The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Papua New Guinea is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Papua New Guinea is not a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
There is not yet a regional human rights treaty to which South-East Asian nations can adhere, although a non-binding human rights declaration was issued by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2013. Paragraph 24 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration provides that: "Every person has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly." Papua New Guinea is an observer state of ASEAN.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
The 1975 Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea provides that:
Subject to any restrictions imposed by law on non-citizens, all persons in Papua New Guinea are entitled to freedom of assembly.
There is no dedicated national law governing assemblies in Papua New Guinea.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
The 1977 Arrest Act enables authorised persons, including law enforcement officials, to use all reasonable means to effect an arrest where a suspect resists arrest.S. 14(1)(c), 1977 Arrest Act.The force used must be reasonable in the circumstances.S. 14(1)(c), 1977 Arrest Act.Excessive use of force is also prohibited under the earlier 1974 Criminal Code Act.S. 281, 1974 Criminal Code Act.The 1998 Police Act prohibits unnecessary force.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
There is not yet a specific law governing recourse to the use of firearms by the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Papua New Guinea has not yet come before the Human Rights Committee since its accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2008.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Papua New Guinea:
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly. However, marches and demonstrations require 14 days’ notice and police approval, and authorities sometimes deny permits. Police have used force to suppress demonstrations by asylum seekers on Manus Island.
In June 2016, Amnesty International condemned the shooting of students peacefully protesting in Port Moresby. “The shooting of students peacefully protesting is reminiscent of the worst excesses of repressive regimes in the region,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific. “Papua New Guinea’s authorities must establish a prompt, impartial and independent investigation to determine who is responsible for the unnecessary and excessive use of force.” The Ombudsman Commission said it would investigate the police shootings, but no public report of their findings was available as of September 2019.