PNG Ombudsman to investigate police conduct

1:35 pm on 13 June 2016
UPNG student rally at the Waigani Campus.

Students had been protesting for weeks before last Wednesday's shooting. Photo: UPNG4PNG

Papua New Guinea's Ombudsman Commission says it will investigate the police shooting of protesting students in Port Moresby last week.

In a statement, the independent commission said it wants to investigate whether police officers broke the law or committed misconduct.

On Wednesday, police injured as many as 23 students from the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby after they tried to march to parliament in a show of support for a planned vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.

The students had been boycotting classes since early May to protest Mr O'Neill's refusal to stand down to face allegations of corruption that have plagued his office for years.

After the shootings, Mr O'Neill, the police commissioner Gary Baki, and the university's vice chancellor sought to deflect the blame onto the students, who they said aggravated the incident through their actions.

PNG Police Commissioner, Gary Baki.

PNG Police Commissioner, Gary Baki. Photo: EMTV

The Post Courier newspaper said Mr Baki this weekend announced an investigation into the university's Student Representative Council and the conduct of foreign media in their reporting of the shootings.

However, the commissioner, who has promised to restore command and control in the force, did not mention whether the investigation will also scrutinise police actions.

The head of the Student Representative Council, Kenneth Rapa, said in a statement that inquries should be broadened to investigate the police and university administration, and be independent.

The Papua New Guinea Constabulary is familiar with controversy, with violent confrontations and the misuse of weapons a regular occurrence.

The chair of Transparency International in PNG, Lawrence Stephens, said last week's incident was yet another case of the disciplined forces acting with impunity.

"They do so justifiably because you very rarely find that anybody is seriously held accountable. You don't find any of our political office holders prepared to take responsibility for the decisions that they are ultimately responsible for, they look for other people to blame," said Mr Stephens, who said the authorities' reaction to the incident had been disgraceful.

"Our position remains the same: Police have no right to behave in that manner and people really should be controlling the use of weapons by our disciplined forces," he said.

"They continue to cause us great shame, and great destruction to life, and damage to individuals."

A 2005 inquiry into the police came up with 244 recommendations to address issues of discipline, the use of high-powered weapons, and the need for a police ombudsman. None of those recommendations were ever adopted by the government.

Somare visits injured students

On Sunday, the former prime minister, Sir Michael Somare, paid a courtesy on the university students are still in hospital.

Sir Michael Somare

Sir Michael Somare Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Sir Michael condemend the police actions, saying it was inexcusable that police fired on unarmed students, and that it needs to be established who gave the orders for the police actions.

Two weeks ago, Sir Michael, who is the East Sepik Governor, helped pay bail for 18 students who had been arrested at a public rally in the provincial capital, Wewak, related to the student protests calling for Mr O'Neill to stand aside.

He called on Peter O'Neill to stand aside to face fraud allegations, saying that Mr Baki could not protect the prime minister at the expense of the safety of the general public.

"The government of the day has to be very careful in the steps that they will be taking to protect our democracy and the security of our people," said Sir Michael. "I do not want our country to come undone because leaders are abusing their office at the expense of our people."

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