Friday, April 27, 2012

Concern for the Rule of Law in Papua New Guinea

“Papua New Guinea is on a slippery path to upending the constitutional order and undermining the rule of law,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned earlier today.  She was voicing concern about recent steps taken by the Government in Papua New Guinea that undermine the rule of law, breach international human rights standards, impinge on the independence of the judiciary, and could lead to serious instability.     

Since the August 2011 change of Government in Papua New Guinea, and the subsequent dispute over who is the legitimate Prime Minister, the Executive and Parliament have taken steps which seriously affect the ability of the judiciary to operate independently, according to a news release issued by the High Commissioner’s office (OHCHR).    

The enactment of a new Judicial Conduct Act last month is of particular concern, Ms. Pillay said, as it establishes a new parallel system to deal with misconduct of judges, contrary to constitutional provisions on the issue.  “It appears that the Judicial Conduct Act is being used to interfere in particular with the legal proceedings to determine the legality of the current administration,” she stated, citing a Supreme Court decision on December 12, 2011 in which it ruled that the Government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neil was unconstitutional.  

In that court ruling, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court restored Sir Michael Somare as the Prime Minister.  The 3-2 decision cam shortly after Peter O'Neil's government passed legislation to legitimize the removal of Sir Somare in August when he was in Singapore.  The majority found that there was no vacancy in the office of prime minister on August 2 and that the vote of 70-24 lawmakers that elected O’Neill was illegal.

Ms. PIllay also called on the Government to uphold constitutional provisions on national elections.  The Government had indicated that it may now seek to delay the polls beyond the five-year term fixed by the Constitution.    

Also of concern are reports that several journalists have been attacked, allegedly for their role in reporting on the current political situation in the country.  “It is the Government’s responsibility and obligation under international human rights law to ensure that freedom of expression is respected, and that when journalists are attacked for doing their jobs, prompt investigations are conducted and perpetrators are duly prosecuted,” Ms. Pillay said.

(mew) (adapted in part from a UN Press Release)

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