OCEANIA/PAPUA NEW GUINEA - Indigenous population has lost rights to territory, natural resources

Port Moresby (Agenzia Fides) – Papua New Guinea’s indigenous people have lost their right to challenge developers and the state over deals involving their land and resources. Numbering some six million people, Papua New Guineans - comprising hundreds of ethnic groups - own 97 percent of the country’s land. “This raises huge human rights issues,” Tiffany Nonnggor, a lawyer and human rights advocate in Port Moresby. While the rest of the western democratic world has spent the better part of the past 50 years trying to restore indigenous property rights, this government “has just stripped its most vulnerable citizens, those in the remote rural areas where the projects are, of their rights with no consultation and debate, let alone compensation,” she said. the country’s parliament amended sections of the Environment and Conservation Act 2000, which rules on major resource projects in the Pacific island nation. The amendments give the director of the Office of Environment and Conservation wide-ranging powers to grant various certificates relating to environmental plans submitted by investors, in addition to provisions that complying certificates issued by the director will be final and “may not be challenged or reviewed in any court or tribunal, except at the instigation of an Authorization Instrument”. The opposition is up in arms over the amendments, saying the changes were open to legal challenge to determine their constitutionality. “Not only have they breached many sections of the constitution, they have managed to breach the international convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, ratified by parliament in 2000,” Nonnggor said in her statement.
Disputes concerning land and resource rights between indigenous groups, the government and corporate entities are not uncommon in PNG. While figures vary significantly, more than 5,000 people lost their lives on the island of Bougainville off the east coast of PNG between 1989 and 1999 following a bitter fight over compensation between Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), an Australian-owned mining company, and the hundreds of indigenous landowners it displaced in Panguna. The conflict escalated into a bloody civil war between members of the indigenous population and government troops. (AP) (Agenzia Fides 2/6/2010)

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