In November 2021, the human rights record of Papua New Guinea (PNG) will face scrutiny when the PNG Government appears before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for the third periodic review of its human rights obligations. This review takes place as part of a peer-review process called Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Last time PNG’s record was reviewed was in May 2016.
In advance of the review and in March 2021, the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) and the Global Detention Project (GDP) made a joint submission to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) as an APRRN member actively involved across a number of relevant Working Groups (including Immigration Detention and Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Working Groups) made significant contributions to the submission. We worked closely with Caritas PNG, another APRRN member, to present the main issues on the ground. We also drew on our first-hand experience working with refugees transferred by Australia to PNG. This included the evidence we collected during our 2019 trip to Port Moresby when we met with a number of men who were recently released from Bomana Immigration Centre.
This joint submission focuses on human rights concerns relating to PNG’s treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum, including its use of immigration detention. Some of the main issues discussed are:
- lack of progress with the implementation of the recommendations the PNG Government accepted in the previous UPR cycles,
- serious gaps in support for refugees transferred by Australia,
- lack of meaningful opportunities for integration and settlement for a small number of refugees transferred by Australia who have decided to settle in PNG,
- lack of legal provisions for protecting the rights of refugees,
- issues affecting West Papuan refugees, including lack of legal recognition, significant restrictions placed on this group, and lack of land and employment.
We have also highlighted two incidents of significant concern that occurred during the review period: use of force by police during the evacuation of Lombrum Regional Processing Centre in 2017 and the detention of 53 men in Bomana Immigration Centre in 2019.
RCOA used the information it gathered in its trip to Port Moresby in November 2019 for the section on Bomana and raised particular concerns about people being held incommunicado for months and extraordinary pressure placed on them to return to their home countries. We argued that while Australia had a degree of responsibility in the operation of Bomana and authorised (and perhaps encouraged) the enormous pressure placed on detainees to return to their home countries, the PNG Government carried a significant responsibility as well, as it subjected this group to severe and prolonged mistreatment.