UN committee calls for end to Bougainville blockade

Issue 

By Norm Dixon

"You cannot keep a people under detention for four years and expect the world to turn a blind eye. What Papua New Guinea and Australia have been doing to Bougainville is no longer a secret. The word is out!", exclaimed Mike Forster, head of Bougainville's delegation to the United Nations Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in Geneva.

The subcommission voted unanimously on August 27 for a resolution calling on the Papua New Guinea government to lift its blockade and allow the immediate return of freedom of movement to all Bougainvilleans. The subcommission also placed the issue of peace treaty processes between PNG and Bougainville under review by its special rapporteur on treaties.

The vote followed the request in mid-August by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that the PNG government provide a full report into human rights violations on Bougainville.

The resolution of the subcommission and UNCERD represent the first time that PNG has been criticised by any UN human rights organisation since 1976.

"We hope for an immediate cease-fire and a continuation of the treaty processes begun in Honiara in January 1991", Forster said. "The special rapporteur is on his way to PNG and they need to clean up their act ... We are dealing with a new government in PNG, and Bougainvilleans can be persuaded to put the past behind them if the government shows good faith."

Forster called on the PNG government to restore the travel documents of all Bougainvilleans, lift the blockade and restart negotiations.

Speaking in Sydney, the Bougainville Interim Government's representative to Australia, Moses Havini, added that "PNG, Australia and New Zealand can no longer treat the Bougainville political situation as an 'internal matter'. They should immediately act decisively on the basis of the UN Bougainville resolution to foster a negotiation process leading towards a lasting political solution."

Meanwhile, the Australian government has announced that a fifth Iroquois combat helicopter will be given to the PNG Defence Force. The helicopter is to replace one of the four previously supplied that crashed. The announcement was made as Australian foreign minister Senator Gareth Evans left Port Moresby on August 27.

The announcement was made despite evidence that the PNG government has permitted the use of the helicopters as offensive ns ever since they were first supplied in 1989. The original condition of their supply — that they not be used as gunships — has been repeatedly flouted.

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