors. It was known as Taskforce Sweep and it proved extremely effective.
Investigators showed they weren’t scared of anyone. Business leaders, senior officials and politicians were among those arrested. Their probe revealed shocking examples of public money being used for private purposes. Education, health and other vital projects all suffered as corruption flourished.
Arrests turned into convictions as taskforce head Sam Koim proudly declared: “We have created a momentum and other agencies are now beginning to rise up. More and more, we see prominent people are being called into question.”
One of the people about to be called into question was none other than Peter O’Neill.
The Paraka Allegations
Evidence emerged that supposedly linked the Prime Minister to fraud at PNG legal firm, Paraka Lawyers.
In mid 2013, Paul Paraka was accused of invoicing the government for work that was never done. Of almost 3,000 bills issued, 97 per cent were found to have been inflated or falsified. That added up to around $30 million in public money that was then thought to have been laundered through Australian banks. Paraka denies any wrongdoing.
Investigators say the money kept flowing to Paraka thanks to a letter of authority signed by Mr O’Neill when he was Finance Minister. He insisted the letter was forged and he had no knowledge of the payments.
But Taskforce Sweep was confident in the evidence and wanted to question Mr O’Neill. When he refused in June 2014, an arrest warrant was issued.
The Prime Minister was determined to avoid being questioned. He went to court, gaining an order that prevented his arrest.
Soon enough, Taskforce Sweep was starved of funding before finally being disbanded. The Police Commissioner and Attorney-General were also replaced.
Mr O’Neill was unrepentant: “We are going to continue to terminate everybody who is going to undermine the work of the government,” he said.
To this day, he’s avoided arrest but a smaller anti-corruption unit is again on the case, albeit with tight restrictions from factions within the police loyal to Mr O’Neill. Investigators were even locked out of their building last month after arresting the Prime Minister’s lawyer on allegations of perverting the course of justice.
The UBS loan
The Paraka scandal isn’t Mr O’Neill’s only problem.
He’s also facing intense scrutiny over the process he used to take out a US$1.2 billion loan on behalf of the country in 2014.
The money was used to buy a 10 per cent stake in Oil Search Limited.
Former Prime Ministers Michael Somare and Mekere Morauta both accused Mr O’Neill of bulldozing the deal through government agencies despite huge risks to PNG.
The country’s Ombudsman was concerned too and referred the matter to the public prosecutor who then called in the Leadership Tribunal.
But once again, the Prime Minister sought court intervention, obtaining an order to stop the tribunal from convening.
Former Chief Justice Arnold Amet says if the tribunal is ever allowed to convene, Mr O’Neill will be automatically suspended. The three judges who make up the tribunal also have the right to dismiss the Prime Minister if they find wrongdoing.
The Supreme Court will soon rule on whether the tribunal can convene.
And that brings us to the ongoing protests by university students.
For a month now, they’ve been calling on the Prime Minister to come good on his 2011 promise to shine a light on corruption.
They say that can only happen when he finally submits to questioning.