UN Committee Demands Answers from PNG Govt.

By Harlyne Joku – Post Courier 25/3/11

A powerful United Nations committee has urged the PNG Government in a strongly worded letter to explain before July 31 why it is issuing long-term leases of two million hectares of indigenous land to foreign companies.

Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Anwar Kemal wrote a letter on March 11 to the PNG Ambassador to the United Nations based in New York, Robert Aisi expressing its concern.

“I write to inform you that in the course of its 78th session, the committee considered information of allegations of threat to indigenous peoples in Papua New Guinea,” Mr Kemal wrote.

“The committee expresses its concern about that indigenous land are under threat of alienation through the government’s practice to issue long-term leases to non-indigenous companies over indigenous lands, as allowed by Land Act of 1996.”

Mr Kemal said his committee is urging PNG to provide information to the committee on measures taken to ensure that the application of the Land Act (1996) does not result to alienation of lands belonging to indigenous peoples and granted at the consent of indigenous people.

His letter to the PNG government is a result of intensive lobbying by a large group of environmental and social scientists against the PNG Government’s approval and granting two million hectares of special agricultural and business leases (SABL). The groups reached a consensus at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia to discuss the future of management and conservation of PNG’s native forests.

“We reached a strong consensus on the need to halt the granting of special sgricultural and business leases (SABLs),” Damien Ase, the executive director of CELCOR (Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights) and other PNG based NGOs said.
Mr Ase said the group has also urged the PNG Government to declare and enforce an immediate moratorium on the creation of SABLs and halt the issuing of new Forest Clearing Authorities. “These steps should commence immediately while a thorough transparent and independent review of the legality and constitutionality of these Leases and Authorities is undertaken,” Mr Ase said.

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There are two more paragraphs in the letter which the above report by Post Courier did not mention which is considerably worrying, firstly:

“The Committee is also concerned about the alleged denial of access to judicial remedies to indigenous landowners by the Compensation (Prohibition of Foreign Legal Proceedings) Act (1996) to seek redress before foreign courts, including compensation for environmental destruction of their lands and resources. Morover, the committee is concerned about the Environmental (Amendment) Act 2010 which also allegedly denies indigenous peopls from seeking redress before national courts against environmental permits granted that negatively impact their lands and resources.”

Secondly, and this has to ring a bell with Sir Michael Somare right now:

“In this context, the Committee notes with concern that the State party has not submitted its overdue reports since 1984. The Committee urges the State party to submit its overdue reports, in one document, in order to resume the dialogue.”

Once again yet another example of the government using legislation to shove big business down our throats without our consent. Now the thing is at some level we do need big business and logging and mining etc does put food on the table for PNG, but as long as it is done with consent and local participation then everyone can go into resource development with their eyes open and with appropriate compensation.

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