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Violence against women: a focus of the Papua New Guinea Human Rights Film Festival

The films on gender-based violence screened at the 2012 Human Rights Film Festival in Papua New Guinea (PNG) gave voice to many victims who described the beatings they had endured over many years and their inability to escape the ill-treatment in their homes because of poverty, unemployment and lack of institutional support.

The Film Festival screened a number of locally made documentaries and films including, “Why Me - Survivors Stories” from the local female producer Raka Gamini, of Kundu 2TV, a national television station. Raka Gamini's work brings some of society's most marginalized voices onto the national airways in Papua New Guinea to tell their stories anonymously.

Another of the screenings, a documentary on the Safe Cities project, is an initiative of UN Women.  Port Moresby, the capital of PNG, is one of five cities participating in the project, which aims to involve women and young people in local decision-making and to have women take active roles in community responses to sexual violence and crime.

The Festival included also the official opening of the photo exhibition, “Crying  Meri” which  exposes the issue of violence against women in Papua New Guinea. Author/photographer Vlad Sokhi’s striking photos document domestic violence, rape, and sorcery-related attacks against women and girls in Papua New Guinea

Commenting after her visit to PNG earlier this year, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo said, “Domestic violence is socially perceived as a normal aspect of a woman’s life and a family matter that should not be discussed publicly.”

The Special Rapporteur identified particular practices contributing to the climate of violent and abuse including, in the Highlands region, “the brutality of the assaults perpetrated against suspected sorcerers, which in many cases include torture, rape, mutilations and murder.”  The accusations of sorcery, Manjoo said, are commonly used to take away women’s land and/or their property.

The Special Rapporteur also referred in her report to the payment of bride-price, which commonly led to men feeling that they are “entitled to control and even abuse their wives as a result of having paid the bride price, thus regarding women as their property.”

“Violence against women,” Manjoo said, “is a pervasive phenomenon in Papua New Guinea.”

In its third year. the film festival aims, through its screenings and through the accompanying discussions, to promote greater awareness and respect for human rights. Each of its sessions is also backed by forums which debate the issues and aim to build an understanding that personal commitment can help end discrimination.

In addition to violence against women, this year’s film festival also focused on a number of other issues, including: torture; discrimination and sexual health; sorcery-related extra judicial killings; climate change; refugees and migration; housing rights and forced evictions; and business, environment and human rights.

Lucas Manduru, Speaking on behalf of the PNG Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade, spoke of the tremendous challenges faced by Papua New Guinea as a developing nation. He drew attention to the five human rights treaties PNG has ratified, including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the invitations to visit the country extended to the Special Rapporteurs on torture and on violence against women.

“Accessibility to basic services such as roads, health education and legal redress has posed a major constraint for the vast majority of the population,” Manduru said. “The Government recognizes these constraints and endeavors to address them… addressing human rights and achieving gender equality is a national concern.”

The United Nations Resident Coordinator in PNG, David McLachlan-Karr, said “The Festival is an excellent vehicle for human rights education… it encourages people to engage and actively demand and defend human rights for all, especially the most marginalized and discriminated.”

McLachlan-Karr urged the Government of PNG to act on the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteurs after their official visits to the country.

Another of the panel discussions at the Festival, supported by a number of documentary screenings, canvased business and human rights. Participants sought answers to the fundamental dilemma: how does a country such as PNG, where employment and development are so desperately needed, open its doors to international companies and exploit its natural resources and simultaneously ensure a sustainable and healthy environment and preserve the values of indigenous communities.

The British Ambassador to PNG, Jackie Barson, addressed these questions: “Bad bureaucracy and corporate practices can also result in human rights harm, given that these practices invariably inflict the poor and more vulnerable in our societies.  We should all expect businesses to operate in a way that is respectful of human rights.”

The PNG Festival, staged this year in three of the country’s centres, the capital, Port Moresby, Buka and Goroka is now part of the Human Rights Film Network, a partnership of film festivals around the world dedicated to the promotion and support of human rights.

14 December 2012
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