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Papua New Guinea: “Accountability, rather than impunity, for all acts of violence against women”

PORT MORESBY (26 March 2012) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo called* on the Government of Papua New Guinea to reinforce legal and support mechanisms in its fight to eradicate violence against women. At the end of her first fact-finding mission to the country, Ms. Manjoo also urged the authorities to address some of the traditional practices that are harmful to women.

“Accountability, rather than impunity, should become the norm for all acts of violence against women,” said the independent expert charged by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate violence against women, its causes and consequences. “The responsibility to prevent violence, protect against violence, provide remedies for victims, and to punish perpetrators for all acts of violence against women, is primarily an obligation of the State.”

Ms. Manjoo noted that Papua New Guinea is a culturally rich and diverse country, in which the respect for tradition plays an important role in the daily lives of its population. However, she stressed, “violence against women is a pervasive phenomenon in Papua New Guinea, with a wide range of manifestations occurring in the home, the community and institutional settings.”

In her preliminary observations, the Special Rapporteur noted that violence against women in the country begins at home, with women and girl children being subjected to physical and sexual violence, mostly by male family members. “Domestic violence is socially perceived as a normal aspect of a woman’s life and a family matter that should not be discussed publicly,” she said.

Polygamy was also identified as a common cause of violence in the family by the UN independent expert: “The abuse usually starts with neglect and lack of resource provision for the first wife and her children, but can escalate to physical and sexual violence, and in some cases murder.”

“Complaints of violence and sexual abuse of women by the police while in detention and outside was a systemic issue, including against sex workers,” Ms. Manjoo said. “Regardless of the specific manifestations of violence suffered, most interviewed victims felt that the policing sector had not provided them with an adequate response to their cases.”

The expert welcomed a number of positive measures adopted by the Government, like the Family and Sexual Violence Units set up by the police; the Women and Children’s desks set up through the Community Policing; and the Family and Sexual Offence Unit of the Office of the Public Prosecutor, together with the appointment of a Victim Liaison Officer responsible for assisting women victims of violence who use the criminal justice system.

“Currently these units have very little resources and, as awareness and usage of these specialized units’ increases, there is a growing need for additional staff and resources to be allocated to them,” she warned highlighting the lack of adequate human and financial resources for such initiatives.

“It is my hope that relevant and much needed laws are passed soon, existing laws are adequately enforced; that existing specialized units are strengthened and replicated at the provincial and district levels; that women are encouraged and supported by the state sector in bringing their cases to the District and National Courts,” the rights expert said.

“The empowerment of women must be coupled with social transformation, to fully address the systemic and structural causes of inequality and discrimination, which most often lead to violence against women,” she stressed.

During her fact-finding mission from 18 to 26 March, Ms. Manjoo met with Government officials, National and Provincial authorities, and members of the Autonomous Bougainville Government. She also held meetings with representatives of civil society organisations, UN agencies and the donor community.

“Most importantly,” the UN Special Rapporteur added, “I want to thank the individual women who courageously shared their personal experiences of violence and survival with me.”

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three year. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is also a Professor at the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town. Learn more, log on to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/women/rapporteur/index.htm

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12013&LangID=E

UN Human Rights Country Page – Papua New Guinea: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/PGIndex.aspx

For more information and press inquiries, please contact:
In Port Moresby: Christina Saunders (+675 321 28 77 / +675 715 59 980) or Gabriela Guzmán Garza (+41 79 444 43 32/ or write to gguzman@ohchr.org)
In Geneva: Thierry del Prado (+ 41 22 917 92 32 / tdelprado@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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