Papua New Guinea
In a referendum held over two weeks, the people of Bougainville, an archipelago in the South Pacific's Solomon Sea, voted overwhelmingly to seek independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG). The referendum was the centerpiece of the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement between the PNG government and Bougainville independence leaders to end a devastating decade-long war that claimed nearly 20,000 lives—nearly a tenth the territory's total population. Negotiations between PNG and Bougainville about the road forward will now begin and could continue for years, with the PNG parliament having the final say. Control of the territory's rich mineral resources has been a key issue in the conflict.
The 18 member states of the Pacific Islands Forum held their 49th summit in Nauru, issuing a statement (PDFi) Sept. 6 asserting that "climate change presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of Pacific people." The leaders "reaffirmed the importance of immediate urgent action to combat climate change" and committed "to ensure effective progress on Pacific priorities with regards to the Paris Agreement" through the development of a guide. Leaders at the Forum also urged all countries to comply fully with their commitments to mitigate emissions, "including through the development and transfer of renewable energy," within their committed timeframes. The leaders also "called on the United States to return to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change."
The push to re-open a controversial copper mine on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville was halted after indigenous residents blocked roads to prevent officials from going to the mine site and signing new agreements with landowners. The Panguna mine was abandoned by Australian-owned Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) in 1989 after disaffection from landowners escalated to an armed uprising and a push for independence from Papua New Guinea. The president and cabinet of the Autonomous Bougainville Government had planned to go to the Panguna site to sign an agreement that would allow BCL to resume work at the mine. But so-called "hardline" opponents, led by angry women, blocked the road and demanded the government and company abandon their plans. (Radio Australia, June 17)
Australia is using the island of Nauru as an "open-air prison," putting refugees and asylum seekers through an abusive processing system as a means to prevent immigration, according to a report (PDF) released by Amnesty International Oct. 17. The report charges that Australia has ignored the 1951 Refugee Convention (PDF) by subjecting asylum seekers and refugees to "egregious abuses," essentially trapping them on the remote island. The report includes dozens of interviews with refugees, documenting claims of mental health issues, suicide attempts and attacks at the hands of Nauru citizens. It describes inadequate and often "deeply humiliating and traumatizing" medical treatment, and abuses carried out against children, including physical abuse from staff contracted by Australia, and the denial of their right to education. The report calls upon the Australian government to ensure the safety and well-being of refugees, and increase access to existing migration programs.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced Aug. 17 that the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea plan to close the controversial Manus Island detention center. Since 2012 Australia has sent asylum seekers to offshore detention centers where they have been subjected to inhumane treatment. Human rights groups have brought light to the physical and sexual abuse faced by these individuals, which has created pressure for reform. Although there has been an agreement to close the center, Australia continues to state it will refuse to accept the detainees held there. There is no time frame on the process, which has led to skepticism.
The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled April 26 that Australia's detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island in northern Papua New Guinea is illegal. The court found that the detention center violates article 42 of Papua New Guinea's constitution, which guarantees personal liberty. The court ordered both governments to take steps to end the detention. Australia's Minister for Immigration and Border Protection said that the ruling, "does not alter Australia's border protection policies—they remain unchanged. No one who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat will settle in Australia." There are currently about 850 detainees on Manus Island, half of whom have been determined to be refugees.