GENEVA (27 April 2012) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday expressed concern about the situation in Papua New Guinea, where the Government has taken a number of measures in recent months that undermine the rule of law, breach international human rights standards, impinge on the independence of the judiciary – and could lead to serious instability in the country.
Since the August 2011 change of Government in Papua New Guinea and the subsequent dispute over who is the legitimate Prime Minister, the Executive and Parliament have taken steps which seriously affect the ability of the judiciary to operate independently.
“One after another, the Executive and Parliament have taken very worrying steps to interfere with judicial independence,” Pillay said.
The enactment of a new Judicial Conduct Act in March 2012 is of particular concern, Pillay said, as it establishes a new parallel system to deal with misconduct of judges, contrary to constitutional provisions on the issue. Parliament immediately implemented the new Act by referring Chief Justice Salamo Injia and Justice Kirriwom to the Governor-General for further investigation, during which time they would not have been able to hear cases.
The Supreme Court ruled on 11 April that the referral of Chief Justice Injia was unconstitutional. On 17 April, the Government then introduced a new bill into Parliament to impose criminal sanctions – up to seven years’ imprisonment – on judges who do not comply with the Act.
“It appears that the Judicial Conduct Act is being used to interfere in particular with the legal proceedings to determine the legality of the current administration,” the High Commissioner said, citing a Supreme Court decision on 12 December 2011 in which it ruled that the Government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neil was unconstitutional.
“The judiciary must be allowed to operate free from external pressures, threats or executive or legislative interference – international law is clear on this matter,” Pillay added.
The High Commissioner expressed concern at the Government’s indication that it may now seek to delay national elections beyond the five-year term fixed by the Constitution. She called on the Government to ensure that constitutional provisions on the timing of the national elections are upheld.
The UN Human Rights chief also expressed concern about reports that several journalists have been attacked, allegedly for their role in reporting on the current political situation in Papua New Guinea.
“It is the Government’s responsibility and obligation under international human rights law to ensure that freedom of expression is respected, and that when journalists are attacked for doing their jobs, prompt investigations are conducted and perpetrators are duly prosecuted,” Pillay said.
“Papua New Guinea is on a slippery path to upending the constitutional order and undermining the rule of law,” Pillay said. “All national actors and their international partners must work together to prevent the country from sliding into serious instability by ensuring that the rule of law, the Constitution and international human rights standards are upheld in resolving the issues facing the country.”
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