International Scrutiny on PNG’s State of Democracy Growing
It is extremely rare for any bar association or representative organisation of the judiciary, or elements of it, to announce press conferences or release media statements.
Usually, such legalistic comments are contained within carefully thought out judgements handed down within the strict confines of the court-room. But occasionally one does, and when it does, it pays to take notice.
The Bar Association of Queensland has an annual media release rate of one per year. Earlier last month it released a media statement, it’s first for 2012, outlining it’s concern for the PNG Chief Justice Sir Injia Salamo – an extraordinary move of support of one foreign legal jurisdiction to another.
In that statement, the President of the Bar Association of Queensland, Mr Roger Traves stated:
“The executive must respect the judiciary, decisions of the Court and the rule of law. To do otherwise was to reject the due performance by the Court of its Constitutional obligations and hence to reject the Constitution.
The Constitution is that which stands between democracy for the people of Papua New Guinea and the unrestrained exercise of power over them by the State.”
Such powerful comments on PNG’s ongoing political impasse, made by international observers with significant political and social capital, are concerning and have the potential to harm PNG’s international reputation if not addressed.
The international scrutiny on the latest events in PNG haven’t just been limited to Queensland or Australia.
“We have been following developments in Papua New Guinea with concern. We deplore the extra-constitutional action taken by some elements in the military, and we are pleased that the situation has been brought under control and the country remains peaceful.
The Commonwealth unreservedly rejects any use of military means for domestic political purposes. We urge all concerned to continue to work towards resolving differences through dialogue, and in accordance with the Commonwealth’s values.”
Furthermore, on Monday (April 16), the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) held its thirty-seventh meeting in London. It was the Group’s first regular meeting following its reconstitution by the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHG), at their meeting in Perth in October 2011 and at which Peter O’Neill was also present.
CMAG is a group of nine Foreign Ministers (membership is reconstituted every two years) that meets when necessary to examine serious and persistent threats to human rights and democracy in Commonwealth countries.
Although Fiji, which was suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth in December 2006, is the only country on CMAG’s current permanent agenda, situations in other countries are also discussed informally.
With the unanimous election of Hon Dr Surujrattan Rambachan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago as its Chair; and Hon Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia as its Vice-Chair, as well as further Melanesian representation by Hon Alfred Carlot, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu; there is no doubt that the current events in PNG have also been discussed at this level – albeit informally.
This is concerning.
In its concluding Group report, CMAG reviewed developments in relation to the two countries on the meeting’s formal agenda, Fiji and the Maldives.
The similarities between what has happened in the Maldives, leading to its condemnation by CMAG, and what is happening in PNG right now with the threat of the delay in General Elections 2012, the implementation of the controversial Judicial Conduct Act 2012 including its consequent amendments, and the executive’s declaration of war with the judiciary, is alarming.
The BBC wrote the following report on the situation in the Maldives (emphasis mine):
“The Commonwealth’s rights watchdog [CMAG] has criticised an inquiry set up by the Maldives to investigate an alleged coup as ‘neither independent or impartial’.
The inquiry is tasked with investigating events leading to the transfer of power in February.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed claims he was removed from office by force. Mr Nasheed alleges President Mohamed Waheed Hussein Manik, his former vice-president, conspired with the opposition and military to oust him. Mr Waheed denies the charge.
Mr Waheed has previously agreed to put his government to a vote, but said that the conditions were not yet right for polls to be held.
But earlier this week, the government said victories in two by-elections gave it a mandate to keep governing until the end of 2013, when the next polls are scheduled.
The by-elections were called after the disqualification of two MPs by the country’s highest court in the weeks after Mr Waheed came to power.”
Although Peter O’Neill has repeatedly assured PNG’s partners that elections will go ahead on schedule, there is no doubt that our immediate international neighbours and regional and international membership-based groups, including the Commonwealth Secretariat, are all watching the developments in PNG with some angst.
The Bar Association of Queensland has opted to take its approach to the next level by organizing a seminar titled, The Rule of Law and Judicial Independence in Papua New Guinea, which has been endorsed by the International Commission of Jurists.
It is fair to say that PNG’s international reputation as a robust democratic nation has already been tarnished by the decisions of the O’Namah government.
The longer this political impasse lasts, and the more retroactive pieces of legislation and amendments are created to justify past or ongoing government-driven parliamentary decisions, not only will our own citizens begin to lose faith in PNG’s democratic systems, but so too will our international friends and colleagues.
It is one thing to be disowned and disliked by one’s own citizens, and another thing altogether to be condemned and isolated by the world.