PORT MORESBY, May 25, 2021: Papua New Guinea’s Special Parliamentary Committee on Gender Based Violence (GBV) held the country’s first-ever public hearings on this topicover two-days at APEC Haus on Monday 24 May and Tuesday 25 May 2021.
The historic, marathon two-day session, led by the Chair, Hon. Charles Abel, the MP for Alotau, aimed to understand the challenges faced by GBV survivors and service providers, identify gaps in the system, and make recommendations to the Parliament on the way forward. One of the Committee’s priority areas was to investigate the roadblocks behind the funding and implementation of the 2016-2025 National GBV Strategy.
Over the course of the two days, Committee members actively questioned officials and service providers. Four Committee members worked with Chairperson Abel, namely Deputy Chair Governor Allan Bird, Hon Governor Powes Parkop, Hon Aiye Tambua (MP for Goroka) and Hon Allan Marat (MP for Rabaul).
DAY 1 - WATCH THE LIVERSTREAM
The first day of the Public Hearings opened with powerful testimonies of GBV survivors, NGOs, and human rights defenders on the ground.
Well-known journalist and GBV survivor, Ms Hennah Joku, gave a glimpse into her struggle to access justice. “I am here for my daughter and for your daughters. I am here for every woman in Papua New Guinea and for the future of every girl to be born here.”
The Special Parliamentary Committee also listened to PNG GBV expert and newly appointed Gender Advisor to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Dr. Fiona Hukula. She spoke of the importance of taking ownership of the problem through a “home-grown initiative, contextualized to Papua New Guinea instead of being dependent on donor agencies”.
The Committee learnt about the challenges faced by those trying to support people suffering from sorcery accusation-related violence.
“Any woman who is accused of sorcery are now having their children at risk of the same violence. Cases must be prosecuted to send a message that they cannot be targeted, " stated Ruth Kissam, of the Tribal Foundation.
Ms Kissam’s colleague Gary Bustin also confirmed, “What is happening to women and children in sorcery related violence is beyond what one animal would savagely do to another. We need to go after the “glass men”, the witch doctors who are playing on local fears to make money.”
Activists such as Anton Lutz said it is crucial to have minimum standards on expectation of service delivery. “How quickly do the police need to come to a village? What should they do when sorcery related violence is alleged? What services should the survivors be receiving from health service providers and police officers?”
Femili PNG’s Denge Illave passionately listed out the challenges of dealing with high profile perpetrators who bent the law to avoid arrest and intimidate the survivor.
As the morning session on day one wound down, the Committee had established the context and the magnitude of GBV in PNG.
The afternoon of day one witnessed the Committee members grilling the Minister for Community Development and Religion, as well as the current and former Secretaries of the Department on why more progress had not been made to implemebt the National GBV Strategy since it was launched in 2016. .
Governor Parkop asked “What excuses can you have? The Strategy was adopted in 2016, yet six years later, it has been unsuccessful. Your strategy isn’t working. What has changed now? We need to see concrete plans, budgets by tomorrow.”
On issues of budget and lack of implementation of the GBV strategy, the Committee took a hard stand - questioning the lack of progress in establishing a fully functional GBV Secretariat over the last five years, to purposefully drive and coordinate GBV responses across the country..
“No one is taking responsibility for this problem. Who is going to take control over gender-based violence? Who is in charge? Does your Ministry have an action plan, and can we see it?” Governor Bird asked the Ministry.
Police Minister Hon. William Ongulo also spoke to the Committee about the real challenges of investigating GBV, manpower and resource scarcity. “We have only 150 staff in the Family and Sexual Violence Units across the country - is that enough to really give GBV survivors the support they need and to ensure proper investigations actually take place?”
Police Commissioner David Manning said that he wants to build up a specific GBV specialist stream within the RPNGC which would be responsible for driving the response to GBV.
When asked if the Police could guarantee the safety of women who come to Family and Sexual Violence Units, both the Minister and Commissioner gave an honest answer that they don’t have the resources or facilities to guarantee the safety of women. This is deeply troubling and the Committee requested the RPNGC to provide them with follow up information on what needed to be done to ensure that the RPNGC can better protect women and children across the country.
DAY 2: WATCH THE LIVESTREAM
The second day of the public hearings opened with a powerful message from Governor Bird, setting the tone for the Committee’s expectations from the Public Hearing.
