Tribal-related violence rising in Papua New Guinea
Southeast Asia & Pacific Team
Global Human Rights Defense
In the Enga Province in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, a region that is home to hundreds of tribal groups. Historically, tribal warring has been a method utilized to solve conflicts. These conflicts would generally be solved on the battlefield under strict rules of engagement with the intent of minimizing killings and fighting outside of the battlefield. These types of dueling have seen a resurgence in the last couple of years, as per public account, due to a variety of issues, such as territorial disputes and first-hand enforcement of the rule of law due to a lack of enforcement from the judicial system. Although tribal conflicts are not unusual in the Enga Province, the methods and brutality are swiftly changing. Local authorities have denoted that tribes are now hiring mercenaries, leading to a rise in violence and deaths, a practice that they claim was unusual before.
In August of 2023, a series of videos were released on various social media platforms in which three men can be seen naked, tied-up to a truck being dragged as onlookers cheer. Additionally, a month prior, footage circulated on social media of women being kidnapped and assaulted. Since the leak of these videos, Prime Minister James Marape has publicly condemned these acts as “domestic terrorism” and aims to take measures to deter a growth on violence throughout Papua New Guinea, but especially in the Enga Province.
In August, over the course of a few days, the death toll is estimated to have reached 170 as a result of tribal-related violence. In several videos released on social media, tribal fighters can be seen wielding axes, bows, arrows, machetes and rifles. The local police are still making efforts to recover bodies in the Enga region.
Police Commissioner David Manning has publicly stated that additional police and military personnel are being deployed to Enga to deescalate the violence. Additionally, Police Commissioner Manning states that “security forces cannot simply arrest or kill their way out of tribal fighting in Enga.” Adding that as a consequence of thousands of years of tribal conflict, the problem will not likely disappear entirely. The upsurge in violence has left many displaced, forcing displaced people to relocate into major city slums.
During the elections in July of 2022, political-related violence left more than 15.000 people displaced in the provinces of Hela, Enga and Southern Highlands, leaving an estimated 25.000 children unable to attend school with reports of rape, kidnapping and other forms of violence, as per the UN’s International Office of Migration.
The Papua New Guinean government is seeking to make amendments to the current criminal code and increasing the number of law enforcement agents deployed to the regions of conflict as an attempt of tackling what they refer to as “domestic terrorism.” The local authorities blame a rise in the drug trade coming in from Indonesia as a factor in the rise of violence and in the involvement of outside mercenaries for hire.
Sources and further readings:
- Bethanie Harriman, ‘Papua New Guinea Killings: What’s behind the outbreak in tribal fighting?’ The Guardian (Pacific Islands, 29 August 2023) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/aug/29/papua-new-guinea-killings-whats-behind-the-outbreak-in-tribal-fighting> Accessed 21 September 2023.
- Phil Mercer, ‘Tribal Violence Kills Dozens in Papua New Guinea’ VOA News (23 August 2023) https://www.voanews.com/a/tribal-violence-kills-dozens-in-papua-new-guinea/7237502.html Accessed 21 September 2023.
- AFP, ‘More than 150 killed in Papua New Guinea’s tribal fighting since August’ Free Malaysia Today (8 September 2023) https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/world/2023/09/08/more-than-150-killed-in-pngs-tribal-fighting-since-august/ Accessed 21 September 2023.
- Miranda Forsyth, William Kipongi & Philip Gibbs, ‘How to address escalating violence in PNG’ Development Policy (14 July 2023) https://devpolicy.org/how-to-address-escalating-violence-in-png-20230714/ Accessed 21 September 2023.
- IOM Global News, ‘IOM Scales up Response to Displaced Communities in Papua New Guinea’ IOM UN Migration (6 September 2022) https://www.iom.int/news/iom-scales-response-displaced-communities-papua-new-guinea#:~:text=Port%20Moresby%20%E2%80%93%20Following%20conflict%20and,Displacement%20Tracking%20Matrix%20(DTM) Accessed 21 September 2023.