Many people living along the Sepik river have raised concerns about the serious destructions to Sepik river. The river and the people are being affected by the movement of tug boats and pontoons on the river but yet their calls fall on deaf ears.
The logging operations are in West Sepik. However, the companies use the Sepik river to transport their logs. Us8ng the Sepik river is the fastest and most efficient way to ferry logs. Tug boats and pontoons belonging to logging companies frequently use the river to ferry logs from the headwaters of Sepik river down to the sea. But little do they know and understand that their actions are affecting the people and their livelihood.
The continuous movement of the boats, according to locals has caused problems on the river.The build-up in sedimentation, river bank erosion, river pollution from oil spills and disturbance of the fishing grounds were some of the serious concerns raised.
An elder from Avatip village, Middle Sepik said, ‘the logging is in West Sepik, why are the logs being brought down our river? we’re being affected by these boats. We do not want them on our river’. The same sentiment was echoed in the 24 villages in Upper and Middle Sepik river we visited. There is resentment towards the logging companies who are using the river and destroying it.
I interviewed a couple of people who shared their concerns on the use of the river by logging companies and how it was affecting them. From those interviews, I put together a video to help put their voices out there for the government to see. The video interviews were captured with my mobile phone during Project Sepik’s re-education patrol to Middle and Upper Sepik River in December 2020.
Civil Societies in PNG Submit Joint Report to the United Nations.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) commenced in 2006. It involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States, every five years. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC). It provides the opportunity for each State under review to announce the actions they have taken to improve its human rights record and for the fellow States to make recommendations to the country under review to foster the implementation of its human rights obligations on its territory (UPR- OHCHR).
Following PNG’s second UPR in May 2016, 161 recommendations have been addressed to Papua New Guinea (PNG), which accepted only 101 recommendations. To implement them, the country established a multi-sectoral agency working committee with the mandate to oversee and coordinate sectoral implementation. However, there has been slow progress in the implementation of these recommendations .
PNG will once again be reviewed for the third time under the UPR mechanism in October/November 2021 at its 39th Session by member states for its commitment in improving human rights.
The International Catholic Centre of Geneva (CCIG), together with its partners Edmund Rice International (ERI), the Marist International Solidarity Foundation (FMSI) and the Dominicans for Justice and Peace, organized a three-day workshop, ahead of the UN UPR of PNG. The capacity building workshop took place on the 15th to 17th February 2021, at Emmaus Conference Center inside Don Bosco Technical College in Port Moresby.
The workshop was aimed at enhancing the participation of representatives of the local civil society in the UPR of PNG, by training them on the functioning of the UPR and the advocacy opportunities around this process. CCIG with its partners formed a Steering Committee based in PNG to lead the UPR Process. A total of 25 participants from various national associations involved in the defense of human rights across the country were invited to participate in the third cycle of UPR.
The participants were organized into groups to discuss on some key issues in PNG. They formed working groups on four thematic areas: 1) women’s rights, 2) children’s rights, 3) rights of people with disabilities and 4) environmental issues.
The working group on women’s rights discussed the issue of ‘Equal participation in Parliament, politics and decision making, Gender-based violence (GBV) and Sorcery accusation-related violence (SARV)’. The working group on children’s rights discussed the ‘Right to education, Right to health, Juvenile justice and Violence against children’. The working group on rights of people with disabilities discussed ‘Children with disabilities, Violence against persons with disabilities and Participation in public affairs’. The working group on environmental issues discussed ‘Mining and Logging’.
The civil societies contributed to the review by monitoring the implementation of the government’s international commitments. They then drafted several recommendations and submitted a consolidated human rights report to the UN.
The next step in the UPR process will be advocacy and lobbying to local and international authorities.
The UPR Joint Report on PNG can be downloaded below in PDF format and shared broadly among NGOs, Government Departments and International missions.
The Sepik river has hundreds of lakes (Raun wara) at least 300-500 meters from the main river. These lakes are connected to the river by smalls waterways (Baret), which allows people to access the lakes from the main river.And where there is no waterway, the people dig their own to allow canoes to travel inland.
The picture shows a baret dug by the people Kembiam village in Kambu LLG who dwell some 3-4 miles (1 hour walk) inland of the Sepik river. The canal or waterway was made so that the people from Korogu village, on the banks of Sepik river can travel inland with their canoes to sell and trade. This shows how resilient the people are; in the absence of government services, they make their own way to receive services from their river family. The passage is about 2 meters wide and 2-3 meters deep, enough for a dug out canoe with a 40 horse power motor engine to pass through.
