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UN Special Rapporteur on Torture presents preliminary findings on his Mission to Papua New Guinea

25 May 2010

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture presents preliminary findings on his Mission to Papua New Guinea

25 May 2010

PORT MORESBY - The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, issued the following statement:

“I would like to thank the Government of Papua New Guinea for inviting me to conduct a fact-finding mission from 14 to 25 May 2010 and for the full cooperation of senior public officials during the visit. The very fact of inviting a Special Rapporteur shows the willingness of the Government to open up to independent scrutiny as a means for assessing the practice of torture and ill-treatment and strengthening assistance by the United Nations in the field of criminal justice. However, I have to express my disappointment that at the highest political level, both in Government and in Parliament, this official mission has not been accorded appropriate attention. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including State officials, representatives of civil society, detainees and victims of torture and other ill-treatment for their willingness to share their experiences with me. I would also like to express my gratitude to the United Nations Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Country Team for the assistance provided. A list of places visited is annexed to this statement.

Thanks to the cooperation of senior public officials from the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary and the Correctional Services, and their compliance with my terms of reference, I was in a position to carry out unannounced visits to various places of detention of my choice and to conduct confidential interviews with selected detainees. However, in Buka Police Station, an intelligence officer from Port Moresby, Thadeus Yangavi, verbally assaulted members of my team and even attempted to physically attack them. I immediately reported this violent incident to the Deputy Police Commissioner who promised to take appropriate disciplinary measures.

I am aware of the fundamental challenges faced by the law enforcement officials in Papua New Guinea. The country is confronted with a high level of violence which has to be understood within the particular context of Papua New Guinea, with its more than 800 language groups, with diverse culture and beliefs. The spread of firearms has exacerbated the problems of violent crime and tribal fighting. During the visit, I was able to witness how minor occurrences quickly escalated into violent incidents.

I am concerned that the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary is not always in a position to enforce the rule of law due to insufficient human and financial resources, a high level of corruption and unprofessionalism, difficulties in accessing remote rural areas and a lack of political will. These deficiencies have led to private security companies carrying out some of the main duties of the police. The fact that there are far more private security officers than police officers in the country is a worrying sign of police weakness and a failure of the State to provide security and freedom from fear to its people. Particularly worrying is the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary’s lack of capacity to prevent and to investigate crimes relating to domestic violence, tribal fighting and to victims of accusations of sorcery.

Torture and ill-treatment

I found systematic beatings of detainees upon arrest or within the first hours of detention, including during interrogation. Very often beatings are inflicted by the police as a form of punishment of suspects, reflecting complete disrespect for the presumption of innocence and the dignity of persons suspected of crimes. Widely practiced methods include beatings with car fan belts, bush knives, gun butts, iron rods, wooden sticks, stones, punching and kicking, used mainly to punish and intimidate detainees and to establish authority. While I did not find more sophisticated and brutal methods of torture, understood in the classical sense of this term, there is no doubt that police beatings often reached the level of torture, as defined in the UN Convention against Torture (CAT). This worrying fact has been corroborated by medical evidence in a high number of cases.

Outside detention, the police often use excessive force, not only in dealing with crime but also, for example, in evicting residents from settlements. I could collect first hand information during a visit to the Five-Mile Ridge Settlement. Excessive use of force amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
In correctional institutions, those who attempt or succeed in escaping are subjected to torture upon recapture as a standard practice. The forms of torture applied include brutal beatings with bush knives and gun butts, shooting detainees’ legs and feet at close range and cutting their tendons with bush knives and axes after they are apprehended, with the intent of disabling them. The victims are usually kept in punishment cells without any medical treatment, which sometimes leads to their death, as recently experienced in Baisu Correctional Institution near Mount Hagen. Collective punishment is also often applied in correctional institutions, where whole sections are sanctioned for the actions of a select number of detainees.

The lack of effective complaints mechanisms, independent investigation and monitoring and similar safeguards create an environment of impunity fueling these practices.

