A 10,000 signature petition is today being presented to the government calling for action on the SABL land grab.
The petition is being presented by Paul Pavol, who was last year awarded the international Alexander Soros Foundation Award, in recognition of his communities efforts to oppose four unlawful SABL leases over their land.
“My people have been fighting alone for six years to get our land back and we are still struggling through the courts to try and defend our birth rights. Our government has not raised a finger to help us and all we hear are empty promises”.
Mr Pavol is being accompanied by three other representatives from SABL affected areas.
Anna Maria, says the SABL issue is not just about land and logging it is about the human rights of women and children
“Women and children are the biggest losers in this land grab and it is just another form of abuse. Our gardens have been taken from us, our freedom has been taken, we are dependent on the company and we are slaves in our own communities”.
In June 2013, the SABL Commission of Inquiry revealed how government officers have facilitated the theft of over 50,000 square kilometres of land from customary landholders.
Since then, there have been numerous promises from the Prime Minister that the leases will be cancelled, illegal logging stopped and the land returned to its rightful owners, as the Commission recommended.
But, so far, not ONE SINGLE lease has been revoked by the government and in the meantime logs worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been shipped overseas from illegal logging operations.
Lester Seri is from Collingwood Bay, where communities were successful in overturning an SABL lease through the courts. He says his people are the lucky ones as they received political support from their Governor Gary Juffa and, with a lot of hard work they managed to defend their land.
“We are the lucky ones but we see the plight of our sisters and brothers in other SABL areas who do not have any support and our heart bleeds. These leases can be canceled and the land given back, so why does the Prime Minister not take action instead of just making empty promises!
Ignatius Matania is from the Unung-Sigite SABL area. His people are still involved in a daily struggle to keep the logging company off their land.
“My people are defending their land against the logging company every day, mounting protests and building blockades. But it is a constant battle to protect our land and our rights. The logging company uses the police to intimidate, arrest and beat. Why is our government not doing one single thing to help us in our struggle? Whose interest is the government defending?
Community advocacy group ACT NOW! organised the petition. Campaign Coordinator Eddie Tanago says, the Government needs to stop protecting the foreign companies and overseas loggers who have stolen the land. Instead, they need to stand up for the people of Papua New Guinea – the people they are supposed to serve!
“For three years all we have heard are empty promises from the Prime Minister, he needs to stop promising and instead ensure the leases are actually cancelled”.