UN challenges PNG govt over illegal land grabbing

The United Nations has accused the Papua New Guinea government of racial discrimination against its own people over its failure to stop foreign companies using SABL leases to illegally occupy customary land.

More than 50,000 square kilometres of indigenous land has been seized using the illegal agriculture leases, as exposed in a 2015 Commission of Inquiry.

Despite many claims it will cancel the leases, the PNG government has been slow to take any steps to reverse the land grab and is still allowing foreign companies to use the stolen land for logging and oil palm planting.

In response, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has delivered a letter to the PNG government demanding answers as to why it is continuing to allow the illegal occupation of land and has not implemented the recommendations of its own Commission of Inquiry that the land be handed back to local communities.

“The Committee is concerned about the fact that the government authorizes the continuing use of SABL by foreign companies to occupy and use indigenous land in Papua New Guinea,” chair of the committee, Noureddine Amir, said.

“The Committee is also concerned about the fact that the government have not taken any steps towards the implementation of recommendations of its own Commission of Inquiry on SABLs.

“The Committee is further concerned about the current use of SABLs for logging and large-scale plantation on indigenous peoples land, despite the reported adverse impact on thousands of peoples, mostly living in remote rural communities, including the destruction of their traditional subsistence lifestyles and environmental degradation.”

The Committee says the maintenance and continuous use of the SABLs infringes people’s rights under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The UN has asked the PNG government to provide a response to its letter by 8 April, 2019. However, two similar previous letters, sent by the same Committee, in March 2011 and February 2017, have so far been ignored by the government.

(Picture: Global Witness)

Press release