Briefing for Commonwealth Ministers: Human Rights & Religious Minorities in Papua New Guinea

Briefing for Commonwealth Ministers

6th October 2000

Human Rights & Religious Minorities in Papua New Guinea

  1. Background
  2. Issues and Concerns
  3. Requested action
  4. Conclusion

1. Background
Mr. Kumbakor had previously commissioned a briefing document, entitled, ‘The Incursion of Islam into Papua New Guinea: A Warning,’ by a church coalition specifically on the topic of Islam and Muslims. A copy of the document can be forwarded upon request. It contains a variety of derogatory, misleading and outrageous claims about Islam and Muslims. These include claims that Islam is a religion which pursues war and violence, and which oppresses women and religious minorities. It also claims that “Muslims – especially Saudi Arabia, have a definite agenda – political world takeover.” It continues, “Islam is a dangerous and a very serious threat to peace and unity of this great nation. The advent of and propagation of the Islamic religion will be a future time-bomb for PNG…PNG must remain a Christian country for a better future.”
Mr. Kumbakor has also made a number of public statements which define Islam and Muslims as a threat to PNG’s present and future security. He is quoted as saying:
“We don’t want Muslims to come to PNG. We already have the Melanesian religion and Christianity. We will come up with some amendment to the constitution or come up with a separate legislation that will set up measures to control the emergence of different religion.”
PNG already has a Muslim community numbering in the region of 2000 (two thousand) in a population of over 4 (four) million. There is already a level of societal intolerance, evidenced by abusive anonymous ‘protests’ i.e. letters to newspapers etc. to the proposed building of a mosque, in the Hohola suburb of Port Moresby.

2. Issues & Concerns
All international instruments regarding basic human rights provide the right to free expression of one’s religion. Additionally the Harare Declaration makes strong and unambiguous commitments to the rights of the various Commonwealth peoples to enjoy their religions and cultures unmolested.
IHRC is deeply concerned that:

  1. A Minister of a Commonwealth country has felt free to breach the principles of the Harare Declaration by commissioning such a report;
  2. A briefing document containing discriminatory etc. comments be used as a basis for legislation;
  3. Discriminatory legislation / constitutional amendments be actively pursued;
  4. A Minister can make blatantly discriminatory and inaccurate comments about a religious minority;
  5. The whole process thus far has led to the demonisation of Muslims in PNG;
  6. If the whole process is not stopped, the inevitable result will be the exclusion (possibly violent) of Muslims from participation in PNG’s social, economic and political development.

The comments of Mr. Kumbakor are reminiscent of anti-Semitic propaganda promulgated by the Nazis in the run up to the Second World War.

3. Requested Action
IHRC requests Commonwealth Ministers to take immediate and effective action against the government of PNG to prevent any such legislation, constitutional amendments etc. being introduced. This should include the suspension of PNG from the Commonwealth and the imposition of punitive sanctions. IHRC further requests that:

  1. PNG be removed from the Commonwealth Review Group;
  2. Andrew Kumbakor be asked to resign from the PNG government;
  3. Measures and procedures be drawn up to seek the inclusion of religious minorities in PNG’s development within a framework that respects basic rights.

4. Conclusion
The Commonwealth must act now to prevent a potentially violent denouement to the abusive and cynical process of exclusion and demonisation upon which the PNG government has embarked. Previous genocides and massacres have all begun with institutional processes that vilify and exclude a community or group(s) of individuals. IHRC urges the Commonwealth to take punitive action and initiate preventative measures now before the situation escalates.

NB: M. Kumbakor resigned and nolegislation has been passed to date (1st September 2001)