“We represent the Parliament; we don’t represent the executive government or the opposition or the judiciary. GBV is a huge impediment to us. 1.4 million women suffered from violence last year. We can safely assume same number will experience violence this year too. If those 1.4 million women have sons, they are watching their mothers subjected to violence and in his mind, he will think this is how we will solve the problem, that this is ok. Can you imagine what will happen in our country if every year we are teaching these young men that it is ok to use violence.”
One of the glaring issues that emerged from the first session was the lack of ownership and accountability in Government departments. Ambassador Ivan Pomaleu, Secretary for the Department of Prime Minister, admitted, “We know there has been a lack of coordination - a lack of ownership over GBV - too much reliance on donors. To provide prominence to the agenda and demonstrate the Government’s commitment, perhaps we should consider that the GBV Secretariat be placed under the office of the Prime Minister.”
This proposal by the head of the PM’s Department, if turned into reality, would demonstrate the Government’s seriousness and ensure greater coordination amongst the agencies and departments.
The Committee also use their discussion with the PM’s public service head to ask about the Government’s new commitment to reserved seats for women.
Hon. Charles Abel was strong in pushing for more to be done to promote women’s leadership. “There are challenges to women getting into Parliament. How do we know? Because there are no women in Parliament. Women need to be able to take their place in the highest decision-making body of this country: Parliament! We need these special measures now.”
Ambassador Ivan Pomaleu confirmed to the Committee, “Yes, the Government are proposing 5 regional seats for women, which would cut across some of our current regional seats. I can't say whether we will be able to get this done before the 2022 elections, but i can say that it has been put into a Cabinet discussion paper and the outcome was for more work to be done and to bring the proposal back to Cabinet. Me no gat clear visibility of where this is going, but yes, we will have a formal discussion in Cabinet on this."
Following on from PMNEC, the Committee moved to examine the complex justice system in PNG. The second panel for the day included representatives from the Department of Justice and Attorney General, Office of Public Prosecutor, Public Solicitor’s Office, and the Village Court Secretariat.
Deputy Secretary of DJAG, Miriam Kias, said capacity remains one of their biggest challenges. "We need our staff ceiling raised so that we can get the qualified staff that we need and in proper numbers to respond to the need. We need more investigators, more prosecutors and a dedicated District Court.”
Responding to a concern raised by the Committee that women may be discouraged from pursuing justice because Village Courts have male magistrates, Mr Joe Saferius, a representative of PNG Village Courts, said that out of the 18,480 Village Court officials, 1,500 are now women. This is a step forward but more capacity building still needs to be done.
The Committee spent some time discussing how interim protection orders are issued by Village Courts, and raised concerns about women being charged fees by officials. Officials clarified that services at Village Courts should be free; the only fees to be collected are fines. The Committee encouraged more awareness raising to make that clear to the public.
Mr Pondros Kaluwin, the Director of the Office of Public Prosecutors, responded to the Committee’s concerns regarding the lack of successful GBV prosecutions that continue to be a problem. He laid out the ground realities of dealing with hostile witnesses, interference by victims themselves, cultural challenges when it comes to prosecuting GBV cases.
“If I had my way, I would station 5 lawyers in every major provincial centre, 3 in smaller hubs. I would also be happy to take police prosecutors under my team, to ensure fool-proof cases. Instead of being reactive, we need to be proactive about ending GBV.”
The Public Solicitor also echoed the need for funding capacity building with the defense aspect of the justice system.
The justice team were following by a panel of magistrates who reflected on the role of magistrates in dispensing GBV justice. Senior Magistrate Tracy Ganai said, "We have processes that should allow for IPOs to be processed at any time, but we do not have staff to process them.” Chief Magistrate Mark Pupaka clarified that, "We have 124 magistrates positions across the country but 42 positions are vacant. We need to recruit but we don’t want mediocrity in our ranks. We can't find good candidates to fill these positions. We need to restructure and reform lower courts.”
One of the most concrete suggestions came from Family Court Magistrate Rosie Johnson, who was very clear on what she needs to do her job better so that she can her team of magistrates can provide better protections to women and children. “I want a separate Family Court, properly resourced and run as a dedicated stream of work with dedicated leadership and resources.”
The Committee launched the afternoon session with a request for funding support – K10 million every year to fund GBV activities specifically. Hon. Charles Abel said, “We need K5 million towards setting up a functional GBV Secretariat and K5 million towards building capacity in the police and prosecution sector.”
