UN Special Rapporteur on Torture concludes visit to Papua New Guinea

PORT MORESBY – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, concluded his fact-finding mission to Papua New Guinea, conducted from 14 to 25 May 2010, at the invitation of the Government. “Thanks to the full cooperation of the Commissioners of Police and Correctional Services, I was able to conduct unannounced visits to places of detention and interview detainees in private”, stated Mr. Nowak.  
“My main concerns are systematic beatings of detainees by the police upon arrest and within the first hours of detention including during interrogation. This regular practice of police violence, corroborated by medical evidence, often reaches the level of torture”, added the Special Rapporteur.

The UN Expert found appalling conditions of detention in police lock-ups, where detainees are often kept for many months, amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. “Detainees are locked-up in overcrowded and filthy cells, without proper ventilation, natural light, access to sufficient food and water for drinking, washing and using the toilets. In all police stations, including in the Highlands, detainees were forced to sleep on the floor, usually without any blankets. At Mount Hagen Police Station, the hygienic conditions were beyond description, and detainees were forced to urinate and defecate in bottles and plastic bags, which were then picked up by female detainees and piled up in the small common space” noted Mr. Nowak.

Mr. Nowak found that the conditions of detention in correctional institutions and remand centres varied from best practices (i.e. the female section at Bihute Correctional Institution near Goroka, or the Hohola Remand Centre for Juveniles in Port Moresby) to worst practices (i.e. Baisu Correctional Institution in Mount Hagen). He expressed concern over common overcrowding, particularly in high-risk and remand sections. Detainees on remand are not separated from convicted prisoners. Most prisoners do not have sufficient beds, mosquito nets or blankets. In addition, the UN Expert was particularly concerned that “prisoners who escape are subjected to severe punishment, amounting to torture, including through brutal beatings with bush knives and gun butts, shooting detainees at close range and cutting their tendons with axes and bush knives after they are apprehended, with the intent of disabling them. The victims are usually kept in punishment cells, without any medical treatment, which sometimes even led to their death”.

“The Police Juvenile Policy and Protocols, developed jointly by the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary and UNICEF constitutes an excellent tool for dealing with juveniles in conflict with the law. Unfortunately for the most part they are not implemented,” noted the Special Rapporteur. The Juvenile Reception Centre in Boroko, constructed with UNICEF funds and opened in 2009, was not even in use. This led to juveniles being held in police custody together with adults, in contravention of international standards. On the other hand, the Hohola Remand Centre, run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, constitutes a best practice aimed at reintegrating juveniles into society.

With regard to women, the Special Rapporteur expressed his concern that “they hold a very low status in society, placing them at very high risk of abuse, both in the domestic and in the public sphere. In police stations, I found cases of women being subjected to sexual abuse and exploited for slavery-like services by police officers and male detainees.”

(*): Read the Special Rapporteur’s full statement at http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10058&LangID=E