Conditions of detention

Conditions of detention in police lock-ups, remand centres and correctional institutions vary from best practices (e.g. the female section at Bihute Correctional Institution near Goroka and the Hohola Remand Centre for Juveniles in Port Moresby) to worst practices (e.g. Baisu Correctional Institution near Mount Hagen and the Police Stations in Mount Hagen and Goroka). There is a general atmosphere of violence and neglect in all police lock-ups and in many correctional institutions. It was also apparent that detainees had no knowledge of or trust in any complaint mechanisms available to them. The lack of effective oversight mechanisms and the prevalence of bribery in the criminal justice system result in prolonged detention in police custody or on remand for detainees, particularly those lacking financial means.

a) Police stations

Police lock-ups are built for short periods of detention of up to 24 or 48 hours. Detainees should be brought before a judge, within this time, who should either release them or transfer them to a remand centre under a different authority. In Papua New Guinea however, police lock-ups are used to keep detainees on remand for a considerable time, often for many months or even for more than one year. I am deeply concerned about the fact that many persons suspected of having committed a criminal offence are locked up for prolonged periods in appalling conditions of detention in police custody. This practice generally amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, in violation of Articles 7 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

During the visits, I witnessed that detainees were locked up in overcrowded, filthy cells, without proper ventilation, natural light or access to food and water for washing, drinking and for using the toilets. The alleged shortage of water in police stations in the Highlands region is difficult to understand considering its natural availability in the area, giving the impression that access to water is deliberately restricted. Also in the Highlands, where the temperatures can be particularly low at night, detainees were often left without any blanket or warm clothes, while sleeping on concrete floors. In general, detainees were hardly ever taken out of their cells, and I found several instances where the officers on duty did not even have the keys to some of the cells, raising serious safety concerns, such as at Kundiawa and Mount Hagen Police Stations. In the latter, detainees were forced to urinate and defecate in plastic bags and bottles, which were then picked up by the female detainees and piled up in the small common space. In all police stations, detainees were forced to sleep on the floor. Although in some cases they were allowed to receive visitors, it was often only for a few minutes. In addition, despite the very small amount of food provided to the detainees, food provided by families was often rejected.

The poor conditions of prolonged detention in police lock-ups provide a hotbed for the spread of cholera and other contagious diseases. Access to medical care was generally non-existent, leading sometimes to death in police custody. In other instances, the delayed access to any medical care led to avoidable amputations and the spread of disease among the detainees. The overall impression was one of negligence. While none of the police stations can be regarded as complying with international minimum standards for the humane treatment of detainees, the conditions in Goroka and Mount Hagen Police Stations were particularly appalling, in total disrespect for human dignity. The lock-up at Mount Hagen Police Station should be immediately closed.

b) Correctional Institutions

Correctional institutions are in principle open institutions which provide convicted prisoners with some opportunity to work outside their compounds. Women are separated from men and juveniles are, in principle, separated from adults. However detainees on remand are not separated from convicted prisoners, which constitutes a violation of Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Although they sleep in separate cellblocks, they mix with convicted prisoners during daytime. Persons convicted to death are kept together with other prisoners at Bomana Correctional Institution and are not discriminated in special death row sections. The last execution was carried out in 1954.

With the exception of a few correctional institutions, the prison conditions are generally poor. Overcrowding is common, particularly in high-risk and remand sections. Most prisons do not have sufficient beds, mosquito nets nor blankets. In addition, very few cells have running water, contributing to poor hygienic conditions. This, coupled with the lack of medical access, leads to the spread of contagious diseases and a high level of fear among the detainees. Furthermore, the food provided to the detainees in the entire country is insufficient and of a very low nutritional value.

The detention or punishment cells in the correctional institutions are of particular concern. The cells are overcrowded, holding up to three times their capacity. In Bomana and Baisu Correctional Institutions, those held in detention cells were mainly escapees who had been severely beaten upon recapture, and had to spend up to three months without access to medical attention. After a mass breakout in Baisu Correctional Institution on 13 April 2010, two detainees died in their detention cells as a result of severe beatings and a lack of access to medical treatment.

Also in Baisu Correctional Institution near Mount Hagen, prisoners have no opportunities for education, sports or other forms of recreation, and they were locked up in their overcrowded cells for up to 18 hours each day. On the other hand, prisoners in Bomana, Barawagi, Mukrumanda and Bihute Correctional Institutions were allowed to be outside their cells for longer hours. In Bihute Correctional Institution in Goroka, there were opportunities for education, recreation and work, providing the prisoners with a real possibility for rehabilitation. Bihute Correctional Institution, in particular the female section, should serve as an example to other jails around the country.

