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Papua New Guinea: Police and military must 'protect human rights' amid riots

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Looting and protests erupted after around 200 military and police personnel walked off the job

At least 16 deaths have been reported

‘The use of unnecessary or excessive force by law enforcement officers will only serve to escalate tensions’ - Kate Schuetze

In response to the rioting and looting in the cities of Port Moresby and Lae in Papua New Guinea that has so far reportedly left at least 16 people dead and prompted the government to declare a State of Emergency, Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher, said:

“It is imperative that Papua New Guinea authorities respond to this violence in a way that protects human rights and avoids further loss of life. The use of unnecessary or excessive force by law enforcement officers will only serve to escalate tensions.

“Alarmingly, an existing police directive authorises the use of lethal force in violation of human rights standards. All law enforcement officers have the ultimate duty to uphold the right to life and to protect peaceful protesters.

“There is a clear risk that further human rights abuses and violations might occur in the course of the authorities’ response to the present situation. Law enforcement functions must be discharged in ways that fully comply with human rights obligations, particularly the right to life.

“The Papua New Guinean authorities must establish a prompt, effective and independent investigation into all deaths that have occurred and ensure accountability in accordance with the right to a fair trial.”

State of emergency

Looting and protests erupted across Port Moresby and Lae on Wednesday after around 200 military and police personnel walked off the job, after alleging that wrongful salary deductions had caused them financial hardship. They proceeded to Parliament to raise their concerns directly with the Prime Minister, who has since issued a statement suggesting authorities are working to correct the pay “error”.

By Wednesday evening, widespread rioting, looting and property damage was reported across Port Moresby, with several buildings on fire. Hospitals reported receiving casualties with burns and bullet wounds. At least 16 deaths have been confirmed so far. Nine of the casualties were reported in the capital Port Moresby, with seven reported in Lae, the country's second largest city.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister declared a State of Emergency of 14 days and also suspended Police Commissioner David Manning alongside several other senior public officials. The government has deployed a military response and said it was flying in extra military and police officers from other provinces to restore law and order.

Cost of living crisis

Like many other countries globally, Papua New Guinea has experienced a sharp rise in the cost of living in recent months and the pay issues impacting police and public servants may have significantly exacerbated existing financial hardship.

The United Nations recommends a police to population ratio of one police officer for every 220 people, whereas the current ratio in Papua New Guinea is 1:1145. This means police remain severely understaffed and ill-equipped to effectively fulfil their law enforcement role.

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