Can Australia Help End Tribal Violence In Papua New Guinea?

The remote highlands regions of Papua New Guinea have recently been the subject of international attention in the wake of a brutal massacre. The remote village of Karida saw an outbreak of tribal violence earlier this month in an ongoing conflict in some of the country’s most remote provinces. While tribal conflict and in-fighting have historically been an issue for P.N.G., the rate and escalation of violence itself has increased. This is due in a large part to the provision of high-powered weapons that has led to a marked change in the way this conflict has unfolded.

The use of modern armaments is cause for serious concern as this has bought an influx of problems not commonly associated with tribal violence in Papua New Guinea. Specifically, the use of modern armaments has ensured that certain tribal groups gain a monopoly over the means of coercion which has a flow-on effect for the remainder of P.N.G. society. In what would usually result in the deaths of two or three, this new wave of violence has killed many more, including civilians, children and the torching of entire villages. This has also limited the effects of aid and medical relief by making it harder to access remote areas without placing international aid workers in danger.

The Prime Minister of PNG James Marape (whose electorate the events took place in) has called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice in a recent facebook post. As recently as 2013 P.N.G. reinstated the death penalty and since then there have been 16 placed on death row with eight sentences carried out for involvement in sorcery related killings. The international community widely condemns the use of the death penalty and has maintained that it must be upheld in the situation in Papua New Guinea. While the presence of modern armaments has escalated the conflict and the ramifications for those in surrounding areas, the P.N.G. government must review its approach to ending violence like this is and ensuring it is brought to an end.

Due to a lack of resources, manpower and security enforcements; events like these have been the subject of political contention in P.N.G. for some time. Prime Minister Marape has voiced his concerns that the country’s police force and security apparatus are in need of reinforcement and that had they been adequately funded and resourced then events like these would be handled differently. The country also hosted the 2018 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that provided an opportunity for PNG to put its case to the international community. Unfortunately, the summit was characterized by great power games between the U.S.A. and China which ultimately overshadowed any attempt to alleviate the violence in Papua New Guinea. Since then, the violence has only gotten worse.

The international community, in particular Australia, should look to assist the new Prime Minister in his attempt to alleviate the human cost of the recent spate of tribal violence in P.N.G. without imposing the death penalty. Historically, levels of Australian aid spending have declined which is something that Australia ought to reconsider if it wishes to help the P.N.G. government in this area and keep its role as a respected middle power. Moreover, the reality for remotely located groups in P.N.G. will not be alleviated in the short term and the international community must do all it can to assist P.N.G. in dealing with tribal violence. An initial measure may be to deploy peacekeeping forces, federal police and aid workers from Australia in a similar tone to the Australian involvement in East Timor and the Solomon Islands in the early 2000s.