Minister for Treasury, Hon. Ian Ling-Stuckey, gave clarity on the process of allocating extra funds, “Since 2011, Kina 528 million has been received by development partners to the law and justice sector, some of which went to GBV. In 2021, K1 million was allocated for GBV by the Government of PNG but wasn’t released. If the Committee can submit a comprehensive plan, then we can take this into consideration.”
Near the end of the day, Minister for Communications and IT, Hon. Timothy Masiu brought the spotlight back to the issue of cyber bullying and GBV. “Beyond the traditional bounds of GBV, we see perpetrators attack, humiliate and shame women and girls. This is cyber GBV. We must accept our people are no longer PNG citizens, they are now netizens. Girls are more likely to be bullied, women deemed bigger targets.”
He also spoke of the importance of collecting and analyzing data on GBV. “There is lack of up-to-date data, no information is being shared between referral pathway partners. A mobile app that can deal with these cases to communicate with survivor and service providers in real-time may be the way forward, as well as specifically helping people log cyber bullying complaints. We support a shared service approach.”
The NICTA Director said 20 complaints of cyber bullying are received in a month, which are referred to the police. But there is a need to build the cyber-crime police division.”
Based on the suggestion by the Communications and IT Secretary, Steven Matainaho, Governor Parkop recommended that forms to request Interim Protection Orders and to make complaints about cyber bullying be put online instantly.
Governor Parkop also the Ministry about whether they could use their communications infrastructure to support gender sensitizing programming, focusing on young people to combat the objectifying of women and girls. Citing the recent case of Miss PNG Lucy Maino being bullied for a tiktok video, he said, “women are attacked online for giving their opinion or for a small video, while men can do anything they want. Our goal is not to shut down people.”
To build awareness through mass media, Hon. Charles Abel asked for localized television content to be created reflecting the messaging on GBV.
Representing the end of the criminal justice process, the Minister for Correctional Services Hon. Win Daki revealed alarming statistics. “85% of female prisoners are serving jail terms because of GBV – they either killed their husbands in self-defense or murdered the husbands or mistresses. They are regretful of their actions. But the courts have forgotten them; they are in prison for 3-4 years, just waiting for their court case to be heard, without even a convction.”
Security, violence and behavior change within the prisons were listed as critical challenges.
Responding to allegations the GBV perpetrators are out on the streets when supposedly being in custody, the Deputy Corrections Commissioner David Suagu admitted, “There are flaws in the system but we are working on closing the gaps.” Governor Bird emphasized that the society needs to feel safe. “If the perpetrators are out, then we all get a bad reputation. We cannot behave like a tucker-box business, we are the Government.”
Front-liner Jean Jano emotionally gave her verdict on the first-ever public hearing. “You heard us and you are asking the right questions. You are putting fire under their legs and they are jumping. We are not perfect yet, but it is a start. Thank you!”
Chair Hon. Charles Abel summarized the outcomes of the 2-day session by articulating the way forward. “We are admitting the Government needs to pull up its socks. We are not coordinating this area sufficiently, not funding it sufficiently. We need to work on simple things like having the right people in the right place.
He continued, “We are determined that the GBV Secretariat is established by next year. We want to take the suggestion that it be placed under the Prime Minister. It should be led by dynamic people who have the heart for this and are committed and qualified, not by tired public servants.
Hon Abel went on, “We are also looking at capacitating the prosecution chain – from the police to prosecutors. We would like to fast-track a pilot project that creates a Family Safe Court in NCD and Goroka.
Hon Abel concluded, “We are also committed to pursuing the proposal for Reserved Seats for women. There are all kinds of barriers, but women deserve to be on the floor of the Parliament.”
The 2-day Public Hearing on GBV has brought the agenda to public forefront, through an honest consultation on the challenges, and finding realistic solutions – both short-term and long-term. The problem of Gender Based Violence cannot be resolved over-night. But the Special Parliamentary Committee has taken the first few steps towards understanding and undoing the damage that lack of will and action has caused in the last 45 years.
A comprehensive report will be submitted to the Parliament in August with concrete recommendations for addressing GBV. Interested parties who wish to make a written submission Committee can email their ideas to parliamentGBVCommittee@gmail.com by by 30 June 20201.