Further upstream is the central trading location. Korogu being on the Sepik river has no land for gardening, no buai and coconuts. It can only bring fish from the river. The Yamuk people inland have good land for buai, sago, etc. So for generations, there has been trade relations between the two tribes (Barter system), the ones on the river and the ones inland. The aim of the trade system is to foster and maintain the relationship that has existed for generations, and also to supply each others needs/wants. The Yamuk people are mother to the Korogu as they supply saksak, buai and garden food. The Korogu people are son to the Yamuk as they provide fish for the people inland.
At the market, they start off the market by buying and selling using modern money, and everything there is below 50 toea Once the buying and selling is done, they start trading. I have learned about barter trading in school but this was the first time I witnessed it, in Sepik river.
Response to the Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change MP, Mr. Wera Mori’s Statement regarding Ten United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs Letter to the Government of Papua New Guinea on the Frieda River Copper and Gold Mine in the Sepik Region of Papua New Guinea.
On behalf of the plants and animals of Sepik River, The Sepik River, the people of Sepik River and Environment and Climate Justice advocates of PNG and the world, the Project Sepik, a local NGO in Wewak request that Mr. Mori in his Ministerial role reflect more and respond constructively, seeking solutions and providing answers rather than standing by his statement on Radio Australia on the 30 September, 2020 in response to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs Letter to the Government of PNG on the proposed Frieda River Copper and Gold Mine in the Sepik Region of Papua New Guinea.
Mr. Wera Mori warned the ten Special Rapporteurs, “do not forget that Papua New Guinea is a sovereign state and we cannot be dictated to by opinions of people from other countries. As an independent state, the government has the prerogative to make decisions in the best interest of the country”.
While it is important for the country’s international standing and reputation, that Mr. Mori has responded to the United Nations, it is embarrassing to observe his shallow arguments and the evasive nature of his comments. Politicians must understand how the larger world works. The Minister’s response is harmful to PNGs international relationships and the respect we enjoy from international donors and financiers. Minister Mori’s concern about maintaining Papua New Guinea’s integrity and sovereignty as an independent state fails to address the content of the letters; instead he directly told the UN experts to keep their noses out of the Human Rights issues in the country. His counterpart from Australia who received the same letter responded with a detailed response in a professional manner addressing the content of letters.
The response by Mr. Mori can be seen as ignorant of the issues that were raised. Mori must not forget that these letters came from the United Nations of which PNG is a member and the United Nations Human Rights Council to which Papua New Guinea is a signatory, meaning his government has an obligations to uphold human rights.
The letter from the UN is not designed to undermine our country’s sovereignty or to dictate to the PNG Government on how it should handle its affairs as the Minister claimed, but to raise the concerns on issues regarding human rights violations in the country that the government needs to look into and address.
PNG as a member of UN has ratified six of the core human rights treaties. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), upon which the ten UN Special Rapporteurs based their observation. These same human rights are also enshrined in Papua New Guinea’s Constitution and in the National Goals and Directive Principles.
Papua New Guinea has also made voluntary pledges and commitments which include the pledge to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. PNG has also ratified International Environmental Treaties, including the Ramsar Convention, Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Paris Agreement and the Vienna Convention.
Mori also stated that, “as an independent state, the government has the prerogative to make decisions in the best interest of the country.”
Project Sepik is however concerned and are questioning in whose best interest exactly will the government make decisions regarding the proposed Frieda mine, the Government and the investors or the people of Sepik, Papua New Guinea and the environment?
This statement is also concerning coming from the Minister for Environment who has largely ignored the 2019 Ramu Nico Basamuk Bay Spillage. The PNG Government has no proven track record of putting the interest of the people first nor does it have the people’s best interest at heart.
The people of Sepik have made their stance known that they are all against the mine, their call was heeded by the United Nations who sent out the ten Special Rapporteurs. They did not send out the letter all on their own , they were supporting the call made by the people of Sepik to ban the proposed Frieda Gold and Copper mine which will destroy the Sepik River and their livelihood.
Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council with the mandate to monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries and on human rights violations worldwide. The functions of Special Rapporteurs include responding to individual complaints, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation and undertaking country visits to assess specific human rights situations.
Ten UN Special Rapporteurs, along with the UN Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations, wrote to the PNG Government to raise the concerns about the proposed Frieda River mine and the risk of failure of its proposed tailings dam.
The letter raised ‘serious concerns’ about the human rights impacts of the project, including the rights to life, health, bodily integrity, water and food, and the right to free, prior and informed consent. The letter also raised concerns that the people of the Sepik River ‘will be forced to bear the costs of the Project in perpetuity.’