In the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, the only prison had been destroyed during the armed conflict. This means that the police lock-ups in Buka, Arawa and Buin are also used for detaining convicted prisoners. Despite a court order by Justice David Cannings of 18 August 2009, based on the right of detainees to be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person both under the National Constitution and the Bougainville Constitution, which specifically requires the State of Papua New Guinea through the Secretary of Finance to urgently make funds available towards establishing a proper Correctional Institution in Bougainville, no progress has been made in this respect. This was personally confirmed to me by the Chief Administrator of Bougainville.


The Police Juvenile Policy and Protocols, developed jointly by the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary and UNICEF, constitute an excellent tool for dealing with juveniles in conflict with the law. Unfortunately, for the most part they are not implemented. The Juvenile Reception Centre in Boroko was not in use due to alleged attempted escapes, so juveniles were held in police lock-ups with adults. UNICEF, which had provided a substantial amount of funding for opening this reception centre in 2009, was not even informed of its closure. Similarly, the Goroka Juvenile Reception Centre did not hold any juveniles there during my visit. I did not come across any police station where juveniles were separated from the adults.

Although there were separate sections for juveniles in correctional institutions, I found boys mixed with adults. In Bomana, many of the juveniles were remandees, in contravention to the Guidelines found in the Policy and Protocols, which state that juvenile remandees should only be held at the Badili or the Hohola Remand Centres. The Hohola Remand Centre for Juveniles, run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart is a best practice, as boys are held in a well-equipped facility and are provided with a friendly and stimulating environment. The conditions in the juvenile sections in correctional institutions were better than for the adults. The juveniles were provided with beds and blankets, although as for adults, the quantity and quality of the food was inadequate. In addition, I am particularly concerned by the numerous complaints I received of beatings, supported by medical evidence, particularly in the juvenile section of Baisu Correctional Institution.


Women in Papua New Guinea hold a very low status in society, placing them at a very high risk of abuse both in the domestic and in the public sphere. Although violence against women seems to be widespread in Papua New Guinea, the issue is underreported for shame or fear of further violence or rejection by the communities. Little support is granted by the State, and women who are victims of domestic violence do not seem to be recognized as victims. Many female detainees I interviewed were incarcerated for crimes linked to domestic violence and polygamy.

At the State level, women’s vulnerability is particularly exacerbated upon arrest and in police custody. I received many allegations of sexual abuse by arresting officers in exchange of release from custody. Some officers also appear to frequently arrest women for minor offences with the intention of sexually abusing them. As a punishment, some women were also threatened or were placed in cells with male detainees for a night, where they were subjected to collective rape by the other detainees. In Mount Hagen Police Station, women had to clean the excrements and wash the clothes of the male detainees. The fact that their cells had no locks placed them at high risk of being assaulted by male officers or detainees. In other police stations and correctional institutions, they had to perform domestic work for officers.

In correctional institutions, there is a clear separation between men and women, and women’s sections within the institutions were always better maintained. In all jails with the exception of Baisu in Mount Hagen, female detainees were only guarded by female warders.
The section for women in Bihute Correctional Institution in Goroka is a best practice example, as there were various educational and recreational opportunities as well as access to counseling. In addition, the warders were actively involved in the process of rehabilitation of the detainees. Furthermore, the setting offered a suitable environment for the children living with their mothers. Medical care was easily accessible, further differentiating it from other detention facilities.

Persons with disabilities and diseases

Medical care in detention facilities is insufficient or totally non-existent throughout the country. The psychiatric support to detention facilities is not in compliance with international minimum standards. Psychiatric evaluations should be done on a routine basis, and in an independent and professional manner. Laloki Psychiatric Hospital is the only facility in the country for persons with mental disabilities. Even so, it does not have adequate staff, namely permanent resident psychiatrists. In addition, the facilities are old and fairly run down.

It seems that Papua New Guinea lacks a proper forensic system capable of assuring timely and adequate examinations of victims of torture and ill-treatment, as well as prompt and complete forensic autopsies in accordance with international standards.

I am very concerned about the practice of the police to deliberately disable persons suspected of serious crimes and those who escape from detention. In a privately run Rehabilitation Centre for Persons with Disabilities, I carried out several interviews with persons who were disabled by the police. In addition, I found many detainees with physical and mental disabilities in prisons and police lock-ups who have no access to adequate medical treatment and rehabilitation.

