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Bring Highland Killers in Papua New Guinea to Justice

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Provincial, National Authorities Have a Responsibility to Protect Public

Jonathan Pedneault
Researcher, Crisis and Conflict Division

New year, new massacre, same responses.

In late January, a land dispute between two relatives in Papua New Guinea’s Hela province turned deadly. According to a journalist who investigated the incident, twenty-one were killed, including two teenage girls and their mother. Some of the victims were beheaded and had their limbs cut off.

In Papua New Guinea’s highlands, land and family disputes have long turned into deadly feuds between men. But increasingly, women and children are targeted.

In July 2019, tribal fighters killed at least ten women, two pregnant, and six children in Karida, Hela province. All were hacked to death.

At the time, Prime minister James Marape, who hails from the area, promised to “come after” those responsible.

Yet, since the Karida massacre, at least four new massacres have taken place in Hela and neighboring Enga province and the government has taken no demonstrable steps to arrest or prosecute those responsible.

In December 2019, seven were reportedly killed in tribal fighting in Enga province. A month later fighting between two clans in Enga killed four men and injured women and children, who were slashed with knives. In March 2020, another ten were reportedly killed in Enga, including 3 children aged 5 and 6.

The latest killings in January took place in an easily accessible area of Hela, a mere 20 minutes’ drive from Tari, the provincial capital.

But newspapers reported that when the provincial governor asked for police support to halt the killings, security forces deployed to protect a natural gas operation in Hela they refused to budge unless the government paid them extra.

In response to the recent killings, Prime Minister Marape said there “are only about 60 permanent police in the whole of Hela province” and his government was working to improve the police to citizen ratio. He said the same thing two years ago, following the Karida massacre.

Unfulfilled promises will not protect the populations of the Highlands. Authorities should not delay in bringing those responsible for crimes to justice and recruiting and training more police to protect the public.

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