Blog #5

Papua New Guinea has been moderated by the United Nations for environmental issues and human rights issues. Over the course of recent years, PNG has passed many laws pertaining to protecting people’s rights like the Family Protection Act that outlays penalties for domestic violence and gives help to victims. Yet, these laws have not been implemented in PNG. In the article, “Papua New Guinea: Address Abuses at UN”, Human Rights Watch concedes that

“PNG should also make concrete commitments to address other serious human rights issues highlighted in Human Rights Watch’s submission to the UPR [Universal Periodic Review], including police abuses, violations of women’s and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, the death penalty, extractive industries, and disability rights” 

Upon the Universal Periodic Review that reviews Papua New Guinea’s efforts to increase human rights over a multitude of issues earlier this year in May, PNG fell short of expectations as Elaine Pearson, the Australia director at Human Rights Watch commented,

“Over the last four years, we’ve seen no practical improvement in justice for violence against women,” Pearson said. “Countries need to press PNG to decriminalize abortion and implement the Family Protection Act without delay.” 

This Western standard of human rights reflects Farish Noor’s eurocentrism. The challenge of enforcing global human rights as the UN ultimately tries to do like promoting gender equality and freedom of expression is according to Noor in “Beyond Eurocentrism”, the gap of inequality between the Western and Eastern cultures. One is well off compared to the other, which brings a gap of understanding of cultural implications. With a history of the Western world colonizing other countries and indigenous societies, it is easy and natural for Western cultures to view their ideals as dominant towards other cultures. The eurocentrism mindset speaks into how world leaders at the UN attempt to govern countries like PNG that has not progressed to acceptable Western human rights standards. Yet, the true issue here is the enforcement of global human rights that are enforceable for all societies. This one-size fits all standard is a huge obstacle for differing cultures and values and can easily fall into ethnocentrism.

To balance the enforcement of global human rights and cultural values, cultural human rights philosophies and values should be revived as Noor argues, but these cultural values must be understood and leveraged by local and world leaders trying to enforce greater human rights. Instead of a passive understanding of another’s culture, one should dive into those values and relate them to the attempted global standard of human rights.

The culture and religion of Papua New Guinea is a mixture of Western and indigenous ideals that often are enacted side-by-side. Most PNG citizens identify their faith as Christianity which was introduced by missionaries to PNG in the 1700-1800s. These Christian beliefs are often enacted along with traditions rooted in indigenous belief systems like animism and totemism. Animism is the belief that all animals and living things have a soul like humans and ought to be respected as such. These spirits are to be pacified and respected through rituals and taking care of the environment. Other people of PNG who live in the forest usually have cultures rooted in totemism, in which an animal or plant is holy and revered. The totem, highly special animal or plant, is the glue that holds the people of the forest together as a civilization. The totem is not worshipped as a god but is used in traditions and can be a way for people to connect with their environment.

With these indigenous beliefs comes traditions and practices that are outlandish to the Western viewpoint: witch hunting. In PNG, witchcraft is widely believed and feared. When a someone dies like a child, sometimes the agreed upon cause by the tribe is a witch. A witch must have cast a spell or taken the heart of the person, and the tribe must find this perpetrator and bring her to justice. In modern times, witch hunting has metastasized in PNG especially in remote areas like the Highlands. The prone nature towards violence and inequality of women are a few affecting factors for the witch hunts. While the UN tries to regulate this violence through meetings with the PNG government and laws, a local woman in PNG is working against these frequent witch hunts by protecting accused witches and hiding them. 

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Monica Paulus hides accused witches in Papua New Guinea

Acts like these on the domestic level are essential to grow human rights in a society. Change must happen within PNG before governmental regulation will make a huge difference.

In the end, cultural understanding, empathy and action within a country combined with global standards and regulation help enforce human rights.

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