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PNG: Investigate Police Shootings Schoolchildren

For Immediate Release:

Papua New Guinea: Investigate Police Shootings of Schoolchildren

(New York, November 1, 2005) — The government of Papua New Guinea should immediately investigate police killings of three schoolchildren and the injuring of roughly two dozen others in Enga province on October 31, Human Rights Watch said today.

Deputy Police Commissioner Gari Baki told journalists Monday that police were met by rock-throwing students when they went to arrest the headmaster of Porgera top-up primary school. The deputy commissioner said that the officers believed their lives were threatened and opened fire to disperse the crowd. Three children were shot dead, and 20 to 35 people, some as young as nine or 10 years old, were injured.

“It’s hard to imagine that police confronted by unarmed students couldn’t address the situation without shooting children dead,” said Zama Coursen-Neff, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch’s Children’s Rights Division and author of the organization’s recent report on police violence against children in Papua New Guinea. “The officers involved should be investigated and properly punished, and steps should be taken to ensure such horrific incidents won’t be repeated.”

Extreme and disproportionate violence against children, including rape and torture, is business as usual for many Papua New Guinea police. In September, Human Rights Watch released a report, “‘Making Their Own Rules’: Police Beatings, Rape, and Torture of Children in Papua New Guinea,” documenting boys and girls being shot, knifed, kicked and beaten with gun butts, iron bars, wooden batons, fists, rubber hoses and chairs. Some were forced to chew and swallow condoms. Eyewitnesses describe gang rapes in police stations, vehicles, barracks and other locations. Children were also routinely detained with adults in sordid police lockups and denied medical care.

Internal police statistics indicate that very few officers are punished for violence against children. A 2004 report commissioned by Minister of Police Bire Kimisopa also found a breakdown of discipline. The minister’s report recommended reforms that have not been implemented. With little or no penalty for violators and few incentives for good practices, police training has had little effect on abusive police tactics.

“Papua New Guinea Police Commissioner Sam Inguba told me in September that officers who commit crimes against children would be disciplined,” said Coursen-Neff. “Yesterday’s police shootings of children demands leadership from the top. This incident highlights the urgent need for Papua New Guinea’s police force to reform the way it treats children.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Papua New Guinea government to investigate the shootings and to make public the results of the investigation. Officers and their commanders found responsible for excessive force should face, as appropriate, internal disciplinary measures, including dismissal, and criminal prosecution, the organization said. Human Rights Watch has also called on the government to designate an independent body to monitor police violence against children.

Human Rights Watch urged the government to ensure that police strictly comply with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. Under the Principles, law enforcement officials may use lethal force only “when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” When doing so they must act with restraint and in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, minimize injury and respect and preserve human life.

Australia is Papua New Guinea’s largest foreign donor, with much of its assistance going to the police. Human Rights Watch called on Australia and other international donors to place more emphasis on accountability for officers and their commanders who commit crimes, to encourage independent monitoring of police by a body outside the force with the resources and mandate to do the job, and to assist the development of local human rights groups with the capacity to demand accountability from the government and monitor police violence.

“‘Making Their Own Rules’: Police Beatings, Rape, and Torture of Children in Papua New Guinea” is available at:
http://hrw.org/reports/2005/png0905/

ENDS

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