THE insatiable demand for sand around the world against supply for construction, minerals, land building, and beach nourishment amidst both legal and illegal sand exploitation in developed and developing nations faces uphill battle in Papua New Guinea.
One of Papua New Guinea’s environmentalist Wenceslaus Magun said this after accepting the decision by Singapore-based company, Niugini Sands Limited, who has withdrawn its application for an exploration license (EL). It did so under PNG’s Mining Act 1992, to explore and to mine unique black sands on the shoreline of the North Coast of Sumgilbar area in Sumkar District of Madang.
This followed stiff resistance from local resource owners and partners. Magun pointed out that PNG has no relevant policy, law, management guidelines and strict monitoring standards in place to govern the sustainable development of sand. He reiterated that the Government must put on hold sand exploration and mining and address gaps in sand mining policy, law, guidelines, and strict monitoring and enforcement standards to govern the sector should it welcome this industry.
On Feb 26 at 12:10noon, the acting Mining Tenement Registrar at the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) Patrick Monouluk accepted the Withdrawal letter of the proponent of the application, Niugini Sands Limited for Exploration License number 2664 to mine sand in Sumgilbar. “Pursuant to their request I have today Officially Withdrew the application from our Register of Mine Tenements dated Feb 26 at 12.10pm. The matter now remains closed for all purposes.” Monouluk stated in his letter to Magun. This is in response to Magun’s letter to Stanley Nekitel, Tenement Manager/Registrar dated Feb 3, 2021 asking MRA to return to Sumgilbar and conduct further Warden Hearings.
This followed three objection letters submitted by Magun on behalf of his local not-for-orofit organisation Mas Kagin Tapani Association or Makata, the Madang Tourism Association, Catholic Professionals, Caritas PNG and more than 10,563 people from over ten (10) villages within the proposed impact area in Sumgilbar LLG. Monouluk admitted that PNG does not have sand mining policy, law, and stricter management guidelines in an exclusive interview with Mr. Magun on Friday last week. He argued that there is also no policy for gold, coper and other minerals blaming Australia for writing the Mining Act prior to Independence to meet their own interests.
Makata, the Madang Tourism Association, Catholic Professionals, Caritas PNG and the villagers expressed these concerns in letters dated 22nd of September 2020, and on 16th November 2020 to the Tenement Manager Stanley Nekitel. In response Nekitel did not accept their request. He rejected the recommendations and was in the process to submit a warden’s technical report to the Mining Advisory Council, adding they had met all necessary requirements.
This was a deliberate violation of human rights of the communities who were denied their right to information and fair hearing under Sections 57, 51 and 59 of PNG’s Constitution. Hence, on 3rd of February 2021 Magun wrote to the Attorney General Dr Eric Kwa “asking the State to provide appropriate legal advice to MRA that it should not be overly hasty in progressing this EL Application without giving the local potentially to be affected people, further and ample opportunities to be heard on their views about the proposed exploration activity in their front and backyard sea and land areas.” This was an attempt to exhaust all available options to deal amicably with this issue instead of embarrassing the State and MRA in Court.
Furthermore in a letter to Nekitel, on 3rd February, Magun pointed out that: “Regardless of the fact that the proponent of the application for Exploration License 2664 – has withdrawn its application, we want to reiterate and repeat vehemently that the two wardens hearings you had conducted on Sep 23, 2020 were too far apart for many people to attend. And that is why we had requested that more hearings be conducted to enable more of the impact area people to be given an opportunity to air their views. Also we repeat that only less than 300 people altogether attended at the two wardens hearings, out of an estimated total population of 10,563 who would have been potentially impacted had the proponent of this application did not withdraw its application.”
“We do not believe this can be said to be a sufficient representation of the ‘views or voices of the potentially to be affected people.’ This is a most unreasonably minimal opportunity given to a very small number of our people out of a very large number of people likely to be impacted in the area proposed to be covered by the EL.” The villagers, Makata, Madang Tourism Association, Catholic Professional, and Caritas PNG were represented by their Counsel Sir Arnold Amet, a former Chief Justice, Attorney General and Madang Governor. Sir Amet had applied to the National Court in Madang on their behalf after a forum held at Tokain village on 27 November 2020.
In his court application he had asked the National Court in Madang to set the date for hearing on this matter for a court injunction should their request for further warden hearings were not upheld. The injunction was to order MRA to conduct more hearings.
To justify his argument Sir Amet had collected sufficient signatures from villagers within the impact area and Affidavits from Ward Members from Mirap, Karkum, Sarang and Matugar for the Court hearing. Fortunately, this did not eventuate given the circumstances surrounding the Withdrawal of the Application for Exploration License number 2664 by Niugini Sands Limited.
The application to mine sand by the company would cover fifty one kilometers (51Km) stretch of black sandy beaches starting from Murunas to Malas. It would also extend one kilometer (1km) from the beach into the sea and another one kilometer (1km) from the beach inland. The villagers, Catholic Professional, Caritas PNG, Madang Tourism Association and Makata opposed sand mining in fear of losing their black sandy beaches, mangroves, sea grass, corals and the marine ecosystems which provide protein, food, money, and sustains their livelihoods on a daily basis against profit driven economic enterprises.
Furthermore, they pointed out that sand mining would also destroy their existing leatherback conservation project sites, villages, cocoa, coconut, vanilla, betelnut, and other cash crops and food gardens. They highlighted that the damages will include destroying their existing schools, health services, roads and other infrastructure and social services. In addition, they feared if they were displaced should sand mining take place they will have no place to be relocated to.
They pointed out that there were no adequate educational awareness carried out prior to the two warden hearings conducted in Talidig government station and Kangur Hamlet on 23rd of September 2020. By banning sand mining in Sumgilbar local communities and partners have exacerbated initiatives by PNG and five other countries within a 6-million km2 area of Coral Triangle Initiative to protect communities and marine habitats within the Coral Triangle.
Upon withdrawing their application for exploration license on the 26th of February 2021, Niugini Sands director, Marcus Ong said “bad publicity was pivotal in their decision”. He added that information showed the Madang sands were of poor quality according to Radio New Zealand (RNZ). Magun rebutted in saying that the people will not accept this argument as the company’s justification for exiting. He pointed out that the negative impacts of sand mining will outweigh potential economic gains.
He expressed surprise to hear that the unsubstantiated claim of poor sand quality is misleading because the company was yet to carry out exploration to determine the quality, and quantity of the minerals in the black sand and their economic value. Prior to the resistance, the company was adamant to explore.
Niugini Sands Ltd stated on its Facebook page that “It is easy for one to put down and criticise a project simply because it brings about a change which is undesirable in their personal view. We should not always look to oppose the change but rather embrace it. The people used scientific facts and their lives experiences to hold to account the company. Not all changes should be embraced, not the kind of change proposed by Niugini Sands Limited.
Niugini Sands Limited also stated “While we recognise that nature, which is something God gave to his people, is to be conserved, it may not be fair for the people of Sumgilbar to be deprived of a better life just because of some comments made by environmentalists, activists or NGOs who do not even reside in that area. Such actions are deemed to be very selfish towards their own fellow countrymen”. Papua New Guineans must not believe these trivial notions of what foreigners’ think is best for them. While the company recognized that God gave nature to be conserved, conservation is not at the top of the company’s priorities.
Companies also should not define what indigenous people see, feel and value as better life. On many occasions, Papua New Guineans have seen and heard of these lies by such foreign interests. The exit by Niugini Sands from PNG is a remarkable and heartfelt win. This should encourage other groups to join the fight against any destructive and exploitative, so called economic development activities in PNG. Magun has been very vocal on this issue at the ‘get go’. He stood firm to allow the people of Madang, Sir Amet and others to stand on his shoulders to ensure the fight was taken to the national level.
The resulting victory must be applauded! This campaign must be an inspiration to citizens across the nation and the world. This must harness and solidify the hopes and intentions of peoples to protect their homes. This shows that despite the isolated voices, such a collective concern and sustained activism against foreign corporations who were there to plunder, rape, pillage and destroy their homes cannot be underestimated.
Papua New Guineans must harness the strength of their Culture and their Melanesian roots which acknowledges all life forms that dwell with them in their time and spaces. Papua New Guineans are best at sustainable development and conservation. They must stand in solidarity and have a strong collective voice to protect their future. Massive congratulations to the people of Sumgilbar and PNG as a whole for standing against foreign interests, foreign greed and foreign activities which only promotes their hegemony.
The people stood against their own government authorities who were serving foreign interests. Environmental groups across the nation and the world recognize this pivotal victory and would like to applaud the people of Sumgilbar. Their victory will inspire those in the Sepik region, Morobe and across PNG to carry on their fight to protect their rivers, seas, and mountain, rain forests and cultures.
The lessons are great; the stories of bravery and solidarity only cement battles across PNG.