Papua New Guinea: The Importance of National Commissions by Helen Hakena, Chair of the PNG SALW Women’s Working Committee

23 March 2012

Bougainville, the region I come from in Papua New Guinea (PNG), is still coping with the impact of a 20-year civil war that ended in 2004 and resulted in the deaths of 15,000 - 20,000 people. Bougainville women, men and children suffered a great deal. Health, education and other essential services were non-existent during this period.

In all, many lives were lost and infrastructure, public administration and support services broke down entirely. A whole generation lost out on the opportunity for formal education. The economy of the island came to a stand still. Women and girls were raped at gun point by both the Bougainville revolutionary army and PNGDF soldiers. The spread of guns throughout PNG is a serious problem, but it is particularly acute in Bougainville due to the legacy of easily available and unregulated guns there.

Last week, I gave a radio interview on Radio Bougainville on the work of the district-based gun control committees working to mobilize community support for the disposal of guns. This is valuable and important work. Permanently removing guns from circulation is a visible and demonstrative act that symbolises government commitment to improving human security. Bougainville needs support in achieving its aims in reducing the number of guns in the community and the UN Programme of Action on small arms (PoA) offers us, as civil society, a way to work in closer cooperation with our government on programmes like this.

The PoA specifically recommends that states ‘establish, or designate as appropriate, national coordination agencies or bodies and institutional infrastructure responsible for policy guidance, research and monitoring of efforts to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects. This should include aspects of the illicit manufacture, control, trafficking, circulation, brokering and trade, as well as tracing, finance, collection and destruction of small arms and light weapons’ and further suggests that states ‘establish or designate, as appropriate, a national point of contact to act as liaison between States on matters relating to the implementation of the Programme of Action’.

Papua New Guinea has a National Focal Point, which is not active. The position needs to be more visible and to be empowered and enabled to do the job well. It is very difficult for a person, or group of people, acting as a coordination agency for the implementation of the PoA (amongst other things) to be effective without a sound framework to work within. Time, money, expertise, human resources and motivation are all required to enable a National Commission to work in fulfilling the following roles:

  • Planning and implementation of National Action Plans;
  • Cooperation and coordination;
  • Research;
  • Awareness raising, information management and communication;
  • Resource mobilisation and allocation.

Key tasks may include:

  • Facilitating coordination at the national level;
  • Coordinating and interacting with civil society;
  • Coordinating and interacting with national parliaments;
  • Coordinating with the district and provincial level;
  • Coordinating with regional institutions on SALW control;
  • Coordinating/liaising with National Commissions in other countries.

In discussions on the PoA it is often said that successful implementation is the key to making the process work. I would agree with this, but it is also crucial to make sure that what is implemented has an impact. It is not enough to create a National Commission. It must work effectively and it has to be given every chance to work well enough to help prevent the impact of the Bougainville war from disempowering generations to come.

This article was published in the Small Arms Monitor, Vol. 4, No. 4 on 23 March 2012.

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