Tough new PNG police powers won't work - Transparency PNG

1:31 pm on 5 July 2023
A police landcruiser patrols the streets of the Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby.

A police landcruiser patrols the streets of the Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby. Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Koroi Hawkins

Papua New Guinea's amended Criminal Code Act will give police the power to deal with what they are calling 'domestic terrorists.'

The impetus for the new legislation has been the rash of kidnappings carried out in a remote part of the Southern Highlands.

In Bosavi, gangs of youths have captured at least three groups, held them for ransom, and in the case of 17 teenage girls allegedly raped them.

The PNG Police Commissioner, David Manning, said the kidnappings and ransom demands constitute domestic terrorism.

"The amendments establish clear legal process for the escalated use of up to (sic) lethal force, powers of search and seizure, and detention, for acts of domestic terrorism," he said.

"It is high time that we call these criminals domestic terrorists, because that is what they are, and we need harsher measures to bring them to justice one way or another."

Police Commissioner, David Manning.

Police Commissioner, David Manning. Photo: PNG police

Manning, in a statement, went on to say domestic terrorism includes the "deliberate use of violence against people and communities to murder, injure and intimidate, including kidnapping and ransoms, and the destruction of properties".

"An accurate definition of domestic terrorism also includes hate crimes, including tribal fights and sorcery-related violence."

Chairman of Transparency International in PNG, Peter Aitsi, said he doubts it will be effective.

He said police already have lethal powers.

"I think in terms of changing the act to give them more power, I think they already have it," he said.

"But I doubt whether it will have any significant improvement in terms of the response to this emerging problem we are having now, of hostage taking and ransom seeking."

Aiitsi said in the Highlands there is a proliferation of guns, and government authority has been overwhelmed by one or two individuals with the money and guns to maintain power.

"So in this type of environment you can see the police and authorities, so-called authorities, would be powerless, because it's these individuals that control these large sections of these communities, that are now well armed, that are the power in these areas."

PNG Highlands Highway

Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Koroi Hawkins

Call For a Different Approach

Cathy Alex was one of a group kidnapped in February, along with a New Zealand-born Australian archaeologist and two others.

She said she got some insight into the age and temperament of the kidnappers.

"Young boys, 16 and up, a few others," she said.

"No Tok Pisin, no English. It's a generation that's been out there that has had no opportunities.

"What is happening in Bosavi is a glimpse, a dark glimpse, of where our country is heading to."

She said there is a need for a focus on providing services to the rural areas as soon as possible.

Transparency International PNG's Peter Aitsi

Transparency International PNG's Peter Aitsi Photo: Transparency International PNG

Peter Aitsi said that over the past 20 years, PNG has allowed its government system to be undermined with political elites taking control of sub-national services.

He said this has led to "our people really being pushed to the real margins of our development".

"So as a result they are not engaged in the process of society building or even nationhood."

Aitsi said this results in the lawless conduct.

"Their interest is to serve those who can put food on the table for them, and essentially what they see as people who care about their welfare, but they are just using them for their individual outcomes."

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