Under the law, indigenous people own the land they have traditionally lived on and used. But across Papua New Guinea, communities like those of John Aini and Paul Pavol have seen their land taken without their consent through the abuse of Special Business and Agriculture Leases, or SABLs.

The government has used SABLs to hand more than 5.2 million hectares of customarily-owned land – approximately 12% of PNG’s total land area – to foreign-controlled logging and agricultural companies. The leases run for 99 years, meaning that the people who depended on this land have essentially lost it for good. In the face of opposition from communities like Mr Pavol’s and Mr Aini's, companies are hiring members of the PNG police force to protect their operations. These police are carrying out intimidation and violence against their own citizens while on company payrolls.

The scale of the threat SABLs pose to the legal rights and traditional livelihoods and cultures of PNG’s indigenous communities led to an international outcry in 2011. In response, the PNG government established a Commission of Inquiry into SABLs, which determined nearly all the leases reviewed were illegal. The Courts have also ruled six of the SABLs illegal and many communities continue to voice their opposition to SABLs despite the oppression they face at the hands of PNG police.

Yet despite promising, in 2014 and again, in November 2016, to cancel illegal SABLs and ensure the land is returned to its rightful owners, the government has done nothing to stop logging, cancel SABLs, or return land stolen from the people.

Logging under SABLs now accounts for a third of all log exports from PNG. Vast tracts of ancient rainforest are being wiped out forever, while citizens are forced to stand by and watch while foreign logging companies, protected by PNG police, make windfall profits off land that belongs to local people. In 2015 alone, timber worth over US$70,000,000 was exported from SABL areas.

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Dear Prime Minister Peter O'Neill
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I am writing to urge you to halt logging under Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs) and cancel all leases issued illegally without the consent of customary landowners.

Across Papua New Guinea, communities have seen their land taken from them against their will through the abuse of SABLs. In total, more than 5.2 million hectares of customarily-owned land – approximately 12% of PNG’s land area – has been handed to mostly to foreign-controlled companies. The leases run for 99 years, meaning the people who depended on this land have essentially lost it for good.

In the face of opposition from communities, companies are hiring members of the PNG police force to protect their operations. These police are carrying out intimidation and violence against their own citizens while on company payrolls.
 
As you are aware, the scale of the threat SABLs pose to the legal rights and traditional livelihoods and cultures of PNG’s indigenous communities led to an international outcry and, in 2011, a Commission of Inquiry was established. The Commission determined nearly all of the leases reviewed were illegal. The Courts have also ruled against a number of SABLs unlawful.

Yet, despite promising in 2014 to cancel illegal SABLs and ensure that the land be returned to its rightful owners, your government has done nothing to stop logging, cancel SABLs, or return the stolen land.
 
Logging under SABLs now accounts for a third of all log exports from PNG. Vast tracts of ancient rainforest are being wiped out forever, while your citizens are forced to stand by and watch. And foreign logging companies, protected by PNG police on their payroll, make windfall profits off land that belongs to PNG’s people. In 2015 alone, timber worth over US$70,000,000 was exported from SABLs.
 
Please act now to address this great injustice:
 
- Immediately halt logging in SABL areas and take steps to cancel illegal leases and return land to the customary landowners
- Prohibit the police from taking money or other assistance from logging companies in return for protecting operations
- Prosecute those responsible for violating PNG laws
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