Church and women’s leaders push for peace in Papua New Guinea

Date: Monday, July 23, 2018

Author: Nicholas Turner

Goroka, Papua New Guinea — Preventing conflict and fostering a culture of peace is of critical importance in many parts of Papua New Guinea, and church groups are trying to help achieve these objectives.

With support from UN Women, about 50 members of the PNG Council of Churches, churches from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Government departments and civil society organizations, women’s groups, and the country’s development partners gathered to discuss forming partnerships to try to prevent conflict and raise awareness about next year’s referendum in Bougainville. The 20-22 July forum took place in Goroka, Eastern Highlands.

 Representatives of the PNG Council of Churches pose alongside development partners on 22 July, after the conference in Goroka to discuss the role of churches in peacemaking. Photo: UN Women/June Su
Representatives of the PNG Council of Churches pose alongside development partners on 22 July, after the conference in Goroka to discuss the role of churches in peacemaking. Photo: UN Women/June Su

The delegates focused on the Bougainville referendum and peacebuilding efforts in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, and agreed that peace must be achieved only through peaceful means.

The Chairman of the PNG Council of Churches, Bishop Denny Bray Guka, said the forum provided the opportunity for a much-needed dialogue on these issues.

“We see our partners here, and how we can mobilize best with the Government and others. I’ve found this forum to be very good, particularly the opportunity to hear from people working on the ground,” the bishop said.

Beatrice Tabeau, National Programme Specialist with UN Women, said she hoped this would be the first of many such meetings.

“The link between churches, peacebuilding, gender equality and women’s empowerment is a vital one, and UN Women looks forward to continuing its support of the PNG Council of Churches in its endeavours in both promoting peace and the rights of women,” she said.

Forum participants heard presentations on the Bougainville Peace Agreement, and from the Bougainville Referendum Commission on preparations for the referendum. Women leaders spoke about their involvement in the Bougainville peace process. Officials of the Department of Justice and civil society organizations discussed their work in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea to combat violence caused by accusations of sorcery.

The Bougainville referendum, scheduled for 15 June 2019, follows a near decade-long civil conflict between Bougainville and Papua New Guinea that ended with the Bougainville Peace Agreement. The referendum will determine Bougainville’s political future, with independence from Papua New Guinea among the options.

Tribal conflicts have always been a significant issue in the Highlands. Tensions increased following a severe earthquake in February 2018 that displaced many people and raised complaints that the Government responded poorly in relief efforts.