Preliminary Recommendations

Based on these findings, I wish to make the following preliminary recommendations to the Government of Papua New Guinea:

  • Declare unambiguously by the highest authorities, in particular those responsible for law enforcement activities, that they will not tolerate torture or similar ill-treatment by public officials and that those in command at the time abuses are perpetrated will be held personally responsible for the abuses.
  • Ensure prompt and thorough ex officio investigations for all allegations of ill-treatment or excessive use of force by an authority that is independent from the investigation and prosecution. Any officer known to be abusive should be removed from custodial duties. Heads of police stations and detention facilities shall be made aware of their supervisory responsibility.
  • Ensure a comprehensive and structural reform of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary in accordance with the recommendations of the Administrative Review Committee to the then Minister for Internal Security, Hon. Bire Kimisopa, in September 2004.
  • Ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol, providing for regular preventive visits to all places of detention by an independent domestic monitoring body.
  • Amend the domestic legislation to include torture as a serious crime with adequate penalties. The definition of the crime of torture should be in full accordance with article 1 of the Convention against Torture.
  • Reduce, as a matter of urgent priority, the period of police custody to a time limit in line with international standards (maximum 48 hours). After this period, detainees should be transferred to a separate remand facility under a different authority.
  • Establish accessible and effective complaints mechanisms in all places of detention. Complaints by detainees should be followed up by independent and thorough investigations, and complainants must be protected from reprisals.
  • Ensure that persons deprived of their liberty are confined in facilities where the conditions comply with international minimum sanitary and hygienic standards and that detainees are provided with basic necessities, such as adequate floor space, bedding, food, water and health care. Prisoners should be provided with opportunities for work, education, recreation and rehabilitation activities.
  • Separate detainees on remand from convicted prisoners.
  • Remove all children from adult detention facilities.
  • Immediately close down Mount Hagen Police Station.
  • Urgently build a proper correctional institution in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
  • Ratify the first Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides for the right of victims to lodge individual complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee.
  • Abolish the death penalty and ratify the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

I also wish to recommend that the international donor community considers the protection of human rights in the criminal justice system, and in particular the prevention of torture, as the highest priority. Specific programmes and projects shall be carried out only after the political will to implement far-reaching structural reforms aimed at the prevention of torture is clearly demonstrated.
I will submit a comprehensive written report detailing my findings and recommendations on the mission to the Government of Papua New Guinea and thereafter to the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

Information Note

Manfred Nowak, appointed Special Rapporteur on 1 December 2004 by the former UN Commission on Human Rights, is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. He has previously served as member of the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, the UN expert on missing persons in the former Yugoslavia, the UN expert on legal questions on enforced disappearances, and as a judge at the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nowak is Professor of Constitutional Law and International Human Rights at the University of Vienna (Austria), and Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights.

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur:
OHCHR Country Page – Papua New Guinea:

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Dolores Infante (Tel: +41 22 917 9730) or write to [email protected].

Appendix: Locations Visited

  • Baisu Correctional Institution, Mount Hagen, Western Highlands Province
  • Barawagi Correctional Institution, Kundiawa, Simbu Province
  • Bihute Correctional Institution, Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province
  • Bomana Correctional Institution, National Capital District (visited twice)
  • Mukrumanda Correctional Institution, Enga Province,
  • Hohola Remand Centre for Juveniles, National Capital District
  • Arawa Police Station, Bougainville Autonomous Region (visited twice)
  • Boroko Police Station, National Capital District (visited twice)
  • Buka Police Station, Bougainville Autonomous Region
  • Goroka Police Station, Eastern Highlands Province (visited three times)
  • Kundiawa Police Station, Simbu Province (visited twice)
  • Mount Hagen Police Station, Western Highlands Province
  • Wabag Police Station, Enga Province
  • Wakunai Community Justice Centre, Bougainville Autonomous Region
  • Laloki Psychiatric Hospital, National Capital District
  • Arawa Women’s Training Centre, Bougainville Autonomous Region
  • Rehabilitation Centre for Persons with Disabilities, National Capital District
  • SHB Socay Training Institute, Hohola, National Capital District
  • Kup Women for Peace Mediation Centre, Kup, Simbu Province
  • Five-Mile Ridge Settlement